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WOW!!!!! This is a shout-out and THANK YOU to all who follow of today our BCD tribe is 20K strong! For someone who has often felt like a square peg in the round hole, its really cool to connect with so many people all over the globe who share a curiosity about our world and each other. #Google+ has made this possible--as a basis of comparison, BCD has 562 followers on Facebook! A disparity that vast is a bit of a head-scratcher, but I guess at the end of the day, Google+ just offers more opportunity to expand your horizons! In that spirit, allow me to share a little bit about my philosophy and the circumstances behind it...I'd love for you to introduce yourself! #PeopleAreCulture

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Happy Diwali!

My experience of this joyful festival celebrating light over dark was in the little village of Felicity on the Caribbean island of #Trinidad. The town was ablaze in gorgeous light, with each home and shop along the main street lit up by strings of diyas, little lamps made from clay pots with a cotton wick dipped in coconut oil. There was great energy in the air and amidst the throngs of people, most of them beautifully attired in colorful silk. Street musicians banged on big drums, zesty food was served up on giant palm leaves, girls had their hands hennaed, and at the end of the night, an effigy of a crowned, big-eared man was burned. I cheered along with everyone else, caught up in the symbolic gesture of having your troubles be gone in a puff of smoke. I had made this trip at a particularly difficult time in my life, when I was struggling to believe there would be light at the end of a long tunnel, and it felt good to be part of a community who were jubilantly turning to the light.
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The #Hindu #Diwali festival celebrates light over dark, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Diwali is a major event on the #Caribbean island of #Trinidad, which has one of the largest Hindu populations outside India concentrated within its 1,864 square miles of coastline. I was drawn to Trinidad because the Caribbean locale seven miles off the coast of Venezuela afforded me the opportunity to experience the Hindu faith in the Western Hemisphere—a prelude to a future trip to the sub-continent. My introduction to East Indian culture included getting to wear a gorgeous sari!

While on Trinidad, I learned that with the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1838, Trinidad plantation owners sought alternative sources of cheap labor and in 1845 the first Indian laborers arrived on the ship Fathal Razaak. Hired as indentured servants, they came mainly from the poorer parts of Uttar Pradesh. They undertook the three-month journey to the New World with the understanding that after their five-year work stint was over, they could re-indenture themselves or return to India. The system stayed in place until 1917; in 1995, Trinidad elected its first prime minister of East Indian heritage.

#Travel is always an adventure in discovering just how much I dont know. What I hadn't expected to discover in Trinidad was its rich cultural and spiritual diversity.

In a 2011 census, Trinidad’s population was identified as being 37.6 percent East Indian, 36.3 percent African, 24.2 percent mixed heritage, with the miniscule balance being European or Asian. Religious affiliation was recorded at that time as being 21.6 percent Roman Catholic, 18.2 percent Hindu, 6.9 percent Baptist and five percent Muslim, with other faiths representing the balance.

During my ten-day visit, I was welcomed by ambassadors from many of T & T’s diverse and vibrant communities. My experiences ranged from participating in the joyous Sunday services of the Shouter Baptist congregation of Mount Bethel Cathedral, who worship in heart-felt song and movement, to an AmerIndian smoke ceremony conducted by shaman Adonis Christo at his home on the steep Calvary Hill in Arima.

I took an All Saints Day evening stroll through La Peruse Cemetery in Woodbrook, where families lit candles of remembrance on the graves of loved ones. The next day, at the Monastery of Mount St. Benedict, I observed monks honor their departed brethren on All Souls Day. On my last day, I visited Jinnah Memorial Mosque and adjoining Trinidad Muslim League, a school that encompasses a kindergarten, primary and secondary school, located in the first capital of Trinidad, St. Joseph.

And tomorrow...more about Diwali!
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“Faces of Trinidad” features the people of the twin islands of #Trinidad and #Tobago in the southern Caribbean. Almost a quarter of Trinidad’s population is #Hindu and I visited on the occasion of Trinidad’s celebration of the Hindu festival of #Diwali, which is celebrated for five days, and this year, begins tomorrow! Diwali has its origins in Ancient India and is called the Festival of Lights because it commemorates the fight of good over evil, of the triumph of light over darkness. Who cant get behind that idea? Trinidad is home to diverse spiritual communities — a vibrant faith is practiced by Catholics, Shouter Baptists, Amerindians, and Muslims. Meet Trinis from the capital of Port of Spain to tiny Rambert Village! #PeopleAreCulture

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Celebrating International Day of Rural Women!

The #Kakchikel women of Santiago Zamora in #Guatemala are known for their exquisite woven #handicrafts. Crista María Núñez Rouanet, a volunteer for ENACTUS, says “I believe that artisans are the motor of different families. They provide an income. Handicrafts are not just important for the livelihood of families but also as a way to keep the culture of the country.” Local guide Adolfo says “The indigenous groups are at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and in this country being indigenous is seen as bad, due to a lot of stereotypes." The Kachikel women use the backstrap loom an ancient but complicated device that enables the women to produce complex designs. Made of easily-obtainable materials such as sticks, rope, the name-sake strap is worn around the weaver’s waist. Thanks to the simple nature of the technology, weavers have the flexibility to set up their studio anywhere, anytime, allowing them mobility and the ability to multi-task. They can #weave outside, at the market or while watching their children or socializing.

For more on this story click the link below

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Greetings Fellow Culture Mavens! Announcement! Let's talk!

I continue to be blown away by Google+ as a portal to connect with like-minded peeps! In fact, the growth of this page has inspired me to expand my horizons even further and launch a Google Hangout series to talk about different destinations! Look for more deets on BCD's first-ever Google Hangout! I just need some time time to figure it out!

That said, I am planning to focus the first session on Estonia, which just so happens to be the featured destination in BCD's upcoming newsletter! If you'd like to connect with BCD directly and get the next newsletter (coming out in a few days), I invite you to become a subscriber via this link:

The beauty of the internet is that it has opened up the world. I, for one, have made connections through it with people on almost every continent. As someone who had a Pen Pal in Europe as a child, this ability to communicate with other people from far off places "over the wires" is a delight to me. With contacts all over the planet, every morning is like Christmas--I love waking up to messages from folks in other time zones!

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Volterra, Italy

The #Tuscan hill town of Comune di Volterra is a special place, very alive and vibrant with locals enjoying life, but not over-run by tourists. I had a warm welcome at Hotel Etruria , which is in a fantastic location on one of the walled city's main streets...and has a rooftop garden that affords spectacular views of the skyline! After arriving, I made a beeline for Enoteca Del Duca, owned by husband-and-wife chefs Genuino Del Duca and Ivana Delli Compagni. I had a delicious "tasting" lunch...and hope to have the opportunity to interview Ivana about Tuscan traditional cooking.

With guide Ilaria Antolini, I visited the Guarnacci #Etruscan Museum,where area's Etruscan heritage is beautifully preserved and presented. Thanks to Ilaria's knowledge about the huge 600+-piece collection of funerary urns, I learned the art adorning the pieces tells so much about the history of the Etruscans, from the role of woman in society, to their contact with the Greeks...and seems to suggest that the universal custom of the handshake originated with these ancient people! Ilaria and I also visited the Etruscan acropolis, situated at the highest point of Volterra, which offered a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, and layers of the city's history.

I also had the chance to see an ancient Etruscan cultural tradition that is still alive and well,with a visit to #alabaster artisan Roberto Chiti, who demonstrated the craft he and his childhood friend Giorgio Finazzo practice at their workshop Alab'arte.

And a special shout out to driver Emiliano Trapanipini who went above & beyond by sharing with me many off-the-beaten path spots for photo opps that he's in-the-know about as both a local and someone who has worked with the many film crews who have shot in the area!

Thanks to Chiara, Claudia & Roberta in Volterra's super professional tourism office --you rocked it ladies!
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San Gimingnano, Italy

#SanGimignano is renown as one of #Tuscany's most beautiful and historic hill towns. And while I was wowed by the architecture and ambiance, its the #CulturalConnection with people that is always the most meaningful for me. So I was delighted to have Culture & Tourism Councilor Carolina Taddei introduce me to some really cool locals who gave me terrific insight into the region's cultural traditions, heritage, and day-to-day life, and also share some pretty amazing personal stories! I met local WWII hero Guido Lisi and ceramicist Franco Balducci, and had a fantastic 2-hour interview with textile artist Lucia Boni, who shared the details of the lucky break that led to her designing costumes for director Franco Zeffirelli's film"Hamlet." (and, yes, of course her amazing talent had a lot to do w/that lucky break!) Carolina and I enjoyed a yummy lunch at quiet & nicely situated Locanda La Mandragola, where young owner Andrea joked that he used to consider working for his parents there as a chore, and now its his pride & joy!

Botany plays an important role in the history of San Gimignano. Today, the beautiful vineyards surrounding the town produce highly-prized wines but my interest was in other dimensions of how nature has shaped the town's history. I got a glimpse into ancient herbal healing traditions at Spezieria di Santa Fina, founded in 1253 and featuring ceramic jars used to contain medicines in the 15th century! The pharmacy is named after Saint Serafina who was born here in 1238 to a "declined" noble family, who became ill with what is now believed to be tuberculous. Her story involves devout faith, a wooden bed, rats, violets, miracle cures, and the inspiration for the town's hospital, which became the best in Tuscany in the 14th century.

Carolina's colleague Niccolò Guicciardini gave me a lift to my final destination in San Gimignano, the #Fottezza de' Cortesi--I learned en route that Niccolò is the town's Vice Mayor. Niccolò introduced me to Cledy Tancredi, the visionary behind the sumputuous villa, which can trace its history back to the time of the Etruscans 2,700 years ago. In the year 929 Ugo, King of Italy, gave the castle to the bishop of Volterra. Since 1200 is remembered the Church of San Bartolomeo in which are still visible rare and unique frescoes dating back to the medieval period; During the middle age it belonged to the “Cattani” a very important San Gimignano family and then probably it was a Templar site. Later, bishop Paolo Cortesi made ​​it a center for humanistic studies center as well as his residence, which he called "Castrum Cortesianum." Cledy and her husband have an amazing story that will soon appear on BCD; and includes a window into the role of the spice saffron in the fortunes of San Gimignano. #PeopleAreCulture
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I'm delighted to introduce BCD's new Associate Editor, Kelsey Fein, a 24-year old nomadic wanderer of sorts. Kels has traveled extensively in the United States, and spent time in Austria, Canada, most of the Caribbean, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Peru, and Spain. She lived in Ghana for one month studying the impact that women have on in West African politics. Kelsey has always been fascinated by cultures and place different than her own. Not just on the surface either--she likes knowing why people and cultures are the way they are, what makes them tick. Kelsey says she get very "twitchy" if she stays in one place too long and needs to always be on the move, not ever wanting to feel "stuck," a sensibility I totally get! When she is not contributing to BCD's editorial line-up and outreach, Kels is pursuing her Master's Degree in Public Health at Boston University, with a focus on global health. Say hi to Kels and look for her posts!

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#Pitigliano was my final stop of my tour of #TufaLand and local guide Elisabetta Peri explained her family has lived here "forever." She shared her love of her charming hilltop town, which included meeting residents who are engaged in bringing the local culture to life--BCD's raison d'etre! I had the opportunity to interview ceramicist Roberto Polidori, who with his wife Luisa own the shop Ceramiche Polidori on Via Roma, one of the town's two main streets. Look for an upcoming feature on Roberto and his thoughts on the artistic legacy of the Etruscans and the difference between artist & artisan, among other themes! Sabrina D'Angelo of the Museo Civico Archeologico di Pitigliano showed me the museum's collection of #Etrsucan pottery found in the fields of a local benefactor, and explained its role in the every day life of this ancient civilization.

Someone I wish I could have met is Elena Servi, now 87, who was born in Pitigliano and has devoted her life to preserving the town's Jewish Quarter, known as #LaPiccolaGerusalemme, or Little Jerusalem, a subterranean compound the Jews were confined to in 1622 when the the Medici family came to power. Despite such periods when the area was subject to racist politics, relations between the town's Christians and Jews has always been friendly. During WWII, 14-year old Elena and her family hid from the Nazis in the countryside, at one point living in a cave for three months, and were fed and protected by Catholics. Today, only three Jews live in the community but thanks to the joint efforts of Elena and the municipality, Little Jerusalem will live on.

Elisabetta and I enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Hostaria del Ceccottino, owned by husband and wife team Chiara and Alessandro. We shared a plate of bruschetta with different toppings that included chicken livers, mushrooms, fresh cheese and sausage, and "lardo," or pork, and then a delicious ricotta cheese and spinach soup! Yum!

Pitigliano is enchanting, and its people were wonderfully hospitable--I was delighted to get a ride back to my digs in Sorano with Irene Lauretti, Pitigliano's Council Member for Tourism and Cultural Affairs, and have a chance to discuss the town's rich cultural heritage! Check it out for yourself!
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