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The Versatile Blogger Award

Wow. I am flattered.

I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Suzie81’s Blog. Suzie’s Blog is fun, VERY versatile, thoughtful and creative; and you should definitely check out what she has to say.

The rules for this are:

1. Display the Award Certificate on your website/blog.

2. Announce your win with a post. Make sure to post a link back to me as a ‘thank you’ for the nomination.

3. Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.

4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.

5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Drrrrrrumroll –  so these are my fifteen nominees:

http://ajaytao2010.wordpress.com

http://365sirens.com

http://travelmonkeydotme.wordpress.com

http://50lux.com/

http://belindaclaushuis.wordpress.com/

http://biggangaphotography.wordpress.com

http://1day1shoot.wordpress.com

http://ndstreetphoto.wordpress.com

http://laviolaworld.wordpress.com

http://katieduffus.wordpress.com

http://walkandbikeinfrance.wordpress.com

http://www.peoplethingsliterature.com

http://thejeremynix.wordpress.com

http://divage.wordpress.com

http://fifot.wordpress.com

And here are the seven (semi-) interesting things about me aka ‘The Canary’:

1. I am a wanderer and have traveled the world quite a bit. In the past fifteen years, I haven’t stayed at one place for longer than two years in a row. Only recently, I have started to develop a desire to settle down somewhere nice for a while. Maybe even for a loooong while.

2. I am interested in just about everything relating to human culture without being overly philanthropic.

3. I adore my two furballs.

4. And, OF COURSE, my partner in crime, who is the greatest ‘thing’ on the planet.

5. I got two borderline embarrassing tattoos when I was 18 (needless to say, I felt extremely cool back then) which were recently covered up by an excellent NY tattoo artist…with a firework of colors.

6. I tend to grunt when I have to laugh really hard. Not very lady-like, I know.

7. And, finally, I am craving delicious Lebanese food right now. I know, this must be – by far – the most interesting thing you would like to know about me.

Actually, I am a relatively calm and peaceful being. But when I sit behind a steering wheel and I am faced with crazy drivers left, right and center in a more or less rule-free environment, I regularly transform into a hot-tempered Southern Italian version of myself. (No offense Southern-Italians, I do like you!)

English: Swedish Rallycross driver Mikael Nord...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you speak Honk?

I lived and worked in the Middle East for quite a few years and quickly got used to honking my way through. In Beirut, for instance, honking is considered absolutely normal and necessary if you want to make your way through the congested small streets of the city in a reasonable amount of time. Nobody takes issue with it. On the contrary, blowing the horn is a well-established and highly effective means of communication.

Just a few examples to illustrate my point:

  • Pushy, staccato-like HONK! HONK! HONK! means ‘Watch out! Here I come’.
  • Short, encouraging HONK! means ‘Wait a second, ya habibi, and let me take a turn.’
  • Death defying HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK!!! means ‘Should there be any traffic coming towards me behind that curve we will probably both die as I do not intend on slowing down too much’.
  • Pleasantly surprised HONK HONK!? amidst a traffic jam – ‘Hey!! You? Here!? How is it going?’
  • Indignant HONK HOOOONK! (usually accompanied by wild gesturing and drumming on the steering wheel) means ‘You son of a donkey! Are you insane!!? You cut me off!’

Back to the Rule of (Traffic) Law

Needless to say, in other parts of the world honking indiscriminately (all a matter of interpretation of course) either gets you a ticket or triggers the rage of your fellow-drivers in no time. Whenever I visit my folks in Northern Europe, I am at high risk of misbehaving and, therefore, have to reprimand myself regularly to stay out of traffic trouble.

Manual signaling

What I learned in Saharan Africa is that signaling ( = using the turn indicator) is totally overrated. Nobody does it. Crossing lanes frantically without indicating so is what you do. If one feels the need to signal, s/he pulls down the window and sticks an arm out to ensure that the half-comatose drivers in the back understand what’s going on. Friendly waving (which occurs less often) means “Go ahead, I am peaceful and I have time.” And, yes absolutely, in cities with lots of fast-moving traffic, this can lead to nasty injuries.

Therapeutic cursing

Personally, I am pretty verbose when I am driving, particularly when I am – as I usually am – late for work. This verbosity usually includes less diplomatic expressions as well. I know, at my age I probably shouldn’t lose my temper over the behavior of co-drivers and transform into a cursing trucker but – I swear – there are reasons for it! It’s a circus on the streets… and frankly, isn’t a good rant in the morning also terribly liberating?

Unfortunately, I do also belong to the self-deluding species that believes – despite actually knowing better – that nobody can hear (let alone see) what she is saying (and gesturing) only because she sits in a car with closed windows. But so far it’s remained pretty civil.

Wishing you smooth driving, whether you are verbose like me or yogi-like.

Have a nice weekend!

Dreamy Saul

Hjordis chilling in the sunMe-wowww! I am impressed by the number of creative cat-loving bloggers out there! In some cases, the feline gods and goddesses even seem to administer their blogs themselves. Very impurrrrsive!

Meet the furballs

As we all know from Tweety & Sylvester, canaries have a special relationship with ‘putty tats’ which is why I wanted to take the opportunity to solemnly introduce to you my two fury friends Saul (the ginger-colored and white-chested gentleman) and Hjordis (pitch-black and named after a Norwegian warrior princess but soft and gentle as it gets).

This is not a cat blog but the two might make occasional appearances on this platform as the Canary observes them quite a lot.

Related articles

Hundreds of doves in Istanbul

Gotcha. This was a blunt lie as the ornithologists among you will have discovered within two nano-seconds.

Of course, those guys in the photograph are ordinary doves, Turkish ones to be exact, although they might be dreaming of being Californian seagulls or scary crows. They are also not aggressive – quite the opposite actually. Chunky doves of peace with full bellies thanks to myriads of dove-feeding tourists.

It’s all about fantasy

But, hey, they are BIRDS with two wings and feathers…and there are gazillions of them. If your fantasy is as vivid as mine, you will totally understand why I had a little Tippi Hedren moment going on there…

To say the least, as Hedren back then during the shooting of The Birds, I also didn’t want them in my hair.

By the way, remember the scene when the crows attacked the students?

Couple hugging in the subway station, Grand Central

“The most wonderful thing […] is that you and I are always walking together, hand in hand, in a strangely beautiful world, unknown to other people.”

(Khalil Gibran)

Old woman with dog and cat - Paris

In no Western European city do I remember having seen more old men and women begging in the streets than in Paris. I have not undertaken any scientific survey so that might, indeed, just be a reflection of my individual experience. But there is another important attribute that makes them stand out for me: almost all of them have either dogs or cats, or – as in the picture above – both.

I am not sure whether all of these elderly people are actually homeless, but they are certainly among those less fortunate in life. After all, they are forced to beg for money… come rain or shine.

Just for the cash?

I am always touched by how they care for their pets (and even more by the fact how the animals stick around with them). Sure, one can argue that these cute little creatures ensure the cash flow so they serve an immediate purpose.  However, I think it must be more than that. Life can be a real bitch and, then, companions are absolutely critical.

Comforting creatures

Undoubtedly, these kind of four-legged critters make for ideal companions – at least for those of us who like animals: they are unpretentious, loyal, non-judgmental and incredibly comforting.

cardboard guy waving at window

Have you ever peeked at a window, while going for a stroll, and found yourself being waved at by a naked guy? Well, I haven’t. The guy in the photograph above is made of cardboard and probably displayed to protect the residents from nosy glances of passers-by.

Perceptive antennas

However, I have to admit that I love to watch people, preferably in the morning while sitting in a coffee shop and sipping on a cappuccino. Not in a voyeuristic, intrusive-perv kind of way, of course, but as a casual observer. After a good night’s sleep, my antennas are highly perceptive to all kinds of stimuli … visual, audio or olfactory (I am thinking of the scent of a freshly made cappuccino and a nice croissant).

The Zero 7 track in the background; a couple at the table next to me, arguing about why he made jokes about her mother during a dinner with friends the night before; the woman by the window, avidly checking her emails, sighing and rolling her eyes faced with what pops up on her display…and the distant wheezing of the milk frother.

Processing time

Me at the same cafe some busy 15 hours later would be a completely different picture. You’d probably find me with my headphones on, listening to music in an attempt to escape to a quieter and calmer place, processing my gazillions of impressions of the day. After having been exposed to a buzzing environment for too long, I usually aim to batten down the hatches and withdraw into my world.

I am clearly a morning person.

Giraffes seem to be very aware of the fact that they are impressively beautiful. Don’t you think? I am convinced they are.

The giraffes of the Giraffe Center, based at the outskirts of Nairobi, are real show-stoppers. They pose, kiss, eat treats out of your hands … (and even mouth!! – I saw some visitors engaging in daring experiments in this regard).

Even if you are not keen on a cheek by jowl experience, it is great fun to watch these animals at close range for a while.

And, please do not worry, the Giraffe Center is not a circus-like money-making joint but a serious conservation project which began as a private initiative in the late seventies.

If you are transiting in Nairobi, it is totally worth taking a cab to Langata – some five kilometers from the city center – and meeting the long-necked beauties.

0122dog walker - NY-2013

No, I have to disappoint you, this is not part 2 of the of the odd jobs series, that I kicked off yesterday with Being an Extra in a Soap. In fact, I have no experience in the field of dog walking at all. But don’t get me wrong: being a dog walker is an honorable job – potentially even a lucrative business – and I would have loved to walk dogs around the block during my school days, had such a service been heard of, let alone been existent, in the small European town where I come from.

Who made dog walking a job?

The professional field of dog walking is clearly an American domain, and, as you might have guessed, a New York City invention. The man who made walking dogs a job, Mr. Jim Buck, died at 81 early this month. The New York Times dedicated a nice little piece to him and his legacy yesterday, if you want to know more.  According to the NYT, Buck started out with the city’s first School for Dogs in the early sixties, which over time evolved into a little dog walking empire, including 24 assistants who took care of an average of 150 dogs a day. Bark – not bad.

woman cleaning up after her dog

Pockets of barking happiness

New Yorkers love their dogs probably just as much as the folks from my hometown, but they have managed to develop an impressively well-thought-out doggy-care system to accommodate their and their pets’ needs in an urban environment. The sight of dog walkers with three to six furballs on their hands still makes me smile. It doesn’t get much cuter, does it? There is a profusion of dog care centers and spas, self-employed dog-sitters, and dog-friendly parks and dog runs in the city – where dogs of all shapes and sizes chase each other, balls or slightly more funky toys tossed around by their folks. To me, these dog runs are little pockets of happiness in the city, with animal-lovers glued to the fencing surrounding them. If you have a bad day, hang out there for 15 minutes and the agglomerate of doggy excitement will surely cheer you up!

Finally, if you are still up for it, have a listen to Nellie McKay singing ‘The Dog Song” – I am confident that it is appealing to dog lovers.

Members of film crew on Pont des Arts, Paris

When I bumped into this Paris film crew a while ago, I remembered my ‘adventures’ as an extra, some 10 years back, while at university. No, I have never ever aspired to become an actress nor have I ever wanted to become famous  – I only did it for the money;)

Easy Extra money

And, let me tell you, it was very easy to make a few extra bucks by simply sitting in a bus, walking by a store, hanging out at the bar or the like. And, yeah, there was free catering as well and the occasional opportunity to have a chat with a B-list celebrity over lunch.

We were all talent-free

As an MA student with a limited budget, I was lucky to actually live in an area of my city which provided for a popular location for cheesy television series  – so whenever my flat-mates and I spotted the film crews in town we stopped by and offered our services as incredibly talented extras. Needless to say, we were all talent-free, never spoke a word on camera, and usually only appeared as part of the blurry background scenery. However, being an extra was so much less stressful than working as a waitress or delivering pizza. Usually it involved about three to four hours waiting time and 35 seconds of action (‘action’ as in sitting at the bar) for about 100 USD + free lunch. Not too bad.

The Business of ‘Art’

The ‘second-row’ film people (such as the people in the photograph above) always came across as somewhat stressed and borderline-frustrated, despite being cognizant of their elevated position as members of the CREW. Their apparent frustration struck me as rather understandable given the quality of the series. Who knows … they might have started out with the dream of making art and ended up producing semi-intelligent soap operas. I never took their grumpiness personally and really enjoyed those occasional breaks in between my lectures and seminars.

First of all: thanks for following me and checking in on a regular basis. This is great and so much fun, particularly, as I am still a fledgling in the blogosphere with just a month of daily chirps and observations in words, sights and sounds.

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It’s been fun to check out your creative and inspiring blogs. I am hooked. Plus, I am learning.

When I posted Remember when the birds had the flu? this morning, I have realized that the half-life period of a post is, indeed, incredibly short. I mean, this is only my 41st post and even I can hardly remember what I posted a few weeks back.

In a nutshell

Let’s face it, as soon as contents are moved into the archives they become invisible as there is simply too much interesting incoming stuff out there.

So here’s the deal: I am going to post The Canary’s Monthly Round-Up for those of you who don’t follow me regularly, including the most popular posts from the past month. Given that June was the birth month of this blog, popularity is probably somewhat of a misnomer;)

What you might have missed in June

I started out this little blog project of mine with a few Coney Island Sights from April this year on one of the first warm days in New York, and Not a pretty sight at Bangkok’s Siam Square. Have you ever heard about shark-finning? That’s what the latter is about.

If you are interested in portrait/people photography, have a look at Random shots of people – Bangkok and let me know if you like them. I have only recently developed an interest in taking photographs and your opinion is highly appreciated. You might also enjoy a short clip on my Wild rickshaw ride thru the Big Mango –  I am telling you, these Thai rickshaw guys are serious racing drivers.

More sights

Do you love Street Art as much as I do? Well, if so, check out my Street Art pictures here, here, here and here. New York City fans will like Off the High Line – before sunset at Manhattan’s lower west side – I find the area to be an ideal hunting ground for interesting shots. There are more New York related photographs in Concrete & Glass, Steel & Iron, Light & Shadow and Scenes of NYC life (one of my personal favourites!).

For those of you who can see the interesting (and even pretty) in the slightly darker as well, there is: Hello drabness – the NYC without the glitter.

Observations in words

But, hey, this is not exclusively a photo blog, the Canary observes in writing as well. Here are a few written observations, published in June:

And there are sounds…

To be honest, I have so far only shared a couple of songs that I personally like a lot: Born in Xixax and Bonnie and Clyde. But there will be many more sounds to come (and not only in the form of music!). So stay tuned!

picture of seagulls on ice

Nah, not the ones in the photograph above. Although those guys – based in Hamburg, Germany – stood on the frozen Elbe river at the turn of the year when I encountered them and most definitely had cold feet.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through a huge bag of medication including malaria pills and an impressive collection of broad-band antibiotics (some of them in triplicate), determined to finally get rid off all the expired items. Oh yes, and there was this sealed pack of Tamiflu.

Beloved travel pharmacy

Those of you who live in less developed countries or simply travel a lot will know how easy it is to accumulate masses of medication and to actually never ever use them.  This happens particularly easily if you are somewhat chaotic as myself. But, of course, one schlepps her/his little travel pharmacy around the globe – good old backpackers’ style – just in case.

Just in case…that’s also what we thought when my friend and I decided to get ourselves some Tamiflu, at the peak of the non-existing global Avian Flu health crisis. Not because we were particularly afraid that an epidemic could threaten the existence of humankind, or ours, or Lebanon (where we were based at the time), but because everybody, including our employer, was talking about Avian Flu and Tamiflu 24/7 and we felt stupid not to get it…just in case.

So we bought our pack of Tamiflu for 100 USD (!) each which has since sat in various fridges of mine in the Middle East, as well as Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa. Until yesterday when I threw it out.

Different dealings

In any event, I find it interesting how certain societies, mostly those less exposed to the global media-frenzy, tended to be almost entirely unaffected by the hype surrounding the various potential pandemics of the past years: bird flu, swine flu, BSE… while Europe, Australia and the US freaked out, others took hardly note of it. Not that this is necessarily the right approach. However, it is clearly better for one’s nerves and the common psyche to remain calm vis-a-vis potential mass-killers for as long as they are actually killing the masses (or at least more than those killed by ordinary flu each year).

Roast chicken and clinical masks

One anecdote illustrates these cultural differences pretty well: When the whole world was panicking about bird flu and until the Sudanese authorities ordered the killing of thousands of chicken in Khartoum’s poultry farms, the ordinary Sudanese feasted on extremely affordable roast chicken for about two weeks non-stop. They clearly couldn’t care less. At the same time, friends of mine in Hong Kong weren’t allowed to enter their workplaces without having taken their temperatures by health officials in space-suits every morning. Every sneeze and cough was accompanied by panicky glances from the clinical masks surrounding them. And, while the Hong Kong Chinese scanned the temperature of passers-by without even touching them out of fear of contamination, the Sudanese licked their bare fingers, with tummies filled with roast chicken.

Damascus memories: naked display dummies on the blacony

I saw these naked display dummies lined up on a backyard balcony during my last trip to Damascus in 2009. No, this is not an art installation but most probably someone’s decision that the old-fashioned dummies needed to be cleaned, dusted, and put out to dry in the hot Middle Eastern sun.

Nostalgic: for wordpress weekly photo challenge

Not that I am a big fan of Mary Poppins. As a European woman, born in the mid-seventies, the heroes of my childhood were not necessarily Disney creations.

On the contrary, I was much more fascinated by the protagonists in the unforgettable books of the Swedish children’s book writer Astrid Lindgren. Yes, Lindgren is the one who created the unconventional, humorous and fearless girl Pippi Longstocking. No doubt, the assertive and independent Pippi made for a brilliant role-model for young daughters of the generation of recently emancipated mothers. So no surprises there.

Burned into our brains

However, back to the photograph above and my Mary Poppins-induced nostalgia: once upon a time, an aunt of ours gave my sister and me an audio cassette with Mary Poppins songs, which (for some reason) we got addicted to in a split second and played over and over again, to the extent that the tape was totally worn-out and sounded rather bizarre after a few weeks. Sort of like Mary Poppins after three bottles of Vodka! In any event, we had internalized the songs in no time (just as we had memorized all the other “audio dramas” for kids) – in fact, they must have burned themselves into our brains, preserved for eternity.

Mary Poppins flashback

When my sister and I walked along Broadway a year ago, we spotted this huge billboard for the Mary Poppins musical and felt compelled to take a silly little photograph. And even worse: we both started singing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. I know: borderline embarrassing, but – hey – there was definitely lots of nostalgia in the air.

A windy morning on Brooklyn Bridge

I remember the wind in my hair when I walked across Brooklyn Bridge that morning…the weather was pleasant and a fresh breeze was blowing in my face. For me there is little more energizing than a fresh and pleasant wind, lifting my spirits.

So this is to all of you guys who are in need of some visual refreshment on a hot summer day. Have a great week!

Istanbul - market impressions

Photography: Istanbul - it's all about bargainingPhotography: Istanbul market - you can get anything there

These are a few impressions from Istanbul’s famous Mısır Çarşısı – the city’ s largest ‘covered’ spice market, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. The spice market is located centrally in the old Eminönü disctrict – the old city of Constantine.

It’s a must-see when you are in town, and stuffed with colorful spices, smelling like “1001 nights”… you can find any spice you desire, but sometimes you also stumble across unexpected items displayed next to Persian Saffron and chilly peppers.

crazy wiring as seen in Bangkok crazy wiring as seen in Bangkok crazy wiring as seen in Bangkok crazy wiring as seen in Bangkok

Don’t you think?

After all, there is lots of esthetic value in this excessive wiring in the ‘Big Mango’ (Bangkok). You simply have to focus on the pretty in the supposedly ugly. I really grew to like the black chaos over my head while walking through the crowded Thai capital.

crazy wiring as seen in Bangkok

The Tree Man I saw this street artist near the Centre Pompidou a few weeks ago. He looked quite impressive in color but I prefer sharing this black-and-white photograph with you as it brings out the artist’s dramatic features.

To be honest, I would be scared if I would bump into the guy after sunset…but this may indeed be the intended effect.

In my imagination, trees are zen-like, peaceful beings…but I guess, trees after sunset can look creepy, too, can’t they?