Sunday, December 29, 2013

Little school on the prairie

I was heading toward Devils Tower in eastern Wyoming when I chanced upon this beauty of a one room school house in the middle of the plains. The little edifice was all prairie geometry and plaster with a flag pole that pierced the forever sky.  At the moment that I set up to take the shot something went kaflooey, that's the technical term, with my go to lens, the inimitable 28-135.  The whirring death throes of its little motor caused unruly flare, foreground blur and a general softness that were downright aesthetic, one of the many happy accidents in a long photographic life.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Buffalo Jerky. Good

When I drive to and from California, and there have been four such occasions in the last thirteen months, I take blue highways through Navajo Nation and avoid a mind numbing stretch of I-40. Navajo country which covers a huge swath of northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona draws me for a host of reasons notably its empty vastness, its soaring skies and the isolation of the Navajo people in their nation within a nation. There I find a kind of peace and the occasional chuckle. 
To take full advantage of these big skies and monster vistas I suggest you click through to the physical blog page rather than limiting yourself to the email notice you receive. On the actual blog you'll get a much better presentation and have the opportunity to see the images full screen. Always a plus.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Postcards from my post

As my California safari wound down last August and I was Jonesing to get back home I crammed three legs of my long look back into a single day.  That’s not what I would recommend but, hey, Oakland, San Leandro and another trip to Fort Ord were left and we do what we have to do.

Fort Ord, you may recall, is where I spent the summer of 1960 in the deprivations of Basic Training in this man’s Army.  It’s also the location at which I took several hundred photographs in April about half of which I erased in a fit of, shall we say, stupidity. So Fort Ord would have to be the last event in my photo triathlon. I am, if nothing else, a highly trained triathlete.
All of the basic training barracks were located on a slight hill looking down on the rest of the base with a glimmer of the Pacific visible behind them.  Frankly, I didn't remember the sea of two story housing units or that they covered the entire hillside. C company of which I was a proud member is really the only one that I recall. Such was the single mindedness of my warriorly efforts. Either that or copious quantities of 3.2 percent beer.
This shot of the sneakers, the empty IPA and the military handout entitled "Starting a new job on the right foot" is darkly ironic.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Technicolor Memories

I was watching the season wrap-up of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show Parts Unknown when Tony, that’s what his friends call him, said something like, “I like to tell stories that interest me and I try not to repeat myself. And I figure that if the tale interests me there’s a good chance it will interest you.” That’s a very liberal paraphrase. In fact, it may bear no resemblance to what he actually said.

With the gist of that premise in mind I realized that I want to tell stories. In Spanish the word is historias. It may seem like a minor revelation but it gave me a long needed, seven years to be exact, understanding of why I do the blog in the first place. It even provides a little direction going forward. The best of my posts tell stories. Or the best ones tell the best stories. Something like that.
After Oakland we moved to San Leandro and in San Leandro we lived in two places. I think.  The first was an apartment that we shared with my mother’s older sister, Fern. My memories are sketchy but I do recall the sweet aroma some kind of pot roast that involved cooking sherry that my mother kept in the cupboard. Might have had a salty taste. Just guessing. I learned to swim in San Leandro when somebody said, “Jump in. You’ll figure it out.” Since I don’t remember any screams or thrashing sounds and haven’t been saddled with a lifelong fear of the water I guess the sink or swim lesson worked.

From the apartment, of which I have a fuzzy two level image, we moved further east to what I recall as a single family house. With advancing age, maybe eight as the fifties loomed, my arsenal of memories grows. Among them is one of the teacher who let me read books of my choosing and at my own pace. That was probably third grade. Because my reading was several grades ahead of my class it made a whole lot of sense and her allowing that freedom is one of my fondest school day images. Good for my self-esteem, too.

In the field behind my house I snuck my first smoke.  My buddy and I had a tree with a knot hole that hid a pack of Fatimas or Spuds quite handily. You’ve got to be seventy to remember those monikers. Who stole the cigarettes remains a mystery but I know it wasn’t me since Mom didn’t smoke.
Within walking distance, we didn’t have a car till I was in my mid-teens, were the barber shop, a café and a movie theater, the Bal.  All resided on East 14th Street near the corner of 148th Avenue in the still surviving commercial hub of our neighborhood. In that barber shop I got my first haircut that ended with hot shaving cream and a straight razor. I cannot tell you how grown up I felt. In the café I first had diner fare like hamburger steak with mashed potatoes, brown gravy, canned peas and sliced white bread. Hot turkey sandwiches, too.

But mostly I remember the Bal which would have screened its first movie when we lived there. I don't recall the theater’s grand opening but it had to have happened about that time. Maybe we watched She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at the Bal. I know we saw it in first release so it almost has to have been the there. Joanne Dru and the Duke in living color against the backdrop of Monument Valley in 1949. 

The Bal’s the most vivid touchstone of my San Leandro days. Maybe that’s because it the old auditorium is living a second life as a music venue lo these 65 years later. That it still stands, as does our old apartment house in Oakland, is somehow touching.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Take some black and whites and call me in the morning

All week I planned a post that would show a typical day for a certain gentleman living la vida loca in Antigua. But after a whole lot of fussing I find that I'm horribly uninspired by the images I was going to use to tell the story. I fear that I have contracted a particularly virulent form of jaundiced eye with a dose of writer’s block for good measure. Here's a little black and white for what ails me. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ticket to Paradise

It came down to Monterrico with its famed black sand beach or Tikal with the largest archeological site in the Americas.  So I had to choose between soaking in the rays and assorted bebidas or unearthing the mysteries of the Maya.  Ever the student I opted for the beach.
The alleged 2-1/2 hour trip to Monterrico was just shy of 3-1/2.  That’s what happens when you live on Guatemalan time.  After a slight climb out of Antigua we descended from about 6,000 feet to sea level and saw the mountains fade in the distance as the countryside became farmland then jungle. The cool Antigua breezes changed to hot, humid and still at the coast.

The web and my Moon guide identified Pez de Oro as the best hotel choice in Monterrico. Situated right on the pencil lead beach Pez de Oro was built palapa style and decorated in a colorful style much like that of Mexico. There was no hot water, a condition shared by all Monterrico hotels, but hey, the surroundings were tropical and the nearly deserted beach called my name.
I figure Monterrico to be around 2,000 people with a main drag of small stores and restaurants leading to the beach. Most of the hotels line the beach while others are slightly inland. The town was quiet during my two day visit. What action there was happened at Johnnie’s Place which served Ceviche Peruano which was simply incredible.  The dish, photo included, was succulent chunks of sweet white fish “cooked” in citrus with onions, sliced chiles, kernel corn, pieces of what seemed to be a squash of some kind, avocado and cilantro. It was so good I had it twice. My Monterrico scorecard shows three ceviches, two filetes de pescado. That means that every non-breakfast was seafood just the way I planned it.

At dark o’clock, that’s 5am amigos, Saturday I took a launch into the mangrove and reed lagoon behind Monterrico with my personal boatman, Eleazar. We slipped beneath a leafy canopy in Apocalypse Now darkness and watched the sun rise over a flotilla of water lilies and sea grasses that are home to 350 species of birds. Egrets darted across the lightening sky as Eleazar poled our flat bottomed lancha through the placid waters. From time to time we stood still in a mood Guatemaltecas would call muy tranquilo.

After yogurt, fruit and granola at Johnnie’s and a brief nap, I decided to take a barefoot run down the beach toward Hawaii. Hawaii was the next village south and I’ve got signs to prove it.  That black sand, arena negra, needed a warning sign.  I limped back to the hotel with blisters the size of quarters.  Running along the water line where the surf cooled the sand was a total blast but the last 50 yards across the embers to the hotel was absolute agony.  My feet haven’t hurt like that since I ran from lawn to lawn to the public pool during the summer in Phoenix.  I don’t think my pain receptors know the difference between rare and well done so I repaired to the local farmacia for anti-biotic cream, gauze and tape. Happily, by Tuesday I could run with little discomfort.

But for the poverty Guatemala could be paradise.  The cost of living is among the lowest in the western hemisphere, the produce is outstanding, the coffee sublime and the temperatures blissfully mild.  A beachfront house in Monterrico lists for under $200,000.  Alas, poverty and crime are realities so there’s a semi-automatic in the hands of a rent-a-cop in every other doorway.  But still.....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Poco de Todo

San Pedro Las Huertas
Because I’m between flights in Dallas and have been stuck in a customs line for an hour I’ll keep this brief.

I’ll be back from the third world soon.  No, check that, I’ll be moving from one third world locale to another.  Like a painter friend once told me when she returned from Colorado, “Going to Taos, New Mexico is like going to Latin America but the flight is shorter.”

Here are some teasers from Guatemala. In depth posts about sands of Monterrico and my new favorite bar in the world will follow.
San Cristobal de Bajo by bike

The black sand beach of Monterrico

Water Lillies in La Laguna de Monterrico

The rising waters of Lago de Atitlan at San Marcos

Las lanchas de Monterrico

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Put this in your Funk and Wagnall's.

Volcan Atitlan from Hotel Jardines del Lago
I must be a tough sell.  Lago de Atitlan proclaims itself to be one of the dozen most beautiful lakes in the world but it didn’t work for me.  Based on the sheer beauty of the place it may be true but add the largest town, Panajachel, and you get a noisy, trinket hawking pit. Pana, as it’s called, is the picture next to the phrase “tourist trap” in your dog eared Funk and Wagnall’s.

Pedro played me like a violin when he sold me a private boat trip to San Marcos and San Pedro.  “It’s only $50 more than the public launch and you’ll get to San Marcos in 30 minutes instead of two hours”, he said. “Then you’ll get to San Pedro so fast you’ll have time to tour a coffee finca or share a bong with some naked twenty year old hippy chick.” I paraphrase.
Approaching San Marcos
What I got was his nine year old mini-me, Andres, who tried to extract my last dollar for $5.00 post cards and $50 weavings worth $12 back in Pana.  When the kid took me to his casa his mother, the lovely Rosa, floated the aforementioned price and when I asked for her lowest price her eyes glazed in disbelief and she turned mute.  And that, friends, was the end of the road for me. Yes, I am a rube and I’ve been hustled out of my shorts.

My eyes bulged and my face flushed when I told the kid to take me back to the boat “ya.” That means already and already is even sooner than now.
Peace and love in San Marcos
San Pedro
San Pedro
Cerveza at the Sunset Cafe
Thankfully the embarrassment of being flummoxed by a nine year old and paying twice as much for half the time was short lived.  And after a perfectly decent Pasta Putanesca and a couple of glasses of good Chilean vino tinto that evening I tore up my non-refundable ticket back to Antigua and arranged to leave Panajachel early by seven hours. The armpit of Atitlan was squarely in my rearview mirror as it deserved to be.

On the plus side I had some serious Atitlan coffee in San Pedro and even better Hue Hue at the redoubtable Crossroads in Pana. Crossroads which is owned by a perfectionist New Yorker and his South African wife, Adele, is a house roasting shrine to great coffee and might have been worth the trip to Atitlan by itself.  A coffee pilgrimage to Guatemala would be killer, and I mean that in a good way.