Tag Archives: Botswana

#toystory

I grew up loving a stuffed toy elephant and lion. Together,  they were Ellie and Leo. Very original, I know.  They were a set of stuffed small bean-bag style toys. The best of friends among themselves, propped up on my bed. They were adorable (if I don’t say so myself). They travelled the world with me and like for any child, they were a comforting, constant presence.

Leo’s mane had been whittled into a thin wisened, wizardly beard, almost dreadlock-like from overuse: too much stroking, not enough washing hehe. Don’t laugh. I had them well into my late teens (…if not into my early 20s!). I’m sure many people share this trait, they just don’t admit to it. As I grow older, I actually get more comfortable with admitting the desire to hold onto being a child at heart. These toys were a window into my childhood.

I was genuinely excited to go to Africa earlier this year, to discover Ellie and Leo’s ancestors. No joke. Lions and elephants were both  spectacular in the flesh!! I think Leo had always been my secret favorite (even though I know we’re not supposed to have favorites)…but the surprise of the trip was most definitely having fallen in love with elephants.  Elephants exhibit a depth of emotional intelligence and humanity to them that was almost palpable.  Lions do still have some the most interesting behavior of all the cats, and of many of the animals in general.  You can watch them for hours: they have interesting social behaviors and are often more active than many other animals.  It can also take FOREVER to find them!  We were lucky enough to find a few lionesses on the hunt in Kruger National Park and it was one of the most incredible experiences to watch them running between and around the cars on safari, using the road to track their kill and the cars like boulders, oblivious to us bystander!!

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Sniffing something out

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Too close for comfort?

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Leo’s mother on the move

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I can’t help myself – an occasional black and white monotone photo I think often adds great character and intensity to already beautiful animal portraits. The harsh sunlight and shadows from the trees in the South African landscape made for some beautiful, playful darkened lines and patches on these lionesses, deep in concentration.

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Deep in contemplation (…maybe the next meal?)

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Stealth beneath the bushes

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The intensity of a lioness

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A young male hiding beneath the thicket

Elephants tend to be a little easier to catch – size sometimes matters.

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Ellie’s grandfather caught hiding behind the trees

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Cousins in the reeds

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I’m watching you!

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Don’t be shy!

Ellie and Leo were eventually joined by another long-eared and flopsy mopsy rabbit (read Beatrix Potter if you don’t know this reference!), with a triangle-like body, that I named Isosceles: a great descriptive name!  I left Ellie, Leo and Isosceles in Australia…New York winters were a little too harsh for them! More recently though, in the concrete jungle, the metropolis of New York – I was gifted a somewhat ironic addition. A small donkey! Ruben, or ‘Rubi’ for short. Watch this space 🙂 #anothertoystory

A warm and fuzzy story always helps start the week on the right note. Happy Sunday.  Good luck for Monday!

M xx

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Knockout

I have a very animated way of talking which involves waving my hands around a lot. Not a big surprise if you take into account my Italian background. Then add in a pinch of enthusiasm, a hint of energy and a  drop of flamboyant personality…and you have a recipe for knocking over many glasses of water! Yes, I have spilled a lot of water in kitchens and at restaurant tables in my adult years, not to mention my childhood ones.  Recently, I managed to knock over a series of full glasses of water in fancy New York establishments onto the lap of my great friend MC. In both cases I had barely touched my glass of wine, so I really had no excuse other than my own over enthusiasm and excessive gesticulations to blame! Thank you MC for being so patient with my water spills!

Water glasses are not the only casualty from this intensity in communication style – I have (accidentally) knocked people in the face with my elbows on the dance floor (to the chagrin of their boyfriends nearby!) and practically and unintentionally tripped myself over, rifled phones to the floor and ruffled many feathers.

The unintentional “knockout” moment. It is amazing what you discover when it happens. Some people laugh as you collect yourself and clear the spillage. Some people respond as if distressed by the invasion of their peace and personal space. Some people start up a conversation in the wake of the damage, as if you broke the ice and opened yourself up to a fresh, genuine interaction. It is impossible to be inauthentic in that (embarrassing) moment! Caught off guard by your own imperfection and unconstrained passion for the topic of the day.

That “knockout” moment is not always bad. In fact – in the creative process, it most often manifests itself as a moment of inspiration, of  eye-opening wonder. When you suddenly seize the moment, filled with a sense of vision. It happens in writing, it happens in art, it happens when you get that perfect shot, without trying. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does – it’s great. I find travel often wields these artistic “knockout” moments, more than normal life. Maybe it’s because our hearts are more open to them. We are more relaxed, more liberated. Maybe it’s because what we see is somehow new and makes us feel renewed, novel and different. Bill Bryson put it beautifully:

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

– Bill Bryson

I share a couple of “knockout” visions. They are by no means the best photos ever taken at all, but I can remember feeling a sense of satisfaction when I took them. A random selection to inspire over the weekend.

1. Composition

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The art of gelato: it was too good to pass up, the moment of dripping, melting gelato in the Springtime sun on a backstreet in Milan with my sister’s bright multi-colored necklace shining in the background!

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Seal Rocks: the most gorgeous outlook to the Pacific Ocean on the north coast of NSW, Australia. The turquoise waters shimmering in the summer sun and the green shrubs in the foreground, both a lovely contrast to the deep, dark blue hues of the watery expanse.

2. Intense color and contrast

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German tulips: brightening your day and the tiny dew drops topped off one of my favorite flower photos.

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African sunset: it doesn’t get any better than an African sunset along the Chobe River in Botswana. It took your breath way.

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Micro China: red, the color of fortune and royalty. These slippers from a market stall in China were a bright reminder of a regal past. I love the messiness of the close up, entangled tassels and all.

3. Ambience / enigmatic human interest

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Rainy reflections: stuck on a rainy night in the backstreets of the charming, quaint town of Suzhou, China about an hour or so outside Shanghai, the reflections of the bright lanterns with these lone girls huddled under their shared umbrella just captivated me. The blur of the photo felt in tune with the drizzly outlook from underneath my own umbrella.

Old fashioned Shanghai street: This is by no means the most fabulous set of photos, but it felt like I’d capture a moment of humanity passing by me in those moments. I was standing still and alone on a standard back street somewhere in the metropolis of Shanghai, with people, cars and mess passing by me. In those moment, two elderly gentlemen cycled slowly past, and 2 elderly ladies wandered in the opposite direction. Each a slow solitary figure in this overcrowded city. Each simply going about their own daily business and happening to have intersected with my own travels, in a moment when I too had stopped to take stock.

4. Nature: stunning scenery

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Antarctic ice sheet reflections

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Iceberg depths

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Spot the penguin

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Iceberg graveyard

5. Great smiles

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Colca Canyon Joy: traveling through the Colca Canyon in Peru, we would stop along the road to look at the beautiful local scarves and textiles, occasionally buying something or chatting with the locals. This mother and daughter captivated me – in their traditional colorful patterned dresses and hats of the local area. The warmth of the mother’s expression, the hand of the daughter leaning close to her mother. A great smile lights up a portrait like nothing else. We all look better smiling! 

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Maria de Arequipa: I managed to garner from my basic Spanish that this lady’s name was Maria as she sat smiling on the sidewalk of the old town of Arequipa, Peru making small dolls and keychain dolls – artisanship slowly being lost. Her positivity was palpable.

Have a great weekend!

M xx

Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?

I always find myself invariably distracted by random human interest articles,  attracted to artistic reviews rather than practical current affairs in my online news wanderings.  My latest distraction was an article in the NY Times about a photographer who took photos of 4 sisters over 40 years – every year since 1975!  Gorgeous, simple, raw photos – all in black and white.  Capturing sisterly connection, youth, changing fashions and hairstyles, aging.  They were really beautiful, an insight into an interesting story.

It reminded me of how portraits, both paintings and photography, are a special and incisive way of capturing relationships, emotions, human essence. It reminded me of some of the photos I took in wilderness of Botswana of the San Bushmen, a small fading group of nomadic peoples whose fate, as they are driven off the land and can no longer hunt, is reminiscent of many indigenous peoples globally. Reviewing the photography portraits of the hour or so I spent in their presence, learning about their culture, their clicking language, their expert knowledge of the wilderness and the wealth it offers us, their relationships,  I reflected upon the  intensity in their eyes. And ironically, in the comfort of my New York apartment, the old Louis Armstrong song came to mind…

When the weather vane points to gloomy
It’s gotta be sunny to me, when your eyes look into mine…

…says mother looking into her child’s eyes.

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Mother smiles and plays with her child, warms him, cleans his snotty nose. Maternal love does not change across cultures!

Intensity in the expressions shared between them; many inside jokes we didn’t understand as they laughed at us no doubt! There was happiness with their children, generosity and humor among themselves. There was also a sense of uncertainty about the future. A certain sadness.

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Young Proud San Man

The only young man in their presence, although small and fine in stature, was a proud and strong man. He is the heir apparent to lead the community here in the San community in southwestern Botswana. Apparently he was also the brother of the Botswana Ambassador in London…what a different life choice. His elder was a wispy, thin man full of sinew and filled with a sense of responsibility as he scoured the ground and earth for its riches. The most excited we saw him was when he showed us how they make fire – which literally burst into flame and lit up his whole expression.

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Elder

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 Feeding from the egg

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Twilight

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Sleepy child

Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?
Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?
Gosh all git up, how’d they get so lit up?
Gosh all git up, how’d they get that size?
Louis Armstrong – Jeepers Creepers Lyrics | MetroLyrics

There was a part of me that felt a deep sadness in the eyes of the San Bushmen in the orange, dusk lighting of the African plains – despite flashes of laughter, of fascination, of love. A loss of engagement, a loss of their community space. Sharing their portraits is partly my way to share in the awareness of the diversity in this world. To open up our horizons to different lives. To share in humanity, through the eyes and portraits of others.

M xx

Pride
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Falling in love with elephants

I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life as when I saw an elephant walking towards me.  On safari. In Kruger National Park. Amazing place! And of course, the safari guide, rather than driving backward and reversing away from the advancing bull – he drove forward and stopped the safari truck near a tree, waiting patiently for the bull to near our truck. It stopped right at the tree. Nibbled on some green shoots. Surveyed the area. Sized us up. I wandered what it was wandering about. Terrified. So terrified I even stopped taking photos, scared that the elephant’s trunk would reach into the car or hear and take offense from my camera shutter. Little did I know that animals see black and white, and in 2D – so they couldn’t see me inside the vehicle anyway! My friend took some very funny photos of my wide eyes and shocked expression as the elephant walked past us peacefully and left us well alone! What an experience.

Kruger National Park is probably one of the most incredible nature and animal sanctuaries. A reminder of what Eden must have been like. Of what the world was like before we relegated these enormous, mighty animals to small national parks. It was a meditative space of beauty. And Africa Spear was a fantastic safari company – fwiw. Our safari guide was truly passionate about the park, conservation, the animals – his knowledge was impressive. He particularly loved elephants. He would talk to them. He would talk to them. He would invite them over.

And the elephants understood. I really believe that. You could feel their intelligence. Their piercing eyes – looking deep into you. They are  majestic, grand animals. They are capable of love, gratitude, happiness, pain, expressing fun, thanks and anger. You could see them helping the children of the herd across the river, you could see them having fun with each other, spraying water and sand on themselves and others. The biggest mammals on the lands of this earth – wonderfully meditative and insightful. Old wisened men and mothers in a hulk, wrinkled body. I can see why Hindus see Ganesh as a great deity.

I came to Africa thinking I would be most fascinated by the big cats, intoxicated by my dream of seeing lions and leopards. And instead I fell in love with elephants.

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Twin delight

Most of these photos were actually taken in Botswana, in Chobe National Park. It is the home to some of the highest density of the Kalahari elephant, the largest in the world. Some 120,000 or so are in the park. And they are an impressive bunch.

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Mother and daughter

The elephants helped each other cross the rivers and would arise from the waters dark and glistening, as if their grey bone colored wrinkled bodies had turned a dark chocolate brown.

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Mamma, don’t leave me behind!

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Doesn’t he look like he’s smiling!?

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Keeping cool in the hot summer’s day

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 I see you elephant, behind that tall grass!

A must-read on your trip to Africa (or Asia) if you are going to see elephants, is the book “Elephant Company”. I think I had already fallen in love with elephants before I came into contact with them, such was the personality and humanity expressed of the gentle giants.

M xx