Category Archives: Beyond Our Borders

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (Isaiah Zagar)

Rewind – Travel in 2016 (2); Philadelphia Freedom

It was almost with trepidation that we took off for US WordCamp in Philadelphia at the end of November. In the wake of the Trump election victory, even before his inauguration and what has followed, US travel already seemed somehow less appealing.

Justice, equality and freedom of the press

The Liberty BellIn the event, I am really glad that we were there in that moment. It was a reminder of so much that is good in America. To stand beside the Liberty Bell was particularly poignant. To read of past success in the struggle against injustice and inequality was a heartening reminder that there always have been and still are many who will fight for the best of what it is to be human.

We had a day together in which to explore. The Liberty Bell was a ‘must see’. Benjamin Franklin’s printing press resonated well with our attendance at WCUS. After all, WordPress specifically seeks to democratize publishing. Franklin’s grandson’s statement on the freedom of the press is as relevant now as it as ever been.

Old Philadelphia

We mooched around the historic area, delighting in Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest streets in North America, where some houses date back to the 1720s. Later,  we ambled through the very elegant Society Hill.

The weird, the wonderful and the truly magical

As we wandered, we chanced on the fabulous Center for Art in Wood, as well as a weird and wonderful exhibition of pipes. This latter was somewhat outside our normal sphere of interest, but absolutely amazing glass work!

All the while, we were heading towards Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.  These are indeed magical, both for the immersive visual experience and the sense of art as driver for community regeneration. Isaiah Zagar is a mosaic artist on a huge scale, reminiscent of Gaudi but drawing on many other influences, in particular Folk Art. Started in 1994, the Magic Gardens form a hub for the regeneration of the South Street area of Philadelphia; Zagar’s first mosaics in the area go back to the 1960s.

Full Moon, Isaiah Zagar
We even brought our own small piece of Zagar’s work home with us. He titled it ‘Full Moon’, but we also make an association to the Blue Moon. Those of you who know our history will remember that this has a very personal significance for us!

 

The perfect end to a perfect day, Little Fish was one of the best fish restaurants we’ve ever discovered!

The next few days were conference days. In the evenings, though, we made the most of the seasonal spirit with a trip to the Christmas market and to Macy’s Christmas light show.

Passion, democratization, accessibility and community

WCUS itself was a fascinating experience for someone who functions at the edge of the WordPress community. What stays with me is the depth of commitment to making WordPress accessible to all. In 2016 there were 115 WordCamps in 41 countries, with close to 90% of the costs (though not the travel) covered by sponsors.

WordPress is available in 50 languages and there is a strong push for internationalization and accessibility. All this exists in the context of a code-base  written by volunteers (Paul has ‘core commits’ in a number of WordPress releases).

The third day of the conference was ‘Contributor Day’.Hundreds of people gave a full day of their time to coding, bug fix, testing, review, documentation, translation and more. In five years, the WordPress market share has grown from 13% to 27% of the web and this effort is what underpins it. What a fantastic model for social co-operation! 

While Paul focused on the more technical sessions and networking, I tapped into the wider content. Topics included ‘Version Control Your Life’, ‘Five Newsroom Tips for Better Website Content’, ‘Care and Feeding of Your Passion’, as well as a really helpful session on releasing a WordPress product.

‘Darth Vader wins over Yoda every time!’

Perhaps most pertinent to world events was a great talk on ‘The Dark Side of Democratization’. It seems that content that elicits emotional response is what goes viral, particularly if it arouses anger (hence the headline quote!). Therefore we all need to cultivate an ability to evaluate both our emotional response to content and the ‘facts’ in a post-truth world. An interesting suggestion was the importance of monitoring ‘news’ from sources that reflect the people who don’t think like you, engaging with understanding and tolerance, not judgement.

You can find’ the full 40 min session at https://dennis.blog/democratization/,  together with a great set of resource links including fact checkers.

Partying with dinosaurs

Partying with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences

The ‘corridor stream’ is always a key element of any WordCamp and the after-party is a fun extension of this. In this case, we partied with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, making some useful contacts while were were about it!

A Sunday stroll

While Paul was delving into core code, I made a solo Philly foray. The Barnes Foundation, established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture”, houses a wonderful collection displayed in a quite unique style. The Museum of Art would definitely have been overload, though I did stand on the famous steps. Instead, I wandered on up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway behind the museum to the elegant Lemon Hill Mansion, all decked out for Christmas and picturesque Boathouse Row, enjoying the mild December sunshine.

Google Album – Philadelphia 2016 (more photos!)

Sunset over Cayo Coco

Rewind – Travel in 2016 (1); Cuba in Springtime

Travel wasn’t top of our list in 2016. With the move to rural life there was both too much to do and too much uncertainty about timing really to plan a proper ‘vacation’. Indeed, our summer holiday was, very intentionally, ‘cottage time’ in our new home.

Back at the start of the year, though, I saw a certain tiredness in Paul and, recognizing the long-haul ahead, took the unusual step for us of planning a week away with a focus on doing very little.

Escape into a Cuban Spring

Sugar cane and rum (fresh Pina Colada is a whole different experience!); scuba-diving blessed by the appearance of dolphins  for Paul while I snorkeled the reef; lots of much needed doing nothing round the pool, interspersed with dance classes, tai-chi and water volleyball; a little exploring with glimpses of plantations, mangroves, a crocodile farm and the decaying colonial grandeur of Ciego De Avila and Moron; and, always, the rhythms – rumba, salsa, cha-cha . . .

Honestly, I’m not sure whether or not we will go back to Cuba. There is genuinely a great sense of welcome, even in a somewhat anodyne resort area. But there is also a feeling of smoke and mirrors; things are not entirely what they seem, a lot of the time you see what you are supposed to see, and there are aspects of the Cuban regime and culture that I find difficult and unsettling. We are not very good at ‘resorts’, and, though ours was very good of its kind, that may have influenced my perceptions. Maybe if we go back to ‘travel’, really to see the country rather than laze . . . but I feel there may be other places that call to me more strongly.

Google Photo Album – Cuba

Maine Roadtrip 2014: 6 – Wild Gardens of Acadia

The Wild Gardens of Acadia provided a contemplative interlude, wandering the paths to the soundtrack of birdsong and a babbling brook.

Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia Wild Gardens of Acadia

This is a delightful idea, a well-labelled garden of species native to this area of Maine.  I was happy to realize how many native plants I can now recognize (many of these plants are familiar in Ontario) and how many I managed to include when planting our own back yard!

Maine Roadtrip 2014: 5 – Dive in

Dive In Theatre with Diver Ed proved hugely entertaining as well as informative – boat trip, mixed with live-dive video and expert commentary crossed with improv comedy, and up-close contact with marine species!

Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins Diver Ed's specimins

It was also joyous to see more than the bobbing heads of harbour seals – we had had a number of glimpses both when sailing and kayaking coastal Maine, but no more than that until now.

Seals! Seals!

Definitely an Acadia highlight!

Maine Roadtrip 2014: 4 – Acadia National Park, “a place like no other”

I have to admit that, although I loved our exploration of Maine, I had a strange, niggling sense of homesickness for Ontario!

That said, Acadia National Park lives up to the hyperbole of the letters to sent to President Woodrow Wilson in the early 1900s supporting the creation of a National Park on Mount Desert Island. Rocky shores and craggy cliffs, golden beaches, cool green woodland, mountains, lakes, a fjord – it is astoundingly beautiful and I am so glad to have experienced it.

Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, ME Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Coast path, Acadia National Park, ME Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, ME Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, ME From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME Strange shadows on Cadillac Mountain Strange shadows on Cadillac Mountain From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME From Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, ME

As seems so often the case, it was art, in this case the artists of the Hudson River School in the 1800s, that drew the first visitors to the area. The resultant influx of the wealthy of ‘the gilded age’ and their elegant summer ‘cottages’, the formation of the national park, and the construction of 57 miles of Carriage Roads by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for hikers, cyclists and horse riders, all contributed to the unique sense of nature at its most beautiful made accessible to all.

Carriage Road bridge,  Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, ME Carriage Road bridge, Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, ME

Another confession; it is rare for me to choose destinations that are a focus for mass tourism. Bar Harbour, Mount Desert’s main town, seemed to be the exception that proves the rule! As well as its natural beauty, perhaps it retains some aura of those golden years. We particularly enjoyed the shore walk, awestruck by a single vista encompassing storm clouds, a rainbow and clear blue skies over the harbour and ‘bar’, the sandbar that links the town to an island at low tide.

A 'cottage' in Bar Harbour A 'cottage' in Bar Harbour Bar Harbour Bar Harbour An even bigger 'cottage' in Bar Harbour An even bigger 'cottage' in Bar Harbour The Bar Harbour Shore Path The Bar Harbour Shore Path The Bar Harbour Shore Path The Bar Harbour Shore Path The Bar Harbour Shore Path The Bar Harbour Shore Path The 'Bar' at low tide, Bar Harbour The 'Bar' at low tide, Bar Harbour The view from Bar Island The view from Bar Island The 'Bar' at low tide, Bar Harbour The 'Bar' at low tide, Bar Harbour Bar Harbour Bar Harbour

Why the sense of homesickness? Hard to define really, though there was an implicit acknowledgement of how incredibly lucky we are to have so much beauty on our doorstep – we hardly need to venture across borders to do so many of the things we enjoy doing. And, although people were gracious and charming, there was a sense, as someone else expressed it to me, that Americans are perhaps not quite as free to be individualistic as Canuks. Coming back across the border, we found a more open friendliness, a delightful quirkiness, and knew that we were home.

To be continued . . .