Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘true story

Our Lady of the Last Winter Morning

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I have a passion for images of the Virgin Mary, with and without the Christ child. I am sure it has much to do with the untold hours I spent on my knees praying to various statues of her when I was a child. Of course my prayers were fervent, but I also spent a lot of time studying her garments, the way she held herself, carried her arms, the expressions on her face.

This sweet garden statue stands behind a rather ordinary working class house on Staten Island, in New York – at least she did when I was there last, in March of 2009. It’s one of my favourite places to go on a “Mary hunt.” The day was cold, a brutal wind, but I was with a willing friend who undoubtedly thought the whole thing was absurd – but we had fun and Mary was pleased to pose for fans.

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04/09/2011 at 6:52 pm

Panda Ponder

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I really do wish this photo was better. My trip to China coincided with the purchase of my first digital SLR and I had everything set to Auto and pretty much hoped the photos would turn out well.

We arrived in Chongqing, one of the largest cities in all of China after a blissful 3 day cruise up the Yangtze River in an old style riverboat. Since it was my birthday, my hubby treated us to a mini-suite, so we got to watch the most amazing scenery in the world while reclining on the bed with the ranch sliders wide open. It was just mile after mile of absolutely breathtaking mountains and cliff faces and fascinating glimpses into Chinese minority cultures no one knew were there until the 3 Gorges Dam was built.

At the end of that excursion, my hubby fell ill. Not a kidney stone or the flu or a bad cold, but scary, ‘something is really wrong’ ill. He protested that he did not need to go to hospital in Chongqing. He wanted to go to the zoo to see the pandas. Which we did, and he did, and then sat quietly until we were ready to go.

I wandered around my camera as usual, snapping at everything. The day was dull and grey, I only had one, very short lens, so no close ups of anything were possible and the pandas were so very far away. But they were cute. They did come out and sit and nibble away at their tender bamboo shoots. And they had a reasonable enclosure, lots of space and trees and mostly grass.

The rest of the zoo was a shocker though, like the 50s and 60s in the west, with animals in concrete cages with metal bars and nothing to do but pace or lay around looking despondent. It left me feeling very sad. I realise that zoos with naturalised habitants and space for animals to run and be as ‘normal’ as possible are the product of wealthy societies that have sorted the needs of their human population and so can indulge raising the standard of living for their captive animals.  With over a billion people, China has a way to go in a number of areas, though after spending a month there, I have little doubt they will get there. But I was not unhappy to leave that zoo behind us.

On to Kunming – a jewel of city, just a few miles from the Laotian border – where we learned firsthand just how the Chinese medical system works… but that’s a story for another day… you can find it buried in the Travel section of this blog – or click here and be whisked directly there!

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21/07/2011 at 11:54 pm

From annoying to heavenly

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12/04/2011 at 12:36 am

A Public Inconvenience

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No matter how prepared you think you are or how seasoned a traveller you might be – there are times you will be caught out.

We were collected from the ship at 7.00, setting off for 2 whirlwind days in Saint Petersburg, Paris of the Baltic, Jewel of the Neva… First stop – the Peterhof and a heady 2 hour frantic race to set foot in every room in the complex, whilst running after a bobbing ornament adorned with streamers that was always entering the next room as I arrived in this… I took a lot of photos as I dashed through the place, planning to linger later on what I might have seen.

We finished shortly after 10, and boy oh boy – did I have to go. BAD. Really BAD.

Our guide reluctantly led us to the Portaloos outside. We queued. I hopped from foot to foot and discreetly crossed my legs trying to keep the moaning to a minimum. At last I reached the front of the queue and was greeted by a mustachioed, burly matron straight from the Hollywood typecasting couch. She wanted money. 1 US dollar, 1 ruble or 1 Euro!

Panic! Oh no! I reached into my pockets – Danish Kroner, Swedish Kroner, Some Aussie dollars, a few Kiwi coins… I thrust my palm out to her and said, “This is all I have.” She said, “Nyet!” And I said, “But I really have to go!” And She said “Nyet! 1 US dollar, 1 ruble or 1 Euro! 1 US dollar, 1 ruble or 1 Euro!”

Ohmigod! I was about to become an international incident! Either I was going to force myself into the loo and do my business and face probable arrest when I emerged, or stand there and let my business take care of itself. Neither was going to be pretty.

I opted for the first, trying to sidestep and outmanoeuvre Svetlana, but she was having none of it. I cried out, “Please, for godsake, I don’t have any money and I have to go! Now! You can’t stop me!” Actually, she could…

Fortunately, I will never know what might have happened because a fellow visitor took pity on me and paid my way in. Aahh… Sweet relief! I never even saw who she was – but I am grateful to her to this day!

This Tyanet is not the same one I suffered at, but looks very much the same. I spotted it from the bus window and grabbed this shot!

The moral is, of course, to be prepared… but sometimes… every once in a while… you still get caught out!

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10/04/2011 at 11:30 pm

Holed up

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20/09/2010 at 12:16 am

Some things I noticed in New York

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190309NYC - Midtown22Back in March 09 my pal Bindi and I abandoned our husbands to ten days of looking after themselves so we could take a little jaunt of our own off to New York. You may recall in the piece Planning for New York on the Cheap, that we made a zillion plans and hoped to get around to as many as we could. In brief, we did a few – like Bindi was dying to go to the top of the Empire State Building and I couldn’t give a stuff about it, so whilst we were on our way into Macy’s I pointed it out to her.

If she’d had a paddy, I would have taken her – but she agreed there were so many more interesting things to do. Two of which DID involve a Paddy – one the St Patrick’s Day Parade, which, after a leisurely breakfast we dashed off to see – had enough after fifteen minutes and then went and bought shoes from her favourite designer who just happened to have a shop on the street we were watching the parade from.

190309NYC - Midtown24We didn’t go to St Patrick’s Cathedral either. We stood there on Fifth Avenue with the cathedral to our left and Saks on our right and made the only sane choice under the circumstances. I took photos, Bindi bought perfume. And we had the most divine chocolate at the Charbonnel et Walker Chocolate Cafe.

All up I took over 1000 photos. Not surprisingly, it’s taken me this long to get through them – and there are still several hundred languishing as RAW files on my hard drive, but this TIME business is just so flawed – if I can’t buy some more, I wish I could borrow it. Although I suspect the only time I could afford would Monday mornings, or Friday at 3PM, which would be going cheap, but wouldn’t be of much use, either.

There are a million New York stories – and I can tell you about a third of them. And eventually I just might… What I like about THESE photos is they tell stories of their own, so I don’t have to waste time with words. Your interpretations of the stories are most welcome!

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18/07/2010 at 9:05 am

Museum of the Occupation – Tallinn

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280908Mus-Occupn16I have many stories to tell about visiting Estonia and while some include unexpected tears, most are very beautiful. This one is not. Visiting the Museum of the Occupation in Tallinn was chilling.

Not sure what took me so long to get to Tallinn. I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little girl and my grandmother told me stories about Estonia. She made it sound so magical, so different from the world I knew in the Bronx – and having finally made it there, I can declare unequivocally that Tallinn and the Bronx are as opposite as north and south 280908Mus-Occupn02or cold and hot. The Bronx of my childhood was war-torn and terror ridden. The Tallinn I finally got to see was possibly even more idyllic than grandma had described.

The museum is set in a mostly residential neighbourhood near the old city – a modest glass building, reflecting its surrounds, with a very small sign indicating what it houses. Once inside I was immediately struck by the suitcases – hastily packed by people who knew they would probably never return, packed with the items they treasured most for a journey with no return ticket.

I stood there quietly, wondering if one of them had been my grandfather’s. Elmar Hiiesalu had hastily packed just such a bag when he was forced into the Soviet army, when the Russians finally overcame the Nazis.

280908Mus-Occupn01This archway threw me – I  couldn’t bring myself to walk underneath it. The power of the imagery was unexpectedly overwhelming. I walked around it instead.

Most of the exhibits were devoted to Estonia’s endless struggle to be  free. It has been alternately occupied by Danes, Germans, Russians and Swedes for most of the last millenia – the fate of a tiny country – with less than a million people. Ironically, the culture survived largely because the Estonian people were forced into serfdom and so preserved their language and customs.

City Museum - WWII - 12But in 1918, when Russia was busying herself with the Revolution – Estonia, along with neighbouring states, Latvia and Lithuania, declared itself a free, sovereign nation. Here is a photo of President Konstantin Pots at the 20th anniversary of the republic in 1938. Pots was my grandfather’s boss – he was his personal secretary. Grandpa didn’t make it into this photo, no doubt tending to some important detail.  Many of my relatives were involved in government work, including the then mayor of Tallinn. If they weren’t forced into the army or sent to Siberia, they went to prison. You went to prison for being the wife of a politician.

Which brings me to the truly chilling part of the visit. The doors. Click the thumbnails for a larger look.

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These came from various prisons around Estonia where political prisoners were held, including members of my family. Something so very gruesome about these cheerfully painted doors – you would never find them on a movie set – only in real life. Just being near them, I could hear and feel the misery and sorrow they contained – I had the sensation of wanting to wash them.

280908Mus-Occupn10Things got a wee bit surreal, and slightly humourous when I asked where I might find the loo. Downstairs.

Yes, that is Lenin and Stalin, flanking the entrance to the toilets – women on the right, men on the left. A couple of spare prison doors behind them. If you look at the full-size photo, you will note the statues are damaged – this is from when they were toppled when Estonia declared its freedom again in 1991.

280908Mus-Occupn11 Various other disgraced Communists  – Russian and Estonian, were strewn about the basement floor, along with toppled monuments and Soviet era iconography. The hatred the Estonian people felt for their occupiers is palpable nearly twenty years after they were removed from power.

To be honest, the emotions were so raw, it was truly painful being there. After an hour and a bit, we really couldn’t take any more and decided to walk up to the upper city. This monument made me smile…

Free - again...

Free - again...

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

27/06/2010 at 11:04 pm

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