The Flying Swami: seeking a higher state of consciousness in upstate New York

In the 1950s the ‘Flying Swami’ left India to bring yoga to the West. Half a century on, his ashrams are visited by thousands worldwide every year. Sarah Barrell gets spiritual in upstate New York.

A steaming figure stands in the sauna doorway. He is almost entirely enveloped in a cloud of hot air. I follow him back inside and pull the door shut. As the vapour clears, introductions are made and the conversation ambles from the weather (brutally cold) to yoga classes (hotly anticipated) and the view (blissful wilderness). This is not so much a sauna as an urban decompression chamber. A little over two hours after leaving Manhattan on a bus I find myself exhaling the weight of the metropolis. And I haven’t even got my yoga mat out yet.

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Woman about world: hospitality? We don’t know the meaning of the word

There are a few places in the world where even the most souvenir-shy of travellers would do well to pack an extra suitcase. Excess baggage-guaranteed destinations include New York (look at that exchange rate!), Bangkok (try to resist those markets!), and Morocco (the lure of the medina will be your undoing!). But what of holidays that result in a different kind of excess baggage – I’m talking the emotional kind? After a recent trip to Morocco I found myself weighed down not with hand-painted tajine dishes or pointy slippers but a hefty sense of guilt. You see there is nothing like a holiday to the Near East to leave you feeling like a graceless host.

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New York: city break feature for the Sunday Independent

No sleep till dawn? Maybe. But you’ll still want a decent hotel

Great places to stay in NYC now offer much more than just a bed for the night, reports Sarah Barrell

The current batch of new New York hotels are not so much new as reinvented. The formula seems to be: out with the old (name, staff and décor), in with the new (high-concept branding and hot design team). The most exciting makeover has been the Dream Hotel. Set to bring a sense of fun to the homogenised Midtown hotel scene, the 228-room Dream Hotel will be…

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Rare twitch project. Sarah Barrell joins a parrot-counting programme deep in the rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon

All things considered, the Amazon’s waterways are not the best place to go for a dip. Yet, four hours upriver from the last major town, several of our crew members were plunging over the side of our little wooden motorboat into red clay waters that must, surely, conceal at least one of the species found on our ‘to-be-avoided-at-allcosts’ checklist. As four brave, fully booted souls pushed against the boat’s roughly hewn hull, feet struggling for purchase against the obstructive sandbar, the words ‘piranha’ and ‘caiman’ formed in a collective thought bubble above our heads…

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Omid Djalili: Why my comedy is seriously funny

Link to one of a number of articles I’ve written for The Independent as a sometime reporter at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In the wake of 11 September, the Perrier nominee Omid Djalili’s ambitions now include world peace – and getting his own BBC2 sitcom

Some people may be surprised to see the somewhat starry name of Omid Djalili among the list of nominees for this year’s Perrier prize. After roles in blockbusters such as Gladiator, The Mummy and Spy Game, surely he’s too famous to qualify for the prize. Apparently not. It’s his career as a stand-up that counts, which, until this year, hadn’t really taken off. It’s unfortunate, but it would appear that 11 September may have been the best thing to have happened to this Anglo-Iranian comedian.

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Bomb-itty of Errors, Pleasance Over the Road, Edinburgh

Link to one of a number of articles I’ve written for The Independent as a sometime reporter at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Pounding beats and Bard ‘n the ‘hood

On paper this did not look promising. Of the glut of musical theatre offerings at this year’s Fringe, a hip-hop treatment of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errorswas surely going to be one of the more painful. In fact, the only painful thing about this unexpectedly stonking show from New York/Chicago ensemble, Bomb-itty International, is that pretty soon you’re not going to be able to get a ticket for it.

What began as a student production at a New York university in 1998 quickly became an off-Broadway hit, and British bookings agents with any sense will have this show signed for a West End run sharpish. Disregarding the smart adaptation, this cast of five (four actors playing 16 roles, plus a DJ/beat boxer/composer) are plainly preternaturally gifted performers.

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Lale Mansur: The actress who chooses to believe in miracles

Link to one of a number of articles I’ve written for The Independent as a sometime reporter at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

She’s a committed political activist in Turkey, but Lale Mansur’s current passion is for magical theatre

Lale Mansur is anxious. The Turkish film star is experiencing morning-after-first-night nerves. “We didn’t even have time for a dress rehearsal. Last nightwas the dress rehearsal,” she says, rolling her eyes theatrically. “And our show is so technical: lighting cues, special effects.” She shifts from foot to foot. “Um, shall we go and sit down?”

Formerly Istanbul State Opera and Ballet’s longest-serving prima ballerina and an award-winning actress, Lale Mansur is a Big Star. Not that you’d guess it. Her face is devoid of make-up, her slight frame is clad in leather jacket and jeans, and she’s wearing trainers that are as huge on her slender ankles as they would be on a child’s. She may be an A-list Turkish celebrity, but she’s serious, softly spoken and even a little shy. Such a low-key appearance and quiet countenance are all the more surprising when you consider that Mansur is a woman who may face 15 years in prison for civil disobedience.

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Emo Philips: Back, without the fringe

Link to one of a number of articles I’ve written for The Independent as a sometime reporter at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

After an eight-year absence, Emo Philips, once America’s weirdest comedy export, is back at the festival. What has he been doing?

At first I didn’t recognise him. He looked almost, well, normal. And normal is a word rarely uttered with reference to Emo Philips, by far America’s weirdest comedy export, who shot to fame with distinctive goggle-eyed amazement in the early 1980s with appearances on Late Night With Letterman andFriday and Saturday Night Live. Gone is the signature hair-do – a geeky long back bob with a ruler-drawn fringe – that suggested he’d just stepped out of an institution, rather than a salon. Gone, too, is the gangling frame, variously described as “stick insect” and “ET”, replaced by a comfortable stockiness.

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