Sunday, November 23, 2014

The extraordinary James Iso

James Iso
In August I attended the annual pilgrimage to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp near Cody, Wyoming. I have wanted to visit all ten of the infamous camps since my serendipitous encounter with the Topaz camp near Delta, Utah in 2012. Heart Mountain and Tule Lake in northern California have been at the top of the list since they have full flown interpretative centers and some buildings from seventy years ago still stand. Tule Lake had the jail for the hard cases from all the camps so I have to see that one. By hard cases I mean men who refused on principle to sign loyalty oaths to the country that imprisoned them.

I was waffling on the Heart Mountain trip till I learned about the August pilgrimage. That made it a no-brainer. Still I wasn’t sure how appropriate it would be for a non-Japanese to attend an event like this. But when I queried the camp’s executive director, Brian Liesinger, he replied that, “It’s absolutely appropriate.” And so it was.

As I have already expressed, the participants in the pilgrimage were as impressive a group as I have ever seen. That's ever. From the elderly former internees, a waning number to be sure, to their great grandchildren these were energetic, warm, accomplished people to a person. And somehow those qualities underscore how tragic and indefensible the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese-Americans actually was. The ineffable spirit and grace of the former internees was palpable. I am, frankly, in awe of it.

At the opening dinner on Friday I was seated with Ron Akin, a Veterans Affairs Commissioner in Wyoming, a liberal in the Cowboy State no less, along with two former internees from Heart Mountain including one James Iso from Roseville, California. During the evening’s presentation I overheard Ron tell someone that Mr. Iso had served in all three wars. I took that to mean WWll, Korea and Viet Nam and I was more than a little incredulous.

Then during the group visit to the interpretive center Saturday morning I met James Iso. Our brief conversation went something like this.

I said, “I overheard at dinner last night that you served in World War Two, Korea and Viet Nam. Is that even possible?”

He answered, “Yes it is, not always in the military but always in uniform.” His response was tantalizingly cryptic. You can channel your inner Graham Greene with this nugget.

James Iso and Ron Akin. Ron is probably fifty give or take. I couldn't resist the side by side.

Bacon Sakatani, age 84, with James Iso. Bacon had more energy than the forty year olds in the group. He served in Korea.

Mr. Iso went on to say, “You know we shortened the war by two years. Everybody knows about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team,” he said a little wistfully, “but they don't know that 6,000 of us served in Military Intelligence. We translated Japanese communications, broke their codes and planted misleading information. We won the Battle of the Philippine Sea and destroyed most of their carrier based aircraft because we had intercepted their plans for attacks in the Central Pacific." I thought to myself that this was a story begging to be told and dangled the idea of writing it. He did not bite. 

As our conversation wound down I asked him how old he was. He said, “Guess.” I really didn’t want to guess but the math added up to old. 

He said, “I’m ninety.” I'm not buying it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Cyclists, Munich 2006
I’ve just added a sixth portfolio to my website. It’s called Street, that often gritty category where it’s hard to tell a snapshot from something more. Bad craft seems to be part of the street photography package but I’ve tried not to descend into that particular abyss.

For your viewing pleasure I’ve included three images from the new portfolio that I hope will prompt you to log on to the website, link below, click on Portfolios then click on Street to see what it’s all about. Let me know what you think of this pursuit.

Viejo, Madrid 2014

The Smoker, Barcelona 2014

It's by the way. Thanks all.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Iglesia Blanca

Several years ago my friend Bill Davis, the dean of Taos photographers, took me to this gem of a church between Angel Fire and Black Lake, New Mexico. Thanks Bill.

So when Peggy and I were hankering for a short photo safari we headed up US 64 toward the Moreno Valley for some inspiration. The Moreno sits at 9,000 feet and sprawls from Black Lake at its south past Elizabeth Town to the north before the steep climb and descent into Red River. We continued straight east across the valley through Angel Fire as I searched for the road to the church. After a couple of miles a sign saying San Antonio Church directed us into the woods. We turned onto the dirt track and drove through the forest for perhaps a mile then dropped into an alpine valley with the white iglesia nestled in rolling pastureland. Two horses complete the thoroughly western ensemble.

The last time Bill and I knocked on the door of the ranch house behind the church to ask permission because he was pretty sure that it was on private property. While we didn’t ask this time, shortly after we started photographing a car from the house stopped on its way out We exchanged pleasantries with the driver who said she was the mother in law of the house’s owner. She absolutely gushed over the beauty of the location and how she was blessed to live in such a glorious place.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Pure damn luck

But for a last minute turn just past Pojoaque I’d have missed this beauty. We’d attended Peggy's opening in the Miniatures and More show at the Albuquerque Museum of Art on Saturday night, had dinner at Arroyo Vino with Nancy and Hiroshi Murata and spent the night at their magnificent digs just west of Santa Fe. Then Sunday morning we made a mid-morning push back to Taos. While Peggy beelined it back home I took the High Road through Chimayo and Truchas. 

I pulled into the parking lot at historic Santuario de Chimayo in a light drizzle and skulked around the property for some what the heck I’m here shots. None were remotely inspired till, as I was walking back to the car, the clouds burst and the wind gusted out of the east. Yellow leaves flecked the sky and laid a carpet of gold leading to the gingerbread church. Half an hour earlier I’d have missed the show and half an hour later the trees would have been stripped bare. Lends credence to the axiom that you’ve got to be there to get the shot and that being there at precisely the right moment is pure damn luck.

This one needs to be seen full size so click on the link in your email and go to the full flown blog. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Lubina of Malaga

Given as I am to calling the last palate pleaser the “best I have ever had” how many things within a given half year can actually be the best in my long, long life? And that all three of these overhyped phenomena were from Spain within the last seven months is just a little ridiculous. The alleged world beaters by the way are Zumo de Naranja at Casa Antonia in Gaucin, Lomo de Buey at El Churrasco in Cordoba and Lubina at La Cechalote in Malaga. Loosely translated they're OJ, steak and sea bass. Quiz to follow.

In the post two weeks ago I extolled the glories of fresh fish, an entry prompted by my stroll through the fish stalls of the old port in Marseille. And, though I have been mightily distracted by today’s jaunt along the color rich High Road from Santa Fe to Taos, the tale of the Lubina of Malaga must be told.
Early in the evening of my one night in Malaga I walked along the shore as dusk fell over the playa. Hordes of walkers, runners and cyclists lent an urban vitality to the balmy waterfront as I searched for just the right place for fresh from the sea pescado. I saw half a dozen palapas with open fires each adjacent to beckoning restaurants along the beach. The glowing pits told me that fish cooked the old fashioned way was in the forecast. I was not unhappy.

I drug it as long as I could but along about 9:30pm I picked La Cechalote empty or not. Well not exactly empty. There was a couple and their three year old. Seventy three and I have the eating schedule of a toddler.

I told the waiter that I wanted a whole fish, sardines and ceviche and would start with a Cava. He brought an icy tray with the fish of the day. Most had prices of around 15 Euros while two including the Lubina had the letters TP in the price column. I figured that this was something like our term “Market Price” but threw caution to the wind and ordered the bass. I am in the thrall of all things bass. He suggested tapas of the little swimmers and the ceviche.

That was a $40 fish and worth every centavo. It was, after all, the best fish in the world. The sardines from the adjoining stick were a close second. Fresh is best and fresh over a roaring wood fire is an eleven on a scale of 1-10.

After dinner drink priceless.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pretty and Sweet

Back in the sixties my boss Irv Robbins, the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, said of the competition that, “All ice cream is good. It’s all sweet and cold.” Then he went on to tell us why our ice cream was better than the rest.  Fall foliage photography is a lot like ice cream. It’s all pretty and sweet.

Photographing fall color isn’t exactly my bag. It’s easy enough to get a pretty autumn picture but something else entirely to extract one that’s special. Neither of these lovelies make that claim but pretty for its own sake isn’t exactly a sin and I’ve got these postcards to prove it.
Autumn colors in every direction. The Taos Plateau in my rearview mirror.

Gathering storm from El Salto

Sangre de Cristo translates to Blood of Christ. It’s the name Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio gave the mountain range that rises above Taos way back in 1719.

I’d always imagined that a lonely conquistador came up with the moniker when the rugged mountains blushed with alpenglow one evening centuries ago but I hadn’t seen the actual phenomenon till last week. If Tony saw anything like this his appellation was right on the money.

Sangre de Cristo foothills bathed in red from Casa Immel

Red sky at night from Casa Immel

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fresher than fresh


Later I’ll make your mouths water with tales of fresh caught Lubina cooked over an open fire in Malaga and we’ll revisit the best steak in the world in Cordoba.  But first a word about the fresh.

On the next to last morning of my trip I scampered around the Vielle Port of Marseille trying to fill time before my 11am check-out. So with low expectations and one foot on the airplane I was stoked to wind things up with the highly aesthetic and very briny fish market at the foot of the port. The smallish operation of maybe twenty fish mongers showed me just why the seafood I’d eaten in Spain and in France was so sweet, so mild and oh so good for me.

It doesn't get fresher than this.