How old is ancient?

In the United States, there are neighborhoods and individual homes that are designated “historical.” Bellingham, my hometown, sprang up between 1880-1910, so most of the historical homes are late Victorian and Craftsman era. The historical designation is intended to preserve the architecture of the period and presumably prevent beautiful old houses from becoming run-down college rentals with 1960s kitchen makeovers. I’m a lover of architecture, especially homes predating the 1930s, so I understand the allure. My own home was built in 1908. It is not historic, however, and I’m grateful.

Historical homes have to submit rigorous plans to the historical preservation society before making any changes to ensure that the change is in keeping with the original features. This could include anything from paint colors, to fixtures, to the material of an exterior stair banister (wood vs. iron, etc). The historical designation raises the value of the home, and in some ways makes it more desirable, especially to people who care about such things. However, my brother-in-law owned a historical home and was thwarted by his historical neighborhood association when he wished to build a 2nd floor bathroom for his pregnant wife, since the home’s only existing facilities were located in the unfinished, unheated basement. Their plans were not approved.

There’s a pretense about the whole “historic” designation, an assumption that the architecture of the designated historic period trumps in importance everything that has been designed and built after…it also discounts the significance of everything that came before. Before Bellingham boomed at the turn of the century, it was the home for the Lummi Indian tribe. What makes a Craftsman house more worthy of preservation than everything that happened on that city lot prior to 1900?

Moreover, although turn-of-the-19th-century houses are considered old in Washington state, on the east coast they mean nothing at all. My friend recently bought a colonial-era (17th century) cape farmhouse in New Hampshire. And in Europe, structures are even older. Very old buildings are frequently renovated and added onto; walls are knocked out, double-pane windows are added. The ancient evolves to embrace the new.


The Mitla ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico, show some clear evidence of this evolution. The city of Mitla was built between 450-1350CE. In the photo below, you can see the rough mortared stonework typical of the early Classic construction, topped centuries later by a layer of unmortared stonework in intricate geometrical designs. And on top of those pre-Hispanic structures, the Spanish built the Church of San Pedro in the 16th century (though they tore down much of the original structure in the process).

MitlaThe photo below shows the impressive evolution of stonework among the Zapotec people. You can see how much the artisans improved at their craft over the centuries. Look how tight and intricate the stonework is! You can’t even slide a piece of paper between the stones.

No mortar!

No mortar!

Monte Albán

The ruins of Monte Albán, also in Oaxaca, are even more ancient than Mitla, dating from 500BC-750CE, and archeologists believe it may have been the first urban center in the Americas. The structures are all built in the same style, and there is evidence that the site was very deliberately planned according to astronomical markers. Despite the city’s cohesive building plan, it evolved in function and significance over its 1500 year existence, first adding ductwork and dams, then later adding fortifications, suggesting that its role changed from a site of sacred rituals into an urban center. Because nothing stays the same.

MonteAlbanValley of Fire

At about the same time the Olmecs were beginning to carve off the top of a mountain to build Monte Albán in present-day Mexico, an early people in present-day Nevada visited the orange sandstone rocks northeast of Las Vegas (now Valley of Fire State Park) and left thousands of petroglyphs carved on the soft canyon walls. We can only guess at the narrative those people were telling, since historians can only venture educated guesses at the symbols’ meanings.

Can you see the stag?

In light of a story so ancient and enduring, a piddly 100-year-old house seems very temporary.

Thanks to Where’s My Backpack for the travel theme, “ancient.” Here are some other takes on the theme:

  1. Pingback: Ancient – Ailsa’s WTT | Ouch!! My back hurts!!
  2. Pingback: Travel Theme: Ancient | Geophilia Photography
  3. Pingback: Travel theme: Ancient | Through the Eye of Bastet
  4. Pingback: Ancient, Abandoned, and Repurposed | The Retiring Sort
  5. Pingback: Travel Theme: Ancient | Getting the Picture
  6. Pingback: Ancient and Abandoned | Canoe Communications
  7. Pingback: Travel theme: Ancient | Bams’ Blog
  8. Pingback: Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Ancient | That Montreal Girl

Work Around the World

The travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack is work, which is a great theme because most of us spend the majority of our lives doing it. I’ve been privileged to glimpse the private (and sometimes public) work lives of many people in my travels. Sometimes their work is oriented toward the tourist trade (like craft vendors and tour guides); other work is colorful and loud, and meant entirely for the locals (like the street vendor below). I’ve watched people in Nairobi go to desk jobs similar to the one I hold now, and others in rural Kenya work to grind their own flour for an evening meal. The photographs below capture a few people working across cultures, from urban to rural and everywhere in between.

This meat seller fries some cecina (pounded seasoned pork) for a tlayuda.

This meat seller in Cuajimoloyas, Oaxaca, prepares her grill, while pounded meat hangs like a curtain to dry.

This street performer works the crowd in the Zocolo.

This street performer works the crowd in the Zocolo, Oaxaca City.

Making chocolate at Mayordomo in Oaxaca City.

Making chocolate at Mayordomo in Oaxaca City.

The photos that follow were taken in Kenya in 2004. They are scanned from 35 mm prints, and I so greatly wish I could go back and take these photos digitally!

My friend Judy processes her maize harvest and separates the chaff.

My friend Judy processes her maize harvest and separates the chaff.

A girl grinds sorghum on a large stone mortar.

A girl grinds sorghum on a large stone mortar.

This woman embodies the African woman, carrying the load of the world on her head and back.

This woman embodies the African woman, carrying the load of the world on her head and back.

Judy prepares supper in her earthen kitchen.

Judy prepares supper in her earthen kitchen using sticks of wood for fuel.

Students study diligently on a Saturday afternoon.

Students study diligently at St. Michael’s Secondary School (Nyandema, Kenya) on a Sunday afternoon.

This last photo was taken at the Richmond Night Market in Vancouver, Canada. This guy was grilling haddock, and he looked like he really enjoyed his job.

Here are a few other interpretations of the theme:

  1. Pingback: Endless Skys
  2. Pingback: TRAVEL THEME: Work – fathersunny
  3. Pingback:
  4. Pingback: (Loosely ^_^) Travel Theme: Work | Locating Frankenstein’s Brain
  5. Pingback: Confessions of a Business Traveler | Peaks and Passports
  6. Pingback: Travel Theme: Work | That Montreal Girl
  7. Pingback: 2-22-14 Travel Theme: Work | The Quotidian Hudson


the Two Golden Faces of Las Vegas

The theme is yellow over at Where’s My Backpack, which gives me an excuse to finally post some photos of our recent trip to Las Vegas.

Bellingham winters are dreary, and we were determined to spend a few days of Josh’s winter break under the yellow sun. So we headed to Las Vegas, which averages 292 sunny days per year. Instead of heading to The Strip, we booked an airbnb rental in the western suburbs just 15 minutes away from the Red Rock Conservation Area, where we planned to spend a few days scrambling on the sandstone.

1. All That Glitters

We joked that we might be the only people to travel to Las Vegas and never set foot in a casino. But since we knew we were headed to Las Vegas, I asked Joshua for tickets to Cirque du Soleil for my Christmas gift, which meant venturing onto The Strip. Parking is free at all the major casinos in Las Vegas, but you have to walk through the casino to get outside to the Boulevard. So, we ended up setting foot in a casino after all. We arrived on The Strip just early enough to cruise Las Vegas Boulevard for a few hours before the show and snap some photos of the glittery and the grotesque.


Paris, Las Vegas

This golden stone obelisk is in the Bellagio.

The sexiest cabaret fountain dance I’ve ever seen.


2. Yellow Sandstone

We spent the rest of our three days in Nevada hiking in the Red Rock Conservation Area and Valley of Fire State Park. The dominant rock color was of course red, but in one region of the Valley of Fire (aptly named Rainbow Vista), yellow sandstone was layered with the pink. I’m searching for the words to describe the stunning effect, but this is a photo challenge after all. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

Yellow Arch

Yellow Arch


Yellow dome

Rainbow Vista

Yellow painted hills

 Here are some other interpretations of the theme “yellow”:

2-11-14 Weekly Travel Theme: Yellow (Iteration Department) | The Quotidian Hudson

Furry and Prehistoric | Another Paradise

Travel Theme: Yellow | Chronicles of Illusion

I Ain’t Yellow….Well Maybe a Little. | Lillie-Put

 Travel Theme: Yellow | Here & Abroad

Travel theme: Yellow | A Number of Things


Travel theme: Yellow | Two Black Dogs