Archive for the ‘local traditions’ Category


chickencrowingWe found Ybor City, Florida, really interesting for 4 main things: the old cigar stores and stories; the Columbia Restaurant; the World Trade Center Memorial; and a fairly large population of feral chickens (which is what Rod was looking for there as part of some research).

Ybor City is a historic neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, just northeast of down town. It was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers, and is named after Vicente Martinez Ybor. Ybor was a Spanish-born cigar manufacturer, who moved his operation from Cuba, to Key West, to near Tampa. Thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy, came to live in this area, many as cigar workers. For the next 50 or so years, workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories rolled millions of cigars each year. It was an unusual immigrant community in southern US at that time because of its multi-ethnic and multi-racial population.


cigar2Another historical tidbit: A plaque tells us that the Rough Riders rode by here in 1898. “The intersection of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-second Street was a sandy cross-road connecting three army encampments in the Ybor City area during the Spanish-American War. At this cross-road was a water-trough where the Rough Riders watered their mounts. Col. “Teddy” Roosevelt frequently rode by here on his horse “Texas” followed by his little dog “Cuba”.”


Lions Club

A plaque at Columbia Restaurant explains the involvement of the Lions Club

During the Great Depression a slow exodus out of the area began and became worse after WW2, leading to a time of abandonment and decay. From the early 2000s, part of the original neighborhood has been redeveloped into a nightclub and entertainment district, with movies, restaurants and shopping opportunities.

The neighborhood has been designated a National Historic Landmark District and a number of structures in the area are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2008, 7th Avenue (the main commercial street in Ybor City) was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.

In 2010, Columbia Restaurant was named a “Top 50 All-American icon” by Nation’s Restaurant News magazine. Besides serving food, this restaurant has played a large role in the history of Ybor City. For example, it’s the headquarters of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago, and the Lions Club of Ybor City was organized and met here.chickensbycar

See next posts for Columbia Restaurant and the World Trade Center Memorial.

How the chickens came about, who knows? But they are very pretty birds.



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A hamsa

The Hamsa and the Evil Eye

I’ve just returned from St Louis where I was for 6 weeks to help my daughter with a new baby. While there I remembered that we had bought her a hamsa from a shop in Old Jaffa (www.adinaplastelina.com ) while we were in Israel last year. It’s very pretty—a pendant on a ribbon—and I started reading up more on what its significance is.

These days, with so much strife and discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, it seems to me that it would be a really good thing for people to find similarities between groups, rather than differences. It seems the hamsa could be one such agreement.


Hamsa pendant


Typical Turkish-style “Evil Eye”

According to the leaflet that came with my daughter’s hamsa: “Known in Islamic societies as the Hand of Fatima, and in Jewish lore as the Hand of Miriam, the hamsa serves as an ancient talismanic way of averting the evil eye or, more generally, of providing a “protecting hand” or “Hand of God”. Some sources link the significance of the five fingers to the five books of the Torah, or to the five pillars of Islam. In recent years some activists for Middle East peace have chosen to wear a hamsa as a symbol of the similarities of origins and tradition between the Islamic and Jewish faiths.”

This idea of protection from “the evil eye” is common in many countries in the Middle East, especially in Turkey and countries where the Ottoman Empire ruled, such as Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. The concept is the same—wearing, or having, some talisman that will protect against bad things, or ward off evil—but the actual amulet is very different. The typical Turkish one is a flattish bright blue circular bead with light blue and white inner circles and a darker blue center, like an ‘eye’. They are made into jewelry, or into beads that hang in cars, over doorways etc. People have them in kitchens, on baby strollers, on motorbikes etc. We have bought quite a number over the years, in Turkey and more recently in Bosnia.


This kitchen is protected by a Mexican folk skull and a Turkish evil eye


This kitchen also has an evil eye

Here’s a short discussion about the Turkish evil eye:


For a more extensive history and meaning of the evil eye, see here:


How can we all rally, and have some kind of hamsa, or evil eye, or other protection from the evil in this world? A symbol that would bind people together? I’m just being idealistic, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to dream!




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A narrow stepped street

A narrow stepped street

A market street

A market street

We enter old Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate (left)

We enter old Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate (left)

Note: This post is picture-heavy, but the place is so photogenic that it’s hard not to try and capture it all. Please go all the way to the end, to see the T-shirts!

On a day trip to Jerusalem you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking, and much of it will be along the narrow market streets on the way to the major historical sights.

Our guide for our day trip was Shani Kotev (shanikotev@gmail.com ). He was a very good guide, with an incredible knowledge about his subject: Jerusalem and its history, including all the other cultures and religions.


A plaque on the wall indicates that this is some of the original paving from the time of Jesus Christ

A plaque on the wall indicates that this is some of the original paving from the time of Jesus Christ

We entered the old city through the Jaffa Gate, one of 7 gates into the city. Jerusalem has no port, so for thousands of years Jaffa was the naval gateway. Shani told us the story of Suleiman the Magnificent building this gate and huge walls around the city in 1538. He was so pleased with them that he never wanted an imitation, so he had the two constructors killed. They are buried just inside the walls and we saw the two graves, guarded by a soldier. These walls define the old city, which has traditionally been divided into four; the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim Quarters.

We wandered along many narrow, sloping or stepped market streets, the paving stones shiny with use and slippery from rain that morning. Some of the huge old paving stones are very old, even from the times when Jesus may have walked here—it’s quite an amazing feeling to realize that we may be treading on the very stones that famous people walked on so many years ago.

I think we would have initially got lost if on our own in this maze of interconnected alleyways, but Shani has obviously done this many times. Small stalls and shops line both sides of the alleys, some with a vaulted clear roof, selling all kinds of goods, from shoes, to clothes, to pomegranates, to small thorn crosses and thorn crowns. We saw fruit of all kinds, huge slabs of halva, bowls of nuts, suitcases, lots of religious items and icons, and gorgeous, brightly-colored fabrics.



You can also stop to have freshly-squeezed juices or a glass of tea, and many small hummus (hommos) and falafel cafes are dotted around. We even saw a western-style coffee and pizza café. And what about the Holy Rock Café!

A colorful cafe

A colorful cafe

The Holy Rock Cafe

The Holy Rock Cafe

priestsIt’s fascinating. Vendors call out, “Come buy” or “Look, I have a good deal” or “Best price here.” Local women with head scarves carry small children, workers trundle gas tanks on a small trolley, and religious leaders were chatting at the top of some stairs by the 8th Station of the Cross.

Chicago Bulls, Palestine, SuperJew

Chicago Bulls, Palestine, SuperJew

What really caught our eyes too—and what our hosts kept stopping to point out to us—were the T-shirt stalls. There’s an amazing selection, some the usual “I Love Jerusalem” type, and many with a US sports team theme. But, there are many that are overtly political, often related to Israel’s relationship with the USA, and about Palestine. All making a very definite statement. None of our group bought any though!Tshirts3

Shani points out many T-shirts with a Palestine motif

Shani points out many T-shirts with a Palestine motif

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The Jagiellonian University Courtyard


Part of the beautiful courtyard, with the clock straight ahead

Part of the beautiful courtyard, with the clock straight ahead

The doors open and the clock procession is about to begin

The doors open and the clock procession is about to begin

The courtyard is one of the most beautiful in Krakow, and the clock is outstanding. The clock is set in motion every day at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. A parade of large colorful figures comes out and moves around, representing people related to the university’s history. Large groups of tourists arrive for each “performance”, which is a lot of fun.

Crowds gather

Crowds gather










Some of the historical figures in the clock procession

Some of the historical figures in the clock procession

The information board tells us: The first clock here was from somewhere before 1465. The present clock has been restored 4 times in the history of Collegium Maius. Destroyed by fire in 1492, it was rebuilt thanks to efforts of the Academy and Queen Elizabeth of Austria. The next restoration was thanks to a donation by Maciej of Miechow, a professor and benefactor of the Krakow Academy. The current clock began working in October 1999. Now a computer system sets in motion a procession of historical figures marching to two different melodies: an extract of “court music” taken from the tablature of John of Lubin, dating from the middle of the 16th century; and an instrumental version of the academic song Gaudeamus Igitur.

The figures in the procession are people connected with the history of the Krakow academy: the beadle, Queen Jagwega, King Ladislaus Jagiello, St John of Kety, Hugon Kollataj, and Rector Stanislaus of Skalbmierz. These figures were made in the late 1950s by Ladislaus Kozyra, a folk sculptor.


I watch the clock procession from a small balcony

I watch the clock procession from a small balcony

We watched the 11am clock show and at that time bought a ticket for the next English museum tour at 1pm. You have to go on a guided tour in a small group, which is offered a few times a day (see following post)

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All the murals are colorful, many tell a story, often symbolic

All the murals are colorful, many tell a story, often symbolic

A wrap-around history

A wrap-around history

Street Art in Mission District

This eclectic neighborhood in San Francisco is one of our favorite areas for street murals anywhere we’ve been so far.

To get here, catch a bus #49, which conveniently goes along Mission Street.

It’s a very interesting area as it does have a different atmosphere to most other US city streets—in some parts you could imagine that you were in a Mexican city, with narrow leafy streets, small crowded shops opening right onto the sidewalk; lots of music, people and noise; ads in Spanish splashed over buildings and an explosion of bright color. There are also, sadly, plenty of Western Union, money exchange and loan shops (a sign of the times generally).

Besides the delis and small shops, the main draw is the colorful murals, the chief source of the bright local color, along with blooming bougainvilleas and flowering trees. Another draw is the Mission Dolores (see an upcoming post).

Part of Balmy Alley. Look to the blue mural towards the right to see the woman giving birth

Part of Balmy Alley. Look to the blue mural towards the right to see the woman giving birth

San Francisco has more than 500 murals and a large proportion of them are here in this area. Almost all streets have at least one mural, while many streets have huge concentrations, such as the area around Balmy Alley off 24th Street. Some murals are small, some enormous, all fascinating. Many tell a story or have a message—-social, political, historical— and some serve as a type of ad to attract more business, such as the one for a lavandaria (laundry), or a Nursery School. Some of the murals are religious, and many have an old Aztec/Mayan theme, which we recognized from our trips to Mexico.

A plea for freedom and justice

A plea for freedom and justice

Most of them are signed and dated, so we can tell who painted them. Some artists are famous (Diego Rivera), most not, but they are all talented and many are locals.

We were fascinated and loved wandering the streets and turning a corner, wondering what we’d find next. Some of the murals are pretty graphic—a woman giving birth, or a bloody battle—but others are softer and very pretty with flowers and birds or butterflies. It’s very exciting, as they are all so vividly colored—colors are sometimes shocking and contrasting and immediately grab one’s attention.

Rod by a forest/jungle scene

Rod by a forest/jungle scene

Rainbows and good agriculture

Rainbows and good agriculture

Women's Building

Women’s Building

Way before his data, our beloved Mandela earned a spot on this mural

Way before his death, our beloved Mandela earned a spot on this mural

A whole building (Women’s Building) is covered with themes related to women, some poignant, one a very graphic depiction of a pregnant belly; another wall is covered with numerous political activists, many names unknown to us, but we did recognize Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X. Amazing that Mandela made it onto a wall here!

This is a different side to San Francisco and it would probably be fun to do a socio-historical analysis of the murals. There are also schools with murals done by the pupils, and other walls painted by children.

It’s easy enough to wander around on your own, perhaps following a guidebook such as Frommers (we did), but there are also organized tours.

You can get more information on all the murals and find out about tours of the murals at Precita Eyes Mural Art Center, 2981 24th Street (near Harrison). Their web site is excellent—- www.precitaeyes.org . Here you can also find out about exciting new mural arts projects.

For example, the basic Mission Trail Mural Walk lasts about 90 minutes. Cost is $15 adults ($12 for San Francisco residents); $10 seniors and college students; $6 youth 12-17 years; and $3 children under 12.

We had way too many photos to include here, so I’ve made a simple photo essay of some of our pictures. You can see it here— http://www.viviennemackie.com/USAarticles/Mission_Murals.html

Seems to be a musical theme ,so we couldn't work out the role of the pig!

Seems to be a musical theme ,so we couldn’t work out the role of the pig!


An old INdian/Aztec theme, with pretty flowering plants

An old Indian/Aztec theme, with pretty flowering plants


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All over the islands, everything is written in English and Gaelic

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries

The Calmac ferry system connects Scotland’s western isles to each other and to the mainland. It’s a vast network that has been perfected over the years and we were very impressed.

In most of Scotland you are never far from water—be it the sea, a strait, a loch, a firth—and that’s especially true around the western isles and west coast, where it’s often difficult to know what’s island, what’s peninsula, what’s mainland.

As a result, over the centuries the Scots became very adept at living with the waters, and at using them as means of communication rather than as obstacles and barriers and until fairly recently many places could only be reached by water.

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

The Calmac company owns and operates ferry boats of all shapes and sizes to suit all the different needs and routes. The company was founded in 1851 as David Hutcheson & Co, and was renamed David MacBrayne in 1879 when David MacBrayne (a partner and nephew) gained full ownership. It stayed in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928. Then MacBrayne and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co were jointly involved and in 1973 the name changed to Caledonian MacBrayne.

Traveling on a ferry is almost inevitable if you visit this part of Scotland, whether as a foot passenger or a car driver. We did both, and it’s a fun way to observe this part of Scottish life. We drove a car onto the ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, and we were foot passengers on the smaller ferry that goes from Fionnphort on Mull to the sacred Isle of Iona.

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

It’s fun to watch how the ferry workers direct all the vehicles on and off and often seem to manage to squeeze something else on (the whole process reminded us of the ferries in Greece). We were amazed at all the types of vehicles that get on and off the big ferries, but it’s totally logical as this is the only way to get certain things onto the islands. We saw many camper vans, the British Royal Mail vans, huge tourist buses, delivery trucks, fire engines, and fuel tankers for example.

If you are driving a car in the summer (high) season, it’s probably best to try and make a ferry reservation if you can, as if you just rock up you might not get on.

The bigger ferries have a lounge and cafes.


As we walk up to the lounges and decks, another tanker drives in


Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island---just commercial vehicles or residents

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island—just commercial vehicles or residents’ cars

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ImageUrbana: Why are the Round Barns Round?

The three round barns sit atop a low hill rising behind the Vet Med Building on the south campus of the University of Illinois. “Hill” may be an exaggeration; it’s more like a slight elevation in the land. But, even a small rise is noticeable and noteworthy here, in flat central Illinois, slap-bang in the middle of the seemingly endless (and flat) plains and prairies. They stretch to the far horizon and very little breaks the eye’s gaze. Farmhouses appear like small blips in the fields, and the wide expanse of land and the huge open sky dwarf even the groups of grain elevators.

Back to the round barns. Tall, stately, white-washed, these historic landmarks gaze down on rolling fenced fields, which to the south and west are cultivated with experimental corn in the growing season. To the north lie a large paddock—horses grazing under the few trees—and huge velvety green soccer fields, very active at weekends.

Nowadays, around Illinois typical red, boxy barns dot the farmlands. You will seldom find a traditional round barn, so these barns have become rather special symbols of a time past. They are much more than quaint landmarks, as they are symbols of the university’s history of agricultural education and innovative research. Built as a demonstration dairy in 1908, the barns’ round shape allows for a center silo around which cows can stand and feed, like spokes on a wheel. The barrel construction uses less lumber and is stronger and better suited to resist harsh midwestern weather—powerful prairie winds glance off the rounded outer walls. One wonders why more farms don’t still have round barns.

Few people visit the round barns really, except those interested in historical architecture, but I walk past them regularly and watch them, unchanging, in the changing days and seasons. They are not far from our house, and are a definite part of our daily landscape, so we love them.

At sunset, the barns on their hill rise like a fat silhouette before the painted sky. At dawn mist wreathes them. In winter, they almost blend into the white landscape. Here are some winter shots.round barns

round barn2

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