Villarrica and Chilean Volcanoes

Chaiten, Chile, March 2013

Yesterday’s eruption of the Villarrica volcano in southern Chile brought to mind my visit to Chaiten, a town even further south, exactly two years ago. Yes, I fully realize that to be a coincidence that only I will find entertaining.

Chaiten made headlines across the planet in May 2008 with a nearby volcano that bears the town’s name woke from a 9,370-year slumber. It blew a column of ash and hot gases nearly 31 kilometers into the sky and spewed ash as far as Buenos Aires. Half the town was destroyed and nearly five years later, much of the damage was still clearly visible, as evidenced by this photo of a house near the Gulf of Corcovado.

A few previous posts about Chaiten which feature a few dozen photos, a video notebook and plenty of notes are here, here and here. If you were to ask me to pick just one, it would be the first.

Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, erupted around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, forcing the evacuation of about 3,500 people, according to the Associated Press. The volcano, which sits close to Pucon, a popular tourist and outdoor activities retreat, last erupted in 1984.

Officials are now bracing for rising river levels brought on by melting snow and ice. Villarrica is covered with snow from 1,500 meters and up, and capped by a 40-square kilometer glacier.

There’s a sublime beauty to the extraordinary power that produces volcanic eruptions, this one included. As one witness told the AP:

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” 29-year-old Australian tourist Travis Armstrong said in a telephone interview from Pucon. “I’ve never seen a volcano erupt and it was spewing lava and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Lightning was striking down at the volcano from the ash cloud that formed from the eruption.”

Mashable has a nice gallery. So does NPR. Here’s a video report from Deutsche Welle English and another from The Weather Channel.

Villarrica is also known by its Mapuche name, Rucapillán, meaning “House of the spirit”.

Chile is home to about 2,000 volcanoes —only about 100 are considered active— situated along the Andes, the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia.


For the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 414th straight, was snapped on 04-March-2013.

Mannequin Monday #40

Mannequin, Quito, Ecuador

Yup. As I mentioned last week, ‘live’ additions to this weekly series won’t be hard now that I’m back in South America for a bit. There’s no shortage of bruised, tattered and torn mannequins here in Quito, like this one, sporting that lobotomy post-op look exceptionally well.

If you’re new to this series, an attempt to create the largest repository of blighted mannequins on the planet, you can and should catch up here. Enjoy and do spread the word.

By the way, this image also serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the 413th (!!) straight. When you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you can catch up with some of those here.

And if you missed it –and you probably did– I published a Piran Cafe Best-of page yesterday. Go on, check it out. Thanks.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi


Following up on my friend Lisa‘s suggestion, I created a Best-of page for this site today. It’s been long overdue and has been on my mind since right about the time I snapped this photo of the mausoleum of Vietnamese revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi back in October 2010.

I included a link to a post about my visit to the massive mausoleum, I Wanted to Visit Ho Chi Minh Today, But he Wasn’t There, on that Best-of/Start page, which led to this one’s selection as today’s Pic du Jour, the 412th straight.

So where was he? My visit coincided with his embalmed body’s ten-week respite and annual maintenance trip to Moscow. The facelift is generally scheduled between September and mid-December, so if seeing his body is high on your bucket list, plan accordingly.

Three more photos are in the original post. More from my 2010 visit to Vietnam can be found here.



An Ecuador Jazz Primer in Four Parts

Ecuador Jazz 2015 festival schedule

I attended the opening night of the Ecuador Jazz 2015 Festival last night, part of an energized sell-out crowd treated to the incomparable and penetrating smoky contralto of Cassandra Wilson. Her’s was a voice that made me cry. I can’t begin to explain how fortunate I feel that my current stint in Quito coincided with Wilson’s first visit.

And with the scheduling of the 11-day event as well which concludes with an outdoor performance at the Plaza del Teatro in Quito’s historical center on Sunday March 8.

Besides hosting the likes of Wilson and English soul sensation Joss Stone this year, the festival also provides an impressive venue – the Teatro Nacional Sucre, or Sucre National Theatre— for regional and national acts to share the spotlight with some of their better known contemporaries. Organizers of the festival’s 11th edition have made room on the program nearly each day for local acts, which provides me with the perfect excuse to put together this quick primer on Ecuadorian jazz, beginning with a small selection of groups scheduled to appear here through March 8.

I can’t go into too much detail on each of the four performers listed here because they’re as new to me as they are to many of you, so consider this as little more than a decent starting point, with some videos and links, on the country’s jazz scene from which to explore further. Feel free to mention or leave links in the comments to more Ecuadoran jazz artists you’re familiar with. Enjoy!

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At La Iglesia de El Sagrario (And a Free Quito Walking Tour)

Woman praying at the Iglesia de El Sagrario in Quito

This was snapped inside the Iglesia de El Sagrario, a chapel that dates back to the early 17th century that’s attached to the 16th century Quito Cathedral.

A massive structure, it’s really a chapel in name only. And a busy one, too, just before noon, with a steady influx of worshippers and tourists entering and exiting through its impressive wooden doors. Despite the traffic and the loudest, creakiest church floors I’ve ever walked across, a few moments of solitude can be found like the one above at the smaller altar on the church’s left side.

A stop at the El Sagrario, which also serves as the mausoleum for Antonio José de Sucre, one of Simon Bolivar’s generals and closest friends, was part of a walking tour I joined in yesterday with the aptly named Quito Walking Tour, a free three-hour stroll around the Ecuadoran capital’s historical center.

Starting at San Blas Plaza, the route covers most of the city center’s most notable structures and locales, including the Basilico del Voto Nacional, the Plaza Grande, Plaza de San Francisco (so far my favorite), Calle La Ronda and the Plaza Santo Domingo before concluding at the Plaza del Teatro.

Guide Peter, an Irishman based in Quito, does a terrific job, highly recommended. If you’re passing through, the best way to get in touch is via Facebook. Tours generally begin at 10am. Yes, tips accepted and encouraged.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 409th straight, was made on 24-Feb-2015 in Quito, Ecuador.

Escaping the Frenzy, Briefly – a Quito Sunday Afternoon Photo Walk

Calle Olmedo, Quito, February 2015

If you want to escape the frenzy of Quito’s typically busy historical center, go there for a stroll late on a Sunday afternoon when it’s pleasantly dead. Like it was a few days ago.

It was hardly deserted, but missing was the rush, the dust and diesel of the work week. The suits and ties. The scarf and underwear peddlers. Even a pair of drunks, on the verge of swapping blows in the center of the Plaza del Teatro, were moving in slow motion, speaking deliberately but annunciating with nary a slur.

The hookers, all three of them, leaning against a drab gray shuttered building on Calle Manabi, stared blankly towards the dozen or so people gathered across the street waiting for a bus. There was no urgency in their vacant stare. Or in their half-hearted come on. Sunday is a lazy day, a day of rest. Commerce, much of it, downshifts.

I was assured by a shish kebob vendor that there is plenty of activity on Sunday mornings, the family-friendly variety, when a several block area of the centro historico, some 30 kilometers of road in all, fences out car traffic, handing the old town center’s narrow cobblestoned and torturously steep streets to walkers and bicyclists.

By the time I arrived the cyclists and most of the hoofers were gone, but the streets hadn’t fully recovered and traffic remained at a minimum. For now this late Sunday speed appealed to me. Maybe I’ll leave the apartment earlier next week. Or the week after.

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Have You Ever Heard a Ululation?

Ait Iktel, Morocco 02

You probably have, quite likely in a film set in a mysterious North African desert locale, but just didn’t know what it was called. You certainly can’t forget this high-pitched trilling howl that rapturously pierces the sky at any gathering where it’s shared.

Commonly practiced in various forms in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia and the Persian Gulf region, in Morocco, where this photo was taken, it’s used primarily in celebration and welcome rituals.

This was part of a traditional ahwash, or ahouach, in the village of Ait Iktel, a Berber village in the High Atlas mountain region about 100 kilometers south of Marrakech that I mentioned in a post last week here and here. (A 36-photo photo essay from the celebration is here. Please check it out if you already haven’t.)

Unique to this corner of the country, an ahwash is a traditional folkloric song and dance performance unique to this corner of the country, where women and men, standing opposite each other, chant, sway and sing as if engaged in a rhythmically sublime poetic conversation.

An ululation is produced by moving the tongue back and forth rapidly and repetitively while emitting a sharp sound, as displayed by the woman on the left. Whether by design or happenstance, she was the center of attention, with others timing the rhythm of their chants and wails to the trill she was creating.

The practice dates back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, where it was associated with good news or celebration. Wikipedia reminds us that it was chronicled by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Homer and Herodotus.

Youtube has no shortage of examples: here’s an example from Palestine, one from Sudan, another from Syria, one from Iran, and another from Malaysia.

Below, another shot from the same celebration. Even here, doesn’t the women doing the ululating seem to be commanding center stage?

Ait Iktel, Morocco 01

And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 407th (!!) straight, was taken in Ait Iktel, Morocco, on 14 September 2014. As always, feel free to share. :)



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John Legend and Common’s Oscar Performance of ‘Glory’, and a Word on Acceptance Speeches


It’s below if you missed it or want to experience John Legend and Common’s moving performance of their Oscar-winning song from ‘Selma’ one more time. Because it was stirring and the night’s most powerful moment. And simply beautiful.

If the embed acts funky, try watching it full screen or watch it on Vox where actor David Oyelowo‘s infectiously emotional response is also featured. Oyelowo, whose brilliant performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. was snubbed for a nomination, wasn’t the only person crying after Legend and Common’s towering performance.

Acceptance speech(es) of the night?

Common and Legend. No contest. First Common’s, in full:

Recently John and I got to go to Selma and perform Glory on the same bridge that Dr. King and people of the Civil Rights Movement marched on fifty years ago.

This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation. But now it’s a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status.

The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression. To the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.

This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.

Legend cut right to the chase.

Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.  We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were fifty years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.

We know that the Voting Rights Act they fought for fifty years ago is being compromised right now in this country today.

We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real.

We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more Black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.

When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you and march on.

A brief acceptance speech post-mortem

I’m sure my Facebook feed wasn’t the only one buzzing this morning with reactions and over-analysis of winners’ 40-second addresses. Patricia Arquette was on the receiving end of quite a bit of grief after her call for equal pay and women’s rights – from those you’d expect to be supporting her. (Note that the majority of my FB friends are of the progressive bent politically, so I have no idea what those on the reactionary right that love bashing Hollywood anyway were saying. And I don’t really care.)

Here are a couple breakdowns, by Bitchmedia and RH Reality Check, who didn’t at all like Arquette’s post-speech comments. There are likely others.

But I’m not sure what anyone has to gain from deconstructing every line from every short —and oftentimes ad-libbed and unrehearsed— acceptance speech (or post-award q&a) that an artist delivers during what is probably the most exciting moment of their lives. Usually, actors and other artists win awards because they are damn good artists. Their remarks aren’t policy statements and they’re not policy makers.

That said, my guess is that if Arquette would be invited to deliver a policy address on equality and given a month’s lead time to prepare it, she would kick some serious ass.

And if you missed it…

Last night I posted a real live Quito-based tribute to Citizen Four, the story of the world’s most famous whistle blower Edward Snowden, that won Best Feature Documentary. Good choice. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch or download it here.



Mannequin Monday #39

Starry-eyed mannequin, Quito, Feb 2015

OK, I’ll admit it. The real reason I returned to Ecuador last week was because I was  running low on South American mannequin photos. So for this week’s edition we return with this offering from Quito where the pickings are ripe.

If you’re new to this series, an attempt to create the largest repository of blighted mannequins on the planet, you can and should catch up here. Enjoy and do spread the word.

By the way, this image also serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the 406th (!!) straight. When you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you can catch up with some of those here.

And if you missed it, check out last night’s humble tribute to Citizen Four, Oscar winner for Best Feature Documentary.


To Citizen Four, a Modest Tribute

Snowden graffiti, Quito

I found this on a wall in central Quito yesterday, a fitting tribute for Citizen Four, which just won the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. Edward Snowden wasn’t granted asylum here, but he does have his supporters in the Ecuadoran capital.

Citizen Four, a film about Snowden, the world’s most famous whistle blower, along with Selma, are my favorites from this year’s crop of nominations. Now keeping my fingers crossed for Selma.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 405th straight, was snapped in Quito, Ecuador, on 21 February 2015.

180 Minutes in Ait Iktel – Photo Essay

Ait Iktal, Morocco 06

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to arrive at a remote location and have an entire village turn out to greet you? It might look something like this.

Ait Iktal, Morocco 03

Ait Iktel, Morocco, a village of about 150 families, lies in the High Atlas Mountain region some 100 kilometers south of Marrakech. I was there last September to cover an athletics event which featured appearances by several Olympic and world champion athletes, from Morocco and elsewhere.

It was a big event for the village, a major celebration. Not surprisingly, most of the locals turned out to watch and participate in the day-long proceedings. And to greet us with song and dance.

It was an unforgettable experience that culminated in this 36-image photo essay, one I’m particularly proud of. Please check it out here in the new Photo Essays section of my website. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 404th straight, was snapped in Ait Iktel on 14 September 2014. The lead photo, of two singers chanting in an ahwash, or ahouach, fits nicely for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, Rule of Thirds, too.

Ait Iktal, Morocco 23

You did go to the photo essay, didn’t you? :)




Corner Of New York and Haiti, Quito

San Juan neighborhood, Quito

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 403rd straight, was taken this afternoon at the corner of Calles New York and Haiti in Quito‘s San Juan Barrio, just a few blocks from my apartment. It’s obviously not the only place in the world where the two intersect, either figuratively or literally, but it was a bit of a surprise to find them meeting here.

The neighborhood is a geographic smorgasbord. There’s Panama and Guatemala streets. There are streets named for Canada, Estados Unidos and Venezuela that run parallel into Rio de Janeiro, which in turn runs parallel with Bogota, Caracas, Santiago and Asuncion.

There’s Galapagos and Cuenca, And Nicaragua and Ruben Dario too, but oddly, the street named for one of Latin America’s finest writers doesn’t intersect with the one named for his homeland. I’ll investigate.

Tomorrow I’ll head west on Haiti to see what else it crosses.


The Unbearable Lightness Of Memory

Above Quito, facing east

It’s fairly remarkable how I can let certain things so effortlessly slide from memory. Like how steep the hills are that surround much of Quito, the highest official capital in the world*.

More specifically, the hills to the west of the sprawling historical city center where my home for the next three months comfortably sits, just above and beyond the shadow of the Basilica del Voto Nacional.

I spent a week here in 2013, enjoyed the city’s energy and vibrance, and decided to return for a longer stint now. I only remembered the huffing and puffing from that first visit this morning –and again this afternoon and again just before dusk—when I went out for a few strolls between rain showers to get my bearings, to reacquaint myself with what I did remember from when I passed through twenty-one months ago, and to explore a several block area of my new neighborhood. The latter would have proved a worthy scene for Being John Malkovich.

The climbing, each block steeper than the one preceding it, never ceased. I felt I was stuck on a revolving staircase, one that would tease with an occasional dip, but whose only real direction was up. Pounding inside my head provided the upbeat soundtrack.

The first morning headache came with the swiftness and force of a buffalo stampede. The second, which hit me early in the afternoon while on a hunt for coca tea, was slightly less severe. The best thing about the day’s third stroll, around my apartment’s neighborhood, was that the massive pounding in my lungs and chest took my mind off another headache.

I am feeling better now, thanks for asking. And I’m sure tomorrow will be less dramatic.

I definitely didn’t arrive prepared for the altitude this time. I’m not nearly in as good of shape as I was two years ago, then some four months into an overland trip that began in Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost city in the world. Prior to that arrival in Quito, I had already spent several days and even weeks in locales higher than 4,000m, or 13,123ft, above sea level. My head and my mind were well prepped to the drill.

This time I came from four months along the southern shores of Lake Erie –with a one month break in Qatar– where I spent much of that time sitting on my ass.

These hills and steps will be good for me.

And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 402nd straight (!!), was snapped today, 19 Feb 2015, in Quito, Ecuador. Another snap in the opposite direction, is below.

San Juan neighborhood, Quito, Ecuador


* About the highest capital thing. Technically, Quito is the world’s highest. But Bolivians might —and do— consider La Paz, at 3640m (11,942 ft), the highest. Although technically again, La Paz is its seat of government while Sucre (2750m / 9,022ft) is the constitutional capital. You can also, quite rightly, also consider placing Lhasa, capital of Chinese-occupied Tibet which rests at 3,490m (11,450 ft), ahead of Quito.


Quito Cityscape

Cityscape 5, Quito, Ecuador. May 2013

This is a view of Quito, Ecuador, one of my favorite South American capitals, where I’m heading tomorrow and where I’ll be largely based for the next three months or so to work on a variety of projects. Nearly two years have passed since I last visited South America and I’m very much looking forward to a return engagement. :)

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 400th straight (!!), was taken from the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas, facing south over the sprawling city of 1.7 million that was founded in 1534. At an elevation of 2,800m (9,350 ft), it’s the highest official capital city in the world.

More from Quito later in the week.  Cheers!

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Mannequin Monday #38

Vacant mannequin, La Paz

Today’s addition to the largest repository of blighted mannequins on the planet comes from the seemingly endless supply I managed to find in La Paz, Bolivia. They don’t get much more vacant that this, no?

If you’re new to this series, you can and should catch up here. Enjoy and do spread the word.

By the way, this image also serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the 399th (!!) straight. When you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you can catch up with some of those here.

New Mosque, Istanbul

New Mosque, Istanbul

The New Mosque, or Yeni Cami, is one of the most famous architectural landmarks in Istanbul. Situated on the Golden Horn near the Galata Bridge, it sets an imposing yet calming backdrop to the vibrant Eminönü quarter. A paradox? Sure. Much of Istanbul is.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 398th straight, was snapped on 13 March 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey.


Sarajevo Station

Sarajevo train station, July 2011

Sarajevo main station, 01 July 2011. The end of the line of a beautiful ride, delays be damned. Stops in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason helped put a real life definition on the Serbian word, vukojebina.

Bosnia & Hercegovina rail system info is here, and London to Sarajevo by train info here (via

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 396th straight, is for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge theme, Symmetry.