Monday, December 23, 2013

Mimi Wears Velvet

For years now, Mimi has been after me to wear velvet all year long.  I tend to only do so during December.  But you know what?  I think I'm finally going to listen to that little voice of hers.  Beginning today.

I will pack this long velvet dress in my suitcase to take with me to Baja.  We are leaving the day after Christmas for our annual road trip down there.  I will throw it on for my morning walks, pairing it with a chunky sweater and toasty warm Uggs.  A new year is just around the corner and I intend to live it with even more whimsy.  I'm going to mix and match my wardrobe to correspond with the scatter-brained itineraries I'm planning.  In 2014, I am going to travel WIDE and travel SLOW.  All with that kooky, individual style Mimi keeps trying to coax out of me.  

"It's about time," Mimi says.

"Indeed, it is."  If not now, when?

Happy New Year, Everybody!
See you next month.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Diatomaceous Building

Art in Public Places

The above Chamber of Commerce building in Lompoc, California, was built with diatomaceous earth, the chalky white substance that makes up the surrounding hills of this southern California town.  One side is painted with a gorgeous mural of blues and greens, depicting the era when the Lompoc Valley was beneath the sea and diatoms settled on the ocean floor.  Today, of course, these diatoms are golden.  They have created a mining industry in this area for more than one hundred years.
The mural was painted in 1990 by Roberto Delgado, an artist from Los Angeles.  The blues represent the ocean.  The reds are the diatoms, and the ghostly figures are the miners that have worked in the industry over the decades.  The fact that the opposite side of the building remains a stark chalky white contributes to the understanding of what diatomaceous earth is all about.  I'm not sure it was done deliberately, but I thought it was rather profound.  That these fossil remains from a million years ago provide the abrasive material that is used in so many of our products today, is a thing of wonder.  Mother Earth continues to provide.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The White Cliffs of Lompoc

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Yes, that is diatomaceous earth.  Can we go now?"

Why we find ourselves driving the backroads of Lompoc again and again is a bit of a mystery, but this area of Southern California holds a kind of perverse fascination to yours truly.  I have a son who told me once, "Lompoc is a place you go to die."  Harsh.   But he hasn't taken the time to see the flower fields in spring or wander the streets to look at the murals, go out to the wild and windy beach, tour the wine ghetto or drive the backroads to look at . . . yes, I'll say it again . . .the white chalky diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth.  Diatomaceous earth.  Heck, I just like saying those words.  The truth is, Lompoc holds the title for the world's largest and purest deposits of diatomaceous earth.  The snow white soil is made up of the fossil remains of microscopic marine plants called diatoms.  This entire valley used to be under the Pacific Ocean.  When the ocean floor was uplifted by earthquakes and volcanic activity millions of years ago, the layers of diatoms formed the hills seen in the above picture.  The white cliffs of Dover, much more famous (although I don't know why), are made of the same material.
We were able to see the smoke stacks of the Celite mining operation in the distance.  Diatomaceous earth has been mined in Lompoc for more than 100 years.  It is used in thousands of products like toothpaste and paint.  It's also used as filters in the wine industry.  Indeed, because of the rich minerality of the soil, the local wineries produce some of the juiciest pinot noir grapes in the world.  Even my travel buddy started to take an interest.  I've made a mental note to find out if Celite gives tours.  Lompoc--we're not done with you yet!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dhows and Blue Wooden Doors

Dhow building is becoming a lost art in the Middle East.  Today only one dhow shipyard remains in Bahrain.  In days of yore these traditional Arabic wooden boats dotted the seascape.  Fishermen, pearl divers and merchants all sailed them, plying the coastal waters of the Persian Gulf and crossing oceans, carrying goods to India, China and East Africa.  Today, it is we tourists who board these vessels for a cruise.  Even so, the boats will be powered by diesel engines rather than the fickle wind.  

Same goes with the old architecture that used to line the streets of Manama or Jeddah--the old wooden doors and windows are disappearing fast.  Skylines are modern.  Buildings are made of glass, steel and concrete and so tall they reach the stars.  The elaborate wooden window shutters and doors truly are a lost art.  If you are lucky enough to find one, it will be in some narrow forgotten alley.  Some have been saved and are now displayed in museums.

It makes me realize the importance of the tourist industry.  As long as we are allowed to travel to distant lands, we will seek out the arts and crafts of the people living there.  We will buy the rugs and pots and baskets.  We will pay to ride the old boats.  We will patronize museums and take walking tours through the old souks and old parts of town.  Tourism should be embraced and not feared.  We are a curious, friendly bunch who travel far to see something exotic and different.  We are vital to the economy of the world and vital to the salvation and preservation of cultural arts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Arts and Crafts of Bahrain


The artisans here are using the fibers from palm leaves to make large circular mats.  These mats are seen throughout Bahrain and are used for seating and serving trays.  I think these particular baskets are beautiful because no dyes were used; they retain their natural color.


The ancient art of pot making has not changed in Bahrain for centuries.  The beautiful bowls, jars and hookahs are all still thrown on a wheel and masterfully formed.  Some are decorated with simple patterns; others remain unglazed and porous.  These were the ones I prefer and bought.  I enjoyed them for four years while I lived in the Middle East but they did not survive the long trip home.


 I could watch these weavers forever.  Fast and adept.  Their simple horizontal loom sits over a pit, and day after day they create magic from the wool of sheep, camels and goats.  Of all the crafts in Bahrain and throughout the Middle East, it is the rugs I admired the most.  I returned home with several.  (And rugs don't break!!)  The man pictured above is weaving cloth for abayahs.  We were told he weaves five meters of cloth a day.

I'm not sure I would recognize Bahrain if I went back today.  I know the Dubai of 2013 is far, far different than the Dubai of 1988.  I have a hunch, however, one thing has not changed--the arts and crafts that have been handed down from one generation to the next.  The basketry, the pottery and the weaving.  These precious hand-made items embody the heart and soul of the Middle East.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Original Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden in Bahrain

Ever since our wonderful stay at the Garden of Eden Resort in Panama, the original garden and all its ramifications have been topics of conversation in our household.  The first thing I did upon my return home was reread Genesis.  The second, was to dig out my old slides from a memorable trip we took to the island country of Bahrain back in the 1980's.

A river rose in Eden watering the garden, and from there, it separated into four branches.  The name of the first is Phison, which encircles all the land of Hevila where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx are there.  The name of the second river is Gihon, which encircles all the land of Chus.  The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assur.  And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

It seems likely that there really was a place called the Garden of Eden and that it was somewhere in the Middle East.  When we were in Bahrain, we toured the above site and were told that the entire island used to look like this 8,000 years ago.  Nearby Saudi Arabia used to be much more wet, as well, with many more rivers and springs flowing through it.

Many scholars believe that the stories from Genesis were adopted from ancient Mesopotamian myths and the Garden of Eden myth comes from one of the oldest poems known to man.  The poem was found on a clay tablet in Iraq, near the Euphrates River, and it describes a sacred island paradise called Dilmun, where death and sickness do not exist.

In 2005, the ancient harbor and capital of Dilmun in Bahrain became a World Heritage Site.
The Dilmun Tell

It's an amazing archaeological site with layers upon layers of ruins that continue to be excavated.  They are discovering that the culture of ancient Mesopotamia was far more advanced than previously thought.  Dilmun was an important trading center and had a continuous human population from 2300 BC through the 16th century.  The uncovering of residential, public, commercial, religious and military buildings reveals its importance to the world at that time.  Anyone traveling from the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia would have stopped here and what a paradise it must have been!  A gorgeous city surrounded by gardens.  Its wonder was carried throughout the world and a myth of creation was born.
If you google the Garden of Eden, you will get one hundred different theories as to its origin.  This is just one of many, but it makes sense to me.  In the end, the Garden of Eden is a place to rest, a pit stop for weary travelers, a place to heal, quench thirst and mend wounds before continuing a journey through a more inhospitable world.  It appears to be so then and continues to be so today.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Red Bags and Green Jackets

Bah.  Humbug.  Scrooge's words were mild compared to the profanity uttered from my mouth the days prior to Christmas.  Working retail does this to a person!  For years it was something I just had to get through.  I was the manager on duty who closed the store Christmas Eve.  I was the one who opened the doors on the 26th to a line of women wanting to exchange a Size 10 for a Size 8 (which, of course, we no longer had).

HOWEVER, now that I'm retired I can once again enjoy the festivities surrounding this glitzy holiday.  This year I brought every single one of my 26 nutcrackers down from the attic.  My home is scented with vanilla, not only from cookies baking in the oven, but from the glow of far too many candles.  Perhaps I'm going overboard, but like Scrooge at the end of the story, I want to shout from every window.  "I love Christmas."
How miraculous is that!

To have TIME to shop is wonderful.  To be on the other side of the counter is even better.  My gifts, for once, are thoughtful and wrapped with care.  No more gift cards.  No more store-bought cookies.  I can actually partake of happy hours and teas.  I can decorate every room with garland and silver bows.  The one thing, I can't do though, is listen to Christmas carols.  I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach Jingle Bells ever again!

Sharing this post with the festive bloggers at Visible Monday.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!