Beautiful Nepal is in my prayers

Swayambhunath स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप, The Monkey Temple, in Kathmandu, Nepal. This ancient temple is the home to many feisty monkeys. The Tibetan name for Swayambhunath is "Sublime Trees", which I love.

I went to college in Boulder, CO, where there is a sizable Nepalese population. In fact, all of the furniture I bought at that time - from a gorgeous boutique called Gypsy Jewel - was hand-picked in Nepal and India by Maruta, the owner of the store. I was wondering why so many Nepalese people lived in Boulder. One day I walked into a Nepalese store on Pearl Street and asked the man working there why he moved to Boulder from Nepal. He replied, "Oh, because Nepal looks just like this!" (pointing to the Flatirons). Ah. I bought a few bracelets, including one that said "Kathmandu" in bold, beaded letters, and went on my way. 

Years later when I was planning a trip to Asia, I was dying to see Kathmandu. When I finally got there, I had to laugh as I walked down the streets and saw the exact same tapestries, accessories, pillow cases, and scarves found in Boulder, CO.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels. Nepal, I'm praying for you!

A la Lemle

A la Lemle

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I will admit that I judged this book by its cover. The first time I saw Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I was a teenager in a tiny, overstocked bookstore in San Francisco. "Pink! Motorcycles! Zen! I need this book!" was my childish inner dialogue at the time. As an overprotected 15-year-old, my mother would not allow me to buy it. "You're too young to read that book, Tracey. It will affect the way you view the world, and it's too early." Le sigh. So I read it in college.

Zen was rejected 121 times before it was finally published. As you may have already surmised, the book has nothing to do with motorcycle maintenance. Author Robert M. Pirsig expounds his views on philosophy and the world at large by telling a story about a father and son who travel together on a motorcycle trip across the United States. Zen is an American classic.

It's brilliant, intense and overwhelmingly quotable. Every other sentence is a deeply pensive thought or lesson and offers perspectives on societal topics - specifically the advent and growth of technology - that will really make you think. While some of my beliefs are vastly different, I can't deny Pirsig's profound one-liners. 

This quote is one of my favorites:

"The world has no existence whatsoever outside the human imagination."

You never know.

I took this picture in Jaipur, India. I was walking around the Galta Monkey Temple and saw this door open from afar. It was beautiful, ominous and reminded me of European medieval castles. When I walked over to take a picture, I was surprised to see what was behind such a formidable, tall and strong door...a party!!!! LOVE.

Travel accessories 101: A beginner's list

I took a travel writing class called The Global Traveler a few years ago at NYU. The teacher, Michael Luongo (who is fearless and awesome!), told me about Round the World trip tickets, which are the easiest way to travel to multiple countries or continents in one single trip. Upon hearing that RTW tickets have special discounts for anyone under age 26, I made circumnavigation a goal to achieve before my 26th birthday. I circumnavigated with my best friend Joanna in January 2012. We were 25. 

We had to plan to be away for almost a month, so I went to Flight 001 in the West Village to pick up a few travel accessories. At the time I thought I had no idea what I was doing, but to this day I am still surprised by the pin-point accuracy of my guesswork. After that RTW trip I became a travel writer, and I can tell you that all of the items below - whether they are obvious, trite suggestions or not - are my must-haves.


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1. I drink Jetpax's fizzy, fruity, floral drinks whenever I fly across time zones. Pour these powder packets into a glass of water in the AM (citrus) and PM (lavender) for the first few days of your trip while you're adjusting from jetlag. I swear it helps!

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4. Every time I pack for a trip I feel like a chemist. I pour my products into these small bottles, keep them in the plastic case and slide it into my dopp kit. It's the best way to stay organized.

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7. A Baggu! This bag is nylon, which means it's lightweight and waterproof. It folds into a square the size of your palm and fits into a tiny, flat case. You can use it for wet bathing suits, dirty sneakers or basically anything else you want to keep away from the rest of your stuff. I never go on a trip without it.

2. Okay. I'm telling you to buy what appears to be an ordinary dopp kit. But wait! There's a reason why this case is perfect for travel. It's lightweight, has no piping and can fold in any direction you want. It also has a handle that can hang on a hook or knob.

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5. SKROSS makes the best travel adapters out there. The top piece charges a USB and each button on the side slides down to push out a plug for a different continent.

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8. You may think a sewing kit is unnecessary, but I've had instances where I've needed to use it. This particular kit is practically microscopic so I just throw it in my suitcase.

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3. Suggesting to travel with an eye mask seems trite, but most people don't bring them along. If you're on a flight where you need to sleep or on an overnight flight and they don't turn out the lights (ahem - El Al), having an eye mask makes all the difference. I love this one because it has pillowy padding that falls just beneath your eyes.

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6. Again, a travel document case seems obvious, but you'd be surprised by how many people don't use them! Putting your passport, tickets and travel docs all in one place makes the airport experience faster and easier.

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9. Flight socks. I always bring the same pair. Trust me, once you get in the habit of putting on socks in lieu of going through security barefoot, you'll always keep them in your carry-on. =)


A perfect shot from the light writer

Photographer Jesse Martineau took this shot in Canada on a night when both the northern lights and the Milky Way were visible. The first time I had a really clear view of the Milky Way was in South Africa. It was a thick and powerful twinkling blanket of light and the stars felt so close, like you could reach out and touch them. I've never seen the northern lights, but I think about them all the time.

This photo sparks my imagination: the green glow of aurora borealis swirling around the stars, the mysterious electric blue current, the incurved wooden house...I love the enchantment. It's you and the wilderness, alone together, and something magical is happening.

I asked Jesse how he managed to get the light squiggle in this shot and he explained it in the caption below:

"So this photo looks really complicated, but it actually isn't! It's called "Light Writing". We take a photo, but leave the shutter open. In this case it was open for 30 seconds. During that time, any form of light will be picked up by the camera, but the person holding the light won't because they are too dark!" Awesome.

On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

I was looking for a rudimentary writing manual and came across On Writing, a cross between a grammar book and a memoir. After expecting a somewhat dry, utilitarian summary on how to write, I was surprised to find myself wholly absorbed in King's life story. All I wanted to do was sit down with my Kindle and keep reading.

To be honest, I've never read a Stephen King novel in my life. It's not because of a lack of interest in the horror/sci-fi genre, but rather that the opportunity to dive into Pet Sematary or Cujo never presented itself. What attracted me to On Writing was my appreciation for many of King's stories that have been adapted into films. My favorite movie of all time is The Shawshank Redemption, which was based on King's novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; the films Stand By Me, The Shining and Misery are all based on King classics; and even Dolores Claiborne, a kooky and creative tale that gushes King's signature style of horror and mayhem, is a film I'll always kick back and watch again and again.

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King was born a writer. In light of this, at times throughout the book the reader may detect a slight pretension that only a natural would possess. For instance, King says that "a good writer can never become a great writer" - I disagree with this completely. As I wrote in my last book review, amateurs can always become professionals if they put in the time. In spite of a few minor grumbles, I loved this book from start to finish, so for your benefit and my own here's a short outline of King's learned and profound advice for the writer:

  • "Bad grammar produces bad sentences." WORLD, please reread that sentence the next time you hear yourself say, "Me and her went to the store." Ahhh!!
  • King hates adverbs and I understand why. Adverbs are often used in a sentence when the writer "can't describe" what they're really thinking, feeling or seeing. In other words, for King, adverbs are a cop-out when you don't know how else to express yourself. Usually ending in "ly", adverbs tend to weaken sentences. An example: "Put it down!" she shouted menacingly. Was it necessary to add menacingly? No. Didn't the sentence already relay the emotion of anger without the adverb? Yes. It did.
  • "Writing is refined thinking." Period.
  • Fear and affectation fuel bad writing. King believes that fear is at the root of most bad writing, and I believe it too. 
  • "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." The best writers I know are voracious readers. Reading increases your vocabulary, enhances your personal style and inspires creativity. Just like any other talent, your ability to write improves with practice. King says to write at least 1,000 words a day, which shouldn't be a problem if you really enjoy writing. He recommends the aspiring writer to allocate 4-6 hours a day for reading and writing.
  • Writing is about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life in the process. Amen.

Life imitating art

While wandering around Newport, RI in the summertime, I walked into a store at Bowen's Wharf and was stunned by the animated vignette in front of me. What appeared to be a whimsical painting at first glance was more akin to a live scene on a stage with actors and props, performing right outside the window.

Hand candy couture

I've been keeping an eye on Saint Laurent's jewelry this season because it's clear that the brand has taken a different direction. 

Saint Laurent's Patti woven Lurex bracelet in bronze.

Saint Laurent's Patti woven Lurex bracelet in bronze.

Their accessories are now far more accessible, youthful and creative, and after perusing through some of their new pieces I decided to buy beads and make the jewelry myself. It's cost effective and if you're like me, you'll enjoy doing it. 

Mastering contrast of color is the key to making beautiful jewelry. Red and hot pink; bright yellow and taupe; white and red; purple and gold; black and white. Mixing colors with different metals also creates a nice contrast (like the pink and rose gold bracelet below).

The Saint Laurent bracelet pictured on the left is essentially crocheted and knotted (I love the bronze!). Though this design is advanced, with a little practice you can make it too!

Accessories are what, in my opinion, pull the whole look together and make it unique.
— Yves Saint Laurent

SAINT LAURENT

Patti wood, cotton and howlite bracelet. 

1. When I learned how to bead, I started with the easy stuff. I didn't use clasps or anything fancy and I knotted instead. This bracelet is really easy to make: buy a black lanyard strand, comparable beads and simply knot it together.

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ISABEL MARANT

Janis & For A Life set

2. This fancy pirate bracelet set is sold out everywhere, understandably – so now it's another DIY project! It may seem difficult to find skull beads quite like these, but you'd be surprised by what's out there. Marant's signature tassel is nothing less than adorable, but I promise there are many stylish alternatives.

STEPHEN WEBSTER

GOSH 10-karat rose gold crystal bracelet.

And this one, well...is beautiful. I want it because of the color. Pink compliments many colors, particularly red, hot pink, black and lapis, my personal favorite. 3.

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3. I like the look of beaded bracelets mixed with finer pieces. It was just restocked, so if you love it as much as I do buy it now!


Beauty and the brain

Have you ever traveled with travel writers? There's nothing like it. It's a sensory overload experience, where every sight, smell, taste, touch and sound is not only emphasized and discussed, but deeply appreciated. Relishing a beautiful environment, culture or work of art with such a varied and intellectual bunch is nothing less than exhilarating, and every kooky personality in the group always adds something special to the adventure. 

Blown up image of pixel 'particles', by Neuroproductions.

Blown up image of pixel 'particles', by Neuroproductions.

One of the more memorable personalities I've encountered while on the road is travel writer/neuroscientist Catherine Roscoe Barr, who I met when I was in Vancouver on assignment to photograph eagles in a little mountain town called Squamish. Her lifestyle blog The Life Delicious blends travel, fitness and wellness, all from the perspective of someone who understands the inner-workings of the mind on an expert level (she has a BSc in Neuroscience). In a word, she's awesome. A few weeks ago, she tweeted the following:

"When your mind is turbulent, your messenger molecules communicate turbulence to your cells, tissues and organs. If you can quiet your mind, you can send messages of peace and harmony to every cell in your body."

I get the part about turbulence (I think we all do) - but what kinds of sensory experiences cause 'messages of peace and harmony to send to every cell in your body'? The study of this type of brain activity is called neuroaesthetics: a sub-discipline of aesthetics that examines how our brain processes beauty (and is particularly focused on how the brain reacts to art and music). The essay below, written by Brita Larson, examines neuroaesthetics from the perspective of a photojournalist...like me!

Neuroaesthetics ties art with science

By: Brita Larson

Shiela Reaves’ office is exactly what you’d imagine a professor’s office to look like: cozily collegiate with books everywhere. There is an entire wall made up of bookshelves and there are stacks of books on the two desks in the office. When I mentioned to Reaves that I was interested in neuroaesthetics, the science of the visual brain, she began to whirl about her office, plucking books from piles and from the shelves.

Reaves is a professor in the Life Sciences Communication department. The beauty of the Life Sciences Communication faculty is that they dabble in many fields; in academic terms, they’re highly interdisciplinary. Reaves is no exception. Her academic research lies in a field called “neuroaesthetics.” Neuroaesthetics studies how our visual brain processes images, specifically art and photography.

But she certainly didn’t start there. Reaves began her career as a photojournalist after she discovered her passion for photography at the age of eighteen. When she was job-hunting after graduation, she had a fateful interview with Chuck Scott, the former director of photography at the Chicago Tribune. After their interview, he asked Reaves if she had any questions.

“I had won some awards and I knew what I was doing. But when I asked Chuck Scott, ‘What makes a good picture?’ he muttered for a while and then said, ‘Action and emotion.’ It was the best answer I’ve found. That really guided my career. It all boils down to action and emotion,” said Reaves.

Reaves eventually ended up at The Capital Times. “Ten years of photojournalism full time, but it was a wonderful way to spend your twenties. It’s very demanding, always looking for a parking spot under deadline and you can never plan your day because there might be a hostage shoot-out,” Reaves said. She saw the look of shock on my face. “No, that really happened.”

In those ten years, Reaves proved her abilities as a brilliant photographer. The photograph she took at the hostage shoot-out won her photo essay of the year. “I knew how to think about photos. Like, what makes a good picture, what kind of picture puts the reader in the situation?”

Click here to read the rest of the article.