There has been this persistent grey color to the sky, the ground, and the very air we breathe in New York City. The lack of sun and this endless winter has turned this city into a page out of a Dostoevsky novel, cold, snowy, miserable, and grey.
I was lucky enough to escape for a few days in January; we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I felt that warm sun on my skin I completely understood why people used to worship this majestic, celestial body. It is rejuvenating and magnificent in its splendor; it is life.
Old San Juan was particularly inviting, a 500+ year old city surrounded by forts built by the Spanish in the 1500's. The two forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, were high and mighty and must have been quite a sight in the days of colonial trade routes in the Caribbean Sea.
San Juan was fantastic however the best things to do were outside of the city. El Yunque rainforest, a national rainforest about an hour away from the city, had fantastic trails and interesting plants to discover and kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay was one of the best experiences of my life. I was frightened a bit by the dark and the water however once we reached the lagoon we saw nothing but the green lights of the phytoplankton in the water below us and the bright stars above. I lived the entire trip in that one moment.
I have been visiting Pakistan once a year for three consecutive years now. My family is forever hospitable and hosts me as if I had never left the place. It is a blessing to be a part of an exclusive group of people that one can call one's own.
In the past three years, the currency of Pakistan (the rupee) has fallen considerably against the dollar. In 2011, $1 was equivalent to 80 rupees, in 2012 it was 92 rupees, and in 2013 it is not 105 rupees. Likewise that which cost 100 rupees in 2011 costs 150 rupees or more in 2013. Inflation is rampant and salaries have not increased. We see the same thing here in the United States, my salary has been frozen for the past two years yet the cost of rent, electricity, gas, water, heat, etc has gone up. Nevertheless, folks work very hard to make ends meet and to try to provide a better life for the next generation.
We took a trip to Thatta and Kheenjar Lake (about 3 hours from Karachi). Families were out and about, enjoying the break in the weather and the day off in the cool waters of the lake. On the way back from the lake we stopped over at the Jame Masjid built by Shah Jahan in Thatta and then headed over to see the historical cemetery at Makli.
The mosque was as beautiful as i remembered it to be two years ago. This year it was crowded; it made me happy to see Pakistani people enjoying their own history on the day of their Independence (we went out on August 14- Pakistan independence day). The front portion of the mosque, the mihrab (where the imam leads the prayer) was redone. My favorite parts were the different ceilings (above and below). The precision, the colors and the patterns all fit perfectly with the grandeur of the mosque.
Makli Cemetery lies in the outskirts of the city of Thatta. This cemetery is five centuries and is a testament to several styles of islamic art and architecture. There are over half a million graves here. The rise and fall of several islamic civilizations are shown through the architectural designs of the mausoleums that the rich built for themselves and their families. The sands of Makli are rich in the turbulent history of the region. If folks could be buried in such ostentatious displays of fortune, what must their normal lives have been like?
The city of Thatta was once a flourishing place as one can see from the remnants of grandeur left behind. Now, it has fallen into decay and with the huge city of Karachi near by it seems as if there is no interest left to preserve it. There is a rise and a fall for everything and every place.
One does not have to look far to find great style and inspiration. It's in the street art anywhere and everywhere. The letters, colors, names, stickers, all being used to convey some message, angst and hate-filled or against hate. It's all around us (and it can be an eyesore at times), a basic freedom of expression, even if it does get painted over. Look around.
With malice toward none, with charity for all...a mural dedicated to Lincoln in Philadelphia
Art, literature, and history are the biggest inspirations in my life. This week, Jack Kerouac's On The Road has helped rekindle my love for an adventure and it has reminded me of the importance of compassion. The monotony of the daily grind takes its toll in the worst possible way. Fatigue leads to indifference and the worst thing of all, complacency. I refuse to settle for that.
So began an impromptu road trip to Philadelphia. In less than three hours from Brooklyn we made it to the city where the colonists declared their independence from Britain, where the universities, churches and museums are rich in their exhibits and history, where open space was planned hundreds of years in advance, and where Rocky (a fictional character) is a celebrated hero.
There were many, many homeless and struggling people. It's hard to see someone struggle and not even offer a smile for support or a handful of change. May poverty be alleviated in all nations, may we strive for a better, more humane society.
I am an incredibly snooty Northeastern New Yorker. I turn up my nose at the idea of having to travel to "cities" outside of NYC or the northeast (unless its Seattle). To me, NYC is the greatest city in the world because of its diversity, culture, history, opportunity, transportation, etc, obviously I could go on forever.
This week, I have been humbled and brought down from my high Northeastern horse. The city of St. Louis has shown me a potential like no other city that I have traveled to and I've come to truly enjoy the time that I have spent here.
There is history in St. Louis that I never knew existed, mounds of civilization had been discovered here and dated back to 1150-1200 A.D. Lewis and Clark started their expedition through here, Dredd Scott was tried here, Mark Twain wrote much about life on the MIssissippi, and engineers developed careers here in trying to alleviate flooding issues.
This city will be up and coming, there are several neighborhoods that are very commercial, lined with restaurants, coffee shops and art galleries. Today, while standing near the Mississippi River, I could feel something spiritual about it, i understand why so many songs and poems and books were written about it. There is something bittersweet about this river and about the city that lives on it. I'm glad to have had the time to experience it and I hope to travel with a much more open mind.
Istanbul is the city that Europeans and westerners go to to feel like they've traveled somewhere in the "east". There are mosques on every corner and hundreds of years of Ottoman and Islamic history, the call to prayer is heard 5 times a day and many women have interesting head coverings and styles to their hijab.
The city is drenched in history- thousands of years of it. Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, for centuries it was the cross-roads of the world. This is evident in the markets, the architecture, Constantine's ancient wall around the city still stands, the relics of Christianity are everywhere as well as the dominance and seat of the Ottoman sultanate. It has also modernized, with a navigable transportation system - probably the best thing about the city. It is convenient, cheap, taking one everywhere he/she wants to go, from the Hagia Sophia to the Blue mosque, the spice market and the grand bazaar, even crossing over into the Asian side of the city over the Bosphorus Sea. Coming from New York City and seeing a system like that made me feel at home very quickly. The tram map was easy to understand even without speaking the language.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia
Sinan, the famous architect during the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, was behind the enormous mosques that still dot the skyline of the city, most notably the Blue Mosque and the Suleymania (pictured below). My favorite piece of architecture was the Hagia Sophia, a marvel in the feat of engineering and design, built by the Byzantines during emperor Justinians time nearly 1500 years ago. A church it was then; it was converted to a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in the 1400-1500s. They added the 4 minarets to the building and put up huge medallions with Allah, Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Hassan, Hussain (the names of God, the Prophet, and the successors to the Prophet according to Sunni ideology. The great thing about the Ottomans was that they left behind the original mosaics of crosses and the Virgin Mary and Jesus that had been installed in the building centuries before.
To see the history of empires past and feel like one has stepped back in time for a moment, Istanbul is the place to go.
The Hagia Sophia, exterior. The history and fascination of this building by the Ottomans can be seen with the many domed structures that are all over Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque, opposite of the Hagia Sophia. Almost as if Sinan was trying to mimic the Hagia Sophia hundreds of years later. It is still used as a mosque. The courtyard is majestic. Tune in for more pictures as soon as I can organize them!
Vases at the British museum in London.
A couple of years ago I took a trip to visit a friend in London. We got a chance to see the famous British museum and the Islamic art exhibit there was gorgeous. I realized that i use many, many Islamic art motifs in my henna designs and now I look to them for inspiration. The floral patterns and geometric patterns and intricate mathematical algorithms look amazing on these mosque lamps and look just as stunning on henna patterns on ones hands!
The mosque lamps below were my favorites. They were lit up and looked exquisite in the light. The style of writing is beautiful.
If you would like to know more about Islamic Art - check out the Islamic Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I went to the MoMa in midtown for the first time in my life and it was a great and overwhelming experience. It was a free Friday and the place, like midtown Manhattan, was overflowing with tourists. It was difficult to navigate through the throngs (zillions of people with dslr's and strollers) so we didn't stay long. Note to self: Never go to a museum on a free Friday (or weekend for that matter)- check it out on an obscure day and time.
Nevertheless, I did get to see some classic works by Picasso, Munch, Van Gogh, and Monet, pieces that I had only ready about but never laid eyes in person. I was surprised by the sizes of some of the paintings. Picasso's work really stands out (two pictures above) and this painting below really represents melancholy and fear, in my opinion. The photo below is a work by Munch. I feel like I've seen that look in the mirror.
Now that I may get furloughed and have every Friday off, I can go museum hopping! I will definitely be back at the MoMa, so much to see and to get inspired by! Maybe I'll use abstract art in my future henna designs.
A restaurant on the ocean, Clifton, Karachi.
Pakistan is in the news again today, yet another bombing in Karachi, targeting the Shi'ite minority. Violence is disgusting, aren't we all Muslim? Why can the Shia not have their own views without being killed for it? May those who were killed find peace and be granted Heaven.
In part two of my Pakistan segment I try to bring forward the beauty of the country in these pictures. I visited Karachi again last summer and had the opportunity to travel north to Islamabad (the capital) and to Muree (a mountainous, tourist town). We took an early flight from Karachi to Islamabad and reached there in about an hour and a half. The weather in Islamabad was miserable, 95 degrees and incredibly humid, much worse than we left behind in Karachi. Karachi is very brown and Islamabad is green, it was like driving through parts of New Jersey or Pennsylvania, very suburban. Upon arriving in Islamabad, we packed up our things and drove to Muree, roughly 2 hours away. It was a long road into and up the mountains but we were more than pleasantly surprised upon arriving there. The temperature was a chilly 60 degrees, there were lights up for Ramadhan and many people were out and about in the town.
We set our bags down in our hotel and got to exploring, staying out on the main road until two in the morning, shopping, eating, and talking with the shop owners. The green tea and coffee was exceptional in Muree. We were practically giddy with excitement, my cousins and I. At night the town was very much alive, the lights looked like spaceships in the distance, each town carrying lights higher and higher in the mountains. The next day we explored some of the sites with a guide (encountered breathtaking views and a Santa Claus) and had some horrid and frightening driving experiences. Driving on those road is definitely not for the faint of heart; I can't remember ever praying so much for my survival. At the end of the day, we drove back to Islamabad. The next segment will feature my findings in Pakistan's capital city. Stay tuned!
Massive color blocks on a building. Inspiring that the work is allowed and that it's noticeable to pedestrians and not a distraction to cars driving because its a one way street.
Walking through soho with a friend yesterday gave me alot to think about. Thank you :)
Grave of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan)
Pakistan has been and continues to be in the media as of late. The media will never give us good news or tales of generous deeds and adventures from this country, rather one hears only the worst possible things about this place. What comes to mind to the average American when they hear the name of Pakistan? Terrorism, probably. Or death, destruction, instability, corruption, etc (as if these things never happen anywhere else in the world).
Nevertheless, the next two segments will be dedicated to the beautiful Pakistan that I have known and visited and grown to love. I have been blessed to travel to Pakistan for the month of Ramadhan (Islamic fasting month) for the past 2 years and God willing will continue to do so. The people are great, the sites are amazing, the textiles, culture, landscapes, and history are spectacular. I have enjoyed and loved every bit of time that I got to spend there. I bring you here some of the pictures of Karachi and Thatta, in the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan.
Karachi is a port city, grand and luxurious. There is extreme wealth and also extreme poverty but a middle class is establishing themselves. Thatta was eye opening as it was falling apart, with this mosque one could see that this indeed was once a grand city in the Mughal empire. Now, it was reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was.The streets were lined with people who had nothing but the clothes on their back. There were refugees from the north who escaped flooding. It was devastating. There were many people at the mosque, taking comfort in the shade of the corridors and in the free food given away during the iftaar (breaking of the fast) at sundown.
May we always give back to those who are less fortunate than us and remember them in our prayers.
I love to travel. I've had the pleasure to travel to Europe, South America, and Asia. I'll be putting up some pictures as soon as I can. Here, I begin with Dublin, Ireland.
Dublin - June 2009
We had great weather when visiting Dublin, it was sunny, warm, and inviting. I stayed at a hotel in downtown Dublin and for the most part we were able to walk around the city to see it. We were able to rent a car to go out to visit Trim Castle and the mountains. The landscape changed so suddenly in Ireland. From the coast, one was able to see the mountains in the distance. The landscapes were beautiful, the buildings were too. The churches were gothic like and had scary dungeon-like basements. The buildings that lined the river were all rectangular in shape and in an assortment of colors.I like celtic designs and try to incorporate them into henna patterns. The swirly patters in this image below are particularly cool, this passage tomb at Newgrange is dated back to 3,200 B.C. You can find out more about Newgrange here at their website, http://www.newgrange.com/.
I've lived in Brooklyn for nearly three years now. There is much to see and do and I fear that there will never be enough time to see and do the things that I want to. Inspiration is at every corner, if you let it be!
Prospect Park is fun, even in the dead of winter when the ice has frozen over the lake. Little kids squeal with delight at the ducks and swans in the pond. The ducks do look content on the ice.
I'll be adding pictures and commentary of the things I love. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary place. There is no special purpose to this blog other than to project what I am thinking of at any given moment.
All the photos are mine (unless stated otherwise). Please do not use without permission. To learn more about me, check out my linked in profile below.