Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wedding Bread as Folk Art?

We’re presently at Costa Navarino in Messina, Greece, a super-luxurious resort complex which is devoted to ecological reform as well as supporting and promoting the culture and agriculture of the region.

As part of introducing the resort guests to native traditions, they gathered four local women yesterday to demonstrate making the traditional  “embroidered breads” which are usually prepared to celebrate a wedding.  The breads are set before the bride and groom at the wedding table, and the bride distributes pieces to the guests (like wedding cake in western weddings.)
These four ladies do their bread-making at Costa Navarino every Friday. I was there yesterday, sitting at one of the caned wooden chairs outside the perfect replica of a traditional cafenion, while around us couples sipped coffee frappés and played tavli (backgammon).

You know I love folk art in any form, and photograph it wherever I travel. I quickly realized that the decorated breads made by these local ladies were indeed folk art.
First they sifted.
Then they kneaded.
Taking an occasional break to sip thick Greek coffee from demitasse cups.
The leading artist was Kyria Maria, who had prepared a pencil sketch of her design before she came. (She told me they make different designs every Friday.)

She had a true folk artist’s compulsive need for detail.  Her assistant stood by rolling tiny balls and thin snakes of dough at her behest.  When the first bread, made by two other women, was complete, Kyria Maria was still creating flowers, butterflies, a sun and birds out of dough to cover every inch of her round loaf.  (The first and primary part of her design represented  bunches of grapes on a vine surrounding the Acropolis.)
I was surprised at how many Greek guests came up and asked the women what they were making.  They had never heard of “embroidered breads” for a wedding.
Here are the almost-finished creations, which would be baked to a golden brown and served at the resort’s restaurants for breakfast the next day.

I knew about the “embroidered” wedding breads because last year, when daughter Eleni was married to Emilio in Corfu, Greece, her cousins and her aunt Nikki had prepared  the “embroidered wedding bread” traditional to their part of Greece, but according to their custom, the bride would throw the bread over her shoulders to the single ladies in the group,  like the bride’s bouquet in western culture, before it could be distributed to the crowd.
Eleni’s friend Catherine caught it and, just as for the single ladies who wrote their names on the soles of Eleni’s shoes, hoping that she would dance them away, the magic of the wedding bread will undoubtedly spread all the way from Corfu to Worcester, MA and conjure up a happily-ever-after future. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Fish Story from Greece

On Saturday, July 9, in Ioannina, the capitol of Epiros in northern Greece, we had lunch at Spuntino, an Italian restaurant set on the edge of Lake Pamvotis, a deep glacial lake surrounded by mountains.  

The lake contains an island  where Ali Pasha was executed in 1822 by assassins from Constantinople because the Sultan believed the Ottoman Albanian ruler had gained  too much power over his realm. 

Ali Pasha wowed visiting poet  Lord Byron with his luxurious lifestyle, amid his mosques, palaces, Janissary corps of soldiers, his harem of 300 women and the seraglio of young men.

Inhabitants of Ioannina believe that the mists rising over the lake in the morning are the ghosts of the many women Ali Pasha had his henchmen drown in the lake, tied in bags weighted with stones, because they had displeased him in some way.

Visitors ride to the island in small boats to see the sights and eat at the fish restaurants, featuring tanks full of live eels, frogs, trout and other fresh-water seafood. (Once in the seventies, when I visited Ali Pasha’s summer home on the island, where he was killed, I saw that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had signed the guest book at the top of the page.)

But we like to eat on the mainland lakeside,  called the Molo, usually ordering the shrimp risotto at Spuntino.
As we watched the boats sail past and the loon-like birds diving for fish, our meal was interrupted by a Greek fisherman climbing over chairs and tables while he played what was clearly a very large fish on his hook. 
He  followed it around, through the restaurant, patiently exhausting it –letting it out and then pulling it back--without breaking his line.  I couldn’t help thinking of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea”.
We carried on eating and watching the lakeside drama until the fisherman managed to exhaust the fish and drag it close to the lakeside, where a friend produced a large net.

By the time the fish was landed, a crowd had gathered.
The triumphant fisherman was applauded by the crowd as his dying prey flopped on the shore, trying uselessly to get back into the vast lake of ghosts and legends.
And then Nick and I went back to our dessert of  watermelon and honeydew. 

(If anyone can tell me what kind of fish this is, I’d love to know.  I did ask the fisherman and bystanders, but got a variety of answers all of which meant nothing to me.)

P.S. An eerie coincidence. As I was typing this at noon on  Thursday June 21, the Greek TV news is announcing that a small firefighting  plane has fallen into the lake of Ioannina—but I don’t know yet if the legendary Lake Pamvotis has claimed another victim.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Invisible (Old) Woman

 A couple of days ago, my husband and I were staying in an antique-filled small hotel in Chania, Crete, which had, in the parlor, a wall of books in many languages discarded by previous guests.  (This is one of the delights of staying in small hotels.)

I picked up a paperback by Doris Lessing called “The Summer Before the Dark”, published in 1973, and I finished it as we arrived in Athens on Sunday night.

Briefly, it’s the story of a 48-year-old British housewife and mother, Catherine (or Kate) Brown, married to a doctor, who takes a summer off from domestic life, because her husband is at a medical conference in Boston and her three teen-aged children are traveling with friends in different countries.  She lets their house for the summer and begins working at a job as a translator at conferences around the world.  (Luckily, she’s fluent in four languages.)

When her well-paying work is over, Kate takes an American lover who is much younger—in his early 20’s.  They travel in Spain, he becomes very ill from some never-specified disease, then she becomes ill and returns to London alone, staying anonymously in a hotel. 

By the time she’s well enough to get out of bed, Kate has lost 15 pounds, her clothes hang on her, her dyed red hair is coming out gray at the roots and her face has aged dramatically.  As she weakly walks around London, even passing her own house, where her best friend doesn’t recognize her, Kate realizes that, by suddenly aging from an attractive, stylish, curvy redhead into a skeletal old hag in baggy clothes, she has become invisible.

Several times she plays this game: she walks past a group of men who ignore her or goes into a restaurant where the waiters scorn her, then she goes back to the hotel, puts on a stylish dress and ties her hair back, adds lipstick and returns to the same places, where she is coddled and admired.

I admit that it’s plausible for a 48-year-old woman to transform herself at will from an invisible hag into a noticed and admired woman, but when you’re sixty, or seventy (as I am) you’re permanently in the “invisible” category, unless you’re, say, Joan Collins or Jane Fonda.

I’ve been noticing this “invisible woman” phenomenon with both amusement and consternation over the years.  Haven’t you had the experience of walking into a coffee shop or a department store or a cocktail party where everyone looks right through you and you start searching for a mirror to make sure you’re actually visible?

Yesterday we checked into the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens, one of the grand old luxury hotels of the world.  We arrived a bit out of breath because there was a taxi strike and we came via subway, dragging our suitcases up stairwells when there was no escalator.

My husband walked in first and I was greeted on all sides: “Welcome back Mrs. Gage!”  My suitcases disappeared. Cold water was provided.

A couple of hours later, I came down to the lobby to ask a question at the concierge desk.  There were three concierges and no other guests waiting.  The white-haired concierge was on the phone confirming someone’s dinner reservations.  The middle one was explaining to the youngest one about the book where must be recorded all cars and busses and pick-up times. I learned a lot about the hotel business, standing there 18 inches in front of them, until finally one of them noticed me and said “Oh hi!  How can I help you?”

A more fraught episode occurred Saturday in Crete at the magnificent wedding reception of a very prominent Cretan family.  Nick and I passed through security and into the estate, up some stairs where we were greeted by waiters with glasses of champagne and a world-class view of the sea below.  Lit by the full moon was a football-field- sized clearing by the seaside, filled with flower-laden tables and lighted by candles and lanterns. I stopped to admire the view, then turned toward the swimming pool area where the family was greeting guests, but my husband had vanished into thin air.

For half an hour I walked around the pool area, even wandering into the nearby yard where I thought Nick might have gone to escape the crush.  As I circled, I kept looking for a familiar face, but the only ones I recognized were from TV and the newspapers. The predominant languages were French and Greek, which I know (far better Greek than French), but I couldn’t imagine plunging into one of the groups surrounding a prime minister and blurting out in any language: “Hi, I’m the wife of Nicholas Gage”.

At the far end of the swimming pool, on a white banquette, was a young woman in a long brown dress completely absorbed in her cell phone.  I decided to take the other banquette and watch the parade of Parisian fashions pass by. Unfortunately, I had left my phone at the hotel.

Eventually my husband re-appeared.  He had gone with friends to find the lists for our table seating. After we clambered down to the sea and found our table, I had no trouble talking to the Greek jewelry designer on my right and the elegant Frenchman across the table, but that first half hour of invisibility wasn’t fun.

But sometimes I delight in being invisible.  Yesterday, I repeated a summer ritual. I walked from Constitution Square down Hermou to a tourist shop just below the Cathedral on  Mitropouleas Street to  deliver another batch of my Greek Cat books for them to sell.  Then I went to a small restaurant called “Ithaki” where every summer I get a really good gyro and some chilled white wine. I sit at the same table every time and watch the owner charm the passing tourists into sitting down to eat.  I’m fascinated by the man’s ability to know each person’s language. He’s way more skilled than the usual restaurant shills who try to lure you in with the two or three sentences they know.

Yesterday he charmed two pretty girls from South Africa into sitting at the table at my left, treating them to a piece of his “famous spinach pie” as an appetizer.  Then he gathered a rollicking table of Italians and told them which beer to order.  Directly in front of me were two American boys who had befriended two girls whose accents suggested that they came from someplace once in the USSR. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to see America,” I heard one of them say.

Wrapped in my cloak of invisibility I could hear the South African girls complaining about their parents: “If my mother ever found out!”  I could watch the American boys rather awkwardly courting the much more sophisticated Slavic girls.  I reflected that every young person should be required to take a year off before the age of 30, to tour the world with a backpack and sit in a taverna like this one, listening to the owner speak a medley of languages and learning about the world.

When he brought me the (very modest) bill, I tried to tell the owner that I come back every year because I enjoy watching him speak so many languages so well, but he just shrugged and rushed off to greet some Japanese tourists.  I think he didn’t hear me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eight Months Pregnant in Miami-- Still Smiling

In the continuing saga of her (first) pregnancy, daughter Eleni still has a firm grip on her sense of humor (and irony) as she  writes occasional updates about the gestational process on her blog "The Liminal Stage."

I had to share this photo that she just posted in her latest: "Swimming Upstream During Miami Swim Week."  Here she is at eight months and three weeks, posed next to a poster of a swimsuit model. Could she get any more pregnant before she pops?  Best  of all was her comment "One of these things is not like the other."

Looking through my own photos of my three pregnancies some 30 years ago, I realized that there is exactly one photo of me being pregnant, and I'm holding a little sweater I knitted in front of my gut.  Back in those days the point was to hide your growing stomach.  Nowadays, thanks perhaps to Demi Moore, pregnant women like to flaunt it.

As I 've written before, modern pregnancy is far different from what it used to be in my day, but I really hope when Eleni's got through it to the other side, after getting her strength back from those first months of motherhood, she will collect all her hilarious and wise pregnancy posts into a book for our generation's amusement and edification.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A House in a Greek Village


(This watercolor of the restored Eleni Gatzoyiannis house was done by visiting British artist, Bill Peake.)

On Saturday, my husband, Nicholas Gage, and I returned, as we do every summer, to his small Greek village of Lia near the top of a mountain in Epiros, Greece, just a kilometer below the border with Albania.

As the sun began to set, we joined the villagers sitting at tables in the courtyard outside the inn under the plane trees.  Soon some visitors to the region came over, one by one, to introduce themselves.

This happens every time Nick returns to the village. The visitors have come up this twisting, vertiginous mountain road into the Mourgana mountain range because they want to see the places that figure in Nick’s 1983 book “Eleni” about the life and death of his mother Eleni Gatzoyiannis, who never left this village. 

In 1948 she was executed, at the age of 41, by a firing squad of Communist guerrillas because she had managed to get four of her five children led out of the village and down through mine fields to freedom under cover of night.  Eleni organized this escape after she learned that the children in the guerrilla-occupied village were to be taken away to camps behind the Iron Curtain in the last days of the Greek Civil War. (28,000 children were taken from Greece in what is called the “pedomasoma”, or “gathering of children”). On the last day before the escape, she was forced to stay behind with one of her daughters to work for the guerrillas in the threshing fields.

Since the book “Eleni” was published in 1983, it’s been translated into 32 languages. People from around the world come regularly to Lia to see where Nick’s mother lived and died. A week ago, Nick showed his village and his childhood home to 14 students from John Jay College in New York and their professor, and on August 2, he will welcome 30 students from Northeastern University, who read the book in their Greek History class.

Once the weather turns good in the spring, nearly every day brings a foreign visitor or two on this pilgrimage, although they find that some Greeks, even in this village where so many were executed, still harbor pro-Communist sentiments, and may be unhelpful in answering their questions—even to denying that Eleni Gatzoyiannis ever lived there. 

Last Wednesday night, the two couples who were astonished to find themselves sitting in the Inn’s courtyard with the author of the book included David from Wales and his Greek companion Effie, and a couple who had come from Austria, Hannelore and Claus. 

                                                                Effie & David with Nick

The next day Nick led them on a tour of the spots that are significant to the story, including the ancient church of Saint Demitrios where Eleni worshipped every day and where her bones were kept in the ossuary after being recovered from the ravine where the guerrillas threw the thirteen civilians they executed on August 28, 1948. 

  Nick looking at a relative's recent grave.  His mother's remains have been moved to Hope Cemetery in   Worcester, MA and buried next to his father.

The guerrillas had taken over Eleni’s home for their headquarters and they kept her and 30 other prisoners confined in the basement where the animals had been stabled, while the prisoners were questioned and tortured.  (It always brings a gasp from visitors when they step into the cave-like basement and realize that the prisoners were packed in so tightly that they couldn’t even lie down.) Now the basement contains display cases showing artifacts discovered during the reconstruction, including a hand grenade, a rifle, plates and cups, even part of the wrought-iron bed that Nick’s father had brought up the mountain to the village, where most people slept on pallets on the floor.

Some 37 bodies had already been buried in the yard around the house when Eleni Gatzoyianis was taken prisoner.  There was no room for more, so on August 28, 1948, the guerrillas marched their last group of 13 condemned prisoners to a distant plateau where their bodies would be thrown into a nearby ravine.

In  2002 our daughter Eleni, her grandmother’s namesake, spent a year living in Lia, rebuilding the family home, which had been allowed to fall into its foundations.  She spent nine months restoring the house as it had been in her grandmother’s life. She was moved to find that the elderly villagers who remembered the terrible events of the war helped her and donated their own belongings, including a painted wooden cradle and many embroidered textiles, to keep the house authentic to its period.  In 2005, "North of Ithaka",  Eleni's travel memoir describing that year and her experiences living in he ancestors' village, was published by St. Martin's Press. 

During the rebuilding, the stonemasons found a coin under the original cornerstone which showed that the house was first built in 1856. A new keystone over the door of the gate to the courtyard indicates that Nick’s father added on to the house in1924, and that Eleni rebuilt it in 2002.

A local carpenter carved two panels of the exterior gate, one showing the eagle of Epiros and the other representing Epirote mothers.

Here is the fireplace in the restored “great room” with a photograph of Eleni Gatzoyiannis and her husband Christos at the time of their wedding.  She dreamed that Christos would bring her and the children that followed to live with him in Worcester, MA where he was a produce seller, but her dream was blocked by the outbreak of war in 1939.

Nick took his visitors to see the spot where he got his last glimpse of his mother, as she turned and waved before being led around a bend toward the threshing fields. After we returned to the Inn and the nearby church of St. Paraskevi, and Nick pointed out the route the escaping children took down the mountain, our visitors left, amid tears and hugs all around.

(Here is part of a group of 11—two families from Omaha, Neb.-- who departed today, after spending two nights in the inn and touring the Eleni Gatzoyiannis sites.  Notice the mud swallow who has built a nest in the light fixture over their heads in the reception area.)

Like the hundreds of strangers who had come before them, these visitors left their names inscribed in the guest book in Eleni’s house, a tribute to a Greek peasant woman who sacrificed her life in her remote Greek village to save her children so that they could live her dream of America.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kids’ Gender Stereotypes —Let’s All Relax

                                                                 (My father at about 2)

Back in the seventies, when I was giving birth to my three children, we young Manhattan mothers were determined that we would not impose gender stereotypes on our kids. (Some of the moms in my upper West Side playgroup were equally determined to protect their little ones from encountering sugar, television, candy or, god forbid, birthday cake.)

We were inspired by the  (1972) record album “Free to Be You and Me” produced by the Ms. Foundation to fight gender stereotypes.  It included such instant classics as “William’s Doll” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”

When our son was approaching his third birthday, I got him a baby doll to prepare the way for his approaching sibling. (Back in those days there was no way to know the sex of the baby before birth.)

Despite my determination not to propagate stereotypes, when we traveled to visit  my parents, who were surrounding by construction sites, Chris became fascinated by the bulldozers and excavators and would happily sit in his stroller all day watching them roar around and dig.  He loved my parents’ automatic garage door opener and  instantly learned the names of every kind of truck.  Dinosaurs became his obsession.  He collected hundreds, learned all about each kind to the point that he was assigned to teach the segment on dinosaurs to his kindergarten class. 

Do what you will, many little boys will be fascinated with powerful things: dinosaurs, trucks, guns--and most girls will not. (I would never allow anything resembling a gun in the house.  Now my son makes a living writing, among other things, scripts for video games, which feature a dazzling variety of weapons.  Go figure.)

My point is that, despite our best efforts to be perfectly even-handed in rearing our children, many babies get born with certain gender tendencies written in their DNA. And as they grow up, they will experiment, traveling all over the gender spectrum.  So it’s not wise to classify them in any category too early.

But today it has become the fashion to eliminate any reference to gender – like the “Egalia” pre-school in Stockholm, Sweden, that has eliminated the words “him” and “her”, calling all children “friends” rather than girls or boys. Then there are the parents of the infant “Storm” who became viral celebrities because they refuse to reveal the sex of their third child, so as to avoid gender stereotyping.  Their two older children--both boys—are being home-schooled and encouraged to wear dresses if the spirit moves them and to grow their hair long.  It’s interesting, I thought, that when they went on an excursion to a natural history museum or some such, the older boy asked his parents to tell the docents that he was a boy.

I think these children are being cheated because, having them home-schooled to avoid gender stereotypes, they are going to emerge into the real world at the age of 18 with no skills at interacting with other people their age. (And I’ll bet they will not still be wearing dresses and long hair.)

The New York Times recently featured an article called “Toddling Past Gender Lines’ which approvingly gave examples of parents who encourage their children’s unconventional behavior, such as painting boys’ toenails pink and buying boys Barbie princess dolls.  Certainly the woman who wrote the best-selling  “My Princess Boy” has hit a public nerve.

But the article also referred to parents who take their pre-school children to therapists, change their schools or move to a more “diverse and understanding” community, so that their gender- bending children are not bullied as they grow up.

In my opinion this is going way too far in anticipating the future sexuality of their toddlers.   I think we all should step back, take a deep breath, and consider how our great-grandparents’ handled sexual orientation in small children.

They didn’t.  In collecting antique photographs, I’ve learned that gender differences in small children were not even recognized or fussed over until children were about five or six, when little boys started wearing pants.  Up till then, boys and girls alike wore dresses or gowns .

See that child up above with the long sausage curls and the white dress and matching hair bow?  That was my father, Robert Odegard Paulson, in about 1908.  Nobody ever thought it weird that my grandmother spent time setting his long blonde hair on rags to make those sausage curls.  

Here is a photo of Ernest Hemingway at about the same age looking like a girl.  People are always blaming any issues Hemingway had with masculinity on this photo.  But I’m telling you—it was normal for the period.

And take a look at the twins in this photo in their ruffled dresses and high-button shoes.  On the back of this cabinet photo is written the following: ”Left - Louise Bertha Inez Forte, right, Louis Bertrand Forte, born June 13th, 1893 at two p.m. in West Newton. Louis was born five minute after Louise.”

(Because so very many boys in antique photos are assumed to be girls, let me give you a vintage photo expert’s hint:  when the babies had enough hair to part, the girls’ hair was always parted in the center and the boys on the side.  Other clues that the tot in your daguerreotype is a boy: if he’s wearing a plaid sash and/or holding a riding crop.)

As you can see from the photos above, parents in the olden days did not get worked up about  “non-stereotypical gender behavior” and they did not decide that a boy in hair bows and ruffles was fated to grow up gay.  (The most shocking example of anticipating gender choices given in the New York Times' piece is the following paragraph: “Diane Ehrensaft, a therapist in Oakland, Calif., said that a parent  might say to her, "I know my child is transgender and I’m ready to go with hormone blockers.’ Her sensible response: “Whoa, not so fast!”')

Some children will grow up to be gay and some will decide they are transgender, and parents are to be applauded for accepting and supporting those statements, but no decisions should be made by anyone about behavior of children younger than puberty.  Everyone experiments with gender roles and changes often.  I smile when I see tabloid headlines like,  “Angelina is raising Shiloh to be a Boy!”

Angelina Jolie is just wisely allowing Shiloh to dress the way she likes. She’s five.  I can’t help thinking of a friend whose granddaughter, at the age of three, went through a “Goth” phase.  She would wear no dresses and no colors—only black.    Nobody gave her any grief about it, and now she’s decided to wear frilly dresses as well as black overalls.  I understand perfectly why Shiloh wants to look and act like a boy:  her two oldest siblings are boys and to her they’re cool and she wants to be like them.

While I don’t encourage anyone to decide their child’s gender orientation when they’re still children, let me tell you about the  Zapotec Indians on the Isthmus of Tehuantopec in Mexico.  Theirs is a matriarchal society where the women handle the money and pretty much call the shots, while the men busy themselves hunting prey like iguanas.

Most Zapotec families hope to have a gay son who can provide help and support  the parents.  These boys are selected (or identified) when they’re young and trained in “female” arts like embroidery, music, hair-dressing, cooking—you get the idea.  Many of these “Muxes” as they are called, dress as women throughout their lives, others dress as men, and they all are honored by the church with a special mass and fiesta (with dancing and parades) in November on the feast day of San Vincente Ferrer.  If you want to read an article about them written for Travel and Leisure by daughter Eleni Gage, click here.

As I said, I’m against making gender-decisions about one’s children at an early age, but it seems to work for the Muxes.  But for young parents in the United States, determined to protect their children from ostracism and bullying before they enter kindergarten, I think we should all step back and relax and wait to see what gender decisions the children make for themselves when they are old enough to decide their future.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Which Travel Photos Should I Submit?

(Please click on the photos to see them whole)

I was looking through the new (August) issue of  Smithsonian Magazine when I saw the winners of their 8th annual photo contest.   The Grand Prize winner, by Prakash Hatvalne, showed two dancers in Bhopal, India preparing for their performance.  If you want to see the fifty finalists that the judges chose out of  52,000 entries, click here.

I immediately decided to enter some of my own travel photos in the 9th annual contest, which  is open until December 1, 2011.This is more than a little presumptuous, since most of this year’s 50 finalists seem to be professional- quality photographers, and their work is amazing.  You can enter up to seven photographs in each of five categories:  Americana, The Natural World, People, Altered Images and Travel.

Almost all my own favorite photographs are in the  “people” category – most often children and sometimes old people. That’s true of my paintings as well. Here is my all-time favorite photograph.  It’s a little girl begging on the street in Jodhpur, India.  She’s made up to look like a Hindu goddess, because the religion emphasizes giving money and food to holy persons (and sacred cows), which wins you good karma.

My photographer friends generally spend a lot of time setting up a photograph but this one happened so fast I didn’t even know what I had until afterwards.  It was sheer luck. We were riding in the back of an auto rickshaw in a street crowded with people, cows, vehicles, and beggars.  The rickshaw driver paused, this child popped up beside me looking beautiful and forlorn, and the rickshaw started up again before I could reach for some coins to put in her bowl. But I reflexively got the shot of a lifetime.  I posted it with other photos while discussing “Child Beggars in India” on Jan. 23, 2009, and I think this photo is the reason that essay is a perennial in the stats listing the top ten posts on “A Rolling Crone.”

Here is my next favorite photo—also of a little girl who is trying to scrounge some money for her family while cheerfully carrying her little brother on her back.  When I was walking around San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico in 2009, I encountered her and lots of her friends, all selling cheap jewelry. The first day I ran into her, she was unencumbered by her sibling, but she was always smiling. And yes, I bought some of her bracelets.

Back to India—this “desert dancer”, as I call her, found us in the Thar Desert outside of Jaiselmar, Rajasthan, India, close to Pakistan.  We had just dismounted from camels and were surrounded by nothing but sand dunes as far as the eye could see.  This girl and her younger sidekick appeared out of nowhere, determined to dance for us.  They would not take no for an answer. I still don’t know why the shadows on the dunes came out this beautiful pinky purple color. Which one of these two photos do you like better?   Maybe the one on the right?

The younger girl did not have the chutzpah and persistence of the older one, but she was watching and learning.

All of the photos above would be entered in the “People” category.  Here are a couple more that I’m considering:

A crone from San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.

A blind trumpeter in Puebla, Mexico.

The unexpected and sophisticated juxtaposition of saturated colors that you find everywhere in Mexico is a constant delight.  Like the green and yellow walls behind the crone above, and the amazing colors in this photograph of a woman selling nuts and sweets in Puebla. This one would probably belong in the “travel” category.

Repetitive patterns always attract my camera’s lens, which is why I like this photo of boats and people sitting on one of the “ghats” on the edge of the Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi, India.

And the pattern of the tiles on the wall behind the identically dressed graduates in the square in Puebla, Mexico also beguiled me. (Puebla is a dream for anyone who likes to photograph angels and tiles.)

Finally, I suppose in the “travel” category, I’m considering this photo of lovers under a protective angel, gazing at one of the snow-covered volcanoes in Cholula, outside Puebla.

Even if none of these photos makes it into the Smithsonian’s 50 finalists, the contest has given me a chance to re-visit some of my favorite people and places from past trips.  And on Monday I’m off to Greece to hunt for some more.