Art, Aging, and the Hills of Valparaiso

Mural on Templeman Street in Valparaiso

I suppose all of us, at different times and perhaps for different reasons, find ourselves at a point when we start heeding age and its wholesale irreversibility.

Mine was in Chile six years ago. The Smart Set just published “What the Walls Taught Me,” the story of how the street art of Valparaiso, Chile–and the hilly port city itself–helped me see aging in a different light. It is a tale of trapezoids, dog turd slaloms, time-traveling funiculars, and a comic book hero who drives a garbage truck.

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Uruguay’s Candombe in Stories of Music

Stories of Music cover
Stories of Music Volume 1 has finally been released! I’m proud to be a part of this multimedia anthology. My piece on the candombe drummers of Uruguay, which previously appeared in Perceptive Travel, was chosen along with works from 40 other contributors. 10% of the book proceeds will be donated to nonprofit organizations Hungry for Music and Music & Memory. Learn more about the book at Stories of Music.

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Tales to Go, and a Hat that Went

Panamanian hats, but not Panama hats
When it comes to sun protection throughout my travels, I’ve settled into a habit of following a self-imposed rule: new country, new hat. This began out of necessity; when departing from home via air, I would not want to risk destroying the weave of a hat I’d already acquired and babied through the jostles and crushes of carry-on space on a previous return flight. Thus, I’d instead bring along some hideous floppy (but easily packable) hat to block the sun during my first day in the new country. That hat’s ugliness would quickly remind me to hit the markets to pick up a local hat so that I could at least make an attempt at respecting and understanding the fashion of the place. And I’d carefully find a way to bring the headwear home, where it would never again be subjected to the unforgiving environment of the coach section.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t settled on the new country/new hat rule until I had, inadvertently, almost destroyed my favorite hat, a woven, flat-brimmed beauty with black and white yarn patterns I’d picked up in Panama. I had brought it with me on one too many journeys. Sans hat box (an item too extravagant for a coach budget), the accessory with an attractive but tragically brittle weave just wasn’t designed to withstand that kind of mileage. A lesson learned too late.

But such a mistake ended up leading me down a fortunate path. It was the search for that hat’s replacement during a return trip to Panama that had encouraged me to write “Speaking in Hats,” which was published by Compass Cultura (now part of Latterly Magazine) earlier this year. And now, the piece appears in this month’s edition of Tales To Go, a monthly magazine published by Travelers’ Tales.

I’m in great company, as the piece appears alongside engaging stories by Mara Gorman, Tor Torkildson and Lance Mason. You can read the first few paragraphs of each piece here. And if you like what you are reading, you should consider subscribing, as Tales To Go brings your four stories a month by travel storytellers such as Amy Gigi Alexander, Don George, and Jeff Greenwald. The free Tales To Go app for iPhones/iPads optimizes the publication’s reading experience when you are packing lightly. Just don’t try to squeeze that woven hat into the sliver of a gap above the luggage in the overhead bin.

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The Marshmallow: a Mindshare Indicator

I could not attend the Pope’s historic mass at Madison Square Garden yesterday. So I did the next best thing: I ate a Popemallow, of course.

I doubt corn syrup will absolve me of my sins. And edible ink on a vanilla marshmallow might be an unconventional way to pay homage to the spiritual leader of over a billion people. But this is the same leader who has dared, unconventionally, to voice his opinion on issues such as climate change. The Popemallow is an uncannily appropriate tribute.

But at the same time, this sweet, squeezable confection from NYC-based Mitchmallows (creator of such marshmallow flavors as sweet potato vanilla, churros, and thanksgiving gravy) is a far cry from blasphemy, even when considering that the company’s webpage states that the owner is a “proud graduate of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown College.” In fact, I find the opposite true. Along with the host of Pope bobbleheads and Pope dolls (one of which the Pope himself enjoyed seeing when introduced to one a couple days ago) that have been hawked anywhere within twenty blocks of Madison Square Garden, the Popemallow indicates the unprecedented reach of a Pope’s appeal.

If your picture is on a marshmallow, you’re going places.

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Little Kisses from a Black Colombian Woman

Besitos de Negra Colombiana

I’m always intrigued by how racial taboos materialize and dematerialize over geography and time. But I’m still not sure what to make of a tin box containing Besitos de Negra Colombiana—Little Kisses from a Black Colombian Woman—a confectionary item boldly displayed on a front shelf in the gift shop of the Cartagena airport’s international departure lounge. Doubling down on the product name, the lid contains a matronly cartoonish image that drives home the product concept.

So what is a little kiss from a black Colombian woman like? Perhaps I do not know enough about Colombian culture to form a more complete understanding, but the chocolate-covered dollop of sweet, fluffy nougat over a thin wafer seemed racially and culturally neutral. It’s just a treat that almost anyone could have made. A treat for anyone to enjoy.

Besito inside

I can’t avoid thinking that the chocolate exterior surrounding a white interior could be considered offensive, in the Oreo sense. But I don’t think that was the intent. I any case, I am hesitant to see what kinds of search terms lead people to this page. Search terms can be telling vehicles of desire and thought. When I was researching my trip to Colombia, I noticed that even benign searches in Google about Colombia often brought up travel tips involving pictures and advice that cater to carnal pursuits.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the last few sinful little kisses from a black Colombian woman, and they will have to tie me over until my next trip. If you still have any questions, I’m sure the Secret Service knows a bit about this topic (minus the sweets), based on their experiences during their last visit down there.

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