Category: arts

Calcutta the Beautiful

When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It’s all there. Open your eyes.

Children of Calcutta

Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn’t help but notice the lush green surroundings – a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal.  I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box.  I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone….

…before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.

So this is Calcutta. Through the window….it looks like a beautiful dream.

While it’s certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you’ll barely scratch the surface.  And it’s easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.

Once you’ve successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you’re home free. You’re no longer just a visitor…. you’re a part of life….

The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the “must-see” of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa’s Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for…

“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told “please don’t pick them up” was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding.  This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.

The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River.  I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities.  To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make – the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.

I’m not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell.  Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.

Now, what the video doesn’t show, and the camera can’t really capture, is the temperature. It’s hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90’s (and it’s early).  As if the heat in itself weren’t enough, it’s humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can’t walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there’s your sense of touch put into words.

Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life…..oh, the life.  At times it was like walking through someone’s hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses.  I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers – imagine, doing that for your living.  Working with flowers, nature’s beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.

                                Calcutta Flower Market – Images by Kymri Wilt

As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious.  Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.

A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter’s village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India…and the world.


So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India… with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open.  Namaste.

View more:

Calcutta Flower Market Gallery

 India Image Gallery

Favorite Guidebook for India

Most Romantic City? Ole Madrid!

There are few cities in the world that I love at first sight, often it takes a few days of finding my way around and getting a feel for things before I am entirely seduced. But once in a while, I am swept off my feet the moment I step out. And stepping out from the Ritz Hotel in Madrid was like my first kiss all over again. It simply took my breath away. Much like this Fresco at Palacio Real:

I thought I had seen plenty of Palaces, too many roman ruins, and enough Cathedrals to warrant me Catholic. I figured I had already admired a sufficient share of fountains and sculptures. I firmly held the belief that I wasn’t a big sports fan. And I was certain I’d had my fill of art museums. Madrid proved me wrong on all counts, and I experienced the pulse of the city right along with my own heartbeat….which was pounding.

I arrived in Madrid on a Sunday afternoon, and the first experience on the agenda was attending a real live futball game (soccer). Atletico Madrid vs. Mallorca. It was cold and rainy, but the crowds poured into the stadium and I was glad for the red & white scarf I had bought (team colors) and the seats sheltered from the elements. Well, most of the elements. The fans (and the Spaniards in general) love to smoke, even cigars, and there was a constant second-hand warmth to the cool air. Cough. I cheered like a native Madrilleno; I got angry at fouls like I knew what was going on; I booed when the Mallorca team would get the ball; and I laughed as I watched countless players from both sides take falls. Oh the passion!

There was a real art to it. No matter how light or heavy the contact (excuse for a fall), it would go something like this: the player would kick his feet up, spin about 1/3 way around in mid air, and land flat on his back (often after the action had moved elsewhere). After hitting the ground he does one of two things: he lays frozen on his back as if knocked out; or, he rolls over and brings a knee up to his chest, wreathing in pain. Sometimes he would bring both knees in and under himself and sit like a turtle in it’s shell. He doesn’t move. By this time the clock had been stopped and play halted. A team of medics comes running onto the field with cases, and sometimes a stretcher. Everyone watches intensely. A huge fuss is made over the downed player, and when sufficient attention has been attracted, the player calmly sits, then stands with the help of the medics, then takes a few steps and limps toward the sidelines…..then, suddenly, as if nothing ever happened, he turns around and runs right back out into the field without a hint of pain or injury. Silly game this. And they laugh at American footballers for all the protective gear they wear. At least they’re not falling down every time an opposing player brushes an arm hair.
We (Atletico Madrid) were the first to score, and it was awesome. (See, I’m talking like a true Madrilleno already) But the game ultimately ended in a tie, which was good for one reason: no excuse for the fans to storm the field. As the timer counted down to the minute, the “crowd control” appeared with all the anti-riot gear and lined the sidelines of the field, just in case. Of course, the game didn’t go without a small squabble amongst the players, and not without my camera tracking the action.

The next day was slated for the usual “highlights of the city” sightseeing. This was when Madrid charmed me at the other extreme. First, the pounding heartbeat of the fans in the stands enveloped me, now it was time for the alluring romance of the city to gently embrace me. And that it did. I’d already seen the Alhambra in Granada, and numerous palaces and Alcazars in Sevilla, Cordoba, and Toledo.

Spain – Images by Kymri Wilt

Still, Madrid’s own flavor of grand palaces easily wooed me into awe.

Palacio Real de Madrid

Plaza Mayor

Madrid Atocha railway Station

The afternoon unfolds slowly as siesta is honored and respected in this bustling capital. I wander into a locals Tapas place where there was no menu in english, and took a seat at the bar. I was already exhausted from the morning’s excursions, so I lingered over a café con leche to awaken my senses and take in my surroundings. Which, here again, meant second-hand smoke. But at the bar I could easily see the selection of tapas, so I ventured my way through the most appealing in appearance, and discovered tastes that matched. The tv in the corner of the room offered a bit something for everyone, sort of like entertainment tapas, and you could choose to watch what interested you. First was a news program of mostly international headlines. Then sports: highlights of last night’s futball game had everyone’s attention, and like a true local, I stopped eating to catch the play by plays. Ok, so I was really scanning the crowds to see if I could spot myself, but maybe everyone else was doing the same, who could tell anyway? Then after about an hour, I noticed a group of women enter the restaurant and stake out a table close to the tv. No sooner had they ordered, then a daytime soap began, and they all turned to watch as they enjoyed their meal, chatting during the commercial breaks.Around 5 or 5:30, the shops opened again, and I wandered myself into a sprint from store to store through the old city and ultimately to El Corte Ingles, the mega-department store. I have to admit that I haven’t had as much fun shopping since London in the early 80’s.

I finally made my way back to the Ritz in time to prepare for a special evening out. We’d been invited to join a Spanish aristocrat for dinner at the Gran Club Pena, the oldest established private club in all of Spain. As it turns out, the club was to be closed that night (it was a holiday), but our host had arranged for it’s opening just for us, and we had the entire club to ourselves for the evening, with all the waitstaff and bartenders at our service. Our host was the owner of several Spanish wineries, and we tasted some amazing wines throughout the evening. I learned a whole new dimension to wine tasting, and enjoyed the sensory experience tremendously. The conversation was just as fantastic – politics, religion, the environment – all the usual topics to avoid over dinner were addressed and discussed head on in true diplomatic style. Spain has not had a perfect political history, but they have a great way of accepting it and owning it as part of who they are today, right or wrong, what happened happened, no denials whatsoever. Now that’s pure, refreshing, and admirable.

The next day in Madrid was highlighted by a guided tour of the Museo del Prado, and let me tell you, it was truly the best museum experience I have ever had, despite being utterly exhausted and already museum’d out (so I thought). I have only two words to describe the Prado visit with a private guide: Worth It.

The same may be said for the grand detour of flying to Bilbao just for the day to visit the Guggenheim, only it takes three words: Totally Worth It.

And here I didn’t think I was much of an art afficionado, but there is something so different about seeing a master’s work with one’s own eyes – and not in an Art History text book. Now I want to bring everyone I know back to the Prado and share all the insights they’d otherwise miss on their own. I also gained a newfound respect and admiration for painters.

Madrid captured my heart on many levels, AND has inspired me to write about it. That says a lot. Ole Madrid!

This article is one of many links to explore at Delicious Baby.

Between Travels: Theatrical Production and Publicity Shoot

In case you’re thinking I’m always on the road, I’m thinking it’s about time I share some of the work I do between travels. Every week can be something totally different, but it usually involves one or more of the following subjects: actors/theatre, surfing, dogs, urban wildlife, local events, or kids.

This past weekend I saw an excellent show for which I happened to shoot the publicity stills a few weeks back. I felt the actors, and the production, deserved as much publicity as they could get, so I decided to feature them on my blog this week!

So without further adieu, here are Kevin Six, Tom Hall, and Tyler Richards Hewes in the Lotus Theatre Collective and Talent 2 Amuse’s production of:

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”

Images by Kymri Wilt

The shows runs through August 29 at Swedenborg Hall, directed by Sophie Anderson-Ziebell. For reviews and ticket information, visit the Lotus Theatre Collective website.

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