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Kevin’s Travel Log: Luang Prabang Thailand

On a peninsula in Northern Laos sits the city of Luang Prabang. Formed by the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, the city is surrounded by  green Mountain ranges, such as the PhouThao and PhouNang Mountains.  Continue reading to learn more, and see Kevin’s photographs of Laos’s top tourist attraction. 

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“Spicy fish soup with Mekong cat-fish next to the river. Lime leaves, galangal, tamarind, lemon grass and or course chilies and fish sauce… Yum!  Luang Prabang celebrating 20 years as a world heritage site as I write this.  Beautiful town with fantastic French architecture. All the Charm of Havana or Yangon but with the buildings well-preserved.”
-Kevin Mcpherson

 

 

 

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The fusion of traditional Lao architecture with that of European Colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries is exemplified quite famously in Luang Prabang structures.   

Typical Lao buildings are made from wood, excluding temples, which are built from stone.  The  pagodas or “Vats” in Luang Prabang are some of the most sophisticated Buddhist temples in South East Asia. They are decorated with engravings, paintings, sculptures, and assorted furniture.  The colonial houses were usually built with brick, and often featured balconies and decorative wooden elements. These buildings still line the main streets and the Mekong river.

 

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Although the Lao people continued building  with wood during the colonial period, they were also influenced by materials brought by the Europeans. New tools and techniques were developed due to this merging such as plaited bamboo panels coated with wattle and daub.

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In addition to being the country’s capital city, the old town centre of Luang Prubang is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s no wonder this beautiful city is the top tourist attraction of Laos. 

 

 

 

Travel Tuesday: The Pink City of Jaipur, India

 

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Our founder Kevin is busy exploring India, finding cool, new stuff for our showroom. He sent us a video today from his latest travels in the  city of Jaipur, which you can watch here:

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Here are some quick facts about this magnificent place.

Jaipur is known as the “Pink City of India”, and is a fitting capital for the charismatic state of Rajasthan. It is the largest city in Rajasthan, as well as the 10th largest city in India, with a population of 6.66 million. The city is named after its founder, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded it in 1727.

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Unlike other Pre-modern day Indian Cities, the streets of Jaipur are quite regulated, and the city is divided by broad streets into six sectors. The urban parts are further divided by a grid network of streets. Jaipur is a very popular tourist destination in India. It is included on the Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit, in addition to Delhi and Agra.

The former royal family continues to live in the city palace at the heart of Jaipur. The royal observatory is also here, part of the world heritage, and In the hills surrounding the city is Jaipur’s star attraction, Amber Fort.  Jaipur is known for its bustling, full of life atmosphere and lively streets. Its culture is colorful, flamboyant and warm. It is also a prime spot for shopping, its markets overflowing with pottery, jewelry, silks and textiles, iron-ware,  carpets, and all kinds of other handmade goods. 

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Travel Tuesday: The Blue City of Morocco

 

a woman with her washing in the blue walled town of Chefchaouen, Morocco

The  city of Chefchaouen is tucked away in the Riff mountains of northern Morocco.It is located about four hours from the city of Fez, and is remote and well hidden.It was founded in 1471, when Jewish and Moorish refugees fled the Spanish Reconquista, and was used as a sort of base while hiding from the invading Portuguese. Chefchaouen once again became a safe haven in the 1930’s when Jews were fleeing Europe. It was during this time that the city was painted entirely in  Blue.  

The color blue, in addition to being beautiful, represents the sky and the Heavens in Judaism. Painting homes blue for spiritual inspiration had been a practice of the first refugees in the 1400’s, but became widespread in the 1930’s. The  families of Muslims,Berbers, and Jews lived here in peace for hundreds of years.  However in 1948, most of the Jewish families left for Israel. The people Chefchaouen today still keep the Jewish tradition alive, and continue to paint their building blue, applying fresh paint seasonally. The local government supplies paint and brushes to the people as well. 

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Another fun fact about the blue paint is that it is rumored to keep away mosquitos. Mosquitos dislike flowing water, and from a distance that is what the city appears to be. Many visitors say that while walking through the narrow, cavelike streets, it can start to feel like you are swimming

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Like many other parts of Morocco, This city is colorful! Not only are there countless variations of blue to gaze at, other colors are celebrated too. Bags of pigment fill the markets, and vibrant, handwoven rugs are a big part of cultural tradition here.

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While most of us won’t be visiting this heavenly city any time soon, we can dream about it, and better yet we can shop about it.  Here are some of the most Chefchaouen and  inspired pieces at Mohr and McPherson.

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Stone Age People: The Tribe of North Sentinel Island

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The Andaman Islands lie in the Bay of Bengal, between India and Thailand. One of these islands is known as North Sentinel, and is inhabited by a tribe made up of an estimated 50-400 people. Very little is known about the Sentinelese people because they have a reputation for killing, attacking, and chasing off any outsider to step foot on their shore. Because of this, the Sentinel are one of the last  groups of people who remain untouched by, and basically unaware of the outside world.

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What is known

The Sentinelese people have been living on their island for an estimated 60,000 years and are thought to be descendants of the first people to migrate from Africa.

The language of the Sentinelese is so different,  even from the language of other Andaman people, that it is likely they have had no outside contact for thousands of years.

They do not know how to make fire. They have been observed to wait for lightening to set fire to a branch or tree, and then keep the embers burning for as long as possible.

There is no proof of any farming or agriculture and the Sentinelese are thought to survive mainly on fishing, hunting and gathering.

They make weapons and tools using metal, which they recover from shipwrecks around the coral reefs. This means they are not entirely “Stone age” in their lifestyle.

They have managed to protect their lifestyle from war, disease, famine,  colonization, and all threats that come with modern civilization. They have also survived countless Tsunamis, including the massive one in 2004.

 

History of attempted contact

1880-An armed British expedition sails to Sentenel Island to conduct Surveys. Their goal was also to take a prisoner, who would be treated well, and given gifts, and then released back to the tribe. This was a practice believed to prove friendliness and willingness to trade. The expedition had a hard time finding any one to take prisoner however, because the people vanished into the jungle at the first sight of the British. Eventually, the men came across an elderly couple and four children. They captured all 6 of these Sentinelese people and took them to Port Blair, on one of the other Andaman Islands. The elderly couple became sick and died quickly, and the British returned the four children to their home with many gifts. The children quickly ran into the jungle. The British focused on other islands after this incident and did not return to Sentinel.

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1967-Indian Government began a series of contact expeditions. These were led by an anthropologist T.N. Pandit who brought police and naval officers. The Sentinelese fled for the jungle many times and the expeditions failed to make any contact.Eventually the anthropologists were able to make brief contact with the tribe, bringing them gifts of coconuts and bananas, which do not grow on the Island. Most photos and knowledge of the Sentinelese were accumulated during this time.

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1975– A National Geographic film crew went to  Sentinel Island and the director was shot in the thigh with an arrow. The Sentinel warrior who shot him was seen laughing.

Early 1990’s-Sentinese started to once again allow boats to come closer to shore and sometimes greeted the boats unarmed. Every time however, the people would eventually begin making violent and rude gestures, and shooting arrows with no arrow heads, seemingly warning the boats away.

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1996– Indian government ended the contact expeditions. This was due to several deaths and hostile encounters with the Jarawa people on some of the other Andaman Islands. The Indian government also feared spreading disease to the Island people. They instituted a 3 mile mandatory distance of the Island. This is one reason that all photos after the 1970’s are from a distance, or from helicopter.

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2006– Two men were fishing and their boat accidentally drifted close to Sentinel Island and the men were killed. A helicopter was sent to retrieve the bodies but was chased away by the Sentinelese, who shot it with arrows.

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Below is  a photo of the Jawar people from another nearby island, accepting gifts of coconuts.
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Wiki Wednesdays

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In this business, we  tend to use a lot of words that many people have never heard of.  Why would you know the vocabulary of Japanese antiques, or pertaining to Carpets hand tied by tribes in the mountains of Morocco? We thought there should be a place for people to learn about some of these things. Therefore, we are pleased to introduce  Wiki Wednesdays.

Wiki Wednesdays will be like our version of Wikipedia. We will use it to define terms that are used commonly in our industry, many of them with foreign decent. Lets start with our title itself.

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Most of us think “Wikipedia” or “Wikileaks” when we hear this word, and this is correct. Wiki was introduced to the masses in 1995 by computer programmer Ward Cunningham. Ward first used the word in naming”WikiWikiWeb”, a collaborative computer software he created.

However, many people are unaware that Wiki, or Wikiwiki  is actually a  Hawaiian word meaning “Quick” or “Fast”.

Cool huh?

Here are some examples of Wiki being used in modern day Hawaiian culture

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Travel Tuesday: Temples of Chiang Mai

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You may have heard that our founder Kevin has relocated to Thailand. Since then, all of us at Mohr & McPherson have been continuously learning about the colorful and ancient culture of this fabulous country. An important aspect of Thai culture is Buddhism. Building “everlasting” temples or “Wats”, was a way for Thai Kings to leave their mark. The long-standing sustainability of these temples is proof of the advanced skills of the builders. There are over 200 temples in Chiang Mai alone,  many of them dating back to the city’s  founding date of 1296 AD. Read on to learn about some of Chiang Mai’s most famous Temples

Wat Chiang Man

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Wat Chiang Man was the first temple ever built in Chiang Mai. It was built in the North East Corner by King Mengrai in 1296. This temple was part of the original construction of the city, and holds two rare Buddha statues. One statue is Marble, and the other is Crystal.

Wat Phra Singh

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This is one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai. It was built in 1345, and is a classic example of Northern Thai architecture. Amongst many revered Buddha statues, Wat Phra Singh houses a learning center for young men and boys who are studying to become monks.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most well known temple in the area. It sits to the north-west of the Chiang Mai, near the very top of Mt. Suthep. This temple was established in 1383 under King Keu Naone, and pone of Chiang Mai’s most sacred temples. The place was “chosen” by a white elephant, who was sent by a monk to wander the mountains with a Buddha relic mounted on its back. When the elephant died, The Wat Suthep temple was built in the place of its death.

To get to the temple, you have to walk up a 306 step staircase, which was built to be meditative to the climber. Or, there is a tram visitors can also take if they do not wish to climb the stairs.

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There is a shrine on the first floor terrace of the temple, honoring Sudeva, the hermit who lived on the mountain, and a statue of the white elephant who carried the Buddha relic.

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Wat Suan Dok

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This temple was built in 1371, and was originally a royal  flower garden owned by King Keuna. The King gave the flower gardens to a very revered monk from Sukkhothai.  There was a Buddhist Relic transported to this temple, and it split into two pieces. One piece was kept here, and the other was the relic strapped onto the white elephant we learned about earlier, leading to the birth of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Also at Wat Suan Dok is a 500 year old bronze Buddha statue, one of the largest in Thailand.

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There are also many white “Chedis”, and many of them hold the ashes of the former Chiang Mai royal family. This temple is also home to a Buddhist University, and is located 1km West of the city.

 

Wat Umong Tunnels

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Wat Umong is built in the foot hills of Suthep Mountain, which are still heavily forested. This temple was built in the late 14th Century, and is named for its many tunnels. “Umong” is the Thai word for tunnel.

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A large mound was built on a flat space, and then criss-crossed with tunnels.  The legendary reason for the maze-like tunnels was to keep the highly regarded but “mad” monk who ruled here, from wandering off.  At some point the temple was abandoned, and not occupied again until 1940. The overgrown, moss laden environment of this temple can partially be attributed to its many years of being uninhabited.

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Songkran: Family, Renewal and Water Fights for the Thai New Year

tumblr_n3zfa0nWpP1sxb3k2o1_1280-2Sawadee Pee Mai! – That’s Thai for Happy New Year! In Thailand, the beginning of the New Year is celebrated in April, the hottest month of the year. The New Years celebration is called “Songkran festival”. The word Songkran means “to pass” or “to move into”. It is derived from the Sanskrit language and in the context of Thai New Year it refers to the passing and moving of the sun, moon, and other planets. The celebration typically lasts for three days, and consists most famously of people partying in the streets and throwing water at each other. Sounds like fun! This year, Songkran was celebrated From April 13 through 15.

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Renewal

The festival taking place in the spring is significant as it represents the renewal of the earth after winter, as well as the beginning of the new year. To go along with this theme, people in Thailand clean their homes from top to bottom for the beginning of Sonkran.

Water

Water is representative of cleansing and purifying the self for the new year. Water is the trademark of the Sonkran celebrations, as it is known as “The Water Festival”. Basically, people walk around with water guns and buckets of water, splashing and soaking everyone around.

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While the water symbolizes a cleansing & rejuvenation for the new year, it is certainly nice to cool off! 

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Buddhists visit temples and water is poured onto images and statues of Buddha, and over the hands of monks to show respect.

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Family and Community 

Many Thai people travel to spend time with family during Songkran. The festivities of Songkran bring together all the different members of the family and society, and unite their relationships with each other, as well as with nature.

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 Even the Elephants get in on the fun!  

Events and Traditions

The first day of the festival is called “Songkran Day”. All over the country there are parades and processions featuring images of Buddha. The water throwing also begins on this day.

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 The Songkran Queen

The second day of Songkran is called “Wan Nao”. This is the celebration of the old Thai New Years Eve. It takes place on the day when the sun travels between Pisces and Aires. Many Buddhists go to their homes this day to build Sand Chedis, which is a sand castle that looks like a Buddhist Temple.

The third day of Songkran is New Years Day. Offerings are left at temples this day, amongst other festivities.

Visiting

Many tourists plan their trips to Thailand around Songkran, as visitors are welcome to join in the festivities. In fact, if you are walking around during this time, it will be difficult to avoid getting soaked.

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In some cities, this centuries-old tradition includes a good smearing on passersby of colored talc as a symbol of good luck.

India’s Sari: Origin, Myth and Beauty

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Far and wide, the sari or saree has been a well-known symbol of the Indian female for 5000 years. In today’s India, there are 6.5 million people involved in the production of handloom saris. Although the structure of saris are mostly the same, Indian woman have much room for personal and creative expression in their dress.The sari exists in countless varieties of draping styles, patterns, colors and weaves.

The Sari is a garment made up of a piece of fabric usually 6-9 yards, wrapped around the waist and draped over one shoulder. The midriff is typically exposed, and often one arm is covered on the side the sari is draped over the shoulder. A petticoat is usually worn beneath the sari. This piece has many different names depending on region. In western India it is called chaniyo, parkar or ghagra, shaya in the east, pavadi or padava in the south, and lahanga or lehenga in the North. A blouse is also worn beneath the sari and is called either a choli or ravika. The choli is basically a crop top, with short sleeves and a low neck. Cholis are sometimes backless or halter style and when they are they tend to be more formal than the every day versions, with a lot of embroidery and embellishments. Many women who are in the armed forces wear a sari uniform, with a short sleeve shirt tucked into the waist.

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Kalpasutra Manuscript-1375

The Sari originated within the Hindu culture. Hindus believe that stitched clothing is impure. Hindus also believe that the belly button is very important and is a source of life and creativity. This is why the Sari does not cover the midriff. Another reason for the bare stomach is the Ancient Indian ideals of beauty. They value, like many other cultures, the juxtaposition of a small waist with larger hips and bust line. The Sari exposes the waist but also adds width to the hips and bust, emphasizing and even exaggerating the female figure. This being said, the sari still maintains a woman’s modesty, as she is covered from head to toe with fabric, and it is only a small portion of her waist exposed. The first known depiction of the Sari is a statue of an Indus Valley priest wearing a sari-like drape and dates back to 100 B.C. Sculptures from the 1st-6th century AD depict dancers and goddesses wearing dhoti wraps. Cave murals from the 5th century show women wearing full body saris. In the early 1500’s, a traveler from Portugal described women as wearing very thin cotton or silk garments that wrapped around their waist and shoulder, exposing the arm and shoulder. There are many Indian myths and legends involving saris. Most come from ancient manuscripts such as the Vedic Scripts, Mahabharata, Silappadhikaram, Kadambari and Natya Shastra. Scholars commonly believe that the earliest texts recording saris are 5000 years old.

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I find the most interesting aspect of saris to be how all women in India wear them, the way all men in America, or most, wear pants. While in some ways this could be thought of as hindering to a woman’s freedom of self, of expression and of movement. However, it could also be looked at from the other side. If you knew you were wearing a sari everyday, think of all the time and energy you would save, not worrying about clothing. The biggest advantage to this in my mind, is not having to think about finding clothes that fit all of the  figure flattering, current, matching with your personal style, affordable. For American woman, the biggest struggle is without a doubt finding clothes that are figure flattering. In our culture, it often seems that clothes were made with the attempt to sabotage your figure. With Saris, that is not a concern because the sari is literally draped around your own, actual body. It is designed to be a covering to the main point in the room-which is you-not your outfit. Weather you are a size 8 or you gain weight over the holidays and are now a size 10 doesn’t matter in the slightest. Your Sari will still look good on you because it exists in celebration of you.

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Actress Kangana Ranaut wearing designer Sabyasachi-2013

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         We have a beautiful selection of Sari Silk in our store currently. Come check it out!

Chinese New Year: Evolution of The Spring Festival and Ancient Traditions

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If you celebrate New Years Eve marked by the calendar used in America, you are probably just now getting back into your regular routine of eating, sleeping and exercise, or perhaps you have just begun a new routine. If you live in China or are Chinese American, you are just getting ready to throw routine away for the duration of the two week celebration for Chinese New Year.

The Chinese calendar is dependent on the lunar calendar. The darkest day of the month is always the first day of the month. New Years festivities also usually begin on the first day of the month, and last until the brightest day, which is the 15th, or the day of the full moon. Chinese New Year is also called The Spring Festival, and is symbolic of the ending of Winter. It is traditional to clean your house and get a haircut before Chinese New Year, so that bad Chi form the previous year does not follow you into the New Year.


Legend
“In ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality.” 2014 is the year of the horse.

Fireworks
In Chinese culture, it is believed that fire can ward against bad luck. Because of this, many New Years traditions involve the color red, which is symbolic of fire. People wear red and decorate by writing poems on red paper. Children are given red envelopes containing “lucky money”. There are large firework displays. These symbolize fire, as well as an ancient custom of lighting Bamboo stalks so that the flames would scare away evil spirits.

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Family Feast

One of the strongest aspects of the Chinese New Year celebrations is spending time with family. Similar to many holidays around the world, families reunite and gather in each other’s homes to eat, drink and be merry. In America, the Family aspect of this tradition evolved, and became whole neighborhoods celebrating together. This is because when the Chinese originally immigrated to America, many people came alone, or without their families. These people turned to their neighbors for a sense of community and formed neighborhood associations to keep traditions alive. In modern day America many Chinese neighborhood associations host New Year festivities.

Most families cook more than enough food for their family parties on the eve of the New Year. The left over food symbolizes the hope for abundance and wealth in the year to come. Another common tradition is Chinese Nian Gao, which is a special cake. After dinner is over, people gather and wait for the New Year, and usually do not sleep that night.

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Lanterns and Dragons
On the fifteenth night of the lunar month, which is the brightest night and the close of the New Year celebration, The Chinese have a lantern festival. Lanterns are hung in temples and people carry them to a nighttime parade. The lanterns are often exquisitely decorated, painted with scenes from histories, legends, zodiac signs, animals and birds. A well-known part of the lantern parade is the dragon dance. Silk paper and bamboo are used to make a dragon, often one hundred feet long. The dragon is held up over the arms and heads of young men who dance as they move the dragon through the parade.

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Culture
It is common for people in China to take weeks off from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year. However the New Years celebrations are shortened in America, and the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend, regardless of the moon. Many Chinese American communities also incorporate elements of typical American culture parades such as Marching bands and floats.

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In Boston

This year, The Chinese New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, Feburary 9, 2014. It will start at 10am  and end at 5pm. The parade takes place on Chinatown Main Street. Here are some other celebrations taking place in the city throughtought the Chinese New Year.

FREE Admission to the Museum of Fine Arts
Feb 8-465 Huntington – special events including a Lion dance, martial arts, Korean bowling and guided tours of the Asian Galleries.

Boston Children’s Museum
February 9 from 11am to 4pm – $14 – cultural and performances celebrating the New Year.

Chinese New Year in Harvard Square
February 23 from 1-3pm. Starts in Winthrop Park with a lion dance followed by the dance,firecrackers, hanging red lantersn and parade through Harvard Square.

The Mystery Surrounding Mamluk Carpets

History
The Mamluk Dynasty came to power in Egypt and Syria in the mid thirteenth century. By the 15th century, they had established a thriving carpet industry in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. These people originally came to the Middle East as slave soldiers from Turkic, Mongol and Circassian tribes in Central Asia. They were bought and trained by Arab rulers, converted to Islam, and turned into Elite palace soldiers. The word Mamluk actually translates to “owned”. Eventually, the Mamluks revolted and seized power for themselves, ruling for two centuries. They were warriors on a fierce level, and typically killed or replaced their own leaders every five years. Surprisingly or not, they were also huge patrons of art.

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Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri

The Mamluk era is often referred to as a “Renaissance of the Islamic Arts”. The rugs are thought to have a “sublime” quality and to be more than just fine carpets but sophisticated works of art symbolizing spiritual themes of unity. The geometric forms themselves are representational of simplicity and singularity, while the whole of the designs, many forms interconnected, are complex.

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This rug is named Simonetti after a former owner. It is one of the most famous Mamluk Carpets that exists, as well as one of the largest of its type. This rug has five medallions instead of the usual two or three. It also has a brighter color palette than most. It dates back to the year 1500, and is believed to have been made in Cairo, probably in a palace.

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This rug has a double field with two medallion-like structures. One is eight-sided; the other eight-pointed. The “eight” theme appears in many Mamluks. 
In 1517, the Mamluk territories were conquered by the Ottomans. Mamluk carpet production continued after but the Mamluk people were commissioned by the Ottoman courts to produce rugs in the “Cairene” style which competed with the Persian rugs of that time. The Mamluk carpet production slowed quickly and eventually stopped altogether. There are only around 100 original Mamluk rugs left in the world. Only one remains in Cairo, and the rest are in museums. The museum pieces are not often displayed because it is feared that too much exposure to light will fade their colors. Today, rug makers all over the world seek to replicate and draw from the Mamluk style, particularly in Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Characteristics
Mamluk carpets are known for their lustrous wool, fine weave, and soft colors dominated by pale greens, yellows and reds. Their designs are distinctive-complex, large medallions made up of intersecting forms. These forms are based on the tradition of Islamic geometric ornament. The borders are made of oblong medallions or “cartouches”. A variation of the Mamluk called Paramamluk, features all over patterns of smaller hexagons, octagons and squares. These are often known as the “chessboard” carpets. The Paramamluk has been attributed to Damascus, which was a large center in the Syrian portion of the Mamluk realm. One instantly noticeable characteristic of the mamluk carpets is that they appear totally mathematical and at the same time, totally mystical, similar to the existence of the rugs themselves.

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Paramamluk or “Chessboard” Carpet, origin unknown, 15th century, Philadelphia Museum of Art Website
 

Visit our Harrison avenue showroom to see these and more amazing examples of the Mamluk design in a range of colors and sizes.

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More mysterious facts about Original Mamluk Carpets

– Prior to the mamluk rugs, there was no pile-rug weaving in Egypt.

– No one knows where the rugs were originally woven. Egypt, Turkey and Spain are offered possibilities. One reason for so many places to be considered is that the rugs seemed to appear out of thin air.

– The wool is unlike the wool used in other Egyptian rugs of that time. However it is not clear that the wool is from somewhere other than Egypt.

– The wool is spun clockwise, and most carpet wools were spun counterclockwise.

– The red dye came from Indian insects known as Iac. Master weavers in Turkey and Iran were using pigment entirely different during this time period.