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My relationship with Christmas trees began when I was a child. In my upstate New York suburb in the 1960s, mine was one of very few Jewish families. Despite my mother’s annual protests to Mr Hermann, the elementary school principal, and, occasionally, the Bethlehem School Board, every year, I dutifully made Christmas tree ornaments and Christmas decorations in school. Later, I would take the creations of red and green construction paper, cotton balls, glitter and pipe cleaners to my friends Kathy Molloy and Beth Biggane who lived down the street to hang in their houses.

On Christmas morning, I would…


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Growing dread and acceptance of the winter ahead is weighing on Americans’ physical and mental health and raising fears about debt and job security, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.”

A little girl with red rubber boots is walking with her mother, auburn hair and a lavender puffer coat, spots of color against the brown and green. along the side of the dirt road. The melting snow and May rains have formed rushing streams in the open ditches and depressions in the earth. …


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I am sitting in a nail salon in Oaxaca. Carmen, the young manicurist sporting a black t-shirt with a white skull and the words “NEW YORK NEW YORK”, smiles at me hopefully. This, I think, is the test of my Spanish learning so far: nail salon chit-chat. I’m not that good at it in English and for some reason, the thought of it is more anxiety-producing than conjugating verbs. How do I make small talk with a twenty-year old in Spanish? “Just go for it,” I think to myself, “it’s not an exam.” And soon enough, Carmen and I are…


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Shortly before I left Philadelphia for good, I found myself in a crowded noisy courtroom in City Hall. On one side, the Painted Bride, a venerable art center, and its community of supporters (including me), seeking approval to sell its building, a performance space festooned with an exuberant mosaic by the artist Isaiah Zagar. On the other side of the courtroom — opponents of the sale and friends of Zagar seeking to preserve the building and mosaic. The case had ignited intense feelings about art, community, the built environment and historic preservation.


Albania evokes images of ancient blood feuds and Communist isolation, of which remnants of both remain. In the Accursed Mountains, settlements linger with one foot in another century. But a coalition of environmental and tourism organizations in Albania and Montenegro have joined forces to promote the Via Dinarica, a “mega-hiking” trail through the Western Balkans.

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Many visitors go to a new place yearning to sample the food. Tasting street tacos in Mexico City, poutine in Quebec City, or jambalaya in Louisiana means that you experienced something quintessential about a place. Learning the samba, or tango, or salsa is like that. It’s feeling the flavor of a place with your body and feet. It’s sharing the national dish on a dance floor. Just as you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy food, you don’t need to be a “dancer” to dance.

Havana

Our Spanish immersion school met in a white two story stucco building…


The evening air of Santa Marta hung warm and thick. Three chivas, traditional farm transport turned Colombian party bus, were waiting in the parking lot. With their garish paint jobs and purple strobe lights, they looked more traveling carny than mobile disco. We were a group of nine middle aged Philadelphians who came to Colombia sharing only our devotion to Elizabeth, our Colombian Spanish teacher.

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Our destination was Playa Rondadero, Santa Marta’s beach, where, we were told, there would be music and dancing. It was Fat Tuesday, the last night of Carnaval. …


Barcelona is the perfect city to visit with an octogenarian. Old people walk slowly. In 2012, I was visiting Barcelona with my then 84-year old father. Whenever I thought I was walking at a slow pace, I needed to divide the pace in half so as to not leave Dad behind. And I discovered that when you slow down in Barcelona, you have time to look up. And when you look up in Barcelona, you can take in the phantasmagoria that is the architecture of the city — the gargoyles and curlicues, trompe l’oeil facades, spires and curved arches.

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My…


Once you see them, you can never unsee them. The women that until that moment were nameless, faceless members of a wave of humanity heading north were now sitting in a circle at one end of a large brightly lit room. They sat, waiting for us, on molded plastic chairs, slightly slumped, deep pools of dark eyes, almost vacant, staring, brown skin and thick black hair. Some were holding crying and coughing children, while other children stared at a TV in an adjacent room. …


Lost Worlds of the Chilean Pampa

Wander through the north of Chile and you may very well see evidence of Things That Are No More. Communities, cultures, industries that have disappeared and been replaced. Saltpeter mines supplanted by lithium mines as technology caused upheavals throughout the world. Before all of that, were the people who created this geoglyph, El Gigante de Atacama. El Gigante, the largest of its kind in the world, is perhaps a scrawled stone message to the gods, perhaps it is an astronomical calendar.

No road sign directs you to El Gigante — we followed directions from…

Sharon Barr

Urbanist who lives in the wilderness. Planner + Strategist. Real estate consultant to nonprofits. Attorney. Traveler (both near and far). Yoga teacher. Writer.

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