Judy Bellah: Blog https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Judy Bellah [email protected] (Judy Bellah) Mon, 01 Apr 2024 06:44:00 GMT Mon, 01 Apr 2024 06:44:00 GMT https://www.bellahphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u103565636-o219140296-50.jpg Judy Bellah: Blog https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog 120 101 Charismatic Cuba: A Birder's Eye View https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2016/2/charismatic-cuba-a-birds-eye-view Just back from a wonderful trip to Cuba. The primary focus was birding, and we covered a lot of ground in 11 days, with stops in Havana, San Diego de los Banos, Zapata peninsula, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, La Belen in Camaguey, and Cayo Coco and nearby islands. I managed to squeeze in as many opportunities as I could for other subjects. Unfortunately, our time in Havana was very limited so I have an excellent reason to return. I applaud President Obama for beginning the process of re-establishing relations with this wonderful country that has suffered far too long from the U.S.'s myopic policies. Ending the trade embargo is long overdue. 

The grand Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Music could be heard from cafes and bars on nearly every street corner of Havana.

Music: one of the best reasons to visit Cuba!

Street scene in the late evening

Wifi remains unavailable to most Cubans. Hotspots near major tourist hotels attract people with their mobile devices like moths to a flame. In Trinidad I discovered a public park with wifi, with families sitting on benches huddled around their laptops.

Internet access remains unavailable to most Cubans. Hotspots near major tourist hotels attract people with their mobile devices like moths to a flame. In Trinidad I found a public park with wifi, with families sitting on benches huddled around their laptops.

One of the entrances to the huge cave where Che set up camp during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One of the entrances to the cave where Che set up camp during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

 Boats in harbor, Playa Larga

With autos out of the financial reach of most Cubans, horse and cart is a common means of transportation.

With autos out of financial reach of most Cubans, horse-drawn carts and buggies are one of the most common means of transportation. ‚Äč

Roadside vegetable and fruit stand in Playa Larga

Roadside vegetable and fruit stand in Playa Larga

Local trash collector in Playa Larga

Trash collector in Playa Larga


With its lively colors and cobbled streets, Trinidad provided a pleasant change of scenery.

Pottery shop in Trinidad


One of our scheduled "people-to-people" exchanges was attending a performance by talented young dancers at Korimakao Community Project.

One of our scheduled "people-to-people" exchanges was attending a performance by talented young dancers at Korimakao Community Project.

One of the highlights was our stay at Hacienda La Belen, a working ranch as well as a good birding location. Accommodations were rustic but well worth the minor inconvenience. One of the employees at Hacienda La Belen.

And now for the main focus of the trip: the birds! Here are a few select images of my favorite species. Special thanks to Alejandro Llanes Sosa, the Cuban ornithologist who served as our national birding guide, and to the local birding guides.


View from the beach near Cayo Coco. My great hope is that the development which will inevitable occur as Cuba prepares to accept more tourists will be limited and will have minimal impact on the birds and other wildlife.

View from the beach near Cayo Coco. My great hope is that the development that will inevitably occur as Cuba prepares to accommodate more tourists will be limited and will have minimal impact on the birds and other wildlife. 

[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Alejandro Llanes Sosa Blue-headed Quail-Dove Caribbean Cuba Cuban Green Woodpecker Cuban emerald Cuban parrot Cuban tody Cuban trogon Fernandina's flicker Havana La Habana Stygian owl Trinidad West Indian woodpecker avian bird watching birding birds culture dance endemic music osprey https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2016/2/charismatic-cuba-a-birds-eye-view Sat, 20 Feb 2016 23:34:25 GMT
Italian Street Painting, Japanese O-Bon Dance, Russian Festival: Welcome to California! https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2015/7/italian-street-painting-japanese-o-bon-dance-russian-festival-welcome-to-california Summer is in full swing, and in Northern California that means an endless number of wonderful options for spending one's free time. Over the past month I've attended the Italian Street Painting Festival in San Rafael; enjoyed an evening of traditional song, dance and food at the annual O-Bon Festival at Sebastopol's Enmanji Buddhist temple; photographed a lively Hispanic wedding; took the high, serpentine road to Fort Ross to experience its annual Russian Festival; and caught a Cuban art film, La Guarida del Topo (The Mole's Den) and met the talented young director, Alfredo Ureta, at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. 

I take great pleasure and pride in how my native state embraces diversity. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area (especially Sonoma County) are enriched by these cultural experiences.

Italian Street Painting -- an ephemeral art

O-Bon Odori at Enmanji temple. O-Bon is similar to Day of the Dead -- it's a time for honoring one's ancestors and celebrating with music, dance and food. Life, like art, is ephemeral.

All the best to the beautiful bride and handsome groom!

The annual Fort Ross Festival features demonstrations of traditional Russian arts and crafts, and historical vignettes, music, storytelling and more. This year St. Peterburg's Horn Orchestra of Russia performed music from 19th century Imperial Russia.

[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Alfredo Ureta California Cuba Fort Ross Italian Street Painting Japan O-Bon Russia Sebastopol Sonoma County art cultural culture diversity fair festival photography tradition traditional https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2015/7/italian-street-painting-japanese-o-bon-dance-russian-festival-welcome-to-california Mon, 27 Jul 2015 04:26:30 GMT
San Francisco's Chinese New Year Parade - Year of the Ram https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2015/3/san-franciscos-chinese-new-year-parade---year-of-the-ram This year the parade was held almost a month later than normal -- March 7th instead of early to mid-February -- making shooting a little easier because of the extra light. Add to that unseasonably warm weather and an enthusiastic crowd, and you have the makings for a great New Year's celebration.

The first two photos are from the street fair in Chinatown. Some elderly Chinese musicians were encouraging spectators to try their hand at playing one of their traditional stringed instruments. The rest are scenes from the evening parade, which begins at Market & 2nd and winds its way through the streets of San Francisco.

(As always, apologies for the watermarks -- just trying to protect my images from the bad guys.)

[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Chinese New Year Parade San Francisco Year of the Ram Year of the Sheep festival parade https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2015/3/san-franciscos-chinese-new-year-parade---year-of-the-ram Sun, 08 Mar 2015 21:46:06 GMT
Beautiful Bones, Altared States: Celebrating Dia de los Muertos https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/11/beautiful-bones-altared-states-celebrating-dia-de-los-muertos Celebrated in many countries around the world, Dia de los Muertos is one of my favorite festivals. It has been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and rightly so. It's a time to honor one's ancestors with food, flowers and remembrances; creating elaborate altars is an important part of the tradition. In some ways it's reminiscent of O-Bon in Japan, which is held in August.

Safari West, the animal preserve in the hills of Santa Rosa, celebrated Halloween and Dia de los Muertos with a fascinating display of the skulls and skeletons of animals that once graced the grounds and have passed. The exhibit was organized by the preserve's Osteology Department. Guest Corky Quirk, founder and director of Northern California Bats, treated visitors to a closeup look at three different species of live bats and gave an evening lecture and slide show. On Saturday afternoon a group of Aztec dancers performed for the crowd (Dia de los Muertos has its roots in an Aztec festival honoring the dead).

There was plenty of time to see the animals, including the baby monkey (a girl) born this past summer.


At first glance I thought these guys were Safari West's chefs but later found out they were guests!

I would have loved to have gone to Oaxaca again this year but the next best thing was attending the annual Dia de los Muertos altar display and parade in San Francisco's Mission District. At least half the spectators came in costume, and the altars in Garfield Park were even more imaginative (and in some cases poignant) than last year's. 

The book on Maria Sabina caught my eye.

These kids peered out at the crowd from a handmade "coffin" on wheels...

[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Aztec Day of the Dead Dia de los Muertos Halloween Safari West San Francisco altar bones celebration culture festival osteology skeleton skull spider tradition https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/11/beautiful-bones-altared-states-celebrating-dia-de-los-muertos Thu, 06 Nov 2014 06:29:28 GMT
(The) Play's The Thing https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/10/-the-plays-the-thing "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."  - Aldous Huxley

... or sense of wonder.

So seemed the prevailing spirit  at the Folsom Renaissance Faire this weekend, Oct. 18 & 19.

As members of the various acting guilds performed skits, and Shakespeare made an appearance at the Queen's Court, young, enthusiastic spectators joined in the fun and were rewarded by Her Majesty for their participation.


(Go Giants!) 


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) California Folsom Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Renaissance Faire Shakespeare acting acting guild child festival performance spirit thespian https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/10/-the-plays-the-thing Sun, 19 Oct 2014 23:44:36 GMT
Beauty by Design: Elements of Japanese Style https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/beauty-by-design Being in Japan is an intensely visual experience, one that draws travelers -- especially artists -- back again and again. Among the primary elements of Japanese design are simplicity, functionalism and minimalism. The color sense of Japanese designers and other artists is unparalleled.

I have a deep appreciation of Japanese aesthetics and design, in particular packaging, textiles, ceramics, calligraphy and architecture. From playful to serious, colorful to monochromatic, below are a few designs that caught my eye during my recent travels. 

Bicycles in front of a sake shop in Takayama, Japan.


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Japan aesthetics art beauty design elegant functionalism minimalism pattern restraint sensibility shibui simplicity style tasteful https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/beauty-by-design Sun, 01 Jun 2014 06:33:17 GMT
Twitter, Feed https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/twitter-feed The West Ninth rookery in Santa Rosa is active again with over 300 nests of egrets, black-crowned night herons and a few other species occupying three sheltering trees. Each spring the birds arrive, build their nests and raise their young, staying till mid-summer.

The majority of the birds are currently at the nestling or fledgling phase, although a few late-starter adults are still building nests. The cacophonous area is netted off and filled with soft straw for any birds unfortunate enough to fall or be pushed out of their nests by their more aggressive siblings; I witnessed one such incident yesterday. Volunteers monitor the site regularly throughout the nesting season and quickly rescue any fallen birds for later release.


Black-crowned night heron being badgered for food by offspring


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) avian bird egret feed flight nature nest nesting rookery twitter young https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/twitter-feed Sat, 24 May 2014 19:52:57 GMT
It's Not All Raw Fish https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/its-not-all-raw-fish Sometimes it's raw squid or raw egg -- we all have a favorite type of sushi or other savory dish.

(Roll cursor over photo for details)

Ready for the broiler...

Sometimes it's raw egg and raw beef, as in this sushi and accompanying roll made of Hida beef from Takayama -- it cost the equivalent of about $8, and people were lined up to try it. 

Hida beef sushi and roll with raw beef, egg and green onions, Takayama

Food is one of the greatest pleasures in Japan, and what newly arrived visitor hasn't been intrigued by -- and dependent upon for ordering -- the plastic food models displayed in front of many restaurants. After reading Alan Booth's Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan, in which he praises the character and authenticity of Gujo-Hachiman in Gifu prefecture, I decided to explore it myself. A scenic town with carp-filled canals and a small hilltop castle, Gujo-Hachiman hosts the Gujo Odori, a summertime dance festival, and is also the birthplace of those ubiquitous plastic food samples.

Note: All photos are copyrighted and may not be circulated or reproduced without prior permission.

Giant-sized simulated rice and vegetable dish complete with raw egg "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger!" Cheese-stuffed hamburger patty with the fixins' -- looks good enough to eat Suspending one's belief in what's real: Delicate noodles over ice to enjoy on a hot summer day. A selection of desserts, with shaved ice and ice cream that defy melting

Plastic food display in front of a Chinese restaurant in Osaka

In Osaka Yuki and I visited a fish market -- a smaller version of Tokyo's Tsukiji -- where the variety and freshness were impressive. Octopus on ice, fish market in Osaka Freshly caught squid on ice, Osaka fish market Packaged dried fish at Osaka fish market

For lunch we went to the basement of one of the major department stores and selected our own personal favorites. Here's Yuki's Osaka-style bento, a colorful mosaic of dainty, easy-to-eat pieces of sushi.

Osaka-style sushi bento

I could spend an entire month in the department store basements without coming up for sunlight  -- they have everything one could ever wish for in terms of food and beverages, all beautifully packaged. 

Depending on where I travel in the world I don't always eat street food, but it's fresh, safe and delicious throughout Japan. Regional and seasonal dishes are special treats. My last destination was the ceramic town of Mashiko, about 2 hours from Tokyo; I happened to schedule my visit during their annual spring pottery fair. Although on the lookout for some small gifts for friends and family, I was constantly sidetracked by the street food vendors' fare.

Grilled, skewered rice balls with a delicious soy-sauce coating Grilled, skewered fish with a sprinkling of salt Japanese-style omelette


The making of tako-yaki -- chopped tako (octopus) and veggies cooked in a light batter on a special griddle   Tako-yaki, cooked and covered in sauce


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Gifu Gujo-Hachiman Japan Mashiko Osaka Takayama cuisine display fish food foodie model octopus plastic rice simulation sushi tako-yaki https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/its-not-all-raw-fish Sun, 11 May 2014 21:41:21 GMT
The Art of Japanese Cuisine https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/the-art-of-food One of the highlights of my recent trip was a ten-course gourmet dinner arranged by my friend Yuki. The restaurant, Okatani, is in Nishinomiya, located between Osaka and Kobe. Mr. Okatani was employed as a chef at Kitcho, considered one of the finest restaurants in the world; it was founded by the late Teiichi Yuki. Mr. Okatani's last position was head of chefs at Kitcho Kobe at the Royal Hotel in Osaka. Mrs. Okatani worked for Kitcho as well. Yuki and her parents have been friends with the Okatanis for many years.

The interior was intimate; we were the only guests that evening. Our party included myself, Yuki, her husband Shige and their daughter Haruko, and their friend Himeda-san, an award-winning package designer at Panasonic.

The finest Japanese cuisine places an emphasis on simplicity, a harmony of textures, colors and flavors, seasonal freshness, and aesthetic presentation. Dishes made of porcelain from Japan's famous ceramic centers, glossy lacquerware from the town of Wajima on the Noto Peninsula, and fine crystal from France were chosen to showcase  the fresh, local ingredients and artful arrangement. 

It was an honor to be their guest, and I continue to savor the memory of the wonderful evening.

Roll your cursor over each photo to display the details. 

Seated at the black granite counter, we were able to watch Chef Okatani prepare each dish. The meal began with a sake toast. The lights were briefly dimmed and the candle, placed inside a holder made of rolled daikon accented with heart-shaped carrot slices, provided the illumination for the opening course. Delicate bites of sweet potato, lotus root and other fresh vegetables. Behind the prawn is a half-moon orange peel cradling a slice of foie gras topped with a berry gelee. Second course: sushi wrapped in leaves and topped with thin slices of ginger Third course: A mild broth with a delicate white fish and wakame (seaweed). Fourth course: slices of fresh sashimi and lightly seared scallops, accented by a carrot and daikon curl. Fifth course: Locally grown, freshly harvested takenoko (bamboo shoot), scored and cooked to perfection Sixth course: Fried fish with a green-leaf dipping sauce Seventh course: Grilled lobster with broiled uni (sea urchin eggs) The design of the ceramic dish, with its graceful willow branches and red and white flowers, is evocative of spring. Eighth course: Inside the beautiful dish were fresh broad beans, two different kinds of root vegetables, and silky tofu "skin" Refresher course: A small plate of pickled cucumber, eggplant and daikon to cleanse the palate Ninth course: Thin slices of raw fish in a sesame-seed paste were placed in a lacquer bowl. Steaming broth poured over the filets gently poached them. A perfect balance of subtle flavors. Tenth course: Spheres of grapefruit and papaya suspended in a clear gelatin with a sprig of mint. Served with a custard-flavored "English sauce".


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Japan Japanese Kaiseki Kitcho Okatani cuisine foodie fresh gourmet local sashimi sushi https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/the-art-of-food Sun, 11 May 2014 06:29:43 GMT
Travels in Japan - April 2014 https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/april-travels-in-japan I had every intention of blogging from the field, but my little Acer notebook wasn't up to the task after I upgraded to a more recent version of Lightroom and began downloading thousands of images. I'm back and over my jetlag, and ready to share!

Please note: These images are copyrighted and not for reproduction, sharing, downloading, screen-capturing or otherwise stealing without my permission! I do welcome comments as well as referrals to my website. Thank you for your cooperation and respect for others' art.

My trip went even better than anticipated, starting with flawless weather. About the only thing I didn't pack was sunblock, having lived in Japan previously without ever needing it. But the sun was high when I arrived in Kanazawa on April 12 amid the peak of the sakura, and by the fourth day -- spent in Takayama -- my face was as red as a lacquered umbrella. 

Couple in traditional wedding attire, Higashi Chaya, KanazawaCouple in traditional wedding attire, Higashi Chaya, Kanazawa Young woman in kimono, KanazawaYoung woman in kimono, Kanazawa Sannenzaka near Kiyomizu-dera, KyotoSannenzaka near Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

I had last experienced the Takayama Spring Festival in 1984 and found it to be considerably more crowded this time but still well worth attending and shooting. The lavishly decorated yatai (floats) are considered national cultural treasures, and the performances of the karakuri (marionettes) are one of the highlights of the festival. The kids are pretty cute, too!

Toddler dressed for Takayama Matsuri

The marionettes on the floats are estimated to be over 300 years old. Takayama Spring FestivalTakayama Spring Festival Takayama Spring FestivalTakayama Spring Festival

Yatai (floats) crossing bridge, TakayamaYatai (floats) crossing bridge, Takayama Marionette on float, Takayama Spring FestivalMarionette on float, Takayama Spring Festival Late afternoon on the last day of the festival: sake bottles at the ready

Shinto priest, Takayama Spring FestivalShinto priest, Takayama Spring Festival Shinto musician, Takayama Spring FestivalShinto musician, Takayama Spring Festival


One of the highlights of the trip was shooting the Furukawa Festival, held a few days later in the picturesque town of Hida-Furukawa, about 15 minutes from Takayama by train. It ended up being in some ways even more enjoyable than the Takayama Festival, with a Kabuki performance atop one of the yatai by two young thespians.

Children's Kabuki play, Hida-FurukawaChildren's Kabuki play, Hida-Furukawa

Here's a description of the evening event from www.hida.jp:

The Furukawa Festival is one of Japan’s Three Great “Naked Festivals."

On the afternoon of the 19th, the beautifully decorated festival floats are hauled into Furukawa. From 9 pm on the 19th continuing until early morning, the Okoshi Daiko, an enormous drum atop a tower, is carried through the streets by hundreds of men clad only in cotton loincloths, despite the cold. [It was cold!]

Two men sit astride either end of the drum, striking it in turn. In close pursuit, 12 neighborhood groups of men follow the Okoshi Daiko. Each group carries a Tsuke Daiko, a 3-meter long staff with a small attached drum. The groups struggle to maintain the closest position to the Okoshi Daiko’s tower, the most prestigious position. As the Okoshi Daiko passes through key crossroads in the town, the neighborhood groups surge forward with their Tsuke Daiko, jostling with each other as well as the guards stationed behind the large drum, in kind of pitched battles. These “naked” men (in loincloths) [I prefer to call them "half-naked" -- stimulates the imagination as to which half....] run through the town, drumming and shoving one another into the morning hours.

It’s a fantastic spectacle, but be sure to pick a safe spot from which to view the festival. The naked men can be known to engage spectators as well as each other in their scuffles." [They also drink a lot of very cold sake and splash it on each other's bare backs!]

My safe spot was from the top of a platform reserved for the press, thanks to my great friend Yuki who helped arrange for me to obtain a press pass from a most kind Nakamura-san, one of the managers of the festival. 

Furukawa FestivalFurukawa Festival

I've never before witnessed such vitality and energy in a crowd!


[email protected] (Judy Bellah) Asia blossoms cherry festival Japan Kabuki sakura spring travel https://www.bellahphotography.com/blog/2014/5/april-travels-in-japan Wed, 07 May 2014 23:17:46 GMT