Roadside koalas (20051216)

A koala and her joey at Cape Otway, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2005. While in Australia, I saw several koalas, including this one and her joey. I also saw an echidna, a couple of spiders that have the odds in their favor of being lethal, and several hundred screaming galahs. I saw two kinds of kangaroo, as well: the ones hopping madly away from the car, and the ones on my plate. Kangaroo meat is, simply put, delicious. I find it strange that in California we have all kinds of Aussie imports, from the Rupert Murdoch-run Faux News to the occasional jars of Vegemite to what seems like several billion eucalyptus trees. Yet we don't have any kangaroo farms. Kangaroo meat is lean, 97 percent so. It is redder than a country town in Kansas. And it is the juiciest, most tender meat I've ever had. I can do things to fish that'd turn the most avowed carnivore into a pescetarian, but kangaroo is this magical mystery meat. Marinate it or don't, all it needs is a bit of searing on each side to convert a lifelong vegetarian to the dark side. Healthier than beef, tastier than chicken, smarter than pork, the only disappointing thing about 'roo is that it's actually not as easy to find (or afford) in Australia as you'd think.

Honoring Tibet: A Buried Orchestra (20060617)

Two Naxi farmers who taught themselves traditional instruments to preserve Naxi music, Baisha, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Journalists are finally allowed back into Tibet, but there's no little indication that the Chinese are acknowledging that much of anything took place. They're still denying that anybody was killed, and while the true number of fatalities might not be in the low hundreds as the Tibetans claim, it's doubtful that not a single person was killed. The situation reminds me most of the Naxi culture that flourishes in and near Lijiang, Yunnan Province. The society is matriarchal, and while Naxi music isn't particularly stirring for me, it wouldn't exist if the unique instruments used to create its mournful tunes hadn't been buried for 40 years to save them from the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. The terrible irony of Chinese perpetuating this cultural domination is that, ideologically speaking, the United States is at its weakest point since World War II. At this point, it would be easy for China to become a competing superpower. Instead of buying into the game already being played, though, it's trying to start a new game with different rules, and it's unlikely the other players will willingly give up their stakes.

Big Wheels on a Big Weekend (20080323)

20080323-blue-jacket-spill-1.jpg Tumbling down Vermont Street, Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2008, Vermont and 20th Streets. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. There will be a larger gallery coming soon for Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2008, but until then I can assure you the new locale at 20th and Vermont, the true "Crookedest Street in San Francisco," seemed to be a big hit. Hipsters, tourists, and other spectators stumbled up from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence show at Dolores Park easily enough, and the die-hard big wheelers were still trying hard to injure themselves in the stupidest ways imaginable test their skills at the course even after most spectators had moved on. In case you're wondering, the eight-year-old BYOBW is held annually on Easter Sunday, organized by artist Jon Brumit. Adults take plastic-wheeled toys meant for toddlers and zoom down the crookedest, steepest streets in San Francisco in an attempt to have goofy fun while cleaning the gene pool of undesirable contaminants. The FMA spent the weekend taking around a British friend of a friend. Between walking across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, exploring the Mission District and San Francisco history with a free mural tour, eating her first burrito and observing her first Big Wheels race, I'd modestly say that Lisa's first American city experience could very well be her best. Certainly, it'll be her most eclectic, and that's just how we like it.

Honoring Tibet: A Boy in Chengyang (20060510)

A pugnacious Dong boy, Chengyang, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. A pugnacious Dong boy, Chengyang, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. The tensions between Han and Tibetan residents of cities and towns other than Lhasa are well-documented. Tibetans want their exiled leader to return and control of their country to return to their notably undemocratic monasteries. The burgeoning Han population and the Chinese government want to use lands they claim as historically theirs for their own needs. Caught in the middle, as always, is the average person. Smoking homemade cigarettes made from old newspapers or worrying about future employment, the military action and murders in Tibet seem to be a test of foreign reaction as much as anything else. Nancy Pelosi and one Thai Olypmic torch-bearer aside, international criticism has been muted, so it's interesting to note that scholars and other intellectuals from within China are able to articulate a message of moderation and dialogue over domination. I remember seeing in the Shanghai Museum of Art an incredible permanent exhibition on Chinese minority groups, complete with costumes, craftwork, pottery, and lacking the obligatory "sorry-for-destroying-your-way-life" message that you see in Native American or Aboriginal exhibits. The Dong of Chengyang and other south-central minority groups in China were prominently featured, but the Tibetans were less so. Perhaps it's too hopeful to suppose that although the military and political leaders seemed to have figured out what they want to do with Tibet, the rest of the country hasn't.

Honoring Tibet: The Dragon’s Backbone (20060506)

Carrying the day's harvest, near Ping'An, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. A Zhuang woman carryies the day's harvest near Ping'An, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. The dominant culture in China is the Han. A femtosecond of Googling around will show you that within China, racial tensions between the Han and the various minority cultures over which they rule are tense. It is not much different from the United States and the Native Americans, the Japanese and the Okinawans and what's left of the Ainu, the Australians and the Aborigines. The list of societies we have decimated in order to assert our own cultural superiority is not endless, but it is a long list and it's been going on since time immemorial. The difference between those incidents lost to time or occurring in the past and today is that we, globally, have recognized an aversion to invasion, subjugation, and cultural obliteration. What's happening today in Tibet is nothing less than the same kind of destruction that we all cringe at. Today? The conflict in Tibet is still going on. We're not hearing about it because there are no more foreign journalists there: they've all been kicked out. The greatest indicator, though, that China doesn't want news of its behavior to reach the rest of the world is the blocking of YouTube. YouTube is no longer merely for those under 30. It's taken the concept of the Internet and melded it to film, and created a medium that is hotter than anything McLuhan could've had in mind. The defenders of the Great Firewall of China know that they can't confiscate the video cameras of everybody in Tibet - but why kill millions directly when you can just burn their crops? China has learned from the errors of Tiananmen Square. The put-down of the insurrection will not be televised. I have no photos from Tibet, since I wasn't able to go there. But there are other minority groups scattered around China, and hopefully by showing a few of their pictures we will be able to attention to China's latest cultural obliteration.

The Teeming Masses and the Taj (20060301)

Entering the Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Entering the Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. It is nearly impossible to take a photo of the Taj Mahal without having people in it. This defies snapshot logic: you want to show off the thing, or at most you and the thing, not the thousands of other tourists who are admiring it as much as you. But finding an attraction of any kind in India that doesn't have people at it is nearly impossible and, I began to realize as I walked around the Taj complex, blinded by the nearly unbearable whiteness of it all, that the "other people" in the photo are part of the structure. The Taj Mahal doesn't have the same meaning when you dissociate it from the native Indian who pays 10 rupees to visit its grandeur or the tourist who pays $20 for the same privilege. The Statue of Liberty is the same, as are the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pyramids at Giza, Versailles, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, and the other man-made wonders like them. They don't represent quite the same thing without the living human element, because it's the pulsing mass of our species that continues to define them and give them life long after natural forces should have reduced them to rust, dust, ash and worse. Without people these structures lack context, and in India context is everything.

The Taj Mahal: The Prequel (20060202)

Humayun's tomb, New Delhi, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Humayun's tomb, New Delhi, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Humayun's Tomb is a precedent of the style of mausoleum architecture that is featured in the Taj Mahal. I was sick as a dog when I visited it, with the FMA dragging me around at my behest. Even through my fever-tinged glasses I could see that it was the most interesting building in all of Delhi, and it made for a strong contrast against the trash-lined streets flanked by buildings of far more dubious structural merit than this tomb. In 2003, restoration work cleared and restored the water pathways throughout the gardens that surround the tomb, a stark but beautiful contrast to the stone and inlay decorating the tomb.

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