Tuesday, April 25, 2017


   The attractions of snakes seems to be a huge pull factor, and seemingly the whole world's major ophidiophillaccs (snake lovers) often accompanied by their snakes, alongside keen photographers, descend on the small medieval town of Cocullo, in the Abruzzo Majella Mountains, ready to take part in this festival which has been re-enacted in its current Christian format each year, apart from 2009.

   There are three supposed origins to the Cocullo Snake Festival....In the 11th century, apparently Saint Dominic cleared the local fields which were being overrun by snakes, and as a sign of thanks, since 1392, the locals parade his statue and snakes around the streets.  The second version dates to 700 B.C., locals experienced the same problems in tending to their field and Apollo ordered the village to entwine the snakes around his statue so that they would become tame and be able to farm once more.  The first origin dates back some 2000 years to the Marsi who were the original inhabitants of the area who worshipped the Goddess Angizia.  The goddess's official symbol was a snake and thus offering of snakes were presented to her to fend off attacks from local wolves, bears and malaria.

   The festival officially begins on March 19th, when local snake catchers/charmers around Cocullo begin to catch 4 types of local harmless snakes: (Elaphe quatuorlineata) and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissma) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and its dark green sister snake (Coluber vindfiavus).  Once caught they remove the snakes fangs. (not a good idea when it comes to return them back to the wild).

   Following an early morning Mass in the town's small church, local inhabitants ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothache for the following year.  Local soil is blessed which afterwards is spread over the local fields to act as a form of natural pesticide.  The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is then taken out of the small church and the snakes are draped around and over the statue and the statue is then paraded around the narrow lanes of ancient Cocullo.

   Leading from the front are the brass bands, that ironically seem to be mostly composed of those most snake charmer-esque of instruments, the oboe and clarinets.  Another mass is broadcast over loudspeakers, which,  women traditionally dressed, recite and sing, followed by priests.  They are followed by girls in traditional laced costumes carrying ciambelli,  which are local cakes that have a texture like doughnuts and are decorated with pastel colored, by the hundreds and thousands.  Saint Domenic is carried up from behind, with the snakes and their charmers following closely behind.  The procession winds back down to the church where it all started, and on their arrival home, a huge fireworks display, which sounds more like cannon shots, begins its 10 minute overture.

   If you like something out of the ordinary , visit Cocullo's snake festival; your next door neighbor may be stroking their snake next to you, but it gives you something to talk about as you gasp and think of a reason to decline their generous offer of holding one of their snakes, while jostling to get that ultimate photo.


   Get there early, the procession begins at 12 noon and the parade lasts for an hour and a half (the problem is parking...you can end up, if you arrive late,  parking your car up to a couple miles away and have to hike uphill from the depths of the Sagitarrio Valley to get back to the small town of Cocullo, severely out of breath,  if you are unfit.
   You may hate the huge numbers of porchetta vans and mini market stalls up to the town itself and wonder why the police don't allow people to par there, but due to the huge number of people that attend the Cocullo Snake Festival, food must be had by attendees.  Local restaurants get booked out with celebrating locals, used the porchetta Panini rout.


   The Takayama Festivals in Takayama, Japan, started in the 16th to 17th century.  The origins of the festivals are unknown; however they are believed to have been started during the rule of the Kanamori family.  Correspondence dated 1692, place the origin to 40 years prior to that date.  One of the festivals is held on the 14th and 15th of April and the other on the 9th ad 10th of October.
   The Spring Takayama Festival is centered on the Hie Shrine.  The shrine is also known as the Sanno Shrine, and the spring festival is also known as the Sanno Festival.  The Sanno Festival is held to pray for a good harvest and the Autumn Festival is for giving thanks.

   The Autumn festival is centered on the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine and is referred to as the Hachiman Festival.  It is held after the crops are harvested.  The fall festival is one of the three largest festivals in Japan.  The other two are Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Matsuri.


   The festivals are famous for the large ornate floats, or yatai, which roam around the city at night.  The floats date back to the 17th century, and are decorated with intricate carving of gilded wood, and detailed metal work, rich design, similar in style to art from Kyoto during the Momoyama period, and blended with elements from the early Edo period.  Detailed carving, lacquering and beautiful decorative metal works is found not only on the outside of the floats, but inside as well, under the roof and behind the panels, where the worked is amazingly detailed.  The floats are also gorgeously decorated with embroidered drapery.  The Uatai floats are lined up before dusk, and once the town become veiled in the evening darkness, as many as 100 chochin lanterns are lit on each of the floats.  The unique ornaments of the yatai floats look even better in the darkness of the night.  The floats are moved around the city by people but are wheeled carts and the bearers are not required to endure the load.  The floats are lit by traditional lanterns and escorted on a tour of the city by people in traditional kimono or hakama dress.  Each float reflects the district in Takayama to which it represents. 

   The craftsmanship and the Hotei tai have intricate marionettes, which perform on top.  The puppet show is a registered as a "cultural asset".  The tall festive floats are displayed during the two days of both festivals.  During inclement weather the floats are returned to their storage houses.  The Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan store four of the eleven fall floats; the others are stored in special storehouses throughout the city, when not in use.  During inclement weather, the outer doors to the Yatai Kaikan are open so visitors may view them.  The floats in the Yatai Kaikan are changed several times a year.

   The Yatai Kaikan is located in the northern end of Takayama's old town, a 15-20 minute walk from the station.  The Yatai Kaikan is open from 8:30 am. to 5:00 p.m., from March to November and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from December to February.  The admission fee is 840 yen (approximately $10.10)


   The puppets or marionettes are made of wood, silk, and brocade or embroidered cloth.  They are operated by strings and push rods from with the yatai.  Karakuri (mechanical) puppet plays performed on a stage are superb.  The puppets, like the Yatai, represent the skilled craftsmen of the area.  The puppets or the three marionettes on Hotei Tai (the god of fortune), require nine puppet masters to manipulate the 36 strings which make the marionettes move in a lifelike manner, with gestures, turns, and other movements.  A problem with the puppets are parts needed to repair the puppets.  The springs in the puppets are made of Right whale baleen and cannot be replaced with steel springs or the baleen of other whales.  Other materials used to make the springs cannot duplicate the movements of the springs made from the whale baleen.


   Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, and is commemorated by both countries on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I.  It is now more broadly commemorates all those who died and served in military operations for their countries.  Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.



   Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.  The acronym ANZAC, stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs.  Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand.  This is a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same remembrance day, but making reference to both countries in its name.

Foundations of Anzac Day  

   ON April 30th, 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.  The following year a public holiday was officially declared on April 5th and services to commemorate were organized by the returned servicemen.
   April 25th, was officially named Anzac Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia and New Zealand, a march through London, and a sports day for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt.  The small New Zealand community of Tinui,near Materton in the Wairarapa was apparently the first place in New Zealand to have an Anzac Day service, when the then vicar led an expedition to place a large wooden cross on the Tinui Taipos (high large hill behind the village) in April of 1916 to commemorate the dead.  A service was held on April 25th of that yer.  In 2006 the 90th anniversary of the event was commemorated with a full 21 gun salute fired at the service by soldiers from the Waiouru Army Camp.



   In London, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city.  A London newspaper headline dubbed them "The Knights of Gallipoli".  Marches were held all over Australia in 1916; wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, accompanied by nurses.  Over 2,000 people attended the service in Rotorua.  For the remaining years of the war, Anzac Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and parades of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities.  From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac memorials were held on or about April 25th, mainly organized by returned servicemen and school children in
cooperation with local authorities.  Anzac Day became a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, through the Anzac Day Act, after lobbying by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association's, the RSA.  During the 1920's, it became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the war.



Anzac Day since World War II

   With the coming of the Second World War, Anzac Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians and New Zealanders lost in that war as well and in subsequent years.  The meaning of the day has been further broadened to include those killed in all military operations in which the countries have been involved.
   From the 1960's, but especially in the 70's and 80's, Anzac Day became increasingly controversial in both Australia and New Zealand.  The day was used by anti-Vietnam War protesters to agitate against that war and war in general, and ceremonies were later targeted by feminists, anti-nuclear campaigners, Maori activists and others.



   In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day commemoration features solemn "Dawn Services", a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on April 25th, 1923, and now held at war memorials around both countries, accompanied by thought of those lost at war to the ceremonial sounds of The Last Post on the bugle.  The fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen" (know as the "ode of Remembrance") is often recited.


   Omizutori, or the annual, sacred Water Drawing Festival, is a Japanese Buddhist festival that takes place in the NIgatsu-do of Todai-ji, Nara, Japan.  The festival is the final rite in observance of the two week long Shuni-e ceremony.  This ceremony is to cleanse the people of their sins as well as to usher in spring of the New Year.  Once the Omizutori is completed, the cherry blossoms have started blooming and spring has arrived.


   The rite occurs on the last night of the Shuni-e ceremony, when monks bearing torches come to the Wakasa Well, underneath the Nigatsu-do Hall, which according to legend only springs forth water once a year.  The ceremony has occurred in the Nigatsu-do of the imperial temple at Nara, of the Todai-ji, since it was first founded.  These annual festivals have been dated back to the year of 752.  The earliest known records of the use of an incense seal during the religious rites in Japan were actually used during one Omizutori.


   Eleven priests, whom are called Renhyoshu, are appointed n December of the previous year to participate in the Omizutori festivals.  Much preparation goes into this yearly festival, and the priests are tasked with cleaning the sites for the rituals, making circuit pilgrimages to surrounding shrines and temples, and the preparing of various goods that are to be used in the rituals.  During the time leading up to Omizutori, the priests are forbidden to speak at all or leave their lodgings.  Each priest is very firm in the practice of his duty in specific, strict orders, and preparing himself for the ceremonies to come.


Waiting at the Shrine


   Torches are lit at the start of the Omizutori, during the ittokuka, which is held in the early morning on the first of March.  There is an evening ceremony, called Otaimatsu, where young ascentics brandish large torches that are burning.  While waving the torches in the air, they draw large circles with the fire it emits.  It is believed that is a person viewing the ceremony is showered with the sparks form the fire, that the person will then be protected from evil things.



   Omizutori is the largest ceremony on the night of the twelfth of March.  The next day the rite of drawing of the water is held with an accompaniment of ancient Japanese music.  the monks draw water, which only springs up from the well in front of the temple building on this specific day, and offer it first to the Buddhist deities, Bodhisatta Kannon, and then offer it to the public.  It is believed that the water, being blessed, can cure ailments.  The Omizutori ceremony is the accepting of water from a well.  This well is said to be connected by an underground tunnel to Obama on the Sea of Japan coast.  The water is given a ceremony called "the sending of the water".  The water is actually drawn into two pots, one pot containing water from the previous year, and another that contains the water from all previous ceremonies.  From the pot of water that holds the water of the current year, a very small amount of the water is poured into the pot which holds the mixture of water from all oft he previous ceremonies.  The resulting water mixture is preserved each year, and this process has taken place for over 1,200 years.

The Legend of Omizutori

   Thee are different legends of the origin of Omizutori.  One of these legends suggest that the founder of Shuni-e, Jitchu, invited 13,700 of the gods to the ceremony.  One of the gods, Onyu-myojin was late to the ceremony because he was fishing on the Onyu River.  To make up for the fact that he was late, he then offered scented water from the Onyu River, and the water suddenly sprung up from the spot where the god once stood.



   The story of how Shuni-e came to be continues to portray the original founder of Shui-e, Jitchu, as the central character.  It is told that the priest, Jitchu, made a journey deep into the moutains of Kasagi in 751 where he witnessed celestial beings performing a ceremony that was meant to cleanse and ask for repentance.  Jitchu was so overwhelmed by the ceremony that he decided to bring the rite to the human world.  he was warned that this would be a daunting task, but his desire was so strong that he believed he could overcome the task of transferring the rite between the heavens and the world of man.  He decided that if he could perform the religious ceremony 1,000 times a day at running speed, he could bring the god's ceremony into his world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017



   Queen's Day in Amsterdam is a unique night and day carnival like event on the 30th of April each year and during the night before...so called Queen's Night.  What is special about the Queen's Day?  How about  having elements of a huge party across the whole city, it is combined with the market in the streets in the whole entire city.
   Queen's Day in Amsterdam attracts 700,000 visitors, which makes the city crowded beyond any acceptable norm.  Despite overcrowding, the atmosphere on Queen's Day is traditionally relax and joyful.  The usually mild weather makes the Queen's Day the day to be in Amsterdam. 


The Tradition of Queen's Day

   Queen's Day is celebrated in the whole country of the Netherlands for more than 50 years.  Amsterdam celebrations are the most raucous.  Over the years, the popularity of the event grows bigger and bigger, as crowds of people from all over Europe come to attend.


Free Market (Vrijmarkt)

   The Dutch love to trade, they have it in their blood.  Queen's Day is an occasion to trade all things that are unnecessary at home.  They come to trade with neighbors and visitors in town.  More a social occasion that a real commercial opportunity, the free market is a unique family event with children actively participating also, it's not just an event for adults.  Prices are symbolic and the most important thing isn't the trading but enjoying the day and having fun.

Transportation During Queen's Day

   As a large part of the Amsterdam center is filled with such a large crowd, no transportation is possible in the city itself, you will have to walk to wherever that you want to go.  No cars are allowed on Queen's Day in the Amsterdam center.  All public transportation, including trains are on a special schedule for this day and night.


Queen's Night (Koninginnenacht)

   The celebrating of Queen's Day begins on the evening of the day before, usually at 7 p.m., and goes on until the early hours of Queen's Day.  It is called Queen's Night, when all clubs across the Netherlands organize special festivities.  Especially for the younger adult crowds, this is the night to be in Amsterdam.  Amsterdam is bustling all through the night, as many young adults move across the city hopping from one party to the next, while others prepare for the market, the following day.
   The quarter of Jordan is one of  the most crowded places to be on Queen's Day.  Not only with traders, food concessions and beer stands, but also with large groups of people singing traditional Dutch songs.  These are simple, rhythmic songs, mostly describing the beauty of Amsterdam.  While you might not be able to follow the words, the whole atmosphere is always unique, friendly, and relaxed.

Some Dutch Pastries

   There are rock concerts that usually begin about 11 a.m. and go on until late in the afternoon attracting thousands of people.
   All clubs in Amsterdam organize special parties on this day.  In many parts of the city, you can hear the music blaring out of speakers around many corners of the city.  Many of these turn into improvised parties.  There are boats full of dancing people circulating up and down the canals in Amsterdam.

The Queen of Holland

Accommodations for Queen's Day

   If you plan to visit Amsterdam during the next Queen's Day, make your hotel reservations many months in advance.  There is absolutely no chance to find a good hotel or even a hostel at the last minute, any private apartment or bed and breakfast's are usually taken years in advance.


Tips if you decide to go for Queen's Day

  • As you are going to spend most of your day around big crowds, leave your valuables in your hotel.
  • You're going to be walking alot, so comfortable shoe are an essential.
  • Take a lot of change.  You may want to buy something in the market, plus you may want to buy food or beverages while you are out during the day.
  • All the main grocery stores are open on Queen's Day.  You may get food and drink at a better price than at a booth.
  • While you may drink alcohol in the streets on Queen's Day, it is not allowed to carry more than one drink at a time.
  • Consider leaving your camera at the hotel.  Take part in the event, there are many offering to take pictures, which you can always download later from the web.


Image result for The Feria de Abril de Sevilla 2017

   The Feria de Abril de Sevilla, literally Seville April Fair, is held in the Andalusian capital of Seville, Spain.  the fair generally begins two weeks after the Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week.
   The fair officially begins at midnight on Monday, and runs for six days, ending on the following Sunday.  During past fairs, however, many activities have begun on the Saturday prior to the official opening.  Each day the fiesta begins with the parade of carriages and riders, at midday, carrying Seville's leading citizens which make their way to the bullring, La Real Maestranza, where the bullfighters and breeder meet.

  For the duration of the fair, the fairgrounds and a vast area on the far bank of the Guadalquivir River are totally covered in rows of casetas (individual decorated marquee tents which are temporarily built on the fairground).  Some of these csetas belong to the prominent families of Seville, some to groups of friends, clubs, trade associations, or political parties.  From around nine at night until six or seven the following morning, at first in the streets and later only within each caseta, you will find crowds partying and dancing "Sevillanas", drinking Jerez sherry, or manzanilla wine, and eating tapas.




   The Fair dates back to 1847 when it was originally organized as a livestock fair by two coucillors, Jose' Maria Ybarra and Narciso BonaplataQueen Isabel II agreed to the proposal, and on April 18th,  1847, the first fair was held at the Prado de San Sebastian, on the outskirts of the city.
   It took only one year before an air of festivity began to transform the fair, due mainly to the emergence of the first three casetas, belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Montpensier, the Town Hall , and the Casino of Seville.  During the 1920's, the fair reached its peak and became the spectacle that it is today.



   La Feria of Abril is accompanied by men and women dressed up in their finery, ideally the traditinal "traje corto" (short jacket, tight trousers and boots) for men and the "faralaes" or "trajes de flamenca" (flamenco style dress) for women.  The men traditionally wear hats called "cordobes".


Image result for The Feria Nacional de San Marcos 2017

  The Feria Nacional de San Marcos (San Marcos Fair) is a national fair held in the Mexican state of Agualscalientes every year for three (sometimes four) weeks.  Most of the events related to the fair, however, occur in the city of Aguascalientes, the state capital.  The exact date of the fair varies every uear but is set around April 25th, the Feast Day of San Marcos.

Beauty Queens

   Initially the fair was tied to the vendimia (harvesting of grapes) since wine production used to be an important activity in Aguascalientes.  Nowadays, it is an important tourist attraction that is heavily associated with bullgighting and cock fighting.  It is estimated that seven million people visit the fair every year and as a consequence, hotels are usually filled to capacity, however some locals rent out their houses to visitors and go on vacation during this time.



   The San Marcos National Fair is organized by an independent foundation that oversees the governance of what happens at the fair, but is supported by the state and city governments of Aguascalientes.
   The fair is host to a large range of activities, of which bull and cock fighting are the most popular.  Usually a concert is given by a prominent Mexican singer after a series of cockfights; this event tends to draw more attention than the fights themselves.

San Marcos Plaza Bullring


   Located in the main fair venue are an assortment of sponsored stands and mechanical games, as well as stages where various concerts and theater plays are performed.  the livestock fair and the charreadas still remain an important part of the celebration.  Parties where traditional Mesican music is played (tamboras) are also celebrated on the streets of Aguascalientes.  Finally, a casino is licensed in downtown Aguascalientes just for the occasion.
   Concerts, art exhibits and other cultural events complement the fair in many locations around the state.  The award ceremony of the National Award for Youth Art occurs in Aguascalientes during this time as well.



   The fair was celebrated for the first time around harvest time from November 5th to November 20th, 1828, as a showcase of the state's produce and livestock.  During that time it was in direct competition with the fair of Acapulco, Jalapa and San Juan de los Lagos.


   The celebrations centered in the Parian (a word borrowed from the Filipino language), a market in the city of Aguascalientes, until 1848.  In 1842, the outside balustrade of San Marcos Park was built on a plot of land donated by the Catholic Church.  the balustrade is of neoclassical style and is still preserved to this day.  Once San Marcos Park was completed the date of celebration was changed to April to coincide with the festivities to honor the patron saint, San Marcos.

   Construction of the San Marcos Plaza bullring started in 1896 and was completed in only 48 days.  From that date bullfighting was included in the festivities.  It was not until 1992 that the much larger Monumental Plaza de San Marco was built, with seating capacity of 15,000 people.
   Since 1924, the winner of the beauty pageant has been crowned "Queen of the Fair".  In 2006, after some electoral controversy, three queens were appointed.

    In 1958 the fair was elevated to the rank of "National" by President Adolfo Lopez Mateos.   On April 26th, 2009, the fair was canceled due to an epidemic flu virus that was roaming in Mexico.  This is the first time in 181 years that the fair was canceled.