Monday, January 31, 2011

New York: NYC Restaurant Week Report: L'Ecole at the French Culinary Institute

Pan Am Gets a ABC TV Show Pilot

Conversations With a Child Monk in Bodh Gaya

Child monk in Bodh Gaya

All photos by author

Robert Hirschfield gives his account of an unexpected interaction in India.

SEEING MY FIRST child monk in Bodh Gaya, I think, Way to go! Start early and you will have a mind like clear space before puberty. Not like the mind that wobbles before you, willing to pick any cherry from the spirit tree, hoping it will taste of deliverance. A word thats too big for you. For me too. But I am not convinced of that, though I like to pretend otherwise.

Some inner something alerts you to my presence. You bow low, a small saffron fruit scraping the warm ground.

Child monks in Bodh Gaya

You wave me over. You from?

America, I say. And you?


A stubbled monk in a saffron sweatshirt is watching us closely from the opposite end of the ledge. A gaudy father bird keeping an eye on things.

My teacher, you say. Teacher smiles. You tell me your name: Atish. There is also another boy who is monk: Siddharta.

Tell me about your meditation practice?

I follow the breath. That is my practice. Breathe in, I know. Breathe out, I know.

You are prying open Siddhartas mouth, and I am thinking anything can happen anywhere in this world.

You close your eyes and meditate for me, as if you are demonstrating an appliance. I am impressed by how you let yourself be taken by the formless. I leave you to photograph the pilgrims collecting like ants around the stupas. When I return, you are with your teacher, and another bo! y in saf fron, who I take to be Siddharta.

Can you help us? you ask.

Where have I heard those words before? Not here, surely, in the shadow of the Bodhi tree. You are prying open Siddhartas mouth, and I am thinking anything can happen anywhere in this world. You are pointing to a bone sticking out of the darkness of an afflicted gum.

He needs an operation. Can you pay for the operation?

Steps in Bodh Gaya

The teacher inserts his own fingers into the boys mouth as if to underscore the gravity of his condition. I am catapulted from my imagined role as spiritual companion to your imagined role for me as benefactor passing through.

A little seedy perhaps, but what the hell? I find your stereotype insulting, Atish. I prefer my own. Equally idiotic, but somehow more cuddly.

I say no six or seven times in rapid succession like one of those crazed gunman in the movies whose lover was really asking for it.

I turn and leave.

Tomorrow morning. I will be here waiting for you, you say, still seeing some hope for our relationship. You are as good as your word. Sensitive to my dismay of yesterday, you begin by asking me about the food, the room, the folks at the Root Institute where I am staying. I give you my answers, heavy as quarry stones.

OK, not money for an operation, but can you buy me a new school bag?

You show me the old one. It is frayed. You are one pushy contemplative. I hear someone other than my resisting self, clearing his throat.

OK, I will buy you a bag.

Community Connection

Dental problems are one travel issue addressed in this post, Top 10 Travel Health Problems & How to Handle Them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Miami: Miami's Hottest Piece of Public Art is a Derelict Piano

Photo Essay: Meditation and Words of Inspiration

Across countries and cultures, meditation is an opportunity for a mindful escape from endless, competing demands for attention. A chance to still the mind for a period, regain perspective, and move forward with presence once more. With roots in many religions and cultures, meditation has become a growing refuge a response to a world pushing for more to be done faster.
Meditation Around the World

1. We could say that meditation doesnt have a reason or doesnt have a purpose. In this respect its unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we dont do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. Alan Watts Photo by iandeth

Meditation Around the World

2. Meditation here may think down hours to moments. Here the heart may give a useful lesson to the head and learning wiser grow without his books. William Cowper Photo by mrhayata

< div>Meditation Around the World

3. Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace. The Bhagavad Gita Photo by vramak

Meditation Around the World

4. Every moment there is a possibility to be total. Whatsoever you are doing, be absorbed in it so utterly that the mind thinks nothing, is just there, is just a presence. And more and more totality will be coming. And the taste of totality will make you more and more capable of being total. And try to see when you are not total. Those are the moments which have to be dropped slowly, slowly. When you are not total, whenever you are in the headthinking, brooding, calculating, cunning, cleveryou are not total. Slowly, slowly slip out of those moments. It is just an old habit. Habits die hard. But they die certainlyif one persists, they die. Osho Photo by gtall1

Meditation Around the World

5. Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom. Buddha Photo my mtungate

M editation Around the World

6. Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously, and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous sustained effort. Dalai Lama Photo by juandesant

Meditation Around the World

7. Whatsoever experience comes to you, let it happen, and then go on dropping it. Go on cleaning your mind continuously; go on dying to the past so you remain in the present, herenow, as if just born, just a babe. Osho Photo by il_morta

Meditation Around the World

8. You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars guides you too. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti Photo by peterme

Meditation Around the World

9. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi Photo by iandeth

Meditation Around the World

10. This is universal. Yo! u sit an d observe your breath. You cant say this is Hindu breath or Christian breath or Muslim breath. Charles Johnson Phot by mykaul

Meditation Around the World

11. Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said, God, I love you and looked to the sky and really meant it. I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other. To the children and the innocent its all the same. Jack Kerouac Photo by Sarah Gossett

Meditation Around the World

12. I cannot tell if what the world considers happiness is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness. Chuang-tzu Photo by mudeth

Meditation Around the World

13. The heart Sutra teaches that form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Many people dont know what that meanseven some long time students of meditation. But there is a very easy way to see this in our every day lives. For example, here is a wooden chair. It is brown. You sit in the chair, and it holds you up. You can place things on it. B! ut then you light the chair on fire, then leave. When you come back later, the chair is no longer there! This thing that seemed so solid and strong and real is now just a pile of cinder and ash which the wind blows around. This example shows how the chair is empty: It has no independent existence. Over a long or short time, the chair will eventually change and become something other than it appears. So, the brown chair is complete emptiness. But though it always has the quality of emptiness, this emptiness is form: you can sit in the chair, and it will hold you up. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Zen Master Seun Sahn Photo by spisharam

Meditation Around the World

14. Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you Sheng-yen Photo by bulinna

Meditation Around the World

15. Develop the mind of equilibrium.

You will always be getting praise and blame,

but do not let either affect the poise of the mind:

follow the calmness, the absence of pride. Sutta Nipata Photo by nasrulekrum

Tokyo: In the Battle for Tokyo's Haneda Airport, Who's Got the Cheapest Flight for Spring?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy First Annual Concierge Day (in Chicago)!

Travel is an Exercise in Perception

Through the looking glass

Photo: lilivanili

Mariellen Ward discusses how travel can teach us that we are not the center of the universe.

WHEN I TRAVEL, especially in India, I feel like Alice in Wonderland; I feel like Ive fallen into the rabbit hole, or stepped through the looking glass. I lose my bearings and everything is challenged, including my sense of self in the world and my ideas about how life and people should be.

And the experience of being in the alternate universe of a foreign country has helped me become more aware of myself and of the role perception plays in shaping reality.

In India, I meet other foreigners who tell me they think Pahar Ganj in Delhi is the real India, and who say the only way to travel in India is by staying in 150-rupee-a-night hovels. I also meet Delhi-born Indians who tell me they think Pahar Ganj is a ghetto and wouldnt go near it. They prefer Delhis five star hotels and the shopping malls of Gurgaon.

Delhi, India

Photo: author

When I live with my partners Indian family in Delhi, I am accepted into the family and I live as an Indian. But when I travel, I am seen as a foreigner and as if I know nothing about the culture.

Most foreigners I meet in India experience what I can only describe as culture shock. But Ive spent so much time there, and have had such a unique glimpse into the culture, that I now feel at home. In a recent Twitter conversation with EliteTravelGal, I was shocked when ! she desc ribed the Ananda Spa in the Himalayas as off-the-beaten-path. To me, thats about as off-the-beaten-path as Niagara Falls.

Whats the truth?

The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth. ~ Rumi

The truth is, we can only see the world through our own window. And the nature of our window depends on our culture, gender, age, background, experiences, beliefs, judgments, IQ, EQ, and everything else that goes into making us who we are.

Baby looking out window

Photo: Editor B

Perception is the reason one person loves Thailand and another Rome. Perception is why traveling can be fun and exciting; though you are visiting a place that is normal to the people who live there, to you it is novel and highly stimulating.

Perception is the reason one persons idea of an adventure is to get drunk on the beach with other travelers in Goa, whereas for someone else it would be living in a mud hut for a year in Africa and volunteering to work with AIDS orphans.

I have long been interested in perception and the nature of consciousness. I studied Gestalt Therapy for six years and practiced as a therapist for seven years. Ive also studied and practiced yoga for close to 20 years. Both say the same things: truth is in your experience, your experience is coloured by your perception, and you are a co-creator in your perception and thus in your reality of life.

And they both recommend increasing your mindfulness your consciousness to become aware of yourself. Yoga says you are a drop in the ocean of consciousness. You can become aware of you! rself as a single drop and as part of the ocean.

Wallpaper and humility

I always advise people to go to India with an open and trusting attitude. India is like the cave that Yoda sends Luke into. Luke asks, What will I find there? and Yoda answers, Only what you bring in with you.

I went to India knowing I would change, but not knowing how. Though I was lucky to have a very soft landing at the beginning of my six-month trip, I was still gob-smacked by the traffic, chaos, colour, and noise. On my first car drive in Delhi, I felt like I was on Mr. Toads Wild Ride.

Horns honking, cows in the road, bicycles piled high with unlikely goods careening between the cars, no one paying any attention to the lanes or the rules. It seemed like madness.

Five months later, when I strode confidently through Connaught Place in central Delhi and noticed that the touts didnt bother me they could see I wasnt a newbie and therefore not a prime target I was thrilled. I realized I had found my India legs and it felt like one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I had discovered both inner strength and a much higher degree of tolerance and flexibility.

Since then I have traveled often to India, living with my Indian partner and his family, studying with my yoga teacher in Rishikesh, and trying to learn and understand what eastern spiritual leaders have been teaching since the dawn of recorded time: that truth is in your experience. You are not the center of the universe, but you are the center of your universe.

The wisdom of the ancient rishis (sages), who developed the art and science of yoga, gained their wisdom not with external instruments of measure, but by meditating. Deepak Chopra called them Einsteins of consciousness. Th! ey used the human mind as a portal to the universe.

We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. ~ Talmud

It seems to me that its hard to see your own wallpaper. We all have preconceived ideas about the world; we carry around a set of assumptions, but we often dont realize it until something comes along to shake us up. Like travel.

But even travelers and people who blog about travel spend what I think is an inordinate amount of time trying to get others to agree to their truth; or not realizing that their version of the truth is personal. For example, so many discussions are around trying to figure out whats right or whats cool or whats authentic, whereas only the person who is experiencing it knows whether its right, cool, or authentic.

Im not saying I do not fall into this trap I do. Its hard to be a conscious person. But I think its worth trying.

The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose ones attitude in a given set of circumstances. ~ Viktor Frankl

I know from my own experience that it can be humbling to find out you are not the center of the universe. But if you learn the lesson with a dose of humility, it can open up a new universe to you. It can open you up to realizing that there is only one thing you can change or control, and thats your attitude. It is only one thing, but it is a very powerful thing.

Community Connection

Have you had an experience of coming back to a place with a new way of perceiving it?

How had it changed, and is it always possible to reshape our realities by learning to be flexible in our perception?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Are We So Afraid of Death?

This months Blast From the Past talks about what many dont want to talk about.

SHORTLY AFTER MY split with my wife last year, I found myself on a plane headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. I remember, as it was in its descent, my feeling of not caring if the plane crashed. It wasnt that I wanted to die, I just didnt really care. Thats probably understandable given the situation, but my view on death changed at that point and I still feel the same way. I am not as afraid of death as I used to be. I am, however, quite fearful of the suffering that might accompany it.

In August 2008, we published A Travelers Guide to the History of Death. The author, J. Raimund Pfarrkirchner, wrote:

Many Westerners consider death a taboo subject and [it's] considered a social faux pas when broached in conversation, especially when it refers to someone who has recently died. The irony is that everyone currently alivewill eventually die despite the fact that so few people seem to actually consider his or her own mortality.

He follows the ages and differing cultures in their attitudes toward death and states that for those of us in the West, death especially in the Middle Ages and prior was merely a fact of life when it was much more common and in the open. While we still consider death a taboo subject, there are also other cultures around the world in which it is not spoken of. He specifically mentions Australian aboriginals who, upon someones death, remove any pictures of that person fro! m public display or cover their faces, erasing their image as if they never existed.

Anywhere where I drop the body, thats the perfect place to die. We each die at our appointed time. ~ Ram Dass

The bulk of the death discussion that occurs in our culture happens mainly in the news and Hollywood movies. Its sensationalized to make for good copy or good plotlines. There are tragic deaths like Hendri Coetzee an adventurist killed by a crocodile and this young woman who died earlier this month snowboarding at Retallack, BC.

There was the recent Arizona mass shooting in which six people were killed, and this completely senseless one where a teenager died while trading punches with a friend as a game. We hear heartbreaking tales of good people losing their fight with a disease and unlucky travelers who venture into the wrong part of town at the wrong time and pay with their lives.

If you can face death; if you can look death in the eye, then he will reward you, by letting you live, really live, every second that you have left. ~ Tom Robbins

But death occurs every single day. Were surrounded by it. As this National Geographic video states, two people around the world die every second. There couldnt be a more natural part of life than death, yet we run and hide from the subject as if its going to make it go away. Its the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears, closing our eyes tightly, and yelling, la la la la la at the top of our lungs.

Ive started reading The Upanishads, a set of ancient texts of wisdom from India, some 4000 years old. In the translation by Eknath Easwaran, in the introduction to the Katha Upanishad titled Death as Teacher, he says this:

Birth is but the beginning of a trajectory to death; for all their love, parents cannot halt it and in a sense have given us to death merely by giving us birth.

Simply by being born, we are on a path straight to death. Nothing we do can alter that (or can it?). In the quote above by Tom Robbins, he puts forth that when we are able to accept death, we will be rewarded with life. In other words, when we can come to grips with it and get over the fear, we are liberated to live the life that we deeply want to.

But it really is no wonder that the fear is deep-seated given the horrible circumstances surrounding death that is constantly presented to us in media and entertainment. The path to acceptance isnt an easy one to traverse, but one well worth being on.

Community Connection

Check out the role that fungus has in death in this Photo Essay: The Fascinating Kingdom of Mushrooms.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Experiencing the Peyote Way Church in the Arizona Desert

Founders of Peyote Way Church

Matt, Anne, and Emanuel (the founder) / All photos by author

Most of my waking life my mind has been racing with the rest of me, chasing behind, trying to catch up. But at the end of a dirt road far out in the Arizona desert, I stopped one night and caught up with myself.

[Editor's note: This post was first published in its original form here.]

ON THAT NIGHT, it was me alone under an infinite night sky. Stripped naked without emails, TV, chatter, and static all the clutter and distractions that normally mask me from myself and the world around me. The peyote juice I drank before the sun melted away had seeped into my body and shed the skin between my soul and the universe around and within me. At this remote solitary place in the desert, I had come home to myself.

For the previous two years, I had zig-zagged through North America in my motor home. I had completely looped the United States from Key West to Maine, over to Seattle, down to San Diego, through the Rockies, up into the heartland, and down along the Gulf. But eventually the great long winding road took me right back to myself.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern. ~ From William Blakes The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

That night, as I watched each log in my campfire burn and smoke up into the black sky, I felt that my journey no matter how intense and hot would ultimately smoke up and dissipate into the unknown Universe. But yet I still felt the passionate need to burn bright and warm before turning to cold ashes.

If you journey long enough you will come to the end of the road. All souls who take the journey of discovery eventually find that the road leads back to themselves. If they follow the road long enough. After thousands of turns, stops, and encounters, Ive finally come to realize that the ultimate trip is the journey within.

It had been a long winding road to this place in the desert and in my heart and soul. I had sought this place in books and exotic locations, in people and in religion. But I never really found it.

I thought of the old man, half Apache Indian and half French (and raised as a Catholic) who, along with two other seekers Anne and Mathew founded the Peyote Way Church in this remote Arizona desert. There are no steeples, altars, or dogma in this church. In this religion of peyotism the natural universe is the church and peyote the sacrament of choice.

This man, I learned from those who cared for him, had seen his share of death and dying in Europe during World War II and had killed plenty of Germans. At age 17, he grew old well before his time. After the war he became a well regarded artist and potter, a major advocate and figure in the psychedelic spiritual awakening of the 60s and 70s and a student of history. But beyond all this, he was a seeker of wisdom and spiritual awareness.

Pottery, paintings, and books

While fasting during the past two days, free from all food and alcohol, I could hear the sound of this mans breathing machine slowly pumping air in deep, heavy breaths through an air tube that went up into a wall. But I never saw him come out of this room.

The home I was staying in was rustic and warm and the walls were covered with pottery, paintings, and books. There was no TV in this home. Colorful birds fluttered outside the windows and ! drank sw eet water and ate seeds from the feeders. A pot of organic beans simmered in the kitchen.

This homey church was kept alive and tended to by a small and loving family who lived with their cats, dogs, and horses. Matt and Anne began their family after meeting this man and this place while driving the back roads of the Arizona Desert during the mid-70s. They grew to respect, love, and depend upon each other. The old man taught them the art of making beautiful pottery and growing peyote, while they all taught each other lessons of love and spirituality. During that time, Matt and Anne raised three children.

On the grounds were two greenhouses where the peyote plants grew under the intense sun and affectionate care of the family. A couple of horses roamed the yard and the two big dogs greeted all visitors with sloppy kisses like they were long lost friends.

Earlier in the day, I had sat in a rocking chair and browsed some of the books, such as Cleansing the Door of Perception, the I Ching and various history books. I had lost interest in food and focused on feeding my heart, mind, and soul. I thought of the old man in the room behind the door now breathing his last breaths of oxygen through a tube.

his church and the right of its members to use peyote as a religious sacrament remained intact under Arizona law.

I was told that he had come to realize that the fascism he and his dead comrades defeated was reanimating in the America he thought he had saved. He had survived the nightmare of war, with a steel plate in his head and a metal rod in his leg, and for what?

Yet in his final decades he had devoted his life to the Peyote Way Church. He and his family had fought their share of legal battles with the Feds and locals. But his church and the right of its members to use peyote as a religious sacrament remained intact under Arizona law.

I needed to meet and discover the man behind the door. But it was not until the night of my spirit walk under the night desert sky, ! under th e loving guidance and inspiration of peyote, that I walked up to the house from my campfire and knocked on his door.

CA: A Five-Step Guide on How Not to Take The Train in California

Monday, January 17, 2011

Photo Essay: Journey Through Spiritual Bavaria

Karin Leperi makes a trip to a region called home by a current pope as well as where one million pilgrims make an annual mass departure to Altoetting to revisit a Black Madonna.

[All photos credit to writer solely where noted]

St. Peter's Cathedral, Regensburg

1. St. Peters Cathedral in Regensburg Once deliberate to be a richest locale in all of southern Germany because of a preponderance of buildings crafted in stone; today, Regensburg a UNESCO World Heritage Site is arguably one of a best-preserved Gothic towns in Germany. St. Peters Cathedral is a devout core of town, with gothic rib-vaulted ceilings as well as full of color stained potion windows dating behind to a 13th as well as 14th centuries. Pope Benedict XVI was a highbrow of theology during a University of Regensburg from 1969 1977, as well as remains an honorary highbrow to this day. He is quoted as saying, I unequivocally feel during home here.

Historical Sausage Kitchen

2. Historical Sausage Kitchen Regensburg lays explain to having a oldest recorded mill overpass in Germany as well as some of a best sausage to be found in Bavaria. The Historical Sausage Kitchen, during a foot
of a bridge, presumably dates behind to a 12th century, when a overpass was built. Today, it provides nourishment for devout seekers.

Passau upon a Danube

3. Passau upon a Danube Passau is located in southeast Germany, along a Austrian border, where a Danube River flows past a great Bavarian Forest. Because Passau is situated during a connection of 3 rivers a Danube, Inn as well as Ilz it is also well known as Bavarian Venice.

St. Stevens Cathedral in Passau

4. St. Stevens Cathedral in Passau St. Stevens Cathedral is located upon a aged towns highest point. It is built in Italian Baroque style.

Worlds Largest Cathedral Organ

5. Worlds Largest Cathedral Organ Within St. Stevens Cathedral is a worlds largest cathedral organ. It contains 17,974 organ pipes, 233 stops, as well as 4 carillons.

New Bishops Residence in Passau

6. New Bishops Residence in Passau Built in a early 18th century when Passau was capital of a largest parish of a Holy Roman Empire, a New Bishops Residence right away houses chronological treasures. The rococo stairways are worth a peek.


7. Passau Glass Museum Possibly a most pleasing potion residence in a world, a museum houses glass-work from 16501950, with pieces from a Baroque, Rococo, Empire, Biedermeier, Historism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, as well as Modernism periods. There is a special importance upon artisans as well as works representing Silesia, Bohemia as well as Bavaria.


8. Burghausen Castle On a highway from Passau to Altoetting, is a longest castle in Europe. Burghausen Castle is a Gothic military base originally built to protect locals against seiges by a Turks as well as successive advances by a Swedes.


9. Altoettings Chapel of Mercy The Chapel of Mercy a small, octagon-shaped church believed to have been built around a year 680 is deliberate to be a devout core of Bavaria. About 1 million people revisit a tabernacle annually to see its most precious artifact, a Black Madonna, which is housed inside a chapel. About 30,000 pilgrims arrive upon foot to honor a Madonna. Some compare a devout stress of Germanys Black Madonna of Altoetting with Frances Lady of Lourdes.


10. Black Madonna of Altoetting The tabernacle chapel, a oldest of its kind in Germany, is hewn from volcanic rock. Inside, a linden-wood carved Black Madonna is suspicion to have darkened when discovered from glow in a year 970. Others speculate that a darkened timber is a outcome of constant exposure to candle soot as well as smoke. Whatever a reason, most miracles have been attributed over a years to a Black Madonna of Altoetting. [Photo: Altoetting Tourism]

MatadorU Travel Photography Program

MatadorUs Travel Photography Program gives you approach feedback upon your work, as well as lifetime entrance to a most supportive, dynamic, as well as fun village of Travel Writers, Travel Photographers, as well as New Media Professionals upon a web.

Community Connection

Looking for some-more devout destinations? Check out The Worlds twelve Most Spectacular Houses of Worship.