Travel: 99 posts

Searching for scents and sensory traditions around the world.

How to Save The Kashmiri Shawl

“On 5 August last year, I was finalising the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Kashmir. The same day, the Indian government revoked its special (limited) autonomous status, which the Muslim-majority state had held since joining the Union in 1947. The government then imposed a security lockdown, cut communication lines and restricted travel. I’m neither a reckless risk taker nor an irrepressible optimist, but I didn’t cancel my trip. I knew it was foolish to hope that the situation in the Kashmir Valley – a place whose borderland status between India and Pakistan has seen it become a violent battleground over the decades – would stabilise in time for my journey a mere month away, but I was obsessed. The reason? A piece of fabric so weightless and yet so warm that it seems to defy all laws of science. I wanted to meet the artisans and learn how real Kashmiri shawls were made. The escalating conflict only increased my resolve for a glimpse of this rare art that is under threat of vanishing.”

The article “How To Save the Kashmiri Shawl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of Financial Times magazine, is the result of my journey to India. I was determined to use whatever means I could to talk to the artisans and to understand why this craft is so meaningful to them. As I’ve learned, weaving has a venerated status in Kashmir. As a crossroads, Kashmir developed its culture through interactions with other people and traditions, and the Kashmiri shawl is the perfect example of this intricate synthesis.

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Lindens, Ukrainian Weaving, and Nataliya’s Other Favorite Things

I like meeting people who pursue their dreams. My friend and partner on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, Nataliya Cummings, studied theater in Ukraine, lived in an anarchist community, researched traditional weaving and created an art festival. She now lives in the UK, but she spends most of her year traveling in Ukraine and helping other people fall in love with this fascinating and yet unknown country. Today I want to introduce Nataliya to you.

Nataliya started her travel company Experience Ukraine shortly after moving to Hereford in the UK about 10 years ago, but the genesis of the idea came earlier. After completing her theater studies degree at the university, she started to create art events for children in collaboration with the Longo Maï community. Since children couldn’t travel to cities to see plays and performances, Nataliya decided to bring theater to them. Her experience was so exhilarating that she moved to the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche in the Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine. (It’s the same village where we will be staying during our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this summer.)

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Postcard from Ukraine : Kalyna Berries

Guelder rose berries, called kalyna in Ukrainian, taste like cranberries and have a bitter-sour scent reminiscent of almonds and lingonberries. After the frost hits them, they lose their tannic pungency and become sweeter. They’re known to be a panacea for colds and sore throats, but we leave ours for the birds. The truth is that we prefer their red glimmer among the bare branches. No other sight is more quintessentially Ukrainian. No other plant has richer symbolic meaning.

In Ukrainian folklore, kalyna represents female beauty–the effervescence of youth with its delicate white flowers and mature sensuality with its red berries. Red stands for passion, and so the crimson hue of the berries represents love. If you look closer at Ukrainian embroideries, you can see kalyna berries and flowers telling their story of life coming a full circle.

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Postcard from Ukraine : Lavra and Cornflowers

One of my first rituals on returning to Kyiv is to visit the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra, the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, to see the painting of Ukrainian artist Kateryna Bilokur (1900-1961) in The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art. At a time when the only acceptable art style was socialist realist, her paintings of flowers were subversive. She was refused admittance to art school or even a transfer out of her village, although her paintings were exhibited abroad as a showcase for the success of Communism–“see, even our peasants can create art.” Pablo Picasso once said of her work, “If we had an artist of this level of skill, we would make the whole world talking about her!”

Those of you who shall be joining me on the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this year will be discovering more about Ukrainian art as part of the trip. And those who are planning a trip to Kyiv shouldn’t miss a visit to the Lavra complex. I recommend setting aside a whole day for it, because besides The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art and the stunning churches (each with different wall paintings), you can descend into the caves bearing the remnants of the saints who came to this hill above the Dnieper River as early as 1057.

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Postcard from Bulgaria : Ice

It’s been a long time I’ve seen snow and ice covering the entire landscape and turning the world into a black and white Japanese painting. This morning wasn’t white, however. It was silvery-blue and scintillating.

“The cold earth slept below;
Above the cold sky shone…”
Percy Busshe Shelley

If I could only somehow capture how vivid and metallic the icy morning smells, as the cold obliterates all odors apart from those of frozen earth and burning wood.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, the village of Gorno Draglishte in Razlog Municipality, in Blagoevgrad Province, Bulgaria.

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