Tag Archives: travel

EUROTAST: A few photos from Ghana

A few photos from around Ghana: Elmina castle and Accra. Check out the rest of the set on Flickr:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenmorgan/sets/72157643627864965/

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Fuzzy France, Crisp Yorkshire, and Murky Italy: A Photography Update

I’ve been trying to take photographs again, and not just the snappy-snap iPhone photos that are uploaded to Instagram, that I treasure for their quick and easy conversational imagery.

Dan and I brought a 1930s £5 medium format camera with us to France over the summer and had a lot of fun finding film, setting up shots, and generally taking the time to play with the analog format. It was great, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I may take a roll of test shots first, as these were the atmospheric, but not completely desirable results:

So I’ve been trying to haul the Nikon D200 around with me, both on walks in Yorkshire:

And more recently in Padova/Padua:

and Venice:

For a 7-year-old (!!) camera, the D200 is still solid, though suffering from several dead pixels at this point. You can check for dead pixels in your own camera by taking a photo with the lens cap still on, or by noticing horrible bright spots when you take an otherwise lovely photo. They are non-fatal but annoying, and I should have had the D200 serviced years ago.

Reports that the DSLR is dead are vastly overstated, though I could concede that the iPhone is the new DSLR while the DSLR is the new video camera. I was able to order equipment with my new (awesome) postdoc and I’ll be producing short films with this nifty piece of kit, pretty soon.

Yorkshire & the Ragged Ends of Travel

I was standing in the middle of a medieval street when it finally hit me–I’m going to be here for a little while. It was nighttime and cold, and I’m woefully unprepared for wintertime in Northern England. I am still living out of a suitcase, which is only half-full anyway, as I left most of my summery digging clothes back in Qatar. Two hoodies, a cheap scarf that I bought on Green Lanes in London wrapped so that you could only see my eyes, a pair of gloves with a hole in the thumb, and shoes so thin that I could feel the exact dimensions of the flagstones beneath my feet. And I was happy.

I had one of those moments that the full impact of two years spent ricocheting between continents came to rest on my shoulders. A wild reel of colors and flavors and faces, and a profound weariness. But there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with that kind of weariness, a reliance on your own endurance and self-preservation.

The street was unfamiliar, full of huddled medieval timber houses that lean over you, arching their eyebrows and trying to get in a word. I passed by a pub where Guy Fawkes was born, and a big, fuck-off cathedral, and isn’t this a little bit different than dusty ol’ Oklahoma? As I walked through the streets I was taking the usual inventory of useful shops and streets-I-should-remember, slowly getting used to the idea that this will become familiar and invisible in the months to come. The casual way the tea shop uses the Roman wall to prop up their signboard, soup advertised with all sincerity, the unselfconsciously tweedy old folks, the profound whiteness of this little Northern city will no longer deserve attention or comment.  The constant travel has only sped up the cycle of acclimation.

Earlier that day we had hired a removal service, which sounds very Repo Man-meets-the-mafia to me. All of my possessions were decanted from their storage unit and are trundling North toward a very tiny terraced house that I managed to lease on the same day. I’ll somehow cram all of my books and eventually my wayward husband into the place–he’s still off directing excavations in Qatar for the foreseeable. Still, I’m looking forward to doing a nice little bit of research while I’m at York, and they’ve been kind enough to furnish me an office in the stately King’s Manor, which King Henry VIII fussed around in at some point. Though I doubt he came to my office, which is next to the former kitchens.

Later I found out that the name of the little street that I stood on was Stonegate, but at that moment I was only aware that I was outside of a small bar with stiff drinks, and I shrugged off my introspection and went in out of the cold. To my delight they had Bulleit, which I ordered neat, with a cherry. Because not everything changes, and a sweet bourbon goes a long way to make a girl feel right at home.

English Countryside Interlude

“It is going to be bitter.”

There were two that looked acceptable, one still slightly auburn, but that could be overlooked. I leaned over the low stone wall and tugged the berries off the bramble. I took the reddish one and gave the other to Dan. We popped them into our mouths in unison, then both made faces and laughed.

It’s good to be back in the countryside–raincoats, wellies, huddling next to a wood-burning stove in August. The green-growingness, old brick, and ducks in the river Exe almost seem normal these days, almost go without remark.

I hopped the train yesterday out of hot and frenzied London after wading through a horrible mess at Oxford Circus (hsss, tourists…as if I’m not really one of them) frowning at loud talkers on the Quiet Carriage, towing my bright red suitcase through Paddington, which I almost don’t notice anymore, the iron work, the soaring arches, the huddled trains is a glass aquarium.

I’d like to live in London again someday; we’ll see what these unending job and grant applications bring. The countryside has a lot of quiet though–the hustle from living over Seven Sisters road was unending and the city always begged me to go down nobbly cobblestone alleyways and look in the shop windows at things I couldn’t afford.

There’s a leg of lamb from the neighbor to cook and Dan’s gone to pick vegetables in the rain. I’ll just leave you with Finsbury Park, one of my silly map drawings, my universe until yesterday.

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In 2013, I Circumnavigated the Earth

I was walking through the courtyard of King’s Manor, the exquisite old brick building that houses the York Archaeology department and I had one of those strangely self-aware moments. The courtyard is light fragmented–the morning-wet pebbles covering the ground reflected the white cut-out geometry of the sunshine. The buildings surrounding the courtyard have been cut up and re-built so many times that it made me smile at the jigsaw facade. While I was chatting to professors at the reception the night before, I would steal glances at it over my glass of wine; I ached to draw an elevation so that I could understand which bricked-in window was first, which truncated arch corresponded with a vanished doorway. I still didn’t have time though–I had to get to my fellowship grant presentation. Life, as has been typical lately, was on a rocket-sled, and the architectural contemplation would have to wait. I inhaled the brisk morning air and wondered if I was nervous. Not really.

York was at the end of a fairly long and restless run-around in the months after my thesis. After the third or fourth where on earth have you been? from friends, I thought I should probably summarize, rather than leave it at Instagram photos of various noodle dishes and check-ins at far-flung airports.

After we left Qatar at the end of February we went to Bali for a month to write. I was able to get a good amount of work done there, but it’s never enough. It was occasionally difficult to write when my computer would be threatening to over-heat and ants crawled in and out of my keyboard.

Bali was lovely, and I did manage to blog from there for a while, though our time there was blessedly unremarkable. We worked when we could, went to the beach for sunset, tooled around on a fantastic little motorscooter, and hung out with circus people. From Bali we went to Bangkok, then to Cambodia for Angkor Wat, then back to Thailand.

I have never been to Southeast Asia, and I’ve been telling people that Angkor Wat is my Petra. That is, while most people really want to see Petra (and I did, and it was certainly incredible), I have always wanted to see Angkor Wat, ever since the first grainy black and white photo of its fat bristle-towers beckoned me from my grandma’s encyclopedia in Oklahoma.

We spent a while on an island, Koh Rong, in a treehouse, where I read all of David Graeber’s Debt and inflicted passages of it on my husband and his sister. Great thunderstorms wracked the island during the night, and Dan got a terrible fever and the rain came in all over. Monsoon.

I ate everything I could see and hardly anything I knew the name for. Pineapple dipped in hot chili powder on the sleeper train. Inadvisable yet delicious seafood next to a mildly fetid lake. Bowls and bowls of soup, served out for less than a dollar. Everything-on-a-stick. Puffy dumplings in the Bangkok Chinatown. I considered each day that I didn’t have a mango a failure. And miraculously, I lost weight.

Japan reversed everything–everything was expensive but clean and I missed Thailand very much. Still, we went to all the things I should have gone to after studying Japanese for three years and specializing in East Asian archaeology as an undergraduate. The Jomon pots, the keyhole-shaped tombs (Kohun), the Yayoi mirrors and bells all made me melancholy, friends that I had to leave behind for the Middle East, for digital archaeology. I never really was able to dig into a regional speciality after that, so theory and method is what I specialize in now.

We crashed into Chicago, both horribly sick, but my darling Melissa took care of us and we stayed in her flat on the edge of Lake Michigan. Chicago TAG was a flash-bang, and then we headed to Texas to catch up with old, dear friends. It was a little sad as well, but I was happy to see Enchanted Rock in all its sunshiny pink glory, crazy with wildflowers and cacti.

As you can see with my previous post, I spoke at commencement, walked swathed in my darling friend Doris’ robes, and saw more of my nearest and dearest back in the Bay Area. Berkeley was being particularly Cali and gorgeous, though I couldn’t enjoy much of it as I was frantically packing all of my stuff to fit into 100 cubic feet. I figured out that shipping all of my stuff to England would actually be cheaper than keeping it in the US for storage, so it’s somewhere off the coast of Mexico right now, on a barge.

I’m in London now, and England for the duration. I’ll be writing grants and job applications and picking up some work. I have entertained a fantasy about being a London pedicab “driver” but more likely than not I’ll have my hands in the dirt again fairly soonish. After all, I don’t have The Knowledge.

And that’s where I’ve been and where I am. Where I will be is another question entirely.

The “Tomb Raider Temple” – Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat

What have you seen?

It’s a common question in Siem Reap, home to the many hostels and hotels that feed tourists to the Angkor Wat temple complex. Sunburnt tourists trade stories while cooling off in the bar with a can of cold, cheap Angkor beer–the famous temple on the label collecting beads of condensation. A list generally follows the question. Oh, I’ve seen Bayon, Angkor, Banteay Srey, the waterfall and the Tomb Raider temple. 

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Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft at Ta Prohm.

In his 2002 article for the International Journal of Heritage Studies, Tim Winter  outlines the history of Angkor, as UNESCO terms it, “a geographical region, an archaeological site and a cultural concept”. Angkor “emerged as a major seat of power early in the 9th century AD and lasted until the capital’s abandonment in the middle decades of the 15th century” wherein god-kings would construct an irrigation network followed by statues of deceased parents and then a mountain temple dedicated to the king himself. This culminated in Angkor Thom, an extravagant city complex built in the 13th century, the demands of which are cited as contributing to the empire’s eventual decline.

Angkor was “discovered” by French botanist Henri Mouhot in 1862; the overgrown aesthetics leading him to claim that Angkor was a lost civilization, though the local Khmer (Cambodians) would surely disagree. The French colonial administration constructed Angkor as the apogee of Khmer civilization, the abandoned state of which showed Khmer in decline, their culture lost. It was up to the French, of course, to restore this culture, therefore legitimizing their rule. Even after French rule and the totalitarian regime of Pol Pot, Winter notes that “the deeply symbolic national significance of Angkor within contemporary Cambodia” still remains.

When scenes from the movie Tomb Raider were filmed at Angkor Wat in 2000, tourism was already on the rise. Winter establishes the heritage simulacra used by the film producers, who were mimicking the video game world in the real world, dissolving the boundaries between physical and virtual. Sets were built around Angkor Wat, further Orientalizing the Khmer–Angkor was now in the middle of an exotic, chaotic village on stilts in the water. A woman is cooking in a shack as Lara Croft paddles up the the shore amidst the cacophony of a “fallen” society–echoes of the French colonial interpretation of Angkor remaining intact nearly 150 years later.

Ta Prohm, a temple about 3km NE of the main Angkor Wat complex, has been left largely unreconstructed and is being conserved as a partial ruin. This has been intentional, to preserve the photogenic and atmospheric experience so that the tourist may imagine themselves as an early (white, western) explorer, perhaps Mouhot himself. Tim Winter documents “the tourist encounter” at a similar temple, Preah Khan, also being conserved as a partial ruin. The World Monument Fund director who was responsible for preparing Preah Khan for tourism wanted to create specific routes for tourists so that they may “experience Preah Khan the way it should be experienced” and thus create a “more authentic spatial narrative across the site”.

Tomb Raider has reinforced a site narrative at Angkor Wat of discovery, adventure and exploration that has not always been beneficial to the preservation of the site. Winter quotes a Canadian tourist who explained why she climbed over the temple’s delicate rooftops by stating that it made her “feel like Lara Croft exploring the jungled ruins of Angkor.” Ta Prohm is now called the “Tomb Raider Temple” in both guide books and buy the local tuk tuk drivers, which, as Winter writes, blurs the “boundaries across authenticities, realities and fiction” until Angkor is reduced to “a culturally and historically disembedded visual spectacle.”

Ten years after Winter’s article was written, I was not sure what to expect from the “Tomb Raider Temple.” Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have no little notoriety in the archaeological world (Cornelius Holtorf has a nice piece written here about Indiana Jones:
http://traumwerk.stanford.edu/archaeolog/2008/03/hero_real_archaeology_and_indi.html
that is further elaborated in his Archaeology is a Brand!) and I briefly wrote about Lara Croft as an “unavoidable cultural figure for women in archaeology” in 2007: http://middlesavagery.wordpress.com/2007/05/15/toward-an-embodied-virtual-archaeology/

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What I found at Ta Prohm was extraordinary beyond my expectations. A large section of the temple was closed, as it was being conserved. It turns out that preservation-as-ruins was not working out so well for the site as the giant Banyan trees were making the temple perhaps a bit too ruinous and atmospheric. It was a large construction site, yet not a single tourist mentioned this in their description of the site. They were still lining up to take their photographs in the same spots that featured in the film. The process was fascinating. The subject of the photograph and the photographer would wait in a crowd, then the subject would run up to the spot and the photographer would carefully frame the photograph so that the subject would look all alone at the abandoned/forbidding ruin, an early discoverer/adventurer. Sometimes the subject would pose as if they were climbing up the ruins.

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This is not all that uncommon; many photographs of heritage are composed by editing out the hoards of fellow discoverer/adventurers, thereby creating the experience of the site as singular. This was especially fascinating at Ta Prohm, as the tourists self-consciously performed the explorer/discoverer/video game narrative. Remarkably, a girl came up to us and said, “did you notice that the layout of this temple (we were at Angkor Thom) is just like Temple Run?” I did not know what Temple Run was, but Dan did–it’s a popular game for the iPad wherein the adventurer (a female, incidentally) moves through exotic locations looking for treasure. Go figure.

How Tomb Raider and other popular depictions have acted on our imagination of cultural heritage and how we in turn reenact these tropes while building our identity through digital media and online presence is pretty fascinating stuff. The question of what have you seen becomes what are you actually seeing and what are you intentionally editing out of your heritage experience?
ResearchBlogging.org
Winter, T. (2002). Angkor Meets Tomb Raider : setting the scene International Journal of Heritage Studies, 8 (4), 323-336 DOI: 10.1080/1352725022000037218

Sunrise in Bangkok

Sunrise in Bangkok and a woman is dumping a large sack of charcoal into a square metal box on wheels. She carefully arranges the charcoal into two stacks, stashes the half-empty sack next to a light post, and lights one of the stacks with a neon green lighter. A great plume of gray-blue smoke puffs into the pink sky.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are dogs, three, four dogs trotting along the side of the road, breathing heavily. One sees another dog under a car, runs over to shove its nose into the sleeping dog’s pink, exposed paw. The paw withdraws into the shade under the car.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are marigold monks holding silver bowls like bells. They stride between the food carts, parting the crowds like orange blooms, like small and friendly fires. Their shoulders are relaxed, they move with precision but without intent. The eldest moves to one side, into a patch of concrete in front of a closed beauty salon and two food-cart women bow in front of him, press their heads to the pavement.

Sunrise in Bangkok and a woman in a short red skirt with a tattered flag of amber-tinted hair frowns at a man on a scooter. He’s a taxi, you can tell by his orange safety vest with the number, and she suddenly swings up and sits side-saddle behind him, holding her purse in her lap and not holding on to the scooter at all. He zooms off and her balance is amazing, hair in the wind, it’s like she does this every day and of course she does.

Sunrise in Bangkok and it’s already hot.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are hundreds of sweet stubby bananas roasting on a grill. There are squid pig fish meatball sausages on a stick and all of it is delicious. Even better with peanut sauce. Giant pots of boiling everything, walking by them makes you even hotter, but the smells are so worth it. Everywhere there are people chopping food, cooking food, serving and eating food. Spoons and forks and soup spoons and chopsticks clunk against plastic bowls and it is a joy to know that there is so much good food being made and being eaten. It is in the gestures, a hand sorting through frothy green fresh dill, ladling the correct meatball-to-broth ratio over fat bean sprouts, a child with a mouthful of fish.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there’s another farang, tall and fair skinned and our eyes meet and there’s a twinge of recognition what are you doing out at this early hour but in the end it means nothing, because we’re just two white people in Bangkok and it’s not that special and there is no connective tissue or shared identity, really.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there is a girl with french-braided pigtails, starch-white shirt, blue skirt and clunky black shoes. She is headed to school, and sees and meets another girl on the corner and they walk together to the bus stop where a windowless short red bus will stop and they will pay seven baht to the driver’s assistant.

Sunrise in Bangkok and watch where you are going, there’s a scooter coming up the sidewalk, there’s a broom salesman on a bicycle, there’s a Lexus trying to find parking, there’s a gate swinging out at you, revealing a brief glimpse of an emerald-succulent courtyard and careful! the sidewalk is wet and slippery and opens suddenly into a canal.

Sunrise in Bangkok and it speaks the city-language of fares and transport and so many skyscrapers and 7-11s that after two days you feel fluent. At home. But then I give the satay lady in the pink cart 30 baht for five sticks of flattened meat and she hands me back three sticks and a handful of the smallest silver and copper coins I have ever seen in my life. I look at the coins and try to give them back and she doesn’t want them and neither do I. We look at each other and city-language is not useful for people-language so I concede and head back to my flat.

An Interlude in Bali

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Canangsari offerings, still intact.

There were a million Canangsari husks down at the beach last night, contents spilling out into tide pools, ruined flowers, smoldering incense, and candy wrappers blowing in the humid breeze. These offerings are everywhere, on bridges, at the openings of small roads, in front of businesses, always laden with colorful tidbits for hungry spirits. A woman in a small market staples the small woven trays together, dogs sniff out the better morsels, one skitters into the street after being accidentally kicked by a tourist. There were even more of them yesterday, after a pre-New Year cleansing ritual on the beach, stacks and stacks of offerings covering the black sand.

photo (20)The small flat we are renting is heaving with ants. An ant just climbed out from between the F and G keys on my computer and is scrambling toward the screen to meet with three others that are drawn to the glow. I don’t really mind, they’re tiny and they don’t bite, but I wish one of the geckos would eat them.

I’m in Bali to write–I’m putting together articles and catching up with work that was put aside while I was finishing the thesis. We go out to get fruit from the little market down the road and scoot to the beach to watch the sun go down.

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Baskets covering Balinese fighting roosters, kept aggressive and ready.

The anthropological landscape of Bali is covered in large footprints, hidden deadfalls and the echos of heated argument in venerable academic halls. I sometimes want to go to the market and buy the canangsari to leave offerings to the hundreds (thousands?) of anthropologists who have studied here. Flowers for Clifford Geertz, Ritz crackers for Margaret Mead, betel nuts for Gregory Bateson. I’m a guest here, and I have my own research to write up, but it is hard to avoid a good haunting from the ghosts of anthropologists past (and present!).

Qatar – Happy Eid!

All my workmen were excited to have a few days off for Eid al-Adha, the festival celebrating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Hundreds of millions of animals were sacrificed for this event, but we’re out in the desert, far away from the festivities. I’ve spent most of the time working on my dissertation, but managed to do a little wandering in the desert and took the requisite animal photographs:

Here are a couple of the reconstructed fort at Kalet auom elmaa:

An American in Bristol-town

Two magpies are sitting on a chimney outside my window. They’re nodding and peering around, feathers ruffling in the slight wind. Behind them the sky is cinematic–so far English skies have most others beat in terms of cloud variety, color and just general confusion. Some of the clouds race north along the horizon, and a small gray puff wanders S/SW and still more hover, unimpressed by the action.

I’m glad it’s both of the magpies though, as I’ve been told that you have to salute a single magpie and I’ve been gamely waving my hands at the poor things for the last few days. I never really expected to live in England, not like many Americans, but Bristol is fantastic–a nice mix of city living with a great art scene and a sleepy old shipping town where shops close at random hours and a “late night” barber shop near my house advertises being open “until 7 in the evening!”

The Bristol museum is incredibly well curated (hopefully get around to posting about that later) and has a series of old maps of Bristol hanging around the second floor. Walking around the exhibit brought me through the days when there was a stately house and a big square, then a slow creep of blocks and streets along the river front, then the block of housing where I live appeared, up north, some time between the 1850s and 1880s. I’m perched on a hill, and as I write I can see a wide swath of chimneys, red tile, stone. The high street (Americans, read: main street, with all the shops) is only a block away and I wandered down there this afternoon to the green grocer, passing by the fish monger, the butcher, and a few local pubs. For something that was relatively unplanned, we managed to find a very sweet place to live for a couple of months.

When my friend Guy came to visit Oakland he found that he was much more culture-shocked than when he was in Brazil or many other places. Things were just a half-step…off. I think I understand that better now. Ultimately, Bristol is an art, hip college town and that caters to my taste pretty well, but there’s always that half-second of hesitation after you’ve asked for a train ticket or another pint, “ah, American.”

It’s a nice thing though, to write your dissertation in relative solitude, without the endless whirlwind of social things that I tend to have when I’m in places where I actually know people. I miss my friends, I get lonely, but after I write my daily allotment, the back streets of Bristol are mine to explore. If only things weren’t so damn expensive, I’d be set.