Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Fridays On Etsy: Around The World For Mother’s Day

Please never do this to your child. From the collection of the British Library, via the Ugly Renaissance Babies blog.

We’ll get to the Mother’s Day gift ideas in a moment. First, a short aside.

Guys, the project I’m working on is about to start shooting, which is to film production as December 23 is to Santa Claus. Though I’m efficient about my writing schedule, the prospect of working 70 hours a week, moving apartments later this month, volunteering at Great GoogaMooga, attending a slew of mandatory social engagements, and writing five substantive and properly spell-checked blog posts a week is becoming an obstacle to my sanity. I’m going to cut down to two or three posts a week for the month of May. This will probably mean no Fridays On Etsy till June. But don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere! I’ll be back to five days a week next month.

Anyway. You wanted to buy your mom a nice jet-settish present for Mother’s Day. Here are some not-entirely-dumb ideas.

Image via Etsy seller WoolTrousers.

If your mom is into either typography or quirky languages, you can’t go wrong with this set of vintage Czech Mother and Father mugs. Save “Tatinkovi” for Father’s Day next month, and you’ve got one of hell of a deal at $6 per parent.

Image via Etsy seller Revvie1.

Did your parents run off and elope at Niagara falls? Does anyone even do that? If your mom did, this silk Niagara Falls scarf would be a great memento of that exciting time. Unless it all went to shit. In which case, don’t give her this. Note that this scarf is for the Canadian side of the falls, but for a mere $14, it’s close enough.

Photo via Etsy seller BagsByTravelHer

Is your mom one of those jet-setting Frequent Flyer Miles business travelers? She’d definitely enjoy this African Fabric “Travel Wallet”, AKA “pretty cool clutch with lots of pockets”. There are lots of other fabric patterns available, but I picked this one to show you because African fabrics remind me of my mom. She spent pretty much the entire decade of the 80’s in a dashiki. Not because she was a Black Panther or anything, but because my grandparents lived in Cameroon and brought back all kinds of cool stuff when they visited. Back to the matter at hand, this guy is on sale for $18.90!

Image via Etsy seller SilkPurseSowsEar.

Maybe your mom is the kind of mom who misses her family when she’s on the road. Which I hope is most moms? But maybe not? Unlike most jewelry designed for moms to flaunt their fecundity, this Family Tree Locket is actually beautiful jewelry you can wear in public without people thinking you’re a Michelle Duggar wannabe. It’s 16 quid plus shipping from Britain.

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We are all related.

Ta'leef Collective, Fremont, CA. Photo by Bassam Tariq.

For the past two years, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq have spent the month of Ramadan traveling to mosques across the USA. Visiting thirty communities in thirty states (including both Alaska and Hawaii), they’re gradually documenting what it means to be Muslim in America today.

They’ve sparred with an Olympic fencing hopeful in New Jersey, sung Arabic songs with a hafiz (someone who has memorized the entire Quran) in West Virginia, and broke the fast with the Muslim women of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Here are a few photos of their journey.

Prayers at a women's shelter in Baltimore, MD. Photo by Bassam Tariq.

Basheer Butcher, a Muslim convert from the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. Photo by Bassam Tariq.

The higher the hair, the closer to God.

A Christian shrine in Kerala, India. Photo by Alexander Nagel

When most people think of India, they think of Hinduism. But India is a very diverse country, religiously. Traveling through the countryside, you’ll see typical Hindu temple architecture, but you’ll also see mosques, Sikh gurudwaras, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and even churches.

A Tibetan Buddhist shrine in Darjeeling, India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

Each has its own distinctive form of architecture, though there are endless variations in different regions as well as between city and country. All of these religious buildings are equally likely to be either old-style or modern, globally classic or designed in the vernacular of that part of the country. And then you have the wild cards, where someone decided, “hey, I’d like to design a temple to look like a lotus blossom!” or whatever.

Another Keralan Christian shrine, India. Photo by Alexander Nagel.

NYU Art historian Alexander Nagel recently returned from Kerala, where he photographed these groovy modernist churches. He’s under the impression that they are a reaction to classical Hindu temple architecture. I’m not so sure — Indian ideas about religion, art, and culture are too complicated for that. Also, Christianity has had a long history in Kerala. It’s not as simple as “out with the old, in with the new.”

A dargah, or Muslim shrine, in Hyderabad. Photo by Eric Parker, via Flickr.

Also, a lot of his photos look like shrines rather than proper churches. Which complicates matters further, since Christian streetside shrines are a relatively indigenous thing in India. They’re not really like anything else, and so there’s no architectural template for them. If you’re starting from scratch, why not get as wild as you want? These also don’t look too different from Christian, Muslim, and Hindu shrines I saw all over India. They’re more space-aged, it’s true. And maybe that’s where Nagel’s thesis comes in.

I wish I knew more about Christianity in Kerala.

What it meant to be young

Photo by Jim Jocoy.

As a Mad Men fan, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the moment that a new kind of zeitgeist begins. In its first three seasons, the aesthetic of the show (true to the period, of course) felt really fifties. Season four, which takes place in 1964 and ’65, suddenly starts to feel like the sixties. Right now — 1966 in series time — suddenly, the sixties are happening!

In the late 70’s, Jim Jocoy had a day job in a copy shop. By night, he wandered the San Francisco punk scene, shooting portraits of his fellow club kids. It was the beginning of a new aesthetic.The eighties were being born, just like the sixties are finally being born on Mad Men right now.

It’s interesting to see what people are wearing in these portraits. Suddenly, the jeans are skinnier. The shoulders are boxier. There’s no more avocado green and burnt orange: it’s all black and white and red and neon

In 2002, Jocoy’s photos were collected in a book called We’re Desperate, which includes essays by Thurston Moore and Exene Cervenka. I highly recommend that you search it out. If you can’t track down the book, you can find more photos from the West Coast punk scene at Wine & Bowties.

How Vinyl Works

Photo by Flickr user avern.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published an article called How To Enjoy Turntables Without Obsessing. Like this one, it was an informational article hoping to educate readers on the basics of playing vinyl records in the twenty-first century.

But that’s where the similarities end. Because the Times piece is actually “how to get obsessed with turntables”. I mean, they recommend you start with middle-of-the-road affordable components and do the whole thing in moderation. And I hear that. But the Times’ idea of moderation is $100 cartridges! Which, holy shit, you don’t even really have to know much about what a cartridge is to listen to a record. Do you think your grandma back in whereversville before the war/in the war/right after the war bought a $100 cartridge, or even knew what a cartridge was beyond being able to point it out on the record player? And maybe calling it “the place where the needle goes”?

Look. I’m going to tell you REALLY how to enjoy turntables without obsessing.

If he can do this, so can you. Photo by rightsreaders, via Flickr.

Get a record player.

It can be just about any record player. It should work. By which I mean it should play records. I have a Crossley Spinnerette. It works fine. It only has one speaker, which is not optimal, but it’s nice and loud. If you are the kind of person who already has a home stereo system, Audio Technica has a good entry level turntable with a built in preamp for about the same price as my cheap portable record player. Or maybe you find something old at a garage sale, that’s probably also a good way to go. Though you might need a bunch of other components for it. Still, it’s better than the $500 turntables suggested by the Times article. If someone at a garage sale wants $500 for their old turntable from 1975, they are an asshole.

Photo by Matthias Rhomberg, via Flickr.

Buy some records.

As I said in my last post about vinyl, I spent way too much on my first record, just because I needed a record to play. And I’ve forked over for a couple of sought-after records since then. But I’m starting to discover the joy of the 3 for $5 bin and the crate of $2 vinyl at the stoop sale. Thrift stores also often have crazy cheap records. The only thing about bargain basement vinyl is that you really have to check the quality. I take the record out and hold it up to the light. Dirty is OK, and one or two small scratches will probably be fine. But lots of big scratches isn’t worth even a $2 investment. Also look to see if the record is warped at all. That’s not worth buying, either.

Depressed kitty is depressed. Photo by Huro Kitty, via Flickr.

Clean your records.

OK, so you have a nice haul of $3 records from somebody’s basement.  They are filthy. What now? I bought one of these cleaning kits. You put a few drops of the cleaning solution on the pad, and wipe down the record in a circular manner not unlike how we used to clean CDs. You can use the other end of the pad to dry the record off if it got really damp. According to this instructable, you can also wash records in a tray of soapy water if you get a bunch that are really encrusted. So far mine haven’t been that bad, though.

Bongo Date, by Mike Pacheco. Cover artist unknown. Via Max Sparber's Flickr photo stream.

Play music!

Now you have everything you need to play music on your record player. That was simple. Isn’t it great that you didn’t get all obsessed with the hardware? Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

Fridays on Etsy: Reading Rainbow

I have a fascination with old travel guides. I’m fiercely jealous of this guy, who recently published a book about traveling through Europe with a 1963 edition of Europe On Five Dollars A Day. Envy aside, though, old travel guides are often beautifully designed and filled with hilarious moments wherein someone laments how hard it is to find American cigarettes in France. Seriously, international guidebooks of the sixties are OBSESSED with how to get your home brand of cigarettes abroad or carry them into the country yourself despite customs laws. I’m pretty sure the Duty Free phenomenon can be traced to some dude who just wants his damn Lucky Strikes.

I’m not entirely sure that this book is about lesbianism. It being the fifties, I’m leaning toward the idea that probably it’s just a book about riding a bike through the Netherlands. Which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Regardless of whether I’m a dyke on a bike or not. Ahem. Anyway, you can find out whether there are any sapphic allusions for a mere 8 quid and whatever they’re charging for international shipping these days.

Four Days In Paris. Via Etsy seller RetailDreamer.

Who doesn’t want to spend four days in Paris? I’ve never been (saving it for some future time when I am in love), but this vintage pamphlet and map make me want to change my mind. I mean, it’s only six hours from JFK to Charles De Gaulle.  And I could do the whole thing in barely a long weekend! I’ve never been to the Louvre. Or Versailles. Or the Champs Elysees. How could I possibly have put it off for this long? For $9.99, you, too, could re-evaluate why you’ve been waiting to visit Paris. Or perhaps you could recherche temps perdus, if you’re into Proust and have been to Paris already.

1903 Baedecker guide to Southern Italy. Via Etsy seller MoreLooseEnds

Maybe you’re not into Paris. Maybe you’ve always wanted to visit Sicily, Capri, Pompeii, or Naples. And maybe you want to do it before the war. Both wars. Maybe what you want is not so much a vacation, but a Grand Tour. In that case, this 1903 Baedecker guide to Southern Italy is exactly what you’re looking for. For only $30, you could take a mental journey through all the places we bombed in World War II, all the ancestral villages of all the Italian-American immigrants, and all the most chic places to spend the winter if you’re Coco Chanel or James Joyce.

So, I guess that’s another Friday with Etsy. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Six New York Museums And What They Are Good For

The Wilbour Plaque, from the Egyptian Collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Good For Actually Learning About Art:

The Brooklyn Museum

While other museums throw piles of art objects behind glass cases with cards that say things like, “Amphora, Corinth, 4th century BCE”, the Brooklyn Museum takes a more down to earth approach. The curators don’t assume that, by virtue of wandering into an art gallery, you must already know what you’re looking at. Instead they tell you what’s up in plain language, often answering questions you didn’t entirely know how to ask.

Venus and the Lute Player, by Titian. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Good For Drowning In Beauty:

The Metropolitan Museum

It’s often difficult to know what, exactly, you’re looking at, and don’t even TRY to see the whole place in one day (or even one lifetime). But the thing about the Metropolitan Museum is that no matter how you approach it or what’s on display, you will always see something that leaves your jaw hanging somewhere around your knees. The collection is just so rich there’s no way to take a wrong turn down a boring hallway full of fusty old junk. The Met doesn’t have any of that.

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. In the collection of the Cloisters.

Good For Time Travel:

A tie between The Cloisters and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Maybe you came to New York because you want to see what being a “true New Yorker” is really like. Maybe you are a “true New Yorker”, and you just want to run away to medieval France for the afternoon. Manhattan can do that. And that. The Cloisters is an actual monastery, shipped here brick by brick from France by the Rockefellers, plopped down in a bucolic and period-accurate hilltop garden, and turned into a medieval art museum. The Tenement Museum is an actual tenement, restored to multiple layers of period-accuracy so that you can wander through on guided tours and see what life was like on the Lower East Side from the 1850’s through the 1970’s. They are two of my favorite places in the world.

Henry Clay Frick didn't have a Rembrandt. He had three motherfuckin' Rembrandts. Photo by Ozier Muhamad, via the New York Times.

Good For Pretending To Be New York Royalty:

The Frick Collection

After you’ve had your fill of the Lower East Side, come uptown and see how the rich capitalist fat cats lived. While the Frick Collection is a proper museum with a straight up ridiculous collection of important European art (Vermeers, y’all), a lot of the rooms have been left relatively untouched, with unobstructed views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Making it very easy to stroll amid the velvet couches and gilded clocks as if you, too, were to the manor born. But without all that oppressing the working classes.

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum, photo via shafe.co.uk.

Good For Digging Deeper And Rollerskates:

The Guggenheim

When the Guggenheim is good, it’s amazing. Since the spiral main space is usually treated as one long ramp of a gallery, the curators have become experts in presenting exhibitions that suck the viewer in. Even as a huge museum nerd, for the most part I go into a gallery, look at a few things that seem interesting, maybe read some of the supplementary materials if they’re not too obnoxious, and then zip off to the next thing. But the Guggenheim doesn’t work that way. I typically go in with only the vaguest notion of who the artist is or what the work is about, and I always come out not only a newly minted expert, but head over heels in love. You can blame this museum for almost all of my artistic obsessions. Even minimalism. If you don’t know a ton about art, but you wish you knew more, make a habit of seeing shows at the Guggenheim. Maybe if we all get together, we can convince them to let us bring our skateboards.

My space plans will surely be carried out.

The Afronauts. All photographs by Cristina De Middel.

It was 1964, and Zambian schoolteacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso had a dream.

Mr. Nkoloso dreamed that his newly independent country would make its mark on the rest of the world in a way that could never be forgotten.

Three years before, the Soviets had put a man in space. A week after that, the American President Kennedy promised that the USA would be the first to set foot on the moon.

Zambia would do the world powers one better. The Zambians were going to Mars.

Nkoloso took the first step without consulting his government — which was busy planning Independence festivities — and created the National Academy of Science, Space Research, and Philosophy (NASSRP?). He recruited astronauts and began weightlessness training by hurling them down hillsides in an empty oil drum.

This may seem primitive, but if you look at footage of NASA and the Apollo program from the same era, things aren’t a whole lot more advanced. There’s an element of the Cargo Cult in Nkoloso’s editorials from the period, but if you think about it, there’s an element of the Cargo Cult in the early Space Age as a whole. The US could never have won the space race without German scientists who brought rocket technology to the table in exchange for having their Nazi connections erased from history. Seen with 21st century eyes, we got to the moon on firecrackers and tin foil.

What America had that Zambia didn’t was aesthetics: Tang, aerosol cans, go-go boots, and the bee-hive hairdo. I’m not even sure the Soviets had that much. If it looks like you can do something, then people will believe you can do it. The funding comes rolling in. Next thing you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are on prime time TV, in color. You’ve sold your mission to the stars like a sweat-shop designer handbag. One small step. One giant leap.

But Zambia didn’t have silver lamé miniskirts or a Space Western in the network TV lineup. Nobody was going to be fooled. And so, when the world reported on Edward Nkolosa’s astronaut training regimen, it did so in the form of a colonialist joke.

More than fifty years later, Spanish artist Cristina De Middel isn’t laughing. After discovering the Zambian space program through old British news footage (what can’t you find in old BBC documentaries?), she has created a series of photographs that explore ideas of the future, the past, stereotype, and image, all surrounding the aesthetic of the Zambian Astronaut.

The Afronaut series, which De Middel hopes to publish as a book, seems on the surface to participate in the joke of the Zambian on Mars. Black men wear space suits accessorized with raffia, pose with elephants, and stride through tall grasses bathed in bright sunlight. Afro hairstyles poke out of the front of their helmets.

But looking deeper, it’s obvious that De Middel is in on it. The poses are too reminiscent of Keith Haring’s cartoon space men not to be a reference to the astronaut as visual code for Infinity And Beyond. The elephant photos are juxtaposed with shots of an alien autopsy. The astronauts’ gloved hands probe; what is this strange creature? What is this bizarre sun-baked moonscape?

After all, what’s more primitive than a man being shot into the sky on the back of a giant bomb?

Note: I absolutely could not have written this piece without the inspiration of Wired Magazine and Laughing Squid.

Traditional Home of the Way Out

The Human Be-In, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967. I would love it if someone could help me find out who took this photograph.

As I’ve said in the past, I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the place/travel aspect of this blog. I live where I live and am the person that I am. I have the culture that I’ve been brought up with. So to me, everything else is “other” and thus fair game for this website. This is why I like to talk about New York culture, and why I hope to come across an excuse to talk about the South Louisiana/Cajun culture I grew up in. I feel like if I’m talking about my own stuff as often as I’m creating a window on Vietnam or Nigeria or Turkey, at least it’s fair. But then I’m constantly worried that the goal of my blog is to other people through the arts.

I found out this week that someone has already done that. And they’ve done such a good job at it that the piece of American culture they chose to highlight feels not just like another place and time, but another planet.

I’m referring to the BBC documentary series Whicker’s World, in which British journalist Alan Whicker covered social issues in places as diverse as Haiti, Paraguay, and Hong Kong.

In the summer of 1967, Whicker cast his camera lens on San Francisco, and the resulting film is one of those odd examples of earnest British reportage in a world that is decidedly un-earnest — in the case of the UK press reaction to Bob Dylan shown in D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back — or maybe too earnest, in the case of this Whicker’s World thing. The honest, straight ahead, unironic treatment of the Haight-Ashbury scene is wilder for the fact that the hippies are completely honest in return. The documentary doesn’t flinch or attempt to exploit the titillating subject matter, which somehow makes the subject matter seem even stranger.

Poster from the Human Be-In designed by Michael Bowen, with photography by Casey Sonnabend. This event kick-started the Summer Of Love and alerted the media and the wider world to what was going on in San Francisco.

In reality, that world isn’t that far away from me. Yeah, it’s the other side of the country in a city I’ve never actually visited, but it’s a cultural moment that backlit everything that was to come in American culture. My mom had Janis Joplin records as a kid. LSD, not Crack, was the real spectre behind the curtain of After-School Specials and the Just Say No Club. Growing up in America in the eighties, The Sixties was the basis of everything. I don’t think The Summer Of Love stopped being relevant until probably September 11, 2001. And in a lot of ways it’s still relevant. But in Whicker’s documentary, it seems a million miles away. Is this my culture? Is this where I’m from? Worse, what about the society the hippies rejected? If the hippies look bizarre, the larger American culture — as described by the BBC, in any case — feels outright foreign.

I wonder if this is the feeling that inspired Gita Mehta to write Karma Cola?

So, I hear you’re moving on

Still from The Art of Pho. Illustration by Julian Hanshaw. Image courtesy of Submarine Channel, via flickr.

Illustrator Julian Hanshaw and animator Lois van Baarle have collaborated to create a love letter to Saigon in the form of what I can only describe as an interactive animated web comic. The Art of Pho follows the journey of a creature called Little Blue as he masters the titular soup and makes discoveries about his past, human nature, and life itself. It’s part movie, part video game, and all gorgeous.

I kind of wanted to cry a little at the end. But maybe I can blame that on the cold I’ve been battling all week.

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