Sunday, March 15, 2015

India's Ganges Is a Hotbed of Activity, as Was the Aristocratic, Erotic Kuma Sutra

Chet Singh Ghat, a fortress built in 1805. Photos by Joel Simpson.

Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation site on the Ganges.

The Ganga Aarti fire festival is held nightly for 30 minutes, rain or shine.

HEADS UP: Late last year, contributor Joel Simpson was kind enough to share some pointers about traveling in the developing world. (Read his profile on the “About VP/[Contributors tab,” http://www.bit.ly/1tzS8VW]) He did 12 countries! We promised pictures, and they (from nine countries) will be rolling out every other Sunday through around mid-April. Dear Travelers, get ready to have your breath taken away.

BY JOEL SIMPSON

THE Ganges
river, which devout Hindus bathe in daily despite warnings of industrial pollution, flows through it. Hindu University is there. It is the site of major Hindu festivals.

Welcome to Varanasi, the holy city of Hinduism.

Barbara – my travel companion – and I chose this city in Northeast India as our base for a seven-day Indian experience, spending a fair amount of time on the river. We would also squeeze in a two-day excursion to Khajuraho, 300 miles away.

The Ganges is a permanent spectacle. A predawn to mid-morning private paddle on it is almost as exciting as the balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey. (http://www.bit.ly/1NWiJFC) Eighty or so ghats – picturesque 18th and 19th century buildings of various designs – line its bank.

I am barely seated in my boat when a man appears selling a “diya,” or devotional candle on a paper plate, surrounded by marigolds. For 90 rupees (about $1.50), I can launch it into the water, thereby assuring myself health and prosperity.

This diya seller slipped into my boat before I noticed. The lighted candle diya when launched with the right hand into the waters of the Ganges would bring health, wealth and happiness — all for 90 rupees ($1.50).

Farther along the river, populating red and white steps, is a line of yoga practitioners, boatloads of pilgrims, silhouetted by the newly risen sun, myriad bathers, as well as colorful boats, including a bizarre submarine with a face.

Children swim naked. Adults pour water over themselves, put it in their mouth and spit it out. A dead body floats by. A buffalo driver waters his burdens. Most curious of all are the cremation ghats: it’s considered very holy to have oneself cremated on the banks of the Ganges. Amid all of this, commerce thrives.

Later, I manage to visit a number of temples in Varanasi, along the way passing stately semi-decayed buildings bedecked with filigree. The streets are thronged – lined with garbage, with cows often taking up an entire lane.

Water buffalo in their favorite place.

One evening I attend the fabulous nightly fire ceremony to the river gods, the Ganga Aarti. It attracts a horde of locals and tourists, many watching from boats. Five priests slowly swing trees of candles around their heads in synchronized movements. (http://www.varanasi.org.in/ganga-aarti)

A very different type of ceremony was common in Khajuraho. It is the home of erotic carvings on 22, 1000-year-old temples that are still in religious use today. The carvings depict the daily life of the royals or aristocrats, including very frank depictions of their lovemaking: the Kama Sutra illustrated in stone. http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/khajuraho.html

Yoga in the early morning.

Contemporary India is rather conservative, so it’s astonishing to see these sculptures on temples that serve the pious. One removes one’s shoes to enter.

Local guides use hand mirrors to point out the erotic scenes. It becomes obvious that these exotic positions were feasible only with attendants.

One of the famous erotic carvings from the temples of Khajuraho, 9th-10th centuries.

Sunset at Khajuraho.

Next: MONGOLIA and VIETNAM

Thursday, March 5, 2015

'Women - Hyphenated': Ellen Tracy and Ambassador Paula Patton Pay Homage to the Many Splendid Facets of Women



ELLEN Tracy, 65, has a new attitude. A new look. A new Yahoo! documentary debuting today.

And a new face that belongs to actress Paula Patton. Watch "Women - Hyphenated​," a collaboration of the label, lady and online Web site, for now. (See video above).

Later, read about the Ellen Tracy Spring 2015 collection (available now, including at Nordstrom.com, http://www.bit.ly/1BV1ZLG).

Also tune in for some morsels from PP's tête-à-tête with Yours Truly, including why she chose to wear the dress in the photo below.

Paula Patton at New York City's The Slylark, got up in the Windowpane organza fit & flare dress from Ellen Tracy Spring 2015, with other ensembles from the new collection. Michael Simon / StarTraksPhoto.com.

And, pray tell, why she has thrown in with Ellen Tracy.

It went down last night at a soirée at the rooftop lounge, The Skylark. It was the place!

Monday, March 2, 2015

'Art on Paper' Gives Itself the Space to Make Bolder, Grander Statements

John Baldessari National City, archival inkjet and acrylic paint; 19.125 x 18.75 inches: each image 48.6 x 47.6 cm 25.25 x 24.5 inches: frame 64.1 x 62.2 cm; 1996-2009. Image courtesy of Richard Levy Gallery.

BY JOEL SIMPSON

IT
always offers surprises such as wickedly detailed huge satirical drawings on political fantasies or retakes on classics, like painted versions of Goya’s Capriccios in contemporary cartoon style.

“Art on Paper,” one of numerous art fairs opening over the next few days during what is known in New York City as Armory Week, has always been a favorite. Like the others, its focus is mainly on contemporary and modern art from around the world. It is also one of the most diverse.

In addition to sculpture, “Art on Paper” favors the intimacy of drawing and the cleverness of watercolor over the sententiousness of painting. Photography is also one of its stars.

This year’s fair, from 5 March to 8 March at (Thursday through Sunday) at Pier 36, hosts 55 galleries presenting major innovations in paper sculptures and book carving.

Among these innovations, according to the fair pr are “monumental installations by Wayne White, Mia Pearlman and William Beckman. Each reaches beyond traditional boundaries and into the fair's public space.”

Sandow Birk, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 2013, direct gravure etching on handmade gampi paper; 62 1/2 x 48 unframed, 66 x 53 framed; 2013. Image courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery.

Indeed, the fair's new location at Pier 36 lends it the required scale to display MP's immense cloudscape in suspended paper, “Maelstrom” (2008; JHB Gallery).

“Some of the book artists, for example, are taking even rare books and carving them, an implicit critique of the obsolescence of knowledge in our culture,” notes Jayne H. Baum, owner of JHB Gallery, which is presenting a wide range of works this year. “On the other hand, we’ve seen a return to drawing as a backlash against new [digital] media.”

Meg Hitchcock, Mundaka Upanishad, Letters cut from the Koran (detail); 28 x 22 1/4; 2013. Image courtesy of RandallScottProjects.

A surprising inclusion is an untitled oversized piece by novelist David Eggers. Granted, as a writer his medium is paper. Yet, one can't help but wonder how he will explore it in its physical dimensions. Another installation of note is one by Rose Eken“Remain in Light,” an examination of the anatomy of the lightbulb (2014; The Hole).

Los Angeles-based New Image Art showcases work by graffiti artist RETNA, combining gorgeous topless models with enigmatic graphic symbols. At the Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects booth, fairgoers can glimpse works by modern masters such as Richard Diebenkorn, Ann Gale and Arshile Gorky.

Meanwhile the Richard Levy Gallery suggests a series of photographs by the venerable John Baldessari titled “National City” (actually the name of his hometown, near Los Angeles). In these, he spotlights the suburban banality of the place by superimposing large, blank monochromatic circles (in acrylic) over parts of the image.

Mia Pearlman, ONE, paper, India ink, tacks, clips; two individual installations; 16 x 11 x 7; 2012. Image courtesy of JHB Gallery.

My own tastes go to the elaborated intricacies that capture entire worlds of perception in a single large piece, such as Sandow Birk’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (2013, Catharine Clark Gallery).

One is always fascinated by clever cutting and pasting, a child’s art turned to sophisticated purposes.

Visit http://www.thepaperfair.com to learn more about “Art on Paper.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Incredible Visions from Incredibly High Seats and High Altitudes in Nepal and Tibet

Riding an elephant allows one close access to the rhinos in Chitwan National Park. Photos by Joel Simpson.

HEADS UP: Late last year, contributor Joel Simpson was kind enough to share some pointers about traveling in the developing world. (Read his profile on the “About VP/[Contributors tab,” http://www.bit.ly/1tzS8VW]) He did 12 countries! We promised pictures, and they (from nine countries) will be rolling out every other Sunday through around mid-April. Dear Travelers, get ready to have your breath taken away.

BY JOEL SIMPSON

CHITWAN,
south of the Himalayas, is a haven for elephants, rhinos, peacocks and tigers, though we saw no big cats. The local crocodilian is the gharial, and we did see some of them during our morning paddle in dugout pirogues.

My traveling companion, Barbara, and I were required to book our accommodations and transportation to Nepal and Tibet through a touring company. We got a good deal through Blue Mountain Tours and Travel because Barbara knows the owner. (http://www.bluemttours.com/)

Barbara’s main interest is animal life, so in Nepal we head straight for Chitwan National Park in the south. Four of us are straddling the corners of a basket strapped to the top of an elephant, an “all terrain vehicle." It lumbers through the woods, across rivers, where it pauses for a drink. Onto a clearing – as calm as can be – we mosey up to a couple of white rhinos. (http://www.chitwannationalpark.gov.np/)

Owing to their poor eyesight, the rhinos only see the elephant. There is no trouble because they know the giant beat comes in peace, plus the latter is three times their size. We humans are invisible, allowing us to get quite close.

Leaving Chitwan after three days, we drive back to Kathmandu. I use the afternoon to visit the famous cremation temple, Pashupatinath. Built in the 17th century on the site of previous temples, it is the largest and holiest temple in Kathmandu. It is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. I want to see cremations up close and learn there is no restriction on photography as there had been in India. (http://www.pashupatinathtemple.org/)

Cremations in progress on a wet afternoon at Pashupatinah Temple.

A half-hour cab ride later and I am at Pashupatinath. As I trot down the stone walkway into the temple complex laden with my camera equipment, however, it starts to pour! I have no protection.

Suddenly, appearing out of a nearby shop is a young man offering a large, green umbrella. For the next two hours, I hold it in one hand and with the other photograph the smoking funeral pyres along the sacred Bagmati river. It was incredible good fortune, since the rain magnifies the solemnity of the place.

The next day we journey overland for the border with Tibet. The farther we get away from Kathmandu, the poorer the settlements become, though the landscape is breathtakingly mountainous. We finally arrive at the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge. I take a photograph very quickly, fearing it is forbidden. It is.

After a night in the border town of Zhangmu, much more prosperous than what we have seen in Nepal, we set out for Tingri and quite modest accommodations. However, we have gained significantly in altitude, and I am feeling it.

An elephant, at its bath, proves it has a sense of humor by dowsing the tourists who would mount it.

On the agenda is a visit to the Everest Base Camp the following day, but I am not up for it. I would be nauseated over the next three days but do manage to visit every monastery and photograph every mountain pass on the agenda.

I thought Orthodox churches were ornate, but they are not in the same league as Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and temples. Dominated by immense statues – avatars of the Buddha – they overflow with colorful fabrics, intricate weavings, paintings and elaborate carvings. Illumination comes from circular florescent bulbs and yak butter candles.

The guide gives a simplified version of the mythology behind the Buddha effigies, and photography is permitted.

Potala Palace sits at a higher altitude than any otherpalace in the world.

I learn when we arrive at Lhasa, however, that photography is not permitted inside any of the three major holy places we visit: Potala Palace – seat of the Dalai Lama; Sera Monastery, and Jokhang Temple. All are magnificent. We could photograph exteriors, courtyards and roofs, however. Still, I occasionally manage an interior image, with my wide-angle lens shooting from the hip.

We stay in the luxurious Lhasa Brahmaputra Grand Hotel, which is a museum unto itself of historical objects. The breakfast buffet is nothing short of incredible. Our first real experience of a lavish Asian breakfast. It is a buffet that includes sausage-like breakfast meats, sliced cheeses, green leafy vegetables, watermelon, egg squares and various small rolls. Lhasa is a surprisingly modern city.

The Chinese get credit (or blame) for this, opening it up to industry and tourism, installing the most up-to-date traffic signals. Also, shipping in workers from all parts of China to dilute the local population, which still resents them. http://www.tibettravel.org/hotels-in-lhasa/brahmaputra-grand-hotel.html)

A monk about to make a clapping point during debate at the Sera Monastery.

Lhasa is a fascinating city, with shops brimming with tourist goods, household items and traditional food (my favorite is the omnipresent yak butter shop). Still, it is a city where one senses the resignation of the local populace, and its demonstrative piety. A man or woman prostrate on a sidewalk will receive a donation from a respectful passerby.

I manage to fit in a visit to the Tibet Museum (not to be confused with the one in India). Here, arts and crafts going back centuries is on view, including exquisite historical paintings, jade carvings and silk weavings.

The afternoon brings a visit to the Sera Monastery. The maroon-robed monks who live here famously debate in the courtyard and make their points triumphantly with a loud clap of the hands.


Buddha statues inside the Pelkor Chode Monastery on the way to Lhasa.


Mount Everest from a distance of 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles.

Next: India

Saturday, February 28, 2015

HKDC Prepares 'The Legend of Mulan' for NYC

Images from "The Legend Of Mulan." Photos courtesy of The Hong Kong Dance Company.

BY TAMARA BECK

IN
1998, Disney made an animated film about Mulan, a peasant girl who disguised herself as a man in order that her aging father would not have to go to war.

The award-winning Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC, http://www.bit.ly/18Cu4uH) brings “The Legend Of Mulan” out of China and Asia to the New York stage for the first time this spring.

Playing from 5 March through 8 March, “The Legend Of Mulan” is the fourth production in an on-going collaboration between HKDC and Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater.

The folktale has it that Mulan acquitted herself with outstanding bravery as a soldier. She fought valorously for a decade. When she was honored with an invitation to join the court, she retired to her hometown instead.

Mulan is a heroine with moral courage and intelligence; her story is widely taught in China's schools. “The Legend Of Mulan” is a spectacle in dance, based on a fifth century poem, “Ballad of Mulan.” (See video below).

The dance is presented by the China Arts & Entertainment Group (CAEG), a creative enterprise under the administration of the Ministry of Culture for the People’s Republic of China. It showcases China’s historical contribution to the world of theater and art, representing the finest in Chinese contemporary and classical performing arts. (http://www.bit.ly/1DHD2kw)

"The Legend of Mulan" is choreographed and directed by playwright Yang Yuntao. It features music by Matthew Ma, who is also the composer; Shum Wai-chung is the lyricist. The set designer is Yuen Hon-wai and lighting is by Yeung Tsz-yan. The costumes are by Karin Chiu.

In 2001, HKDC was established as a charitable and non-profit institution. It is financially supported by the Chinese government through the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The HKDC, which was established with the aim of promoting Chinese dance around the world, has staged more than 100 critically, well-received productions.

The repertoire of HKDC includes “Qingming Riverside,” “The Smiling Proud Wanderer,” “Snow Fox,” “Eagle Companions,”“Feng Shui,” as well as “Spring Ritual Eulogy.”

In 2013, the latter work received the Hong Kong Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Production.

Visit http://www.davidhkochtheater.com/moreinfoCPAA.html to learn more about "The Legend Of Mulan.”; visit http://www.bit.ly/18Cu4uH to learn more about the Hong Kong Dance Company.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

@ENK Coterie Day 3: Old Gringo Fairly Swaggers; Chaka Has No Boundaries; Kicking It With Dav – Rain, Shine, Sleet or Snow

From the Fall-Winter 2015 collection of Old Gringo Boots. Photos by Yours Truly.

HEADS UP: Though Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week have folded tents, closed doors, turned off lights and MBFW has hared off to Europe, there is still plenty of fashion showcasing ongoing in The Big Apple. Yards and garbs of it. In two words, ENK Coterie. It is a part of ENK International, one of the world's leading fashion trade shows with several topical shows under its umbrella aside from Coterie. They include Accessories Circuit and Intermezzo Collections. ENK Coterie's focus is mainly women's apparel and accessories. Rather than, say, 20 shows a day over eight days, a la fashion week, the proposition is 3 days (23-25 Feb.), 3 levels, more than 1,400 designers and thousands of buyers from more than 95 countries, plus the media. And at least seven major categories, including evening wear and shoes. At the Javits Convention Center. Because we at VEVLYN'S PEN have just come off of fashion week, commenting mainly on clothes, we will have our say in our ENK Coterie debut about a few shoe brands over the next three days.

THE feet just have to rejoice in these puppies because they are all eye-catching.

But there are other reasons for happy feet. A few clues are revealed. More will be revealed later, with additional images.

OLD GRINGO



AT the height of fashion with plenty of hype.

CHAKA



GENDERLESS.. Ageless. Borderless.

DAV



ALL-WEATHER luxury at economy class.

Visit http://www.enkshows.com/ to learn more about ENK Coterie and all of the shows produced by ENK International.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

@ENK Coterie Day 2: Nicola Sexton Steps in to Fill a Void; Welcome Back, Kennel & Schmenger

Calf-high leather boot with silver-rimmed rings. Photos by Yours Truly.

HEADS UP: Though Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week have folded tents, closed doors, turned off lights and MBFW has hared off to Europe, there is still plenty of fashion showcasing ongoing in The Big Apple. Yards and garbs of it. In two words, ENK Coterie. It is a part of ENK International, one of the world's leading fashion trade shows with several topical shows under its umbrella aside from Coterie. They include Accessories Circuit and Intermezzo Collections. ENK Coterie's focus is mainly women's apparel and accessories. Rather than, say, 20 shows a day over eight days, a la fashion week, the proposition is 3 days (23-25 Feb.), 3 levels, more than 1,400 designers and thousands of buyers from more than 95 countries, plus the media. And at least seven major categories, including evening wear and shoes. At the Javits Convention Center. Because we at VEVLYN'S PEN have just come off of fashion week, commenting mainly on clothes, we will have our say in our ENK Coterie debut about a few shoe brands over the next three days.

NICOLA Sexton saw a problem and she sought a solution.

The result of her troubleshooting is Nicola Sexton, an eponymous line of Italian-made footwear.

“I have a love for shoes,” the Brit says matter factly, of her five-year-old line. (See video at right)

The problem she observed was a gap in the UK market for what she terms “ a very wearable, comfortable shoe that can sit alongside Italian handmade brands.”

To ensure that her product could figuratively hold its head high in the presence of the formidable Italians, the former real estate executive took herself off to that land. Soon, she pressed into service a manufacturer that could deliver a product such as a fetching little pump.

It is reminiscent of a popular style of a massively famous Italian footwear purveyor that won't be named. The first letter of the name, however, begins with “F”; the last with “O.”

Of course, this is not to suggest that the Nicola Sexton pump is a doppelganger; the perfectly, proper and comfortable-seeming affair is far from it. In the UK, such a one is called a “court” shoe, the kind that royals, nobles and others of that ilk might don to visit the queen. The queen, herself, wears such footwear, does she not?

From the Fall-Winter 2015 Nicola Sexton collection, patent leather pumps with buckle in stone and black.

But one digresses. For Fall-Winter 2015, Nicola Sexton offers footwear – boots, booties, ballet shoes – for just about every occasion in colors of the season, anchored by black, of course.

Here is a collection that is much like its creator – understated, conservative and elegant. Some bare accents such as buckles, do-dads and sliver-ringed cutouts. A few boots are lined and/or rimmed by shearling.

At Nicola Sexton, the mandate is not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it is to ensure that it is always well-oiled. And so it is.

KENNEL & SCHMENGER

From Kennel & Schmenger Fall-Winter 2015: Pointy toe brush leather sneaker (left) in stone. At right, clockwise from left: black sneaker in leather with black crystals and overlay and ragged sole; square-toe, leopard-print bootie in calf leather, and white leather sneaker with leopard-print detail at heel collar. Photos by Yours Truly.

THE German footwear company thrives in Asia and Europe, and for good reason.

Kennel & Schmenger prides itself on craftsmanship. All of its shoes are handmade in Germany. Leather lining resides in each pair. This is not a brand that goes in for a lot of bells and whistles. It is not necessary; the shoes have a language of their own.

Inexplicably, Kennel & Schmenger has been absent from the U.S. market for the last few years. However, it has returned to these borders in time to introduce Fall-Winter 2015, a collection that is more than 150-styles strong and accounting. It appears to be excited about re-upping on doing business in the New World.

Black runner with Swarovski crystals.

It is hoped that the reverse will prove true. For it would be sad news indeed if a New Yorker or Arkansan has to travel to Belgium, for instance, to procure that burgundy bootie.

It is leather but still bares calf fur. This is made possible though a special process that was explained to Yours Truly that fails the memory at the moment.

Gray boot in suede.

In any case, just know that the leather is so very smooth – almost like cashmere. On the side is an elasticized panel that is called a Chelsea, another notable detail of the shoe, along with its ragged rubber sole.

It simply would not do if one were compelled to journey to Hong Kong for the pleasure of a black sneaker categorized as a Runner. It is covered by Swarovski crystals. Kennel & Schmenger, according to the sales rep, is the only label in Europe permitted to apply the famous gems to shoes.

Burgundy bootie in calf hair leather and white leather sneaker with silver overlay at heel and lamb fur inside and out.

Kennel & Schmenger for FW15, and the brand in general, has a quiet, strong presence. A case in point is the white-soled, stone-colored sneaker with a zipper on the vamp in a brush leather that bears a slight resemblance to patent. Like so many of the sneakers in the collection, it is uber-stylish and may wish to attend a gala.

Further, on close and closer examination its sheer luxuriousness – as is the case for a number of other styles – is obvious.

Yet it is never ostentatious, much like Kennel & Schmenger.

Visit http://www.enkshows.com/ to learn more about ENK Coterie and all of the shows produced by ENK International; visit http://www.nicolasexton.co.uk to learn more about Nicola Sexton; visit http://www.kennel-schmenger.com to learn more about Kennel & Schmenger.
 
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