Finding my Cultural DNA through the Festivals of India

As a child living in India, I rarely paid attention to festivals.
The South, with its Dravidian traditions, is quite pro-festival. It is prone to celebrating just about any event with confections and new clothes, as though there were nothing more to life than one big party. But that’s the way I like it. After all, wouldn’t it be crazy to live in a culture where the opposite is the norm?
  What you’ll see during a typical festival celebration is: food, food, and more food. In fact, I’m completely convinced that Indians celebrate festivals with the excuse to make and eat silver-foil wrapped edibles more than anything else. I do love eating, so I cannot complain. And familial visits take center stage: the pressure to pay visits to relatives and wish them is high. In these technology-centric days, things are changing in that the more traditional in-person visit is gradually being replaced with an e-greeting or a text message.
  When I moved to the U.S. at the age of 16, I went into a bit of a culture shock. Okay, “a bit” is putting things mildly, and no matter how well prepared you are, the sudden separation between family and self hurts. And it did. It took me a long time to get back into finding myself and my cultural DNA because living in the US made me focus less on my Indian heritage and more on learning the pop nuances of being “Western.”   Now that I have darling little Erika, I find myself wondering how I’ll raise her, and the answer is to teach her both sides of the fence (after all, we’re grooming her to be a traveler, so she’ll understand and appreciate Indian culture as well as her American roots). And of course, I’m learning more about myself and my cultural DNA through this experiment.   Some festivals I warmed up to during my childhood are now begging repeat visits. These include:   Pongal: I grew up in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and Pongal is one of the major festivals (if not THE major festival) of the state. During this festival, homes are decorated with sugar canes, in order to give thanks to the harvest. So, this festival has great importance in the agricultural community of South India, where farmers celebrate with great joy and spirit, particularly after a great harvest. It occurs in January.   Vinayaka Chaturthi: This festival occurs during the month of August, and is the birthday of Lord Ganesha (this is the funny-looking Elephant God you may have seen in numerous  pictures). The Elephant God is one of the major Gods in the pantheon of deities in India, and the birthday is another great excuse to make and consume sweets meant for the idols.   Navaratri: Celebrated during the month of September/October, this is a nine day festival for three goddesses: Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), Durga (goddess of valor) and Saraswathi (goddess of knowledge). This involves of placing of several beautifully painted Indian dolls on nine steps (heirloom pieces).   Diwali: This “festival of lights” is likely the festival you’ve really heard off. It’s enormously popular and a bit commercialized (think of it as the Indian equivalent of Christmas) where firecrackers with pinwheels, sparklers and rockets are lit and frost the sky for hours and sometimes days. Diwali was the highlight of my year while growing up. As kids, we could not wait to buy firecrackers at the store. The ironic thing is that Diwali often coincided with the wettest month of the year, and inevitably our crackers would get soggy, much to our serious dismay. This typically occurs at the end of October/ early November.

Diwali

Diwali celebrations; credit, Abhinaba Basu Photography, Flickr

Kartigai Deepam: Celebrated during the monsoon (rainy) months of November and December, this festival is truly beautiful because it involves the lighting of deepams or lights in front of and inside homes. The result is often a lace-like row of clay lamps flickering at night and a truly spectacular sight. This particularly festival coincides with Diwali (my favorite festival) and is celebrated for nine days. The oldest festival in South India, the Karthigai Deepam is believed to ward off evil forces.

With the birth of my daughter, I learned about one more Indian celebration associated with the birth of a little one: the “Naming Ceremony.”  Think of it as the South Indian version of the baptism, if you will. It typically occurs on the 11th day after the child’s umbilical cord falls off. Doting parents are supposed to dress up the child and place a bangle made of dark black glass beads on the wrist (typically an heirloom). Then the mother lovingly blesses the child and officially “names” him or her.

Because my parents were visiting (they’re the administrators of all things Indian in my household), I wanted to have this special ceremony for Erika:

Indian festivals: Baby Naming Ceremony

We used gold bangels (worn by me as an infant) and a gold necklace to adorn the little one

Indian festivals: Baby Naming Ceremony

This is the beautiful bangle that my parents gifted Erika: it traveled all the way from Chennai to New Jersey…

 Indian festivals: Baby Naming Ceremony

Erika in her Indian dress and pacifier…

Indian festivals: Baby Naming Ceremony

With the glass-beaded bangle: she looks puzzled…

 

Capture the Colour Photo Contest: Jordan in Red, White, Blue, Green & Yellow

To kick off my series of musings about Jordan, I thought there is no better way than to show the visuals. So when I was nominated by the delightful Katy of Starry Eyed Travels to take part in TravelSupermarket’s Capture the Colour Photo Contest, I figured this was the perfect way to introduce you to a country I fell in love with.

A feast for the senses. A vegetarian’s utopia. A classicist’s dream. There are so many phrases I could use to describe Jordan, and every place we visited took my breath away not only because of the history, but because of the spirit of the people. Some of you will recognize that this was the trip that several people told me not to take because I was 28 weeks pregnant. I will say I am so grateful that I did, because it changed my life and my view of the Middle East forever.

To visit Jordan is to be immersed in history that spans centuries, from as far back as 10,000 BC to the post King Hussein era. It is to understand that Jordanians treat their fellow countrymen with utmost respect and cordiality, especially the women. More than anything else, I felt welcomed as a tourist in Jordan, and not particularly pressured or cajoled in any way.

Here are five photos that I thought best captured the colors of the royal kingdom of Jordan.

WHITE

Photo of Amman Jordan and Limestone Houses

A view of lego-like Amman, the capital city of Jordan. Most houses are made with silicified limestone in order to preserve a certain sense of homogeneity. In this respect, Amman reminded me a lot of Santa Fe, New Mexico and the adobe-style housing in its desire to remain architecturally consistent. The result? A sparkling sea of white/ off-white. The enormous Raghadan Flagpole is unmistakeable, and stands towering over the city like Gulliver. It’s over 400 feet tall, and I loved the way you could see it fly unbridled from a great distance.

BLUE

A view of the Dead Sea Jordan

A view of the Dead Sea, with its aquamarine, navy blue and turquoise colors and salt-licked edges. The Dead Sea, aptly named because no organism can survive in it, shocked me with its rocky coastline and sparkling, over-the-top contrast of white and blue. It is quite possibly the most beautiful marriage of Earth and water, and the sea itself is shared between Israel and Jordan.

YELLOW

Jordan Desert Feynan Color

The stark landscape of the desert and the glowing pale yellow light of the setting sun make this one of my favorite Jordan photographs. Taken in Feynan, which is well known for its ecolodge (set deep in the mountains of the Dana Biosphere Reserve), this photo will always remind me of the simplicity, starkness and depth of the desert.

GREEN

Jerash Jordan

You’d never think that the ancient city of Jerash, Jordan could have quite so many vestiges of the Roman conquest, nor could it be so green. Jerash is north of Amman, and beautifully sculpted by rolling hills. Once a rich, thick forest, the city is mostly limestone (like Amman) but the ruins are flanked by well-irrigated grass and trees.

RED

Feynan Jordan

While there’s not a lot of street art that I saw in Jordan, these words written in red (presumably spray painted) stood out in contrast to the brown tones of the desert. One of the most beautiful aspects of the desert is the night sky: the stars seem closer and more shiny. The colors come alive and you NOTICE anything that’s not brown.

These are my starter photos of Jordan: hopefully, they’ve whetted your appetite for more. As part of the Capture the Colour code, I’m nominating five bloggers to take part in this series…I cannot wait to see what they’ll come up with. And they are:

GloboTreks

Chickybus

RunawayBrit

A Lady in London

Lazy Travelers

 

 

 

 

How I Feel About Retouched Photographs

At first, I stared at it. And stared at it.

Yes, we’re talking about the first time I saw an HDR photograph. I knew that the rich, saturated colors and the slightly comic, almost anime-like quality it had, could not be real. Yet, I was intrigued.

HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography, uses certain techniques and a set of methods in getting a series of light intensities that make a photograph’s colors achieve extreme exposure. I know they’re not retouched photographs per se, although several photographers put extensive amounts of work into post processing their HDR photos. HDR photos are truly gorgeous and eye catching, like a rich hummingbird or a splendid Monarch butterfly that teases you with iridescent colors. But because so many are that vibrant, some look fake.

The same thing happened when I saw a retouched photograph: at first, I looked at one and thought to myself, “Would Ansel Adams have done this?”

And then, with the advent of geek tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and now cool iPad retouching apps like ColorBlast, I knew that the entire retouching of photographs trend was here to stay.

But on the bright side, I think it makes for some excellently creative photographs: so much so, that pardoning the synthetic nature of the craft is just so easy. For me, the distinction between an untouched photograph and a retouched one is a bit like sniffing synthetic notes in a perfume compared to the real thing. But surely, if they both smell good, then what’s the issue?

Now, there’s a camera (by Lytro) that offers you the power to focus on objects after you take the picture.Which is super cool, but it makes me wonder, if we take the entire art of photography out of the equation and end up with a lot of powerful post processing tools, why even bother with photography?

I remember the first time I saw a Henri Cartier-Bresson photo. I was mesmerized as though at a Cirque du Soleil show. And then, in this age of Instagram and post processing, I realized all his photos were completely genuine, and unretouched. Now, isn’t that the kind of photography we keep talking about in perpetuity and in that place where cherubs play harps?

I guess, what I mean to say is, all these tools and apps are great accessories to have (heck, I’ll be the first one to admit I’m addicted to ColorBlast and Instagram) but ONCE you’ve mastered the basics. Right? Otherwise, are we living in an age where anyone can look up things on Wikipedia without memorizing them, the same way we can photo shop a picture without really understanding the basics of a good shot?

As for retouched photographs, I love the way I can play with my shots now, in a way I didn’t before. The purist in me has paved the way to the creative side, for the better. But I still maintain: basics first.

ColorBlast App

Retouched photographs using the iPad ColorBlast app; copyright Matthew Minucci, Butterflydiary.com

ColorBlast App for iPad

 

How Does a Broadway Star Like to Travel? An Interview with Tony Award Nominee, Laura Osnes

One of the best aspects about living near New York City is the access to the creme de la creme of personalities: in all walks of life. Many of you know how passionate I am about music, since  I used to be a concert pianist when I was younger, and I still love the chance to accompany Off Broadway singers. So, I was thrilled at the opportunity to meet Tony Award Nominee –singer Laura Osnes.

Osnes garnered widespread and critical acclaim for her performance as Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a pity I didn’t see the Broadway musical which ended in December—I would have absolutely loved to see her perform– but it was great catching up with the star in person.

She rose to fame virtually overnight and the 25-year old furthered her career that year by getting a TONY Award nomination. “I was in shock,” she says of her initial reaction to the phone call from her agent. But as with anyone in show biz worth their salt, the real pros seldom feel that they deserve a nomination, let alone an award.

I only know that this is the tipping point for Osnes’ career, and it’s going to be REAL fun to watch her go places.

We chatted with Osnes about her passion for travel.

Laura Osnes Tony Award NOminee for Bonnie and Clyde the Musical

The charming and gracious Laura Osnes

Laura Osnes Tony Award NOminee for Bonnie and Clyde the Musical

Laura and I (sounds like a musical, right?)


Tony Award Cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes


Some ways Laura gets gorgeous: Victoria’s Secret Coconut Passion Fragrance mist, the HB Logan Black Satin Clutch from Nina’s Handbags, and the Kaaral PINK Liquid Crystals for hair


Butterflydiary: How often do you travel? As a Broadway star, you must visit so many diverse places in need of your talents.
Laura Osnes: When I’m working in a Broadway show, I unfortunately don’t get to travel much because I only have one day off per week.  It’s sometimes difficult for my husband and I to plan vacations, but we try to have at least one nice getaway every year.  Last year we traveled to London, and the year before that we spent two weeks all over Italy.  This fall, we’re trying to plan a Caribbean cruise with some of our friends.  Sometimes my career does take me to new places, though — I previewed a Broadway-bound show (“Bonnie & Clyde”) at La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego, CA.  It was such a treat spending three months of winter in the beautifully charming, mild-weathered city of La Jolla.  I also recently did a concert in Las Vegas!  I had never been there before, so it was a perfect opportunity to explore the excitement of that city for a few days.
BD: Does travel ever wear you down? How do you de-stress?

LO: Traveling is a little exhausting to me… I have to admit, I’m a bit of a home-body.  I love listening to music while I travel and also enjoy taking time to journal or read.  I find that’s one of the most effective times I get to do these things!  I try to stay hydrated and full of Vitamin C when I travel… can’t afford to get sick, especially if I have to perform!     
BD: What’s one of the favorite places you’ve visited and why?
    
LO: Positano, along Italy’s Almafi Coast!  My husband and I spent three nights in the quaint, mountain village of Positano and it was one of the most beautiful and charming places I’ve ever seen.  Tuscany was gorgeous, too.  The food in Italy is so spectacular… every meal, every course, every day!  
BD: What items can’t you live without that you pack?

LO: My toiletries bag — I’m a girly girl and I like to still be put-together and made-up to a point, even on vacation (hehee!).  Sunglasses — Whether I’m cruising down the highway, lounging on the beach, or sightseeing in Rome, I always bring my sunglasses along.  Slippers — They’re like my taste of home when I travel… There’s nothing quite like walking around the hotel room in the morning and night with your own comfy slippers on your feet!

BD: What’s the one place you’ve been dying to visit that’s on your bucket list?
LO: Hawaii, hands down.  I still can’t believe I’ve never been.  Then Australia.


 

Hawai’i, The Big Island Rebrands Itself: Reasons to Visit

Like many newlyweds, I spent my honeymoon in Hawai’i (The Big Island and Maui). But my acquaintance with the island chain was recently revived at a recent event at Bosie’s Tea Parlor in New York City where they spoke about the island’s rebranding.

The island is now officially known as “Hawai’i, the Big Island” or “Hawai’i Island” which reflects the richly diverse earth, sea and sky adventures.  For those of you who are fact junkies, Hawai’i Island stretches impressively from sea level to Maunakea and Maunaloa, and it also features the state’s highest lake, Lake Waiau (13,020 feet). It has the state’s longest sheer drop waterfall, Akaka Falls.

Waipio Dawn - Big Island, Hawaii

Waipio Dawn – Big Island, Hawaii, credit Patrick Smith Photo on Flickr

There are many reasons to visit Hawai’i Island NOW, instead of waiting for the moment you win that Powerball. Here are only a few delicious ones:

  • Tourism is increasing on Hawai’i Island, with arrivals rising 12.9 percent in 2012 compared to March 2011. Not that we suggest rubbing elbows with the crowd (there’s plenty of room for everyone on this island), but you get the drift—this place is buzzing.

 

  • On June 4, Hawaiian Airlines launched a “no-excuse” non stop daily service between Honolulu International Airport and New York’s JFK. United Airlines offered a daily non stop from Washington/Dulles to Honolulu on June 7th (this is an addition to United’s existing Newark to Honolulu route). I love nonstop flights and absolutely hate being stuck in transit. I’m thankful that the number of East-West coast nonstop flights is increasing (e.g. Aeromexico’s recent nonstop flight to Cancun is just 4.5 hours). Now, there’s REALLY no excuse to visit!

 

  • The agricultural/agritourism and culinary activities are rich and evolving. If the Kona-coffee inspired desserts served at Bosie’s Tea Parlor were any indication, visitors will have no difficulty in accessing the tea and coffee farms to learn more about how this island staple is produced.

 

  • Volcanic activity: I remember my visit to Hawai’i, The Big Island, clear as day. We flew over Kilauea and observed the beautiful ribbons of lava and magma, and felt the heat from the smoke! Apparently Kilauea has been making headlines once again because of increased activity inside the Halema’uma’u Crater, and the belief is that the lava will once again reach the sea (think: a spectacle at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park).

Chocolate Coffee Macaroons at Bosie's Tea Parlor New York City

At the event, we wolfed down what I think were the most creamy, delicious macaroons I’ve tasted in NYC. Take that, Laduree!

Kona Coffee Tarts at Bosie's Tea Parlor New York City

Other worldly Kona coffee infused tarts made by chef Damien Herrgott at Bosie’s Tea Parlor.

And these are only a small fraction of the reasons to visit Hawai’i Island, which is the youngest and largest of the island chain. While you’re not going to be greeted with sandy beaches when you land (the airport is located near a very volcanic/black sand stretch), you’ll see how impressively transformative the landscape is as you venture deeper and deeper into the island. It’s both jungle and volcano, ying and yang, half-moon cookie kind of experience.

I can’t wait to visit again.

 

From Queen Anne to Gothic Revival: A Guide to the Victorian Style Homes in Cape May, NJ

Driving and wandering through sinuous, captivating Cape May made me marvel at the fierce concentration of Victorian Homes. These were homes like I had never seen (they were functional and aesthetic at the same time, and it wasn’t hard to see the upkeep). During my brief brush with the Victorian homes, I drank in every style of architecture: houses with the standard green trim, Queen Anne Revival style homes, and also those that wanted that edgier, post modern touch with Italianate Gothic trim and colors from a pale banana to mandarin orange.

Architect lovers can walk easy here. Cape May has the highest concentration of seaside Victorian homes in the country, and it was the first developed seaside resort town. You’ll get more than your fair share of Kodak moments. Don’t be surprised to see the sprinkling of IFederal style and Mansard style homes too.

Here are some of the styles of homes you can expect to see if you do the audio walking tour (you can rent the audio devices from Emelen Physick Estate):

Italian Gothic Italian Trim


This house features Italianate Gothic Revival trim. Gothic architecture itself was developed in the 12th century, and in this example, while most of the house is formal, the gables are beautifully detailed and ornate. Italian Gothic architecture itself prided itself on clean gables that got progressively ornate as the centuries went by. Most of the Cape May homes were reminiscent of the early and late Victorian periods, so it’s not surprising to find homes stylized by several architectural periods.

Cape May Victorian Home

 

Queen Anne Revival

The Inn of Cape May (1894) has Queen Anne style towers and is a summer hotel. It was quite small when it started and added a wing later on. This was so sprawling and magnificient, sitting on a corner block barely yards away from the ocean that it reminded me partly of a Hitchcock setting.

Inn of Cape May Queen Anne Style

Inn of Cape May Queen Anne Style

Modified Queen Anne Style: The Merry Widow Guest House

The Merry Widow guest house started its life as a simple farm house and arguably one of Cape May’s most colorful structures. I loved the Mansard style roof, the carefully painted shingles, and its impressive castle turrets. This is now a fully functioning guest house with four suites. It was formerly the J. Henry Edmonds House and built during 1875.

Pure Victorian Architecture (Stick Style): The Empress Inn

Beautifully restored by an architectural firm that took great pains to be as authentic as possible when it came to furnishings, paint and trim, The Empress Inn is an excellent example of classic Victorian architecture that stands true to its 1880 style with additions. It was meant to be open to the public as a bed and breakfast but apparently the owners are still up in the air about its plans.

And these are just a smattering of some of the impressive homes in the area. During our brief tour we were mesmerized by the beauty of several other homes that I just wished I had enough money to own:

From Queen Anne to Gothic Revival: A Guide to the Victorian Style Homes in Cape May, NJ

If “Hansen & Gretel” took place in Cape May, this is probably where the kids would end up….

From Queen Anne to Gothic Revival: A Guide to the Victorian Style Homes in Cape May, NJ

 

(PHOTOS) Back to the Future: Five & Dime Stores, Street Art in Cape May, New Jersey

In the 1998 American fantasy comedy-drama Pleasantville, it takes a remote control and a setting that’s so Back to the Future (aka 1950s) to help the plot thicken. Because of the novelty of the retro scenes (and because I didn’t grow up in the U.S.), I found the entire concept of the idyllic family and scenes at the Soda Fountain really fascinating. I had never been in a Five and Dime store before, and had never tasted a proper root beer float.

Hence, I found the movie all the more appealing because I treated it as a period piece.

Over the course of the years, I found old fashioned soda shops, watched scenes from The Brady Bunch, and encountered countless TV shows and episodes where the phrase “Honey, I’m home” was widely used. So, I’m not now a stranger to the entire look and feel of the 1950s – 1970s anymore, especially since Mad Men is in full swing too.

During my recent trip to Cape May, New Jersey, I couldn’t help but marvel how deeply set in time this area is. We had stayed at a Wildwoods, NJ Bed and Breakfast and I found Wildwood, NJ to be more of a “seaside” town than I had envisioned, and while it was punctuated by modern condos and development it still retained that 1950s flavor.

Cape May is almost all Victorian and Mansard style homes and I expected that, having read so much of the literature about the area before. But I wasn’t really prepared for the beautiful street art that I saw there, completely unexpectedly, in a parking lot. Clear blue skies overhead made it a feast of blues.

Street Art in Cape May New Jersey, The Jersey Shore

Street Art in Cape May New Jersey The Jersey Shore

Street Art in Cape May New Jersey The Jersey Shore

 

Most of the streets were quite deserted, except for a few passersby (it was off-season, after all). As you can see, even the parking lot was a bit empty, but the mural filled with scenes from the Cape May skyline, and the stylized, oversized sea creatures filled my heart with joy. There was something totally random yet beautiful encountering this sliver of street art when I predominantly expected “stuffy” Victorian homes and tea shops.

Five and Dime in Cape May New Jersey The Jersey Shore

Five and Dime in Cape May New Jersey The Jersey Shore

This Five and Dime store/ Coffee House/ Soda Fountain (Margie D’s) had me in splits because I had NO idea I would find such an outfit in Cape May, NJ. From the elegant red top bar stools to the yellow and red ketchup and mustard condiment dispensers sitting pretty on the counters, the explosion of colors screamed “retro.” Even the workers, appropriately outfitted with bowties and caps, seemed something out of a movie set. Have you encountered any store workers wearing bowties these days? I’ll be surprised if you have…

Margie D’s is also a great place to get a latte, a cappucino and just unwind. It’s located close to the Fudge Kitchen on Washington Street Mall. 

Trolley Cape May New Jersey

Another aspect of “other worldliness” is the Trolley. These are parked at the Emlen Physick Estate, which is the site for the Visitor’s Center and general information about Cape May. Visitors can also hop on the trolley for a guided tour around the resort area. While I’ve seen trolleys in other cities (San Francisco notably comes to mind), I haven’t encountered them in too many U.S. destinations. They add such a period piece element to the traffic (I didn’t notice any horse and buggy…that would have been pretty Amish!).

 

(PHOTOS) The Colorful Shops at Washington Street Mall, Historic Cape May, New Jersey

When we finally arrived at Historic Cape May after an uncomplicated and clutterless drive through Wildwoods, NJ and the straw-colored salt marshes on a particularly windy day…

Wildwoods, NJ beach

The salt marshes are giant nests; bird havens. On an ideal clear day, you can spot that elusive osprey, and see herons and several other species. Time permitting, visitors can take tours on boats to get really up close and personal.

Wildwoods, NJ beach and salt marshes

Historic Cape May is an area with the largest number of coastal Victorian homes in any part of the country, and it was really hard not to ignore the beautiful architecture everywhere (more about the homes specifically in another post).

We parked our car in the center of town and decided to stroll down the famous Washington Street Mall, which is a traffic-less section of town flanked by numerous shops painted in every shade, cajoling visitors to step inside during off-season. 

Washington Mall in Cape May, NJ

Being the nation’s oldest seashore resort, you’d expect to that hallmark of Americana: Salt Water Taffy stores. Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, part of the James Candy company, is particularly well known in seaside towns and resorts because Joseph Fralinger did so much to promote the candy in the country.

Salt Water Taffy in Washington Mall Cape May

Salt Water Taffy in Washington Mall Cape May

Salt Water Taffy in Washington Mall Cape May

You can also find some indulgent bath and body stores like Bath Time, which caught my attention because of the colorful entrance and rubber duckies studding the window display. Bath Time features a wall of essential oil blends and bath and body products, as well as hard to find brands like Tokyo Milk bath soaps.

Bath Time in Washington Mall Cape May

Bath Time in Washington Mall Cape May

Bath Time in Washington Mall Cape May and Tokyo Milk

The surprising thing about the stores in Historic Cape May were the vibrant, palpable, almost 3D colors. I felt as though I was in the Caribbean since the color palette was chock full of banana, emerald, jade and lobster shades.

Shops in Cape May, NJ

I could have spent hours staring at the bright banana paint on the walls and the green trim on the windows (being a sucker for anything eye popping), but continued to snap pictures on my “gadget free” vacation. There were plenty of beautiful Antique stores.

Shops in Cape May, NJ

Shops in Cape May, NJ

The Magic Brain was a coffee shop we were recommended to visit because of its soy lattes and hot chocolate, but unfortunately it was closed (side note: who closes a cafe on a Saturday?).

Shops in Cape May, NJ

Matt and I relaxed and enjoyed the strong breeze, salty air and the sensory overload of everything Victorian and edgy combined. It was hard not to stare and photograph everything.

Stay tuned for more in the Cape May, NJ series as well as posts on the eclectic, colorful and different styles of Victorian homes in the area.

 

The Brooklyn Series: How DUMBO Got Its Name (a Walk with “Made in Brooklyn Tours”)

I felt a bit weird trekking to Brooklyn and staying there for two days to explore the neighborhood. Let me explain, the burrough and I don’t really know each other. In fact, the only reason why  I haven’t had much of a love affair with Brooklyn is because I had dismissed it as a residential landmass, even though I didn’t know anything about it.

I have several friends who live in the area who had constantly voiced their love for their locale. Since there’s a saying that goes, “the more you know, the more you want to know,” I decided that this visit would be just what the travel doctor ordered for the skeptic residing in Weehawken, NJ.

Luckily for me, I had experts who really knew what they were talking about to ease me into Brooklyn-ese. We were in the expert hands of Dom Gervasi who started Made in Brooklyn Tours. Dom, a born and bred Brooklynite, knows the area like the back of his phone, and is a licensed NYC Sightseeing Guide.

Made in Brooklyn Tours leader Dom Gervasi (left)

Dom’s love for Brooklyn is very obvious. A soft spoken leader with a true passion for showing others the gems of his stomping grounds, he tells us of the history of the popular area that you see in the pictures.

This used to be a former Navy Yard, he explains. “It was historically called Fulton Ferry Landing.” The name DUMBO emerged in 1978, at the time when there was a surge of artists in Manhattan. During the late 1970s, manufacturers were leaving the New York City area (in places like SoHo and Tribeca) and moving elsewhere to find less expensive rentals. But since the buildings they left were empty spaces–voids with little use –the building landlords decided to be smart about putting it to good use. So they started renting out the buildings to the burgeoning artists.

This made sense to me since the SoHo, Tribeca and DUMBO areas were typically associated with artists and artist lofts.

DUMBO, Made in Brooklyn Tours, View of Artists Cafe

A view of the popular The River Cafe, and Brooklyn Bridge

The landlords started making the artist residences pretty hip, and went into a lot of empty buildings to tinker with them and do renovations. But as human nature would inevitably have it, the landlords started getting greedy and raised the prices on these manufacturing residences. Well, the artists living in the DUMBO area at the time (it wasn’t called DUMBO then) were a  bit concerned that the spike in rent in New York would affect them as well, so they banded together and decided to have an unpalatable name so no one would want to move here. Their first idea was to call the area DUMB (Down Under Manhattan Bridge) to detract others from paying a visit to the area and living there. But they (thankfully) added an O (for Overpass) at the end.  An alternatively name was Down Around the Navy Yard Annex–but DUMBO works much better.

Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Somehow, it sounds just right.

The artists’ efforts worked only for a little while, and it would be only a few years later when smart and savvy investors started to recognized the potential of the area. One of the biggest purveyors of the land were the Valentis family –both David and Jane Valentis (we’ll talk more about them in a future post).  

DUMBO, Made in Brooklyn Tours, View of Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge

A view of Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridge from the ferry landing

My weekend journey to DUMBO started off with brisk walk to the former Fulton Ferry Landing, an area where you can get a spectacular view of downtown Manhattan, including the One World Trade Center, the Frank Gehry building and of course, the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.

I inhaled the fresh air and walked briskly, hearing the pleasant sea-side sounds of seagulls and activity. The blogger group I went with were a lively bunch, and chirped in their love for Brooklyn. What is really interesting to note is how far along DUMBO has come in terms of its expansion. “This area was really declining in terms of industry,” explains Gervasi “and fortunately some people were coming here and looking at the area and saying there’s so much promise here.” Now, you’d be lucky to get a piece of the real estate action, especially if you wanted to live in a building with such impressive views as what you see above. And this area is a haven for artists, featuring movies and music. Barge Music, a popular floating music series, is held right there on the pier, off the former Fulton Ferry Landing.

It is hard not to be completely in awe of the expansive view, cafe-lined streets and what I would describe as a truly bohemian artist vibe. DUMBO is a region that every visitor –or New Yorker– should visit.

To reach Made in Brooklyn Tours, contact:

Dom Gervasi

Made in Brooklyn Tours

Phone: 718 355 9263

This is the first post in a series of posts about DUMBO and Brooklyn. A big thank you to the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott for sponsoring the tour.

 

Photo of the Day: A Walk in Rib Mountain State Park, Wausau, Wisconsin

Today’s photo of the day is of Wausau, Wisconsin, a place I never thought I would visit during the winter because I’m typically shy of the cold and snow. A hike through Rib Mountain State Park completely changed my mind however. Birch and oak trees gently swayed with snow and ice; the landscape –white on white–was more brilliant than I anticipated.

As I hiked through one of the oldest geological formations on Earth, I could hear the silence. Simon and Garfunkle’s song, “The Sound of Silence” echoed in my mind. The tints of aqua and white formed an Ansel Adam-esque backdrop and it was hard not to feel close to Nature.