Bonöre means Beautiful | Panama

March 6, 2018, 6:19 pm

I am working with an indigenous collective of women artisans called Bonöre in Panama.
Bonöre means beautiful in the Ngäbe language.

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My work is to help them refine their designs and improve their craftsmanship; develop wholesale accounts; and, photograph both the women and their working process for use on promotional and commercial goods, i.e. note cards, prints, as well as wallpaper and large-scale works for exhibition.

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Bonöre is a collective of indigenous women from the Ngäbe ethnic group, working in one of the poorest conditions in Panama. They live in the zone of Finca 51 in Changuinola, an area named 100 years ago when a banana company settled there. The company has since left, but the community continues to label itself with the factory’s identity. The women in the village grew up learning to sew, dye fabrics, and make jewelry.

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In 2014 Margaret Ann started Bonöre to celebrate the traditional arts of the Ngäbe culture, and, to work with the women to create a sustainable practice as ethical producers of designs that could sell in both Panama and abroad.

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Ostina Molina is one of the founding members of Bonöre. Her daughter, Damaris, cuts recycled bicycle tires into shapes inspired by feathers and leaves. She then stitches them together and attaches them to a fabric cord. I photograph Damaris work alongside her mother, Ostina, and grandmother, Dorinda, who watch her create the necklaces and earrings that Bonöre sell.
She works in her home, looking out onto a courtyard where papayas, mangos, and over-sized okra grows.
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It is fascinating to work with the women as they design and produce Bonöre items.
These include clutches featuring trenza, the characteristic appliqué stitch work, that is dyed with
natural pigments such as mangrove bark. The straps are made from recycled bicycle inner-tubes.
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Boli, Bolivia Chichi, perches on a mangrove branch clipping off bark to use in a dye. The bark will be boiled with banana sap, which acts as a mordant or fixer. This dye colors the fabric that will be used to create the ‘dientes’, the ‘teeth’ shaped triangles in the appliqué work on Bonöre’s clutches.
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Filing or chipping of teeth to create sharp points used to be commonly practiced amongst the Ngäbe.
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The women who create the applique work featured in Bonore’s products work in a one-room studio. Margaret and I visit the space where they create the applique work to see the result of our recent redesigns of the clutches and in my case, to meet the women and see the other pieces they produce. Vibrant colors and their signature ‘trensa’ pattern surrounded the room.
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They serve us crackers and orange soda and give a presentation on the current efforts — to sustain their business and find new ways to sell their products. Despite the challenges they confront, they are determined to continue making fashion that speaks to the traditions of Ngäbe art.
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“Did you notice Isle de Bastimentos? This is incredible. You were meant to be here.”
I give Margaret a copy of my book, The Rain Parade, which chronicles my experience working with a women’s empowerment group in Ghana. I unknowingly created the cover image while on an artist residency in Oregon in 2008. I had culled through discarded magazine cut outs in the printmaking department’s recycling bin and found a gorgeous map. This became the random backdrop to an image I took in Ghana of a woman carrying a bowl of oatmeal on her head. I loved the way the lines and text interacted with the daily scene. The location held no meaning until now.
“Of all the places to show up on your book! Now you know you’re in the right place.”
        La Loma 8
La Loma is a jungle lodge and chocolate farm located on an island fifteen minutes by boat from Isla Colon, the main island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Margaret and I spoke about my work, photographing for the international arts community in Ghana, Kenya, and Europe. I expressed interest in helping to forward her work with Bonöre, and she immediately asked me to return.
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The scent of fresh roasted chocolate beans fills the humid air. Drips of sweat run down my back. Little geckos scurry through my kitchen, leaving drippy balls of poop behind. I am living in the land of critters.
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My house consists of a floor-level kitchen and dining area with concrete floors, a hammock space with wood floors, and two upstairs bedrooms. There is also an open-air shower and small bathroom, which doubles as a sweat lodge during the afternoon.
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Occasionally I receive a social visit from one of their chickens, dogs, or tiny tiger cat. There are days where I speak to no humans, others where I speak little English, a few words of Spanish, or take an unexpected oath of silence.
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Henry and Margaret started the lodge fifteen years ago. The couple met in college in California twenty-seven years ago. After living in California, Colorado, and Brighton in the UK, they bought a plot of the jungle on an abandoned cacoa farm in Bastimentos and called it La Loma. La Loma means the hill. They were “pursuing a dream to live off the grid and to farm and to experience life in a tropical forest.” Margaret laughs when I ask for her story. “It’s not nearly as ‘interesting’ as some of the other expats.”
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 I wake up to the sound of drumming, practice for a festival in November. At lunch there are fresh eggs that the flock of chickens on the jungle produce. Each day dozens more eggs appear. Henry and Margaret have started selling them in Bocas town to manage the overload. A tropical forest of palm trees and wildlife border the back of my wood home, a garden in front. They grow mint, lemongrass, basil, a Polynesian style spinach, bele, and a thin leaf with a nutty taste called kutuk, from Malaysia. I pick and chew on the kutuk when walking on the stone trail to the main lodge, where guests congregate for family-style meals. The lodge is the nucleus of this tiny jungle village. A friendly cat lives on the open-air platform, bathing in the sun and cuddling with willing participants.
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At night I sleep under a mosquito net in a two-story wooden house that was built by two men with Jamaican roots who have worked for Margaret and Henry since they arrived. Kelly and Chappy have long, lean bodies with muscles sculpted on the surface. They share a similar Jamaican accent. What they lack in dental wealth, they gain in positivity, and hard work. Kelly has deep brown skin and thin-wired glasses; Chappy has a mocha complexion and large kind eyes. Now that La Loma’s edifices are complete — four jungle lodges, a main lodge, a former kindergarten cabin, their two separate homes, and Henry and Margaret’s home — Chappy and Kelly maintain the jungle and chocolate farm.
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Henry and Margaret work closely alongside the the Ngäbe men and women they hire from the local area who cook meals for the lodge guests, run excursions, maintain the cabins, work on the jungle, manage the chocolate making process, and conduct chocolate tours.
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BOCAS DEL TORO | The Independence Day (from Colombia) Parade
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Three Months in Europe | June to September 2017

October 6, 2017, 10:59 pm

For three months I traveled through Europe, landing in Munich early in the morning on the 1st of June. Michael picked me up from the airport and we took the train to a nearby village where he worked with a carpenter to create specially-made boxes for a British artists work. I sat in the sun and slept while Michael and his colleagues worked. Large calendar prints of half-naked women hung on the walls. “We’re guys,” the head carpenter shrugged.

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From Munich I took a train to Paris to meet a friend from Tennessee. I accidentally booked two nights for a male student’s neighboring extra twin bed in his small nine-floor walk-up apartment through Airbnb. I slept their, listening to his snores during the night and sweat beneath the heat of his iron in the morning. Then I booked a room at another place and enjoyed a new view of the Louvre.

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I returned to Munich for a few days and then road a train to Vienna to visit Austrian friends, Riki and Sophie. I stayed in a Riki’s stunning apartment in the center of the city. We swan in the lake, saw an exhibit about feminist artists, and ate meals on her deck.

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Sophie and I drank aperol drinks in the courtyard of her art studio.

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From Vienna, I flew to Düsseldorf to meet an art director named “travel birdy,” hoping to make her living through dynamic travel posts on Instagram.

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From Düsseldorf I flew back to Munich for a week before taking a 14-hour train to Barcelona to meet a friend from New York traveling alone to the city for a week’s vacation. I stayed in her rustic, beautifully designed apartment for two nights. Each morning my friend wore a bohemian wrap and ate a concoction in a little bowl on the wooden deck, looking out on to the back-side courtyard of other apartments. We feasted on good seafood and toured the city, walking uphill to the Miro museum and paddle boarding in the warm Mediterranean.

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Two nights later I moved to my long-time friend’s apartment. Adriana and her now husband, Cami, live in the Gothic district. They are both art professionals, studying in Barcelona to advance their degrees, Cami in photography, Adrianna in arts management. I was Adriana’s plus-one at her graduation, as her family is in her home country, Venezuela, and Cami was at a popular photography festival in Lille. She wore a shiny blue robe. Her professors walked down the aisle wearing tall hats with tassels to the tune of the wedding ceremony. A few weeks later I returned to Barcelona to attend Adriana and Cami’s wedding – a private affair at the Portuguese consulate, since Adriana’s father is originally from Portugal, followed by a lavish lunch at a charming organic restaurant, singing back in the Gothic district, and a potluck gathering at the beach.

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Sandwiched in between Barcelona were trips to Lisbon. I had an expected stay visit with Ana, a Portuguese woman working in a popular tourist café who I photographed in 2015. This was followed by an unexpected visit with cousins, visiting their son who is living the dream, settling in the center of Lisbon.

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I met fellow artists, braved the freezing cold ocean, walked aimlessly through steep city streets, and ate garlicky shrimp with heads. Just before leaving I photographed a chef cooking for her soon to be released cookbook at Madragoa Café.

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From Lisbon I left for Germany via Switzerland, to visit a friend from Jamaica who I met at the beginning of the year in Costa Rica. We also traveled through Panama, a foreshadowing for events to come.

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We rose early and toured what felt like the entire country – Baaden to Geneva for a posh lunch-cruise where I ate 28 swiss franc tofu; to Montreux-ville for a walk along the water; followed by a glass-enclosed train car up the side of a mountain to Gstaadt for a 18 swiss franc aperol spritz; and finally back to Baaden via five transfers on what became an endless, amusing night.

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I stayed with Shirley in the middle of the mountains and picnicked by the lake.

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After three days an express bus brought me back to Munich. I first stayed with glass artist, Mahbuba, a close friend from Afghanistan who cooked meals of spiced vegetables, salads, and spicy stews. Mahbuba wrote a book that chronicles her life, from Afghanistan to Russia, and finally Munich.

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I then took the u-bahn back to the center of Munich, where weaving artist, Susanne, welcomed back to “my room” in her apartment. Beautifiul carpets cover wood floors and expressive work hangs on the wall. Her father was the director of an art museum in Kiel. She creates large woven sculptures that exhibit internationally. She treated me and her niece to a day at the lake where we swan in cool, clear water and napped in the sun. At night we attended a house-warming at her friend’s newly inherited country home. The scent of grilled sausages filled the air. The next day I saw Susanne’s latest work, on exhibition at Haus der Kunst.

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I biked through the English Garden to a beer garden with the feeling of being in the forest, watched surfers brave the choppy waves on the river outside Haus der Kunst, and prepared for an early flight.

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CAFÉ LIFT Restaurant & Cafe, Philadelphia

December 16, 2016, 6:55 pm

Restaurant & Cafe, Philadelphia


Michael Pasquarello hired Julia Blaukopf to create a custom, photo-based wall covering for the accent wall in his restaurant Cafe Lift. The goal was to highlight the surrounding area with special emphasis on The Rail Park
Julia photographed various scenes surrounding Cafe Lift from the elevated railway. Julia and Michael then met to review and select their favorite shots. Michael’s two other restaurants,

Prohibition Taproom and Bufad pizza, are also located on 13th Street, which was the reason the final image depicts this street. Similar to other art works by Julia, she applied layers of layers of photographs to achieve the final collage.  

The material is printed by MDC Studio
Julia’s managing director is Michael Härteis

Photographic Wall coverings for Sale

June 16, 2016, 3:43 pm

Shop Photographic Wallcoverings Online

4′ h x 4′ w : $320
Custom Sizes are available

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Photographic Wall coverings by Julia Blaukopf on exhibition in Old City, Philadelphia

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Julia merges her photographic wall coverings with interior environments with both temporary and permanent pieces. Her work will soon be available to purchase online.

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April 1-30th, Meadowsweet Mercantile showcases her new collection of ready-made, removable prints. View her portfolio of photographic wall coverings, prints, and experimental pieces @JuliaBlaukopf

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pairs the rich tones of their hand-woven Turkish textiles, carpets, towels, bedding,
and wraps with Julia’s photographic wall coverings.

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The material is by Presto Tape. It is a non-adhesive back CanvasTac that is PVC, phthalate, and lead free and made in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.

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47 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia

Removable Photographic Wallcoverings now available

February 9, 2016, 7:31 pm

Apartment Therapy highlights Julia Blaukopf’s photographic wallcovering in House Tour: An Artist’s Haven in West Philadelphia.


Photo by Chloe Berk for Apartment Therapy |

Shannon Retseck of Cuttalossa & Alex Boatman of Makoma Lights commissioned Julia to create a photo-hanging that speaks to nature.

“We are both from a more rural part of Pennsylvania so we try to bring in some natural elements into our city dwelling.”

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Photo by Chloe Berk for Apartment Therapy |

Retseck writes, “Our favorite addition would be the wall art behind the bed. Artist Julia Blaukopf normally uses an adhesive wallpaper for a project like this. Since we are renters, that was not an option. She was able to have her work printed on a material that was durable but lightweight enough to tack to the wall.”

News_Cuttalossa Cat

Email Julia to purchase “Sleeping Beneath Trees”

Matte Vinyl

8’h x 7’w

$550 + shipping & tax

Custom sizes are available.

New Commission for The Print Center

February 9, 2016, 8:17 pm

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The Print Center in Philadelphia commissioned Julia to create a photographic mural as part of their Centennial: The Print Center 100. Hoping to reflect the city from above, she chose a view of center city from the roof of a high-rise, The Philadelphia Building. The adhesive-backed vinyl is appears in a doorway, facing Latimer street.

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Photographic Pillows

February 9, 2016, 7:41 pm

Photographic Pillows available for purchase


Contact Julia to purchase a beautiful photo-based pillow.


16″ x 16″

Machine-washable cover includes a hidden zipper enclosure; the pillow itself is filled with a synthetic material.

Reykjavik, ICELAND

October 2, 2015, 1:29 pm

10 August 2015

--Reykjavik 1

“Show me your little map.”

I am sitting in a bus that takes me from the airport to an apartment owned by a platinum-blonde woman named Helena. The driver looks at my map and guides me to the exact point where I should be. It is one in the morning and I am attempting to navigate the dark streets. The mountain air is fresh, but biting. I lug two heavy suitcases up a slight incline. My phone has just lost power. I follow Helena’s directions – walk up a driveway, look left, go up one flight of stairs, and hopefully find a little apartment. I nervously tap on a thick wooden door.

“Julia, is that you?”

Helena re-configures a small blue love seat into a bed.

“My current guest leaves early tomorrow,” she whispers in a slight accent, “she goes scuba diving. I tried to make a little bed for you. There’s the bathroom and we can go over everything else in the morning.”

I wake to the smell of cedar. The shower water smells like sulfur. Helena tells me she is an independent filmmaker, working on documentary films with her two sisters, both of whom live in Los Angeles.

“I lived there for many years, working in the hotel industry. Now I am back in Reykjavik. My sisters and I just finished a film that must now be translated into English from Icelandic, then we can submit it to festivals in the US.”

I unpack stockings, wool socks, and my green jacket.

“It’s a pity, you just missed some nice weather.”

Bleach-blonde men with worn skin and austere expressions walk along the water wearing Patagonia and khaki pants. The air is cold and I wrap myself in scarves.

--Reykjavik 2

My room has slick wooden floors. In the morning the wind seems to sing. Everything is white, including the walls, sheets, and soft blankets. The design is spare and clean. A black cat with white fur on his neck rests along Helena’s shoulder. Helena has blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, and an insightful, kind manner. She tells me more about her film, which is about a ship that went missing off the coast of Iceland years ago. Photographs of Helena and her sisters hang in her bedroom.

“This is the ‘Oscar of Iceland,” she indicates an award.

Helena’s father loved adventure. He moved the family, three girls, one boy, and her mother, to what was then called Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, when she, the oldest, was ten years old. Their home customarily came with servants. Segregation dictated society. Thus, they stayed just one year before the conflict forced them to return to Iceland. Helena has clear memories of her childhood, including the magical year in Zimbabwe, and of her rambunctious father and highly ambitious, giving mother who worked as a nurse. Her mother maintained the household stability. Helena moved to LA first to study and then work in hotels. Her sisters then followed, one became successful in film editing. She holds her award and motions to a poster that depicts she and her two sisters, looking up at the camera from below.

--Reykjavik 3

A blonde boy whispers to his mother. Spit flies from his lips when he hits the words beginning with shhhhh.


--Blue Lagoon 1

“You are supposed to be here ½ hour early!” A driver in blue barks at me. I am enjoying an early morning cappuccino with a drizzle of chocolate designed like a leaf until I see the bus arrive and leave before I can race over. The neighboring hotel phones the company and the bus turns around. I abashedly walk into the violently cold, rainy street with my bag, packed with bikini and black soap.

A woman at the ticket counter speaks in melodies.

“The water is best experienced in this weather, it’s good to be in the warm bath when it is so cold.” She hands me a grey towel, white robe, and a sample pack of seaweed cream and minerals. Another platinum-blonde girl hops on a chair to announce important instructions to a long line of travelers, hankering to experience on of the twenty-five wonders – a crystal blue mineral pool that has natural healing powers to rejuvenate the skin.

“I am now going to sing you a traditional Icelandic tune,” she quips from atop her fold-out pedestal “No, no, I’m just joking,” she speaks in rapid, robotic sentences, “I am going to share some very useful information before you enter the pools! Be sure to put conditioner in the hair before entering or you’ll have a huge, puffy nest on your head the next two days.” She motions animatedly around her head. You will receive a plastic bracelet like this,” she presents a chunky green watch strap, “ You must wear this the entire time and not lose it or we will have to charge you thousands of dollars for a replacement. No, no, just joking, but do not lose your bracelet.”

--Blue Lagoon 2

I disregard her conditioner instructions and use my faceless watchstrap to buy prosecco, espresso, and a waterproof camera case. The strap is a vehicle for everything – bar snack payment, locker key, and admission to and from baths. Bathers coat their faces in a thick, cool cream and become white creatures, moving between green seaweed forms, battling strong waves, frigid winds, and relentless sleet. The water feels like a warm towel, draped around every part of my body. The rain bangs on my head. The pool is a sea of heads, moving slowly through the bath without bodies.

My hair feels like hay for days, my skin years younger.




Elda moved to Reykjavik over a decade ago. She grew up in Haiti, where she met an Icelandic man. He was working in Haiti, hoping to help in some way. She moved to Reykjavik with him, had a son, and opened a small coffee stand in an open market. Her father, a serious man, worked in the coffee industry. She loves the smell of strong espresso. She started selling sandwiches and eventually the business grew. Café Haiti now occupies a one-story building along the harbor, beside a famous diner that sells kebobs of fresh fish. The small cluster of concrete buildings line a few perpendicular thruways between the city and the sea. The air is bitter and the rain cuts through my bones.

--Cafe Haiti1

In 2013 Elda’s husband died. Her son is now fifteen and she has a new partner in business, Raggi. He embodies the traditional impression of an Icelandic man, burly, blonde, big-boned. He lived in New York for many years where he ran his own business.

“Elda has been waiting for you! She’s getting all dressed up for your photo-shoot!” Raggi jokes, or so I assume. I approach the café in the rain. Elda is busy coloring her lips a dark shade of red. She wears a beautiful black and white striped dress. Her skin is like dark brown silk, covered in blush and foundation. She smells like roasted perfume.

You look beautiful!” I exclaim, “I’m sorry I’m late, but I brought fish.”

“Oh, Okay! Here,” she sets a plate on the counter of her small kitchen and retrieves a set of silverware for me.

“No, no, it’s for all of us.” I motion to the kebob of grilled halibut.

“Oh, okay, let’s eat!”
Elda speaks with a thick accent, tinged with notes of French.

“What languages do you speak?” I ask slowly, as if she were three.

“Um, Creole, French, English, and Icelandic.”

“Icelandic is quite difficult, no?”
“Oh, yes.”

She laughs and rhythmically moves around the café.

“We start with espresso, okay? I always have one espresso in the morning, one in the afternoon, nothing else.”

Her eyes are deep black, her manner deeply genuine. She loves the camera and poses with each activity – making coffee, roasting beans, and heating thick soups of vegetables and sweet potatoes. She shows me the pictures on her phone, most of which depict self-portraits and her son. She pours me a white wine and Raggi returns from his break. Another blonde man wearing a red plaid shirt talks to American tourists.

“This is his fifth drink,” Elda tells me, “he has already had four red wines, now he has beer! People drink very much here.”

The man is steady. He has large, blue eyes. He tells me he is a bartender at a nearby hotel restaurant.

“You have many American customers then?”

“Ja, but it’s okay. I always enjoy.”

Raggi pours Gull beer into a paper cup.

“I think I have a beer now! We are not allowed to while working, it’s against the law, but why not!”

He becomes increasingly animated with each sip, like a wind up toy that can’t stop spinning. The pace of his heavy speech heightens.

Elda shows me articles printed about her café.

“Your son must be the darkest kid in his school.”

“Oh, yes,” she laughs.

A young, Haitian woman works for her. She is quiet and seemingly shy until I ask her to pose with Elda for pictures. They share a charisma, like dancers moving with animated elegance.

Elda makes me a rich vegetable soup.

“Do you like spicy?”

“Oh yes.”

“Okay!” She adds hot peppers and onions that marinate in glass jars.


I nod.

“Really? More? Okay!”

I taste the hot sweet potato base until it’s extremely spicy. “Okay, done!”

Elda toasts soft whole-wheat baguettes until the crust is deep brown. We sit together and blow on hot sweet potato and broccoli.

--Cafe Haiti 7

They invite me for a drink. I return later in the night, after packing quickly. My flight leaves at 7am and I must meet the shuttle bus at 4 am. Raggi offers me the equivalent of $40, 5,000 Kroner, and I take a cab to the café where he waits for me while Elda prepares herself at home.

“Have whatever you like,” he motions to the liquor bottles on a shelf above the bar and pours me a cognac. Elda arrives and leads us through the now dark streets of Reykjavik. We pass a busy Friday night bar scene. Elda and I drink gin and tonics. Music pours pop tunes from the speakers at a tapas bar. We stay until 2am. She hands me another 5,000 kr for a taxi back to Helena’s silent apartment.

“See you in a few months,” she gives me a strong hug, “I hope!”

--Cafe Haiti 2_Website


Snaps Bistro & Bar | Þórsgata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

--Snaps Bistro Tryptich

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--Snaps Bistro Tryptich 2