Trump or Hillary?

I went to Gabby’s Bar & Grill today. It’s opposite the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Bloor Street in Toronto where there just happens to be a fantastic exhibition on called “Chihuly.” Gabby’s is a really nice spot because there’s a … Continue reading

The Throne

[Spoiler alert] Another transatlantic flight, another film review. I was very surprised by The Throne. What I saw did not correspond to what I thought I would see. I was unintentionally riveted. The film, a 2015 South Korean historical period … Continue reading

Avatar

On an intercontinental flight from Paris to Toronto, I chose to watch Avatar. It was an excellent choice.  The film’s computer animation and special effects are spectacular. I was so engrossed in the movie, that the flight seemed to last … Continue reading

You Won’t Believe Your Eyes: Secrets Marquis Los Cabos

In my perpetual quest for the ultimate in customer service and satisfaction, as I looked through Reader’s Digest “Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels in the World,” the last resort on the list caught my eye: Secrets Marquis Los Cabos, Mexico. Why don’t you take the resort tour first. It has very pleasant, ambient music that conveys the mood.

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos, was “inspired by a celestial legend of two angels seeking paradise on earth ….” 1 If you take the virtual tour, it will help you understand, in 3D, why this resort really is paradise on earth. (Click on any photo on the left to start a given tour.)

The resort boasts of unlimited luxury and the possibility of seeing migrating whales from your balcony. George Clooney’s beach villa is next door. 2 Secrets Marquis Los Cabos is the ultimate, romantic destination for honeymooners and the service is excellent. According to this testimonial, Jake from Canada says,

I honestly can’t say a single negative about the service … I’ve stayed at other places, but this is the best service that I’ve ever received.”

Jake and his Columbian wife, who initially stayed in the Honeymoon Suite before moving to the Junior Suite (with which they were highly satisfied), refer to the resort as a “dream,” a place where you can “get away and relax.” Watch the testimonial and decide for yourself.

The resort received the following awards: membership in The Leading Hotels of the World; the 2013 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence; was named one of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hotels in Mexico 2013; is recognized as a RCI Gold Crown Resort ®; and, for the tenth consecutive year, earned the AAA Four Diamond Award 2013. 3

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos places social responsibility at a premium. It is: Rainforest Alliance Verified ™; was recognized as practicing exemplary practices for sustainable tourism; gets its water supply from a water desalting plant (sea water in, fresh water out); produces ecological soap; recycles organic waste into compost which is used to fertilize the resort’s gardens; and implements the annual Turtle Protection and Release program. 4

The resort boasts of a world-class spa with a wide variety of spa packages to choose from. 5

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos offers a wide choice in gourmet dining: the Barefoot Grill (Grilled Specialties); Canto del Mar (Gourmet Cuisine); the Coco Café (a charming niche offering Premium Coffee & Pastries); Dos Mares (Seafood Favorites); Spice (Pan-Asian Cuisine); and Vista Ballenas (Mexican & International). Click here to view images.

Here’s what your suite could look like:

Private Pool Casita

Private Pool Casita Suite, Secrets Marquis Los Cabos

For availability and pricing, visit their website.

For more Secrets Resorts and Spas (and, yes, there are more which I’ll explore for you later), visit the main website.

 

Enjoy your stay!

References

1. Reader’s Digest. Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels in the World.

2. Ibid.

3. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/awards

4. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/social-responsibility

5. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/spa

 

78 Countries

I checked my blog statistics yesterday, something I’d neglected to do in a while not because it isn’t important, but because of other tasks. I was fairly surprised, therefore, when I saw that my readers come from no less than 78 countries.

They appeared on my list in this order: Canada, Bulgaria, United States, United Kingdom, Greece, Australia, France, Brazil, India, Spain, Ireland, Philippines, Indonesia, Germany, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Bangladesh, Serbia, Taiwan, Denmark, Pakistan, Sweden, Mexico, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, Singapore, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, French Polynesia, Malaysia, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Italy, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Lebanon, Poland, New Zealand, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Portugal, Turkey, Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Morocco, Fiji, Peru, Botswana, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Qatar, Barbados, Sudan, Slovakia, Egypt, Grenada, Monaco, Austria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, Albania, Moldova, Chile, Cyprus, Hungary, Seychelles, and Latvia.

The above list made me think of the 2014 FIFA World Cup ™, taking place at this writing. And, now that I live in Toronto, I’m used to meeting people from different countries on an almost daily basis.

Let me give you one example. I went to a local pub the other day. Portugal was playing against Germany. There was a group of people sitting at nearby tables with matte skin and very dark hair. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, when the entire group screamed in joy, in unison when Germany scored a goal and looked at me with an air of superiority. They’d obviously overheard me tell the waitress that I was rooting for Portugal. Although it’s important not to assume anything based on outward appearances, it’s only human to sometimes do so. These are the experiences that chip away at our prejudices and tendency to stereotype people. The group might have been made up of Brazilians or persons of Brazilian descent. Portugal colonized Brazil in circa 1534. As you can see, it gets complicated and memories run deep.

Whatever the case, it was a sorry ending for Portugal and I’d never seen Ronaldo look more upset. But. you know, let’s face it, the German team was very good, played meticulously, and displayed tactical strength.

Azerbaijan

Let’s get back to the above list of the 78. As I perused the list, for inexplicable reasons, one country attracted my attention: Azerbaijan. I thought to myself, ‘Why would someone from Azerbaijan be interested in reading my blog?’ Call it instinct or intuition, I just wondered, ‘Why Azerbaijan?’

You can see where Azerbaijan is in the world:

Azerbaijan map

Azerbaijan on the map

You, Dear Reader from Azerbaijan, captured my imagination and for this I congratulate you.

Have a look and a listen at this fantastic song, Start a Fire, by Dilara Kazimova, Eurovision 2014 contestant:

http://youtu.be/cjfJSYQD0wk

Doesn’t she have a great voice? I think so.

Although I arbitrarily singled out my Azerbaijani viewer today, I just want to thank everybody—from all 78 countries—who follow my blog.

You are all fabulous.

The Ontario Legislative Building

Today was “Doors Open” in Toronto meaning that about 150 buildings were open to the public. I decided, therefore, to visit The Ontario Legislative Building, not too far from where I live.

Walking through Queen’s Park, I took a picture of the statue of King Edward VII seated on a horse. The equestrian statue, originally standing in Edward Park in Delhi, India, was “erected on the present site through the generous subscriptions of the citizens of the area” reads the plaque placed before it.

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The Equestrian Statue of King Edward VII

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The plaque

A statue of Queen Victoria stands near the Legislative Building’s entrance where the public was admitted.

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Her Majesty Queen Victoria /1819-1901/

Friendly, knowledgeable, and fluently bilingual guides wearing green T-shirts welcomed me. “If you have any questions, ask anyone in a green T-shirt,” a young brunette wearing glasses prompted cheerily. There were policemen guarding the premises, too.

When I asked this handsome man in uniform whether he’d let me photograph him, he said, “Take as many pictures as you need until you’re satisfied.”

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Handsome policeman I

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Handsome policeman II

The impression I got the moment I stepped inside the Legislative Building, designed by architect Richard Waite and built between 1886 and 1892, was one of magnificence and splendor.

Attention to detail is everywhere. The ceilings are very high (some with chandeliers), balustrades are carved from wood, and the building’s west wing (rebuilt in 1909 after a destructive fire) boasts of a marble floor displaying a delicate mosaic pattern reminiscent of mosaics I once saw in Modena, Italy.

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Fine mosaic floor

One of the most impressive features of the Legislative Building is its stained glass ceiling.

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Stained glass ceiling

Historical portraits depicting political personalities dating from the distant past to the present adorn the building’s walls.

“Doesn’t he look like Napoleon?” a visitor asked me as I snapped this shot.

“Yes,” I laughed, “he does!” realizing that this was probably what prompted me to select this portrait among all the others.

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Napoleon lookalike

This colourful room is the one which the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley, uses for celebrations.

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The room of the Lieutenant Governor

As I exited the room through the wooden door you see on the left, I saw this intriguing antique cabinet.

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Antique furniture adjacent to the Lieutenant Governer’s room

The pièce de résistance, however, is the Legislative Chamber “with its richly carved details set in mahogany and Canadian sycamore.” This is the chamber in which Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) “debate and pass laws for the Province of Ontario.” (Source: www.ontla.on.ca)

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The government’s seats

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The Speaker’s chair

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Chamber door detail

For more information about The Legislative Building, visit www.ontla.on.ca.

 

 

 

 

The Mo’ai of Easter Island

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is “the most remote, inhabited island on the face of the planet.” 1

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui is located 2 500 miles west of Santiago Chile and 1 500 miles east of Polynesia. It was settled by the Polynesians in the fifth century AD. Escaping overpopulated homelands, they set sail from Tahiti and the Marqueses for what is known today as Easter Island. 2

Without maps or compasses, in their outrigger canoes, the Polynesian navigators used their deep knowledge of currents, swells and the flight of birds in order to detect land including New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapa Nui. 3 By the fourteenth century, Rapa Nui had a thriving population that had reached 20 000, five times what the island could naturally support. 4

In 1722, however, when Dutch explorers arrived on the island on Easter day, hence the island’s new appellation, they were shocked to find a “starving population and a struggling culture.” What had happened? Why were the mo’ai, the island’s legendary stone statues, strewn about as if they’d been abandoned? Why had Rapa Nui eroded into a quasi-barren land?

Something eventful had happened that had nearly decimated the people of Rapa Nui whose population remained less than 2 000; the island was ecologically devastated; and, from a rich, thickly forested island, painfully few trees remained. 5

The Mystery of Easter Island Giants attributes the devastation of Rapa Nui to the inhabitants themselves placing the blame on overpopulation; the overproduction of mo’ai stone statues; and the depletion of the island’s natural resources. One theory posits that the statues were moved from the volcanic quarries where they were carved to other parts of the island (i.e., distances of up to twenty kilometers) by rolling them on logs and that this would have seriously depleted the island’s trees. Another theory claims that the mo’ai were moved upright with strategically positioned groups of men manipulating the statues’ movements using ropes. According to the ancients, though, the mo’ai walked to their new locations. 6

Ancestor worship

The mo’ai heads represent the island’s protective ancestors of old. They are said to personify the “living faces” of the Rapa Nui. When a chief died, a statue or, mo’ai, was carved in his honor in which his spirit was said to live on. The statues embodied the dead returned to life to act as guardians of the living. Although we are used to seeing the mo’ai with dark, empty eye sockets, reputed archaeologist Sergio Rapu discovered the mo’ai’s original, coral eyes. 7 When placed inside the statues’ empty eye sockets, the mo’ai take on an entirely new appearance and appear to look “alive.”

Lava tubes & cave living

In the sixteenth century, roughly one thousand years after settling, the inhabitants of Easter Island began inhabiting extensive cave systems in order to protect themselves against warfare and raiding, now endemic on the island. They lived and cooked in these caves, ancient lava tubes through which “rivers of molten rock once flowed from volcanoes now long extinct.” 8

There was no more wood from which to build their outrigger canoes and they were essentially cut off from the outside world. There were food shortages as fishing became difficult and the population grew. This created bitter and bloody conflicts over land and food between different clans.

Skeletal mo’ai

To illustrate the ecological and social ravages plaguing the island, a new kind of mo’ai were created: small wooden statues, emaciated in appearance. These skeletal figurines depicted the island’s starving population.

The Birdman Cult

The Birdman Cult, which replaced the Ancestor Cult, the worship of Rapa Nui’s ancestors in the form of the mo’ai, was the redistribution solution devised to resolve Rapa Nui’s resource problem (i.e., the dearth of agricultural land and food). Leaders and warriors gathered annually at Orongo in order to compete for the political and economic control of Easter Island. The outcome of the contest determined which clan would rule the island the coming year.

The egg hunt on Motu Nui

The clans’ best warriors would, carrying reed floaters, race down Orongo’s incredibly steep 1 000 ft. cliff at the bottom of which were shark-infested waters. Upon reaching the water, they would swim, supported by their reed floaters, fighting strong ocean currents and powerful swells, to the larger of two nearby islands, Motu Nui. Once on Motu Nui, they had to find the egg of what they considered to be a magical bird that came straight from heaven. Its egg was considered a symbol of “cosmic fertility and power.” 9

As soon as a warrior-contestant found an egg, and after most likely securing it in his headdress, he would plunge back into the water on his reed floater, swim back to the base of Orongo’s cliff, climb up, and give the egg to his chief, thus winning the grueling Birdman contest.

Rapa Nui

“Rano Kau volcano in Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island”

Image source: DzineBlog 360

Moai

“Patiperros-‘Rapa Nui'”

Image source: Club Chileno de Chicago

References

1 The Mystery of Easter Island Giants, Host, Josh Bernstein; Executive Producers, William Morgan and Jason Williams.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Mysterious Easter Island Heads Have Bodies Too, TheLeakSource.

The Mystery of Easter Island Giants, Host, Josh Bernstein; Executive Producers, William Morgan and Jason Williams.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

 

An Unusual Travel Destination: The Seychelles, Praslin Island

I was thinking about unusual travel destinations and came upon an interesting website which lists such places, with each featured image being more beautiful than the one before it. 1

As I perused the destinations, my attention was inexplicably drawn to Praslin Island, Seychelles.

Northeast of Madagascar and East of Kenya in the Indian Ocean, Praslin, the second largest island of  the Seychelles, lies 45 kilometers northeast of Mahé. With a populationj of 6 500 people, it comprises of two administrative districts: Baie Sainte Anne and Grand’ Anse. 2

The Seychelles are truly “another world” with some of Praslin’s beaches appearing in the top-10 list of the world’s best beaches.

The Seychelles boast of two, UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Vallée de Mai (in Praslin) where the Coco-de-Mer, the world’s heaviest nuts grow on ancient palm trees in a primeval forest; 4 and Aldabra, virtually untouched by humans, the world’s second largest coral atoll, part of the Outer Islands. ” The atoll has about two thirds of the world population of Giant tortoises, about 100,000 out of a reported 150,000.” 4 General Gordon thought that the Vallée de Mai was the original Garden of Eden. 6

Praslin, named after the Duc de Praslin, was settled by the French in the mid-18th century. Prior to that, it was frequented by pirates.

Praslin stands at the forefront of Seychelles’ tourism industry with a strong tradition of hospitality and wide range of accommodation facilities. It also provides a base for excursions to neighbouring islands, some of which are important sanctuaries nurturing rare species of endemic flora and fauna. 7

What should you see in Praslin? According to Lonely Planet, Anse Volbert, which is also known as Côte d’Or, and Grand Anse. 8

Where should you stay in Praslin? The Castello Beach Hotel’s description reads in part: “This four-star deluxe hotel opened January 2009, is situated on the north west of Praslin right beside one of the most beautiful, year-round beaches at Anse Kerlan. Surrounded by a tropical garden, this boutique hotel is a sanctuary in paradise with a spectacular view of the islands of Cousin, Cousine, Mahé and Silhouette.” 9  This “charming boutique hotel” also offers proximity to the beach, a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, massage parlor and mini club. Their friendly team will organize sailing and yacht excursions. 10

Are you ready to go to paradise on earth? Book your trip with Seychelles.travel, the official destination website for the Seychelles Islands.

Bon voyage!

Seychelles

Praslin Island, Seychelles

References

1.  50 Unusual & Awesome Places of the World

2. Seychelles.travel

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Aldabra.

6. Op. cit.

7. Seychelles.travel

8. Lonely Planet, “Introducing Praslin.”

9. Castello Beach Hotel. And, the hotel’s official website.

10. Ibid.

 

Iceland: Land of Contrasts

Iceland is a truly amazing country.

I remember visiting this beautiful place many times over the years. Travelling with Icelandair, I’ve had numerous stopovers at the Keflavik International Airport where I always bought something from the souvenir shop, my favorite items being white pullovers with subdued streaks of colors. These pullovers are made from Icelandic sheep wool.

Uncommon sheep

The sheep in Iceland are unlike any I’ve ever seen. They resemble round globs of fleece standing on stick legs. When in motion, instead of running, they appear to bounce-and-go. As unusual as they appear, though, their wool produces extraordinary and extraordinarily soft pullovers, gloves, caps and socks.

A land of contrasts

Iceland’s houses-painted blue, red, yellow and green-stand in sharp contrast to its volcanic landscape. When I first saw these homes, I thought that the vivid colors were deliberately chosen to bring life to the bareness and starkness that represent the island.

One time, I had the opportunity to stay in Iceland for several days. I stayed at a hotel next to the airport from which I could see airiplanes take off and land. I remember eating a variety of fresh fish including salmon. The sauna was fantastic.

Icelanders are extremely well read with a 99% literacy rate. Reading is a good activity in the depth of snowy winter.

The many volcanoes on the island, and the steam they emit, enable Iceland’s inhabitants to benefit from geothermal energy. Iceland is a world leader in harnessing renewable energy. 1

Iceland’s stunning scenery, with its bare, lava-strewn flats, snow-capped mountain ranges, glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs, is due to its location on one of the earth’s major fault lines, the mid-Atlantic ridge. While this landscape is attracting an increasing number of tourists each year, the country’s geographical peculiarities also mean that Iceland is the only country in the world that can claim to obtain 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources.

2 [My emphasis.]

Points of interest are: Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss, Hallgrímskirkja, National Museum of Iceland, Dynjandi, Aldeyjarfoss and Súlur. 3

Iceland is by no means an inexpensive destination. If you’re planning on going, make sure you budget first.

Eager to visit this amazing land of contrasts? Why don’t you build your own trip. 4

Iceland Image

Image title & credit: Iceland Lava Cascade, “Iceland Volcano: Eruption Sparks Tourist Boom,” National Geographic, Daily News.

Dynjandi – Fjallfoss

References

1 Iceland’s energy answer comes naturally

2 Ibid

Iceland, Points of Interest

4 Build your own trip

The Perfect Storm

In her music video, Dark Horse (Official, ft. Juicy J), Katy Perry plays four roles: Cleopatra, the woman on the barge; Isis, the woman on the pharaonic throne; the ascending “Snake Woman”; and the Messenger atop the pyramid.

Overlooking its entirely charming kitsch, Dark Horse is highly symbolic and worthy of our attention.

The perfect storm is the final battle between the elemental, oppositional forces of the universe

The crescendo beat of the song ratchets up the tension of what is inevitable:  the perfect storm.

The opulent luxury of the royal palace, the fawning servants, electric-blue, palace guards and mesmerizing, scintillating, colorful, crystal–the “perfect” gift–will all be marred by the approaching storm. As go the lyrics,

So, you want to play with magic

Boy, you should know what you’re falling for

Observe how Isis examines the gift with the Eye of Horus, the third eye that sees beyond the material, three-dimensional world. As she smiles, peering into the crystal, we hear the lyrics,

Are you ready for, ready for

A perfect storm, perfect storm

The Sphinx speaks

“There’s no going back,” says the Sphinx. The Sphinx is talking about the inevitability of the clash between raw, universal forces that are in opposition.

Observe that immediately after the Spinx speaks, the Snake Woman appears in the arms of the ancient Egyptian gods, gods who the ancient Sumerians called Anunnaki–those sent from above.

This scene in the music video, in a muted gray, refers to Isis/Cleopatra “ascending” into a higher-dimensional reality, the realm of the gods.

That’s why, at this point, Isis chews on gems. In a crude way, she’s “tasting” the fruits of paradise.

The Snake Woman sings,

Mark my words,

This love will make you levitate, like a bird, like a bird without a cage

A bird without a cage represents a soul that’s been freed.

The Messenger

The next key point in the video is when we see the Messenger atop the giant pyramid. She sings,

So you want to play with magic

Boy, you should know what you’re falling for

She’s directing those words at Isis.

Do you dare to do this

‘Cuz I’m coming at you like a dark horse

The Messenger continues singing as she unfolds her pastel-blue wings.

She is a winged messenger recounting the future, the coming of the perfect storm.

Dark Horse

Image credit:  Vevo

Source:  Dark Horse, by Katy Perry.