Monday, March 27: It’s 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning. My bags are packed and I’ll leave in about an hour for BWI airport. My journey to Japan is about to begin. 🙂
This is the fourth time I will have lived and worked abroad. I taught Omani and Chinese university students on my two most recent gigs; the first time, I taught Korean elementary students. I always leave home with excitement and some trepidation, mainly because I never know what the work environment will be like. Each of my experiences has been completely different from the others. I never worry about the travel, because each place offers limitless exploration potential. I’ve rarely been disappointed in my travels. I’ve enjoyed each country in which I’ve lived while at the same time struggling to deal with cultural differences. I think every person should live in another country at least once in his or her life; it’s an eye-opening experience to be a foreigner, a minority, in another land. It gives one an understanding of what immigrants to our country must go through when they embark to the strange world that is America.
I don’t know why, but for this flight they recommend we get to the airport 2 1/2 hours ahead of flight time, which is 7:59 a.m. That seems awfully early to me, but who am I to question these crazy rules?
I made a day trip to Richmond on Monday, March 20, to visit my two kids. Before meeting them, I went for a walk around one of my favorite gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I got a glimpse of spring here in Virginia, but now I’ll have to leave it behind. I’ll be immersed in Japan for full-on spring and through the heat of the summer. Tokyo’s weather is much like ours – cool and rainy in the spring, hot and humid in summer. It will be similar to Korea’s weather as well.
Inside the conservatory, I found orchids and tropical plants.
Outside, I found a Japanese tea house and garden, a children’s garden and tree house, and a pond.
I hope to see you all in Japan! You can follow my adventures here: catbird in japan.
Friday, January 13: On a beautiful Friday in January, just before I was to begin teaching a 7-week session at VIU, I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia for a morning outing. Before this job dropped into my lap, I had made a schedule for myself that included taking a photo outing every Friday. Despite getting the job at the last-minute and having to prepare two syllabuses and lesson plans, I went out anyway, determined that I wouldn’t allow this job to ruin my personal goals. In the end, the outing caused me a great deal of stress over the weekend. It turned out I would never have time for another Friday outing during the entire 7-week session.
I was glad I went even though it took me longer to drive there than the 1 hr 9 min estimated by MapQuest.
At the Visitor’s Center, I was told there was a 2 1/2 mile hike to the river bluff or a shuttle into the town of Harpers Ferry, where I could get some lunch. I only had time for one or the other, and I was hungry, so I opted for the town. The town is supposedly closed off to cars, so I was required to take the shuttle despite having my car. Later, as I walked through the town, I saw cars driving through, so it was obviously NOT “closed off to cars!”
I was dropped by the shuttle on Shenandoah Street, from which I could see St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the hill overlooking the town.
I walked down the quiet street, looking at the preserved shops from the 1800s.
At the end of Shenandoah Street, I got a glimpse of the John Brown Museum. I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to take that much time.
The story is this: In October 1859, determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points. The raid failed, with most men killed or captured. Brown’s trial and execution focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. (National Park Service pamphlet)
I walked up High Street, which has shops and restaurants. As it was lunchtime and I was hungry, I searched for a place to grab a bite.
I stopped by the train station to watch some of the trains barrel past.
I ducked into Hannah’s New Orleans Seafood & Southern BBQ for some lunch. It was bright and cheery, and the Bubba Gump Louisiana shrimp fried in Cajun cornmeal was delicious. 🙂
After lunch, I walked back down High Street.
I took the path up to Jefferson Rock. First I came face-to-face with St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Irish laborers flooded into the Harpers Ferry area during the 1830s to build the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. St. Peter’s Catholic Church symbolizes America’s melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.
During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutrality. St. Peter’s escaped the war relatively unscathed. The church was remodeled in 1896 and Mass is offered here every Sunday.
Further up the path, I found the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of Harpers Ferry’s five earliest churches. Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John’s served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.
Above the ruins sat a pretty house with a grand view.
This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from Jefferson Rock during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783:
“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea … This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports places under “Jefferson Rock” because it was “endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.”
Going back down the hill, I passed the ruins again.
At this juncture of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, George Washington envisioned military strength and chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a U.S. Armory. By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills. The revolutionary method of manufacturing with interchangeable parts was perfected at the Halls Island rifle factory.
Below is Arsenal Square and the John Brown Museum.
I followed part of the Appalachian Trail from the end of Shenandoah Street across the footbridge to the C&O Canal and Maryland Heights.
There is a lot of train activity at this juncture of the rivers.
Rail transportation in the United States began in Baltimore, Maryland on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll, the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
On the same day, President John Quincy Adams turned the first spade of earth along the Potomac River for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
The race was underway as the progressive railroad and the traditional canal struggled to become the first to connect the Ohio Valley with the east coast. Harpers Ferry was one of the first milestones of that race.
Work on the railroad and canal progressed slowly at first, but by 1834 both companies had completed construction to a point opposite Harpers Ferry. The canal had won the race to this point, and it continued up the Maryland side to the Potomac.
The B&O Railroad, plagued by land disputes with the canal, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry in 1837 and rapidly pushed on. By 1842, it reached Cumberland, Maryland, and a decade later, the railroad was open to Wheeling on the Ohio River.
Business boomed at Harpers Ferry with the arrival of the railroad. Refrigerated cars brought oysters and other luxuries to the town. Thousands of travelers visited Harpers Ferry as it became a gateway to the Ohio Valley.
The Civil War shattered Harpers Ferry’s prosperity. Much of the town was destroyed, and Confederate raiders constantly sabotaged the railroad. Despite the war, the railroad escaped permanent damage, and the B&O survives today as a main artery of transportation in the United States.
On the other side of the footbridge, I saw the path along the C&O Canal, but I didn’t have time to explore it further.
The C&O Canal was burdened by a lack of building supplies and a scarcity of skilled labor and thus encountered serious financial problems. It did not reach Cumberland, Maryland until 1850 — eight years after the railroad reached that point. Plans to continue further westward were abandoned.
Made obsolete by the faster and less expensive railroad, the C&O Canal never attained any great measure of economic success, but it did transport coal, flour, grain, and lumber to Washington for nearly 90 years. Canal operations ceased in 1924 when a flood devastated the Potomac Valley, leaving the canal in ruins.
Today’s view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers passing through the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains has changed little from Meriwether Lewis’ view in 1803. Lewis hoped to find a similar, accessible trade route on rivers passing through the Rocky Mountains.
The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens. Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplied across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary.
In less than a decade after the bridge was completed, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.
In 1848, the building now known as John Brown Fort was built as a fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory. On October 16, 1859, it served as a stronghold for John Brown and his raiders, as they were penned into the building by the local militia. U.S. Marines stormed the building at dawn on October 18th and captured Brown. Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859.
The Fort escaped destruction during the Civil War, but from 1861-1865, it was vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldier and later travelers. In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to the Chicago Exposition, and in 1895, it was rescued from conversion to a stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry to be exhibited on a farm. Then in 1909, it was purchased by Storer College and moved to campus. Finally, in 1968, it was moved by the National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.
After my fun excursion, it was sadly time to return home and get to work on preparing for my classes. I could have explored a lot more. Sadly, it would have to wait for another day.
Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!). Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita. I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing. Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer. I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage. Cheers!
I’m happy to see you. We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking. How are you surviving since the election? Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along? What kind of music are you listening to? Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home? Have you had any special family gatherings?
Well. Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders
The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview. This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August. The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did. They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40). I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.
When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount. So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March. The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday. On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in! It was mostly a waste of time and money.
Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go. Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not. After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session. It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top. I’d rather focus on my personal goals.
That being said, the students are enjoyable. I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare. As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.
On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world. It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching. They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up. Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide. Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool. This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.
So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.
As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land. I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA. I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La LaLand, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.
By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy. I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:
“Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
“Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
“The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
“Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
“Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
“You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
“Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
“Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
“Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
“What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
“Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
“Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
“City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing. It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me! However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way). So, it seems the job is running me after all. The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.
bridge remains at Harper’s Ferry
walkway along the railroad tracks
I finished reading several books this month. My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose. I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to. I plan to write about this in a separate post. I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris. It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture. I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels. And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.
As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it. All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban. You can count me as part of the Resistance!! We will NOT stand down.
I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you. As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂
“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis
Twenty-seventeen. I like the sound of it. Three-hundred-sixty-five days, each offering possibilities. Or at least invitations to take small steps here and there.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin
I’m a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, or, better yet, Intentions. I always have been, although my success at achieving them is about as good as anyone else’s. Still. I love to dream. If the day ever comes when I stop dreaming, I might as well call it quits.
I have a long list of resolutions that cover a wide array of categories: education, health & fitness, finances, household projects, spiritual & cultural growth. I use the same categories every year, written in a large bound periwinkle-colored book full of blank pages. At the beginning of each new year, I write: Cathy’s 2017 Resolutions (or whatever year it is) and then I tape a copy of 2017 Yearly Horoscope: Scorpio (which rarely holds any truth in its predictions). At the end of each year, I evaluate what I did and didn’t do (no rewards or punishments necessary), clip together the pages of the old year, and close it out. It’s my method, and I enjoy the process. I love the bulk of those years of resolutions, some met and some not. My periwinkle book of wishes and dreams.
It has taken me a long time in life to figure out what’s most important to me, but now that I know what lights my fire, my intention for twenty-seventeen is to focus on the things I love, to expand on them and to delve deeper, to let the full expression of them bloom.
These are the things that set my heart on fire: inspirational and creative travel, writing & blogging, photography, walking (urban and nature hiking) and reading. I’ve also been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship as opposed to career-seeking in a world that seems infused with age discrimination.
Because I’m interested in so many things and I have so many ideas, because there are so many choices, I often feel overwhelmed; in fact, I feel utterly swamped. When I read this passage from Robert Clark’s Love Among the Ruins (p. 162-3), I recognized myself in Jane:
Jane, “having resigned herself to the fact that a Ph.D. was not in the cards … for a personality, a character formation, that, truth to be told, has felt itself ‘swamped’ since perhaps the age of four — no, longer still, since before she seemingly alone rowed herself ashore and landed in this life.
“It is, Jane must admit, a curious thing to be so overwhelmed by obligations and duties — to have unfinished chores hugging at her hem while lined up behind them is the impending sense that some fundamental necessity has been completely overlooked — but also to experience moments of terribly clarity in which she sees that she is not busy, that in fact she is doing nothing. And that ‘nothing’ is perhaps the substance which swamps her, the flood that threatens to sink her altogether. For it is not merely nothing in the sense of a moment of inactivity, of respite or pause. Nor is it the nothing of ‘nothing in particular,’ neither this nor that. It is, Jane sees when she looks up to see it hovering just above and in front of her, her thumb holding a place in a magazine article whose subject she has already forgotten, the index finger of the other hand clawing in the near-spent cigarette pack, ‘nothing at all.’ It is the kind of nothing that is a force in its own right, that precludes all the possible somethings one might try to put in its place; that marks the fact of everything one is not doing and, looming stupidly, heavily like humidity, renders starting impossible.”
How I love it when I read a book of literary fiction (which I read to the near exclusion of anything else) and recognize myself.
The nothing that I’m doing, that nothing that has a life of its own, is so physically oppressive that starting something, anything, becomes a force to be reckoned with. How does one start something when “all the possible somethings” remind me every moment of what I’m NOT doing? I often feel smothered by all those possibilities, and rendered inactive.
Yet. I do continue to search. To seek. A good friend of mine once admitted to admiring me for always searching. For what, he didn’t know. Neither do I. But I do believe it is important to keep searching, even if you don’t know what for.
In the excellent memoir-writing book, Writing Life Stories, teacher Bill Roorbach asks one of his 85-year-old students, coincidentally named Jane:
“Jane, tell us, what’s the secret of life?”
Jane smiled benignly, forgiving me my sardonic nature, tilted her head, and said without the slightest pause: “Searching.”
An indignant Chuck (one of the other students) said, “Not finding?”
“No, no, no,” Jane said emphatically, letting her beatific smile spread, “Searching.”
Searching is what keeps us alive, gives us hope, keeps us moving along, step by step, through our lives.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” ~ Vincent van Gogh
In the areas of life that excite me, here are my intentions for the year ahead:
Reading: I intend to bask in my love of reading, using Goodreads extensively, adding to my to-read list and writing reviews of every book I read. My goal is to read 40 books in different areas: literary fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories and travel memoir; books on the craft of memoir, travel and fiction writing: and inspirational books on creativity. Last year, my goals was to read 35 books and I achieved that goal. I was enriched by every page I read. 🙂
Photography: I intend to read books on photography, push myself to play more with my camera, possibly take a photography workshop, and challenge myself to be more creative. I will try to participate in several photo challenges on WordPress. I would also like to get and learn a new photo processing software.
Walking (urban and nature hiking): I intend to continue my 3-mile walks 4x/week, but also to take local urban hikes through cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, and Richmond and natural hikes in the Shenandoah mountains or elsewhere on the East Coast. I also hope to do three official 10K walks this year. Of course, I walk a lot whenever I travel abroad because I believe it is the best way to fully experience any destination. I also have a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in the fall, possibly September-October. If I do it, I want to do the whole thing, The French Way, all 780 km of it. I hope I can swing it this year.
As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. ~ Buddha
Inspirational and creative travel: I intend to travel more intentionally this year, and to make something creative from my travels. My plan for this spring is to try to volunteer at a bed & breakfast in Croatia for a week, travel solo in Croatia, and then meet Mike, where we will explore Hungary and Czech Republic, focusing on Budapest and Prague. In the fall, I hope to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago.
Writing & blogging: I’d like to stop being lazy in my travel writing and blogging and to push myself to be more creative and inspirational. I intend to travel more intentionally and observantly, keeping a detailed travel journal and taking more creative photos. I hope to make something from my travels, whether the stuff of memoir or fiction, poetry or storytelling photography.
As for my fiction and memoir writing, I’d like to self-publish my novel and finish my memoir by year-end. In addition, I plan to take classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I’ve already signed up for three classes: How to Build Complex Characters, Building Better Characters, and Character Building. I know, they all sound alike, don’t they? However, they each have a slightly different focus and are taught by different teachers. I’m interested in this subject because I want to create characters to take with me to Croatia and on my other travels. I’m also interested in creating a course on how to create characters and bringing that character to …..(fill in the blank with a foreign country name).
Entrepreneurship/Career: Finally, there is the issue of work. I’ve been reading a book by Gail Sheehy called Sex and the Seasoned Woman. I started this book years ago, but I finally finished it this year. What I found most interesting were the stories of older women who decided to reinvent their lives and bring their passions into fruition. I found a story about Elaine, who started out as a schoolteacher, to be funny and inspirational (p. 232-235):
Elaine’s husband asked her: “What are you passionate about?”
“Books,” she said. “This may be a really dumb idea, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller.” Now she is the proprietor of a large bookstore in California. Later, her husband asked her again if there were anything she was missing in life.
“Teaching,” she admitted. “This may be a really dumb idea, but what if we started a conference for travel writers?” Now their bookstore has expanded into a small university of sorts.
Elaine says “But these things didn’t start as smart business ideas.” They started with Elaine saying to her husband, “This is probably a dumb idea, but….”
So, THIS is probably a dumb idea, but I hope to start a new blog where I don my teaching hat and write posts about how to immerse oneself more creatively and intentionally in travel, how to approach travel with awe and with an eye to inspiring creativity in oneself.
I’m hoping that eventually this will lead to me offering creative travel retreats. Slowly, slowly. As a teacher, writer, and traveler, I know I am perfectly capable of doing this. Yet. And of course, there is always a YET! I’ve never been an entrepreneur before, so I know I will have a steep learning curve. I intend to climb that curve, even if it involves backsliding down that slope as I learn. I will need confidence and courage.
In that vein, I’ve written a lot of notes about defining my business and my market, signed up for a course called Starting Your Own Business, and have subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine. Now I need to come up with a name!
I will reveal more about my ideas for this business on a new blog at some point soon, I hope. I have lots of ideas. 🙂
As for my ESL career, I will cut back on my job applications, but I will periodically apply to jobs abroad or at home. My heart isn’t really in the work itself, except for the travel opportunities offered. If I get a job, it may waylay my aforementioned plans, but I’m open to any adventure the world throws my way! 🙂
I hope everyone continues to dream and grow in twenty-seventeen, and I hope all your wishes come true. 🙂
(All photos were taken on urban hikes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 29-30, 2016)
Friday, December 30: On our way home from Philadelphia, we take the roundabout route through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just to get off the boring interstate. It’s always fun to drive on American back roads, through farmland and small towns.
The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County are America’s oldest Amish settlement. Here, the horse and buggy remains a primary form of transportation, and the Amish people work in agriculture, businesses and cottage industries.
The light is beautiful on this winter afternoon, painting the silos and barns with a golden color.
We see many homes with laundry flapping in the breeze.
The small town of Intercourse is a hub where many Amish and local people do business. It’s just east of Bird-in-Hand and north of Paradise. Here, shops sell Amish quilts, furniture and other handmade crafts. You can click on the link to read about how the town of Intercourse got its name.
Bird-in-Hand is another cute town in Lancaster, with cute shops congregating along the roadside. The history of Bird-in-Hand and its unusual name is here.
We come across some of the buggies that are so common here. This one is taking a rest.
We pass many on the road, but I have a hard time capturing them because they move at quite a clip. I do manage to snatch a photo of one.
The rest of our drive home isn’t quite so scenic. We do manage to get home safely after our fabulous trip to Philadelphia and to ring in the New Year the next evening, with me asleep before midnight. 🙂
In 1994, Isaiah Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street, according to the museum’s pamphlet. He first constructed a massive fence to protect the area then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects.
In 2002, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to allow the now-beloved neighborhood art environment to be destroyed, the community rushed to support the artist. After a two-year legal battle, his creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, became a non-profit organization intended to preserve the artwork, says the pamphlet.
Embedded in the walls of the outdoor installation are bottles, bicycle wheels, pottery shards, and folk sculptures.
We find a lot of names, phrases and sayings embedded in chains across the walled-canvas.
Some of the Magic Gardens’ values include inspiring others, creating community, championing originality, and embracing the creative process unbound by conventional norms.
The Gardens also interprets Isaiah Zagar’s art with a lighthearted, celebratory attitude. They believe in working hard while still maintaining levity and humor, according to the website.
I love the multi-armed painter who might bear a slight resemblance to Zagar.
Here, the artist is cradled by a three-headed woman.
PHILADELPHIA is spelled out along one passageway.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is like a wilder version of Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona, though it has no actual gardens. I highly recommend visiting here for a quirky afternoon.
After we finish our visit, it’s time for us to head back to Virginia. We decide to take a convoluted route home, passing through the Amish countryside of Lancaster County.
Friday, December 30: After walking the southern half of the Mural Arts Walk, we head to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. As we walk down South Street, we pass a number of the artist’s murals on buildings and in alleys.
We find another mural with some religious verses adjacent to a small parking lot.
Zagar mural near Magic Gardens
detail of Zagar mural
detail of Zagar mural
Someone’s house is even decked out in mosaics.
The museum, spanning half a block on South Street, includes an immersive outdoor art installation and indoor galleries. As it’s the middle of winter, we first walk around the indoor galleries.
The artist, Isaiah Zagar, is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found in over 200 public walls throughout Philadelphia and around the world, according to a museum pamphlet.
Zagar was born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn; he received a B.F.A. in Painting and Graphics at the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City. The artist and his wife Julia settled in Philadelphia after serving 3 years in Peru with the Peace Corps. Zagar’s work is influenced by his travels as well as his interactions with international folk and visionary artists, says the pamphlet.
Zagar created the space at Magic Gardens using nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors.
Visual anecdotes and personal narratives refer to Zagar’s life, family and community, as well as to the wider world, such as influential art history figures and other visionary artists and environments.
This place is a photographer’s paradise. Every surface is covered with mosaics and found objects, including the ceilings, stairs and bathrooms.
We walk outdoors into a small enclosed patio, but then are led right back into the indoor galleries.
We could spend hours and hours here marveling at all the details.
We brace ourselves to go the outdoor art installation. Luckily the area is enclosed and it doesn’t feel that cold outside. I hear it’s super crowded in summer, so I think it’s best we came at this time of year. The outdoor installation will follow in another post. 🙂