In The Present At Central Park

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In a Central Park pond, three male mallard ducks circled a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants were hues of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a gentle wind often ruffled to create ripples.

Ripples were decimating the trails the moving ducks left, but when breeze stopped and ducks paused, stillness prevailed. That’s when nature offered me a moment to reflect, and I felt my presence.

Kailash Satyarthi, The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Is My Ex-Boss: A Brief Tribute

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I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.

It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”

His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew Mr. Satyarthi wasn’t a politician, I’d still braved through, with raised brows and wet palms, the jitteriness of my first formal meeting with him. When a 6-foot man, bespectacled, with black beard and hair neatly parted and slicked to the side, breezed into the room and glanced at me, I stood up, holding out my hand when he did his, to shake, and poor man, he had to wipe his hand with a kerchief, as he advised, “You don’t have to worry at all.”

The softness of his voice belied his domineering posture, and the nicety of his demeanor made it easy for me to want to work with him for next several years. He was a presence of immense hope. If we look at his graph – until the moment he won the Nobel Peace Prize – he had given thousands of voiceless children a smile, touching their hearts and enlightening them with his never-say-die attitude.

In my 9 year stint with him, being responsible for his schedule and travel as well, I’d spent most of my time in the office than at home with my family. And the only reason I could pull that off was that I worked for a man, who I rarely saw in a state of exhaustion. He traveled domestic and international, extensively, with the mission of eliminating child labor; and the success of Global March Against Child Labor, under his leadership, proved that, with partnerships and collaborations, groups and teams, we were cruising along to end the menace.

Way to go. His travel continued for days on end, and yet, one fine morning only a couple of hours after he’d arrived from a trip to the US, he was in the office – fighting jet lag – to meet with a local organization, which had come to him for guidance. He’d welcomed them, and stressed how if everyone involved in the movement displayed the passion the mission demanded, the endeavors would yield results. And he’d also warned that the path to mission’s success faced stiff opposition from more quarters than we could imagine — but so long as we didn’t devalue the power of our collective conscience for the sake of the cause, we were right on course. His philosophy and pragmatism kindled each other in the design of his thoughts, where children became the only focus.

He was running high fever one day, but still wanted to lead a team to raid a factory in North Delhi, where some details earlier had suggested that the brick kiln owner was employing forced child labor. All of us had requested he let somebody else lead the raid so he could recover, but his stubbornness was nonpareil, and he wished to go. I remember I’d handed him some pills of paracetamol for fever. A day later, when he’d returned with his team in a foggy evening, he looked fresh, with dozens of rescued children following him into the conference hall — where he stood in a corner, unattached, smiling at the children, who cheered and celebrated their new-found freedom. His detachment, I thought, was a moment during which he pondered upon the day gone by, when he and his team had conducted another riskier raid, converting its success into the laughter that reverberated in the building. His fever pills were intact, and his fever only worse, and he tossed the first one into his mouth, and informed us that he’d better get rest, and stepped out, into his car and disappeared in the fog.

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I remember he had a couple of meetings in Germany and an important one in London, but his UK visa had expired, and he had to leave within two days. We were not scheduling anything in the UK because we knew we had to renew the visa. I remembered a get-together that BBA had, the previous week, and a senior visa official from the British High Commission had been in attendance, and I remember how he’d admired Mr. Satyarthi and the organization, and had left his visiting card. I called him around 3 pm to check if renewal of the visa was possible at such short notice, and he asked me to meet him in the embassy with Mr. Satyarthi’s passport, and by late evening the same day, his visa was renewed. The next day, I’d written to BBC HARDtalk, a popular show where global leaders are grilled, sending them Mr. Satyarthi and organization’s profile, asking if he could be interviewed – since he had a day to spare in London – and by next morning, I received their confirmation that they’d be pleased to have him.

Later, when I updated Mr. Satyarthi about these two developments, he patted on my back and said that he was proud of me – to which I said that I hadn’t done much, and that he was a known figure fighting for a just cause, and somebody only had to contact the right person at the right time.

Years passed, and his hair and beard turned grey and he began to look weary. One weekend, the entire office went to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Jaipur, to spend time with the children. And I remember we were playing volleyball, during a recreational period, and Mr. Satyarthi looked washed-out, but when somebody lifted the ball for him to smash, his strike had so much power that I had to duck my head on the other side. He has always been too mentally strong to allow fatigue to weaken him, and I know that his commitment for child rights will stay alive till his last breath.

Behind the glitter and glamour of the Nobel Prize are his incredible patience in handling complexities, live-in-the-present motto, taking risks to life, seeking truth, and delivering on the promises – the qualities he was born with, and which made his actions for the children languishing in slavery, be counted.

I left the organization in 2004, but I followed its activities online, and I’m so thrilled that 10 years later, Mr. Satyarthi won the prize after being in the running for it for several years, as per the Nobel Committee. But for me he had won it much earlier, when I’d realized that his passion and mission were noble enough.

Imperfect Shadows At White River State Park

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Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Sad folks may not like their shadows (some may seek perspective in them). Happy folks may brag about their shadows (some may take pictures).

If a shadow (which is immune to being judged) looks imperfect, which is often the case, it’s normal.  What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.

 

Drama At Balzac’s

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This nighttime picture of Balzac’s, which is a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District, Toronto, shows faded brick walls, stylish chandelier, high ceilings, and a lit window; but what transpires below on the first level, among a crowd of people who’re chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee, may be hard like the brick, classy like the chandelier, empty like the ceiling, and bright like the window.

It may befit the moment that you (a bitter reflection of your past acts) now realize how your egotism scared your friends away; how you were certain that one day you’d sit here and sip alone with no one to talk to. The lone you now glances up hoping that some day things might change, for you wish to maintain the status quo.

Endurance On The Venice Beach

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He strummed tune after tune on the Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

His shabby attire belied the soulful melodies of his performance. He endured, plucking the strings, reaching the broken hearts with “Careless Whispers” and the confused minds with “Make me Pure.”

I saw a liplocked couple standing by a restroom, never wanting to unlock; and a marijuana addict who smoked another joint with teary eyes.

The performer was a homeless marijuana addict himself and he, after hours of non-stop plucking, hollered, “I haven’t eaten for days,” and went back to strumming.

 

Humanity Outside The Museum Of Royal Houses

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, though this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch, he was ready to sell his cones and bars as he stood up at the sight of the oncoming steps. He was taking another bite when he heard the click of my camera snapping this photo. He scanned my body language hoping that my steps would lead to him, which they did. I bought a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I asked him if he’d ever eaten his meals in peace. He said, “Sales give peace. One cone, more? please.”

The National Pantheon Contrasts

This shot was captured from the inside of the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church; today it serves as the final resting place for the nation’s honored citizens.

The guards and the flags were in the resting place; colors dim, painfully quiet. The heat of the summer outside painted the walls white; it was loud.

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The Caribbean Sea Conundrum

In the fading twilight, as the Caribbean Sea lends quietude to a noisy park in Malecon, these musicians showcase their skills; their objective is to earn some Dominican Peso so they buy dinner for their family in this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.

Three ladies, a gentleman, and a child appear to be a family. Though the ladies may love some music, spending pesos is hard given their expenses and there’s a child, too. So the gentleman on the left initiates a look-elsewhere strategy triggering a look-elsewhere response from the rest.

The performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too; he’s begun to understand the futility of their collective tune.

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Love Balloons

Since we can take this challenge to an abstract direction, I thought of these two pictures, taken on the day of my son’s first birthday.

Agastya’s confusion doubled when I held the balloon high to click this selfieImage

After I released the balloon and it went up to the ceiling, I clicked this vertical selfie. He’s standing in the play yard and I’m bending enough to be in the image.Image

 

Sinterklaas In Amsterdam

We were out in the evening and I saw people swarm a corner circling a god-like figure. The figure had white hair and beard, wore a red chasuble and a red miter.

He was Sinterklaas. This was in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.

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Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas: a Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected and loved man. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when loved ones get their gifts.

 

Twists In MIT

It’s odd if there’s no oddity from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): a producer of great minds.

The Intellectuals’ Circle. 16 people can sit here. Half facing in, half facing out. Whose brains will seal the first deal?  

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Pivoting Garden Bench. Who will pivot here? Someone with nothing better to do? Then don’t wait. Image

Backless bench. For minds and spines. No old professors, with due respect. Image

 

Sister Oracle At Quincy Market

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She became a work of art herself standing there hours on end, which required a lot of strength and resoluteness. This was in the summer of 2011 in Boston.

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She moved only when she had to give chits.

Place a dollar in the column and receive a fortune. Though we didn’t place the bill, the ones who did were given chits. She kept her expression intact as she picked the chit from her funnel bag, her movement graceful.

She’s Sister Oracle. Oracles are like the portals of heaven through which gods communicate directly with people.

 

Nudity

Anyone who reads this may blush or giggle, get excited or even scandalized.

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Never been a fan of public nudity but I still visited Gunnison Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey. How humans looked strange!

Gunnison Beach is legal and attracts huge crowds in summer. There’s a group called Friends of Gunnison where hundreds of its members are friends in real life. Meaning: they live their city lives and meet socially fully-clothed; and when they hit the beach they’ll sit across from each other – discuss life, family and politics – without a shred of clothing on them.

Weekly Photo Challenge

Corning Museum Of Glass In New York

Founded in 1951, Corning Museum of Glass is the world’s largest glass museum in Corning, New York. We visited the museum on our way to Niagara Falls.

If you’re keen to learn the art, science and history of glass, this is the place to be. It has on display 35 centuries of glass artistry, from the Roman and Islamic periods up to modern art glass; has live demonstrations for glassblowing, glass breaking, lamp working; has exhibits showing commercial uses of glass like fiber optics, telescope lens; has thousands of glass artworks by renowned artists.

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Bronze Threshold In Battery Park

We know that the immigrants built this country, suffering years and years of toil and struggle. This bronze sculpture in Battery Park celebrates the diversity of New York City.

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The figures with their dramatic poses include a freed African slave, a worker, a priest and an Eastern European Jew. Indeed this was a threshold before the freedom beckoned guaranteeing our rights and responsibilities.

 

 

The Breakers At Rhode Island

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We visited The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, more than a year ago. We were two of the 300,000 visitors that year, which is roughly the number of visitors every year.

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The Breakers – a Vanderbilt mansion, a national historic landmark, the most luxuriant house in a summer resort, the top Gilded Age gem, considered the social capital of America – was constructed in 1895.

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Since interior photography wasn’t allowed we couldn’t take pictures, but from what we saw and learned: Italian and African marbles, and mosaics and rare woods from several countries were used to design the interior. Interestingly, the gold room in the mansion was constructed in France before disassembling and shipping the parts in airtight cases to Newport, Rhode Island, where it was re-assembled.

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View from the mansion – oasis of green and blue.

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Steel trusses were used to make the structure fireproof.

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Manneken Pis In Brussels

Though not a great picture, my rendezvous with the legend of Manneken Pis – a 61 cm tall bronze statue – happened a decade ago in Brussels, Belgium. Since the visit to Brussels was around Christmas, you could see him in a Santa Claus costume, peeing into fountain’s basin.

Among the several stories about Manneken Pis, my favorite is, When a fire awoke a young boy, he put out the fire with his urine and therefore could stop the king’s castle from burning down.

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Street Life Inequality

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about street is crowd, and how people in the crowd are either active or inactive. Other things that become part of street may lie in the periphery, adding layers and colors.

People in these pictures are impersonators from two different locations: one, from posh-yet-punishing Los Angeles in the US, and the other, buzzing-yet-backward Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic.

Los Angeles punishes strugglers. Legend has it that Brad Pitt was once an impersonator before he became what he became. Here in the picture, an impersonator has become Robert Pattinson, who looked fit and might not be a hungry man. People were paying him for a picture.313056_10150380572860625_4919311_n

Santo Domingo has a lot of hungry people. The impersonator in the picture, who looked stoned, stood in that position for a long time; the street was empty. But he performed ‘Dangerous’ moves later in the evening as people swarmed the El Conde Street. Michael Jackson later told me that he’d moonwalk all day to eat one meal at night. When I offered him Presidente beer he drank it with his meal, following which he asked me if I wanted to smoke weed.1071355_10151822514175625_2008872921_o

 

 

Character Buildings In New York City

In continuing the series on New York City, this is my third post (firstsecond).

This will take you to the clusters of glass, steel and concrete. The tall buildings of NYC. Capturing them on camera was easy.

Brilliant architecture and lovely designs have infused life into these buildings, giving them character.

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Chrysler Building177675_10151289585395625_999917920_o

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Bank of America Tower171927_10151316773960625_1502696759_o

Freedom TowerIMG_3875

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Some magnificent structuresIMG_3728

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From atop the Empire State: the downtown viewIMG_3046

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Bergdorf Goodman 52769_10151316772390625_508349399_o

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The Plaza Hotel665979_10151316765520625_1439334392_o

United Nations132815_10151289586985625_179817469_o

Gorgeous skyscrapers172755_10151289584115625_2029968795_o

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Metlife Building176963_10151289584585625_1355493259_o

Rockefeller Plaza398143_10150620599720625_610141746_n

Washington Square Arch200943_10150229688495625_8185752_o

St. Patrick’s Cathedral402441_10150620598770625_1378830332_n

The Empire State11146_216692215624_2278989_n

New York Stock Exchange35331_453780580624_5642733_n

New York Public Library176164_10151289581685625_942165916_o

Citi Building193096_10151289578500625_1557436214_o\

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The National Museum of the American Indian 461815_10151193686415625_910738829_o

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Downtown Manhattan skyline (view from the apartment)IMG_6004

Midtown Manhattan skyline (view from our previous apartment)35379_453780890624_7495325_n

 

Each contributes in New York City

This is in continuation to my post about New York City. It’s a brief list: I’m sharing what my camera chose to capture.

There are several fountains in the city. Each unique and beautiful. Sit nearby, sip coffee, and watch the flow.622774_10151289577975625_1830168443_o

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There are lane signs galore. This one caught my attention: manages the traffic well.56295_10151316754980625_2082077326_o

It’s the city of pigeons, too. When they’re bored on the ground, they have a vantage point.55405_10151316766690625_132147015_o

Drinking fountain – drink and hydrate yourself.177327_10151316755425625_1871769200_o

Though drivers adhere to the speed limit, there are exceptions and fines.334426_10151289590740625_1888029463_o

No free parking that is615409_10151289592615625_1137667108_o

This is important considering how buildings come up thick and fast.334463_10151289576390625_382414106_o

Where heavy trucks seek rejuvenation56487_10151289594425625_1422531215_o

Free and paid. Upgrade yourself.77777_10151289594605625_1918897414_o

Paid and timed. Or fined.622017_10151289589905625_2022720298_o

There’s no dearth of parking garages; supply meets demand.615953_10151289591200625_1747003207_o

See red, and streets and avenues pause.131693_10151289591630625_1672860108_o

Underpass and tunnel ease traffic congestion.456142_10151289587790625_1316764048_o

Quenching the thirst415752_10151316763690625_887944791_o

This is everywhere, keeping the city healthy.54915_10151289594890625_1903161895_o (1)

When art gets public space and attention

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Plenty of chairs. Can’t be tired for long.134036_10151316754635625_19978666_o

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A bus stop waits for engines and hearts.200935_10151289591855625_1225518007_o

Subway entry. Tranquil stairs now.413297_10151289591430625_532724696_o

Wanna call? Have the coins?337165_10151289580085625_1804629126_o

Go round and round, child.175206_10151289589560625_1230927842_o

Time’s everything.415679_10151316773120625_1116823728_o

 

 

 

Great Stirrup Cay In Bahamas

We had a wonderful time at Great Stirrup Cay, which is a private, 250-acre island in Bahamas owned by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

The cay has crystal clear water and soft white sand beaches. Swim, snorkel, sunbathe; there’s a mini Straw Market for shopping; midday beach-side BBQ for lunch; Hippo water slide: world’s largest inflatable water slide – 40 feet high, 175 feet long.

Lucayan Indians first inhabited the island, followed by Spanish explorers, and the British. Slave traders were active in the 19th century. The cay was used during the American Civil War; then as an American base to fight German submarines active in the Caribbean during World War II. And before NCL bought the island from an oil company, the US Air Force used it as a satellite tracking station.

Swim or snorkel beside a school of tropical fish; or get a photo taken with a waiter-in-water.

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Beach chairs may outdo the blue of the sky.204

A lifeguard’s best rock-seat

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New arrivals

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Approaching the cay

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Coconut palm – the common treeaa

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Soft white sand beaches

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The mini Straw Market

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Calm ocean breeze

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Hammock-ing relaxes

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Hippo Water Slide

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Dusk’s approaching the island224

Reflections

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In Central Park last year, I observed the bride’s costume and the groom’s coziness.

So many cameras, including mine, focused on them. The couple had their cameraman click their pictures. None – it was possible – had time for reflection.

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Later, the couple – in some uncertain corner of their subconscious – were reflecting, perhaps: where they were, when this began, and how this would end.

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But, they possibly refrained from fretting about past or worrying about future. They possibly accepted the reflections of the present.

 

What’s New York City without them

There are things without which this city cannot survive: NYPD, FDNY, yellow cab, street vendors, to name a few. And there are things with which the city continues to thrive: street performers, among others.

A revisit:

New York City Police Department:  There’s a fine line between their alertness and friendliness.174996_10151289560360625_112948555_o

Fire Department of the city of New York: All of us know what their contribution has been (before, on, after 9/11). Don’t (therefore) hate the sound their trucks make.329351_10150392331585625_996432770_o

Blue Boat: I see one of these every day from my apartment. Their reach is far and wide.337459_10150392342150625_1065411757_o

Yellow Cab: Ubiquitous, and the need of the minute.413176_10151289590500625_1986082458_o

School Bus: Safe and sound, and in shape.171941_10151289581240625_125984412_o

United States Postal Service: They do deliver.617041_10151289590285625_68339071_o

Deli: Coffee, croissant, muffin, and more.339788_10151289592250625_252827647_o

Street Food: Devour it.53854_10151289596590625_64169138_o

Laborers: The most ignored are the most hardworking.665054_10151316757600625_1890988838_o

Citi Bikes: Ride them.1043854_10151770789410625_1175918212_n

Horse carriage ride: Harsh?665344_10151316762490625_1720755098_o

Solo ride is light ride622616_10151316764330625_1317395301_o

Scare the brave201156_10151316768525625_2053913873_o

Hug the loving394091_10150620600735625_227385326_n

Street Performers: Talented, and though they do this for money, they won’t ask you for a cent.

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My Statue Of Liberty Moment In Santo Domingo

Was when I met Montesinos.

This 150-foot stone and bronze statue of Fray Antón de Montesinos, donated by the Mexican government, is half the size of Statue of Liberty (305 feet). It faces the Caribbean sea on Santo Domingo Harbor.

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Montesinosa was a Dominican priest who protested the way the Spanish treated the New World native Indians, and in a famous sermon in 1511, he courageously spoke against this ill-treatment.

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His sermon triggered a fierce debate over the natives’ rights and their identity.

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He died around 1545.

 

Casa Loma In Toronto

Casa Loma, in Toronto, was Sir Henry Mill Pellatt’s early 20th century residence.

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Inside Casa Loma, there’s a tunnel – 800 feet long – which was once a secret passage between the castle and horse stables.Image

Legend has it that the tunnel is haunted. People have seen a lady in white, heard spooky voices, felt unseen grabbing hands.Image

Out of the tunnel but still inside of the castle, this spiral staircase will lead you to the highest point in the tower. The staircase is narrow, may become congested, is the only way up and down. Image