Tag Archives: photography

A Fantasy Short Story Inspired by Rajasthan, India

Last month, Turtleduck Press released this anthology:

Under Her Protection edited by Siri Paulson

My contribution (besides editing the anthology) was a story about a maidservant and an inventor, set in a fantasy/clockpunk version of Mughal-era India. I spent six weeks in India last year and fell in love with…well, many things, but especially the historical architecture. So writing about it was a no-brainer. And as a bonus, that means I can put up related photos…

The story opens at Amber Fort (also called Amer Fort), a fortified palace in Rajasthan, which looks like this. Click to enlarge any of the photos (all copyright 2013 Siri Paulson).

Amber or Amer Fort

Amber or Amer Fort

Gateway in Amer Fort

Gateway in Amber Fort

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Top 5 Movies About Ireland

Poster for OnceHappy That-Day-When-Everyone-Is-Irish!

(I’m not Irish or otherwise Celtic by blood, as far as I know, but in spirit? Oh yes.)

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a roundup of some of my favourite movies with Irish connections…

5. Far and Away

Okay, this one just starts in Ireland. But hey, cute love story? Young Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (before they were even married, let alone divorced)? Victorian-era drama? I’m in!

4. The Devil’s Own

To be fair, this involves Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland. (Quick geography recap: the actual island of Ireland is divided into two states, the independent country called the Republic of Ireland and the part of the United Kingdom called Northern Ireland. Confused yet? Northern Ireland is where the violence used to happen — thankfully not so much anymore.)

Anyway…The Devil’s Own stars a young Brad Pitt and a young(er) Harrison Ford on opposite sides of a missile-stealing plot. It’s not fabulous — and neither is Pitt’s Irish accent — but it’s fun.

3. Once

I’m a sucker for a sweet love story between two questioning souls and free spirits. Think Before Sunrise and Benny and Joon. Better yet, they’re both singer-songwriters, and so are the actors. Add in some nice acoustic guitar, a haunting melody, some really thick Irish accents, and a pretty cityscape (Dublin) as a backdrop…lovely.

2. The Secret of Roan Inish

Selkies! Need I say more? I guess you’d call it a kids’ movie, but if you’re a lover of selkies, you don’t exactly have a lot of movies to choose from, and you could certainly do worse than this one. Beautifully shot on the west coast of Ireland, and featuring an island much like this one:

A country lane on Inishmore. Copyright Siri Paulson 2004.

A country lane on Inishmore. Copyright Siri Paulson 2004.

1. Waking Ned (Devine)

My all-time favourite Irish movie is a comedy known as Waking Ned Devine in North America and simply Waking Ned on the other side of the pond. An old man in a tiny Irish town wins the lottery and promptly dies of the shock. The rest of the villagers decide that Ned would want them to have the money regardless. Hijinks ensue.

Honourable Mentions

And a couple of movies I very much enjoyed that were filmed, but not set, in Ireland:

Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic movie in which the apocalypse is…dragons. How is this film not more popular? Starring Christian Bale and a very muscular Matthew McConaughey.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride both include scenes shot at the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast. And why wouldn’t you, when they look like this?

Cliffs of Moher

The mighty Cliffs of Moher. Copyright Siri Paulson, 2004.

Your turn! What’s your favourite movie set in, filmed in, or otherwise involving Ireland?

If you liked this post, check out YA books for St. Patrick’s Day.

The Best of Rajasthan, India

One of the most popular tourist destinations in India is the state of Rajasthan. Fortified palaces, arid landscapes, rich curries…all conveniently close to the capital of New Delhi, where most international travellers first arrive. I spent six weeks in India last year, with a good chunk of that in Rajasthan — and I still just scratched the surface of what this state has to offer.

Arch in Udaipur

Arch in Udaipur

Here, then, are the do-not-miss experiences:

1. Trains

Riding the train in India is quite the experience — it is by turns exciting, confusing, stressful, and fun. (For more, see Guide to Train Travel in India.) But if you’re going to do it, Rajasthan is the place to do it in. Most of the major cities are a reasonable six-hour ride apart, with signage and announcements in English as well as Hindi.

If you’re really pressed for time, try riding the Golden Triangle — New Delhi to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) to Jaipur (which will give you a quick glimpse of Rajasthan) and back to Delhi. These are all fairly short rides, with no worries about security on overnight trains, and you’ll get a little taste of the vast Indian train system.

2. Forts

The forts of Rajasthan deserve their own post. For now, I’ll just say that if you love old architecture or are a history buff, these are not to be missed. (For a quick primer on Indian forts, see Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi.)

There are many fine forts (really fortified palaces) to visit, each with unique charm and character. If I had to pick two to recommend, it would be Amber Fort near Jaipur, with its gorgeous surroundings, many courtyards, and beautiful decor…

Amer Fort near Jaipur

…and Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, with its towering walls, intricate detailing, and museum showcasing items from the time of the rajahs (most of the other forts are simply empty):

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Did I mention this was my favourite part of Rajasthan?

More pictures after the jump…

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Me and the Taj Mahal

This week I’m back to travel blogging. I’d like to tell you about one of the most amazing experiences from my three months in Asia — visiting the Taj Mahal.

Of course, I’d seen the Taj Mahal in photos many times over. But seeing it in person, actually being there, took my breath away. It left such a deep impression that the only way I can convey the experience is through a story…

(And my own photos. Click to enlarge.)

You wake to darkness, well before dawn. The rickshaw driver you hired yesterday, a small imp of a man named Shabbu, told you that dawn was the best time to go. So here you are, getting dressed in the dark and stumbling downstairs in the pitch-black guesthouse because the power is out, again. It’s February and cold. You’re wearing all your clothes.

Shabbu drives you through streets empty of traffic, but not of people. Early-rising locals drift through the predawn mists, wrapped in odds and ends of shawls. There is an echoing absence of sound, of the constant honking you’ve grown to expect in your short time in India. It looks like the apocalypse.

Shabbu lets you out near the great walls that surround the gardens. You cannot see the Taj Mahal beyond, only the lineup, other foreigners waiting. The line is long and dawn is coming. You start to worry about missing the moment of greatest beauty.

Finally you reach the head of the line. There is a security patdown — segregated by gender — and then a scanner for your bags. You have your small laptop with you, unwilling to leave it in your room at the guesthouse. They explain you can’t bring it in. Only the camera. There are lockers down the road. You’re turned away.

You panic. Stress turns to tears. But you go, as you must. The lockers are guarded, after a fashion, and you leave the bag because there is nothing else to be done.

Back at the gates, the lineup has dissipated, everyone already inside. You push through, cross the outer courtyard, pass through the immense gatehouse, and catch your first sight of the Taj Mahal.

And nothing else matters.

Taj Mahal 4

It emerges from the dawn mist, pearly pink and ethereal, almost shimmering.

You lose all your words.

You’ve rented an audioguide but you can’t listen, eventually turning it off. All you can do is drift closer, speechless, eyes fixed on the most perfect, beautiful, glorious building you’ve ever seen.

Taj Mahal 3

There are other people around, other buildings in the complex, reflecting pools along the long straight path from the gatehouse, but they don’t matter.

It takes you a long time to reach the Taj Mahal. You keep stopping to gaze, to take pictures. Finally you reach the base of the marble pedestal upon which it sits. You don slippers they give you to protect the marble.

(Indian visitors ascend the pedestal a different way. Slippers aren’t included in their — much cheaper — entrance fee, and they must pay separately if they wish to go up. This is a little alienating, this segregation, though it makes sense that they’re charged so much less. Westerners are unbelievably wealthy in comparison.)

Taj Mahal 6

Up close, the building is even more beautiful. The curve of the arches is perfection itself, but now you can see that each arch is lined with Arabic writing inlaid in the very marble. You can’t imagine the level of skill required. The arches soar higher than you expected, but the building itself is smaller.

Taj Mahal 5

You enter the building.

It’s immediately clear that this is a tomb. The interior is a small octagonal room, full of hushed echoes. At the very centre, protected by a marble screen, sits the cenotaph or “empty tomb” of Mumtaz Mahal, the woman beloved of the emperor Shah Jahan, for whom all this was built.

Beside her cenotaph sits the emperor’s — the only thing that disturbs the precise symmetry of the garden and the building. (In the tradition of the Mughal Empire, their bodies lie in an underground crypt where they will not be seen.)

Outside once more, you circle the building on the marble pedestal.

Taj Mahal 8

It is symmetrical, identical in all four directions, down to the slender minarets on each corner of the pedestal. On the far side you discover the Yamuna River, still hazy with morning mist.

Taj Mahal 7

You linger still, because now you discover something else. The Taj Mahal changes as the light shifts. You circle it watching the shadows in the arches, watching the marble change to golden yellow and then pure white as the sun rises overhead.

Taj Mahal 9

The dawn crowd has dissipated and the tour buses on day trips from Delhi are arriving by the time you finally tear yourself away. You walk away slowly, still half dreaming, glancing repeatedly over your shoulder to catch a few last precious glimpses.

Taj Mahal 1

You will never forget.

If you liked this post, you can find more tales and photos from my travels here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yes, it is Thanksgiving…at least here in Canada, where a harvest festival has to happen earlier than in more southerly places!

To celebrate, the blog is taking today off while I am elsewhere. Eat, drink, and be merry, and come back for a proper post on Wednesday.

Oh, and have a picture:

maple leaf

Copyright Siri Paulson, 2011

 

 

A Short Story Inspired by Thailand

This week I have a new fantasy story up at Turtleduck Press. It’s the third installment in “Still Waters Run Deep”, a serial story about a pedlar trying to solve a magical crisis that’s entwined with his own long-buried past. (The first installment is here.) His world is not our own, but it bears a more-than-passing resemblance to ours…specifically, some of the places I saw on my travels earlier this year.

If I were to illustrate the story so far with photos, here’s what I’d choose…

The floating market at the beginning of the story, and the pedlar’s boat:

Thonburi floating market(Thonburi floating market, Bangkok, Thailand)

The river and vegetation:

Longtail boat in Thonburi greenery(Longtail boat in Thonburi, Thailand)

The narrow streams where the pedlar prefers to trade:

Kerala backwaters(The “backwaters” near Kumarakom, Kerala, southern India)

More vegetation along the main river in the story:

Jungle view from boat(Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia)

The Grand Temple in the city:

Grand Palace(Grand Palace, Bangkok)

And from the latest installment…

 

…leaving extra space in case you want to avoid spoilers…

 

The Old Temple:

Wat Arun(Wat Arun, Bangkok)

The golden statue would be something like this, except sitting upright in the lotus position (I did see statues like that, but most temples prohibit photography, so this is one of the few I was able to snap):

Wat Pho Reclining Buddha(Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok)

With those visuals in mind…hope you enjoy the story!

Your turn! Did the photos add to or detract from your experience of the story? If you’re a writer, do you use photographs as inspiration?

Friday Link: Abandoned Architecture Photography

Happy Friday!

I love good photography (looking at it, not taking it), especially when it conveys a mood or suggests a story. French photographer Aurélien Villette does both. Here is a blog post showcasing some of his work on abandoned buildings.

What amazes me about it is the sheer size and/or former opulence of some of the buildings he’s captured. I mean, how can these buildings be abandoned? Doesn’t anybody notice them? Doesn’t anybody need the real estate? What about preserving their history? Who used to live or work there, and when and why did they leave?

His photos are wonderfully evocative, sometimes wistful, sometimes post-apocalyptic. If you love old buildings, seriously, go have a look.

That’s all for this week. See you back here on Monday!