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America’s Lost Treasures: The Plains Indians

Buffalo picture of tipi of Never Got Shot. Photo credit: Claudia Santino

Buffalo picture on teepee. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art transports you to another place and time. For anyone who’s been itching to pay New York City a visit, it’s a perfect reason. But it’s got a short run and will close on May 10, 2015, so start planning.

You don’t need to be an art critic to understand the value of this exhibit. It’s easy to fall under the spell and spirit of what the Plains Indians were all about. Some of the artistic forms on display go as far back as 2,000 years when migrating peoples contributed items into Plains Indian culture.   The bounty at the Met represents pieces from many Native American nations.

Man's vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Man’s vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The Great Plains of North America was once a vast open landscape of earth and sky, running from the base of Texas and heading north across the mid-west and into Canada. That idea alone made it easy to immerse myself in understanding how the moving canvas of their environment influenced Native American Indians.

We lost the treasures of our country’s earliest artists  a long time ago. The 130 items in this exhibit are on loan from museums in Europe and North America. This treasure chest of Native American art was tossed across the ocean ages ago when soldiers and other opportunistic eyes recognized their value and traded then off.

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Animal power and a reverence for nature was central to Native American culture and that relationship is on full display here in almost every piece. The pipe is also a significant item in the exhibit. It served as a sacred instrument used in prayer and other rituals. A symbol of friendship and trust, the peace pipe helped seal the pact.

For the Plains Indians these items served more than one purpose.  They were more than form and function. They were part and parcel to their way of life. A war club made of walnut wood is smooth and glossy and engraved with a constellation of four-pointed stars.

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s and onward had a significant impact on the Plains Indians, for good and bad. The goods they acquired from these new settlers entered into their artistic expression, with glass beads from Venice, cowrie shells from the Pacific Ocean, and brass buttons from England adorning their clothing and other materials. Battle gear, blankets, dresses, moccasins, shirts and headdresses, mix the natural and the New World and the items on display are a wonder. One very cool looking man’s coat of native tanned leather, porcupine quills, brilliant embroidery and metal hooks and eye fasteners was handcrafted by a Sioux-Metis woman, yet looks like something you’d see on London’s Carnaby Street.

Handcrafted man's coat. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Handcrafted man’s coat. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Traveling north from Mexico, the Spaniards introduced the horse. Native American Indians quickly harnessed its power, joining the spirit of this animal into their way of life and swiftly adapting to a more nomadic existence. If they were one with nature before, now they could ride alongside her changing seasons. They could hunt better and find the food and shelter necessary to sustain their way of life. Now on the move, they couldn’t afford to be materialistic. The creativity and craftsmanship around their evolving lifestyle is brilliant and inspiring.

The horse transferred the beast into an animal with sacred powers.

The mask transferred sacred powers. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A saddle blanket made of leather, glass beads and wool cloth was used for resting beneath a woman’s saddle and used on social occasions to convey wealth and power. A horse mask transferred this animal into one with sacred powers in warfare or during ritual. A crupper, a strap that secures a horse’s saddle, is beautifully crafted from rawhide, native tanned leather, wool cloth, silk, glass beads, porcupine quills and metal cones. A riding dress with a Morning Star motif signals the four cardinal directions.

Photo by Claudia Santino

A crupper. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

There are many standout items on display. One of them is a cradleboard. Passed down as family heirlooms, these baby carriers worn on the back were crafted by a woman’s family and featured elaborate designs. Thunderbirds accented this one, mythical creatures recognized as powerful guardian spirits. Tiny metal cones hang around the top of a framed strap, creating a tinkling sound to soothe a baby. The thoughtfulness of which stayed with me.

A cradleboard. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A cradleboard.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Something called the parfleche envelope blew me away. It was the Ziploc bag of its time, only a lot better and, clearly, a work of art. Made from buffalo rawhide by Great Plains women, this painted envelope functioned as a beautiful weather resistant container. Central to life on horseback, it was expandable, lightweight and unbreakable. I may only ride the iron horse to work every day but I like the idea of having one.

Headdresses made from raven feathers and other bird feathers and beads are majestic. Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to Native American Indians, features strongly in their clothing and other adornments. Painted hides depict ceremonial battles, mythic birds and other forms of life and spirit, using every bit of canvas. They wasted nothing.

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

The Plains Indians spun materials from the natural world to evoke spiritual powers of animals and celebrate creation. A shield with a painted buffalo bull was passed down through five generations. A Cheyenne shield was used in war for almost 100 years. The animal depicted on their battle armor was the owner’s guardian spirit. The belief was that it was the image that would protect the warrior, not the shield.

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Sadly, in the end nothing could protect these Native Americans. Frontier settlers and the US government stripped them of their land and devastated the natural resources, mainly buffalo, that the Indians relied upon to sustain their way of life. The artwork here, from pre contact peoples to contemporary artists, are all of the elements used in their life which serves as a canvas to tell their story. In essence, they are America’s earliest experiential travelers and storytellers.

There’s a lot to marvel over in this collection. These in between days of spring when the weather toys with us are a good excuse to call in a mental health day or take vacation and play tourist for a day or two at one the city’s greatest cultural playgrounds. A chance to see what the Plains Indians contributed to American culture.

Come see this beautiful sight before it leaves town.

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Got Vacation?

Posada Margherita, Tulum.  Photo by Claudia SantinoThe US Labor Department recently released findings that one out of every seven workers does NOT take paid vacation.

If you think that’s crazy, that’s because it is.

There was a time when vacation was the silver lining of working for the man but, apparently, no more. This once sacred cow of an employee’s time has morphed into busyness as a badge of honor. Like a scene out of Network, I keep excepting people to throw open windows and scream, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE.” but the silence is deafening.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Say what you will but this all started with laptops and cellphones. The insidious lamb to the slaughter takeover of our lives from “smart” devices and constantly being plugged in got in the way of real living. It obliterated the separation between church and state. We’re in a wired world where we are constantly “on.” Once out of the office, some folks have a hard time disconnecting and some managers and office cultures expect a live line at all hours.  These days it’s not uncommon to hear coworkers who do go on vacation tell the office that they’ll have their phone with them.

What the sound of the ocean isn’t entertaining enough for you, you must have your cell phone?

The Employee Confidence Survey, conducted by the transparent career community site Glassdoor, is a window into why employees are leaving paid vacation time on the table. Anyone interested in all the details can read the report but here’s a bird’s eye view on their results:VacationBreakdown-Q1-14

Why would employees entitled to paid time off not take it?

For some, it’s a case clear case of climbing the corporate ladder, company dedication, being a good worker bee, and getting the gold star.  Some are so freaked out by the amount of work they have that the thought of taking vacation is stressful.  For others it’s guilt (about what I have not idea), or fear of losing their job, or being afraid of the boss.

Speaking of bosses, is there nothing worse than a boss who calls you while he or she is on vacation? Vacation for you is vacation for me. The operative part of that word is “vacate.” It’s like the boss who goes on maternity leave but doesn’t leave—it’s sheer craziness.

And here’s the really sad part. A 2013 survey by Oxford Economics found that 13% of managers are more likely to promote workers who don’t take vacation days. That’s real nice.  Another side effect of not taking vacation: heart problems, poor morale, and most likely not that fun to live with or be with.

Not surprisingly, the study found that employees who do use their vacation time are more productive and less stressed out. So why would you want to promote someone who is overworked and stressed out? The benefits of taking vacation benefits everyone.

And here’s where the travel agency and industry has a shot. Everyone knows the Got Milk ad campaign. Why not…Got Vacation? There won’t be white moustaches but the creativity around that tagline is endless and could wrap itself around the planet several times over.

When it comes to people who can’t disengage from work, a friend of mine says, “No one ever spent their last breath saying, ‘I should have spent more time at the office’.” On that note, no one should end up on a hospital bed saying, “I should have taken my vacation days,” but that’s what’s going to happen because it’s turned into the American way. Can’t we take a page out Europe’s book on this one?

It’s August and if you haven’t used any of your vacation or holiday time yet, do yourself a favor and take it. Summer’s not going anywhere but hopefully you are. And that goes for the rest of the year. Use it or lose it because that’s probably your company’s policy anyway.

If you need any more encouragement, this might give you the push needed to call a travel agent, take a staycation, get out the roadmap, or get off the grid.  Whether or not he’s your cup of tea, his humorous take on taking vacation is spot on.  Click here and fast forward past New Rules to the closing monologue.

Enjoy your vacation!

 

 

 

 

NYT | Chinese Tourism in Vietnam

A good one for travel agents to take note of, this fits under the category of “we’re all connected.” I’m always treated to great visuals when I read From Swerve of Shore and always learn something through this blog. Hope you do too!

From Swerve of Shore

AJS Chinese Tourism Danang

A few weeks back, I shot a really interesting story with Mike Ives (among the top writers in this region in my opinion) about the drop offs in Chinese tourism in central Vietnam. We spent a few days in Danang speaking with tourism officials, hotel managers, and the handful of Chinese businessmen we could find. What was just a few months ago a city with a heavy reliance on tours from all over China, has now seen nearly 100% of those tours cancel, and hotels are reeling and travel agencies are wondering what the future holds. And I’m wasting my time writing anything about it, when really you should just be reading the article (and watching the slideshow): China Tensions Choke Off Tourism to Vietnam.

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Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 5—Northumberland’s Beaches

IMG_2066Out of Pictou heading west on Highway 6, the last thing I expected to come across on my Nova Scotia  road trip was a lavender farm.

Open daily from June-September, Seafoam Lavender Farm is family run; its mission is to promote health and wellbeing through the cultivation of this shrub. While the long winter had delayed the season, new growth was beginning to sprout among the variety of lavender beds laid out in row upon row and owners Dave and Suzy Belt have big plans for their crop.

Lavender's bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Lavender’s bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Their onsite shop is already stocked with an assortment of bi-products from the beloved purple buds, from skincare, to food, to household products. It was pretty impressive but the winner was the vanilla ice cream sundae that Suzy brought out topped with perfectly fresh whipped cream and a generous drizzle of lavender syrup.

Traveling is often about finding a new favorite thing. The Belts get two thumbs up for all their efforts and for spoiling me with their unique and super delicious treat.

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Lavender lemonade, the perfect twist on a hot day

Throughout the drive, I’d been wondering about these so-called “warm waters” that were always in sight. I mean, I’ve been to Maine and that water never gets warm. Here I was much further north, just how welcoming would these waters be?

Recommended by the folks at Seafoam, Rushton’s Beach is the warmest salt-water beach in Nova Scotia and I caught it at low tide where a wide sandbar seemed to extend forever. There was barely another soul in sight.

Since arriving in Halifax, the clear blue skies made the sunny weather seem tailor-made. Screw the bikini back in the car, I stripped down to my undies and walked into my first summer swim and into one of heaven’s gates. If water can be gorgeous, this was it.

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Another perfect summer day at Rushton’s Beach.

On the walk back to the wooded parking lot, dogs trotted towards the beach with wide canine grins, their owners walked lazily behind them. In its mouth, a black lab held a bright orange ball as it ran along the long boardwalk leading to the sand. It was around 5PM and I looked back at this perfect hour, on a peaceful slice of local life and wished I could stay. Similar beaches dot the Northumberland coastline, each offering one of nature’s best forms of free therapy.

I didn’t think it could get any better but a stay that night at a defunct railroad station would make this trip unforgettable.

Next Stop: A trip back in time.

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 3–No Time Like the Maritime

GabrieausThe charming town of Antigonish is a great base for day tripping to points of interests along the Northumberland Shoreline and some of Nova Scotia’s other shore areas.

Some travelers dislike staying in B&Bs, and I get it, but the Antigonish Victorian Inn might change your mind. Set amongst four acres of farmland, each room in this heritage house is well-appointed with comfy beds, curtains that keep the morning light at bay, free wi-fi and cable. Rates are wallet-friendly and the Inn has welcomed visitors from dignitaries to international travelers, so they know what they’re doing.

antigonishvicinn

A cozy welcome at Antigonish Victorian Inn.  Photo credit: Visit Antigonish

Easy to get around, Antigonish has pretty much everything you need on its main street.

A road buddy scored a tiny rose gold teacup on a chain at Aphrodite; a boutique that carries locally sourced fashion, art and jewelry. Now in its 7th year, there’s an International Film Festival held here each October. Antigonish is also known for its beloved St. Francis University, July’s highland games that celebrate Scottish sports and music, its access to outdoor activities, and…beaches. But the only dipping tonight would be at Gabrieau’s, one of the regions most coveted restaurants.

Big Island oysters, fresh and sweet, were served raw and baked. A bottle of L’Acadie, a local crisp and sparkling wine that won a top award at France’s Effervescents du Monde, provided the perfect pairing.  Cape Breton snow crab salad with local radishes was quickly inhaled. A main course of plump Maritime mussels from the Eastern Shore with pan-roasted, smoky haddock was complimented by Tidal Bay, a Nova Scotia appellation white wine. A pecan tart with buttery pastry and a slightly salty flavor provided a perfect finish.

The co-op movement began in Antigonish in 1861 and Chef Mark Gabrieau is proud to be part of its enduring legacy. He tills his own parcel of land on a co-op acreage where he grows seasonal fruits and vegetables that make their way onto his menu. A proud ambassador for Nova Scotia’s food movement, he’s won numerous awards, including the 2013 Taste of Nova Scotia Prestige Award for Restaurant of the Year.

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The province’s lighthouses have their own draw.

For anyone remotely interested in where their food comes from, Nova Scotia’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the land and sea. Whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, a majority of the food I ate was locally sourced, meaning profits go back into the community. With tourism being such an integral part of the province’s revenue, it’s yet another good reason to return.

The next morning a stroll through the Antigonish Landing Trail, a wildlife sanctuary for birds and a local hiking and kayaking spot, was the perfect way to start the day before hitting the road.

Next Stop:  Finding my way around a lobster.

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 2—Earltown to New Glasgow

photo-9Tucked away in Earltown’s Cobequid Hills, Sugar Moon Farm is a family owned sugar camp renowned for its maple products, especially its pancakes and the liquid gold you pour on them. I’d taken Highway 102 north from Halifax and on the way made a pit stop in Truro to visit the Glooscap Heritage Centre. The Mi’kmaw are Nova Scotia’s Aboriginal people and this museum celebrates their culture and legends. Afterwards, a small hike in Victoria Park, where I barely made a dent in its 1,000 acres of natural beauty, got my appetite going.

Open year-round, Sugar Moon Farm’s log cabin restaurant with its seasonal and local menu attracts visitors far and wide. It’s as popular for its food and tours, as for its access to hiking and biking trails, skiing, and snowshoeing. The only thing better than working out is the reward of eating good food afterwards.

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There’s good stuff cooking at Sugar Moon Farm.

Quinta Gray who runs the business with her husband let me sample the cream of their crop. A bit of a maple freak, I fell for a mid-season harvest and some of the best stuff I’ve ever tasted. Along with fresh-baked biscuits with maple butter and some maple baked beans, I made quick work of a stack of stoneground organic wholegrain buttermilk pancakes. Their all-you-can-eat service kept any pangs of guilt away. Throughout the year Sugar Moon features chef nights to showcase some of Nova Scotia’s finest. Day or night, single or traveling with a family, it’s a sweet spot for a getaway and I left trying to figure out how to make that happen.

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Celtic spirit isn’t hard to find in New Glasgow.

A visit to the riverside town of New Glasgow, founded by Scottish settlers, found the culture and spirit of this Gaelic community alive and kicking. At the indoor-outdoor New Glasgow Theatre, two young girls in green plaid skirts performed a traditional highland dance. Their black leather laced slippered feet whispering across the worn and weathered wooden planks of the gazebo. A festival town, one of its most popular attractions is The New Glasgow Riverfront Jubilee. Held every August, it showcases domestic musicians and is a great way to get turned on to old and new sounds in its lovely outdoor setting along a lazy river. Camping, B&Bs, and more traditional hotels accommodate the thousands of visitors who gravitate to this town throughout the year for its music and hospitality.

Next Stop: On the road and headed for Antigonish, known for its Highland Games, beloved St. FX University and…food.

Discovering Nova Scotia—Tag Along On My Road Trip.

IMG_1800While a good problem to have, deciding on a travel destination can sometimes be tricky. As someone who’s been lucky enough to have visited many incredible places, gearing up for a trip that’ll take me to the other side of the planet often involves a lot of pre-planning, whether that involves the friends who’ll go with me or the budget needed to finance it. As a New Yorker, I often gravitate to flights headed east or south of my country’s border.

People often travel far from home to experience bucket list destinations. The further away, the more the idea of a place seems to excite them. I’m guilty of it myself, yet in doing that we might overlook some incredible opportunities within our own country or continent. A recent road trip to Nova Scotia was a surprising and refreshing reminder that amazing experiences can be had closer to home. I’ve traveled to Canada multiple times, skied Quebec’s Mont Sainte-Anne, shopped the streets of Montreal, lived in Toronto for a brief period, and marveled at Vancouver’s beauty. But after a week exploring the Nova Scotia region that offers the warmest ocean beaches in Atlantic Canada, like a fish—I’m hooked.

The road trip would take me along the Northumberland Shore, known for its natural beauty, warm waters and fresh seafood. At a cocktail reception my first night in Halifax, I feasted on lobster roll sliders and a seafood chowder made with coconut milk, lemongrass, and a hint of heat, that was so ridiculously delicious had I not been in public, I would have licked the bowl. Heaven appeared in the form of a very generous slice of blueberry pie, courtesy of Between the Bushes in the Annapolis Valley.

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Perfect pie, the only time I don’t mind being blue in the face! (Photo by author.)

Nova Scotia is known for the wild blueberries that grow in its fertile ground and it produces over forty million pounds a year. Nothing says summer like blueberry pie and after what seemed like a never-ending winter, the unmistakable and indelible flavor of that inky fruit was like a trumpet call to the taste buds.

Its health benefits are another plus. Van Dyk’s 100% Wild Blueberry Juice, would be the first Canadian item that would make its way into my luggage. When I learned about the Wild Blueberry Harvest Festival in August, my summer holiday plans began recalibrating. If you go wild for summer fruit, it’s just one of many reasons to pick this province.

Road trips and food trip are a match made in heaven. (Photo by author.)

Road trips and food trucks are a match made in heaven. (Photo by author.)

Food often plays a large part in most travel experiences. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Nova Scotia and one of the first things to impress me was the cuisine. While it’s not part of my food regime, I was surprised to find gluten-free or vegan offerings no matter where I went.  Traveling through the natural beauty of farmland and coastline, my road trip would take me through small towns. With its strong Scottish heritage, hospitality is a hallmark of Nova Scotia and from the time I arrived, it showed in every welcome I received and in every bit of food served, from food trucks to fine dining. If what I’d inhaled in Halifax was a hint of what lay in store for me, than I was heading for foodie paradise.

The flip side, thankfully, is that the province is also hailed for its access to top-notch outdoors adventure. From biking trails, kayaking, golfing, sailing, surfing, tidal bore rafting—you name it, when it comes to exercise in Nova Scotia the world is your oyster. Whether or not I made the choice to work it all off was up to me!

Join me over the next few days as I head north out of Halifax towards those warm waters…