Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cuba's Gift

Victor "Cuba" Hernandez
I first introduced you to Victor Hernandez also known as Cuba in my January 29, 2011 post. Then last Friday I encountered him again at his campsite on the flank of a sheep strewn hillock across from San Antonio Mountain.  The second time was every bit as special.

Peggy and I and our son Garrett and his wife Michelle were exploring along US 285 north of Tres Piedras hoping for a decent photograph to declare itself. My expectations were along the lines of getting one keeper of a landscape for a show that Peggy and I have scheduled for May. Anything more would be gravy. 

Prophetically, just as our conversation had turned to my 2011 adventure with Cuba I turned east to the Taos Plateau. After half a mile we passed between two shallow hills with rocky spines and I spied a corrugated trailer with hundreds of grazing borregos just beyond. “It’s Cuba,” I shouted with total delight. I couldn’t have shown the timelessness of northern New Mexico any better. It was an absolute gift.

As we got close to the trailer a slightly hunched figure came out to greet us. My passengers were just a little apprehensive since Cuba was packing heat. I rolled down the window greet him while summoning my slightly improved Spanish to remind him that I had visited several years before, that I had photographed him with his dogs Daddy and Puppy and had mailed photographs of him and his perros to his patron, Alfonso Abeyta. His eyes lit up as he described the photographs as “grande.” They were, in point of fact, not so grande 8”x10"s but no matter.

Cuba and Daddy
I got out of the car for a proper handshake when he immediately showed me the weapon he was toting while describing its provenance in rich Spanish only detail. He told me that his meticulously maintained Mauser España bolt action had once been used by Pancho Villa. The rifle was dated 1890 and if Victor says the Villistas used it they used it.

He proudly declared that he was seventy years old and said he would be camped with his sheep till February and then would herd them to the Abeyta spread just over the Colorado border. It was minus 15 in his neck of the woods last night. You get the picture.

The portrait up top was worth the price of admission.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Less is Less

In keeping with last week’s homage to the old and short, here’s the image that launched about a million photographs since October 2, 2003. This is the one that yanked me by the drawers into the digital age. I have to blame something.

Butternut Squash, Fryeburg, Maine

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dusty Reaches

It’s been a long while since I’ve plundered the archives for a blog image.  For the last year there’s been enough new material from my wanderings that deep research hasn't been needed. Occasionally, though, no fresh subject is clawing at the walls to get out. And sometimes, as is the case today, pressing matters namely moving Peggy into her new studio dictate brevity.

So here are a couple of still lifes from the dusty reaches of what's left of my memory. 

Sunflowers near Fort Garland, Colorado, 2010

Silvery leaves from the Huntington Museum in Pasadena, California , 2007

A dozen years ago when I returned to photography, a choice prompted by the digital revolution, my first meaningful portfolio was of still lifes which populated a category I referred to as Studies and Abstractions. It's a pleasure to revisit that very focussed kind of work today.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Simple Tastes

At the end of September I returned to Gaucin, the Andalusian pueblo blanco where Peggy and I spent 2-1/2 weeks back in April. Part of the impetus was to re-shoot lost images from our spring trip and another was to dine again at La Granada Divino, the wonderful restaurant led by Chef Neil Brown. Love the place. Neil’s farm and dock to table cuisine is simple and fresh with every flavor a perfect note. His unfussy food reminds me of Fred Muller's at El Meze here in Taos and Chris Schlesinger's at the venerable East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I learned more about cooking from Chris than anybody I worked with during my forty years in the restaurant business.

La Granada Divino

My Aussie mates on the rooftop terrace which boasts a view to Gibraltar and Morocco during daylight hours

The simplest of salads with Arugula, Figs and Manchego

Seabream fresh from the dock in Estepona yesterday

More figs of which I cannot get enough. This special order comped by Chef  Neil. That's a copa of cava top right

La Granada Divino was even better than I remembered but I detected an air of melancholy in Neil’s manner. We had become friends in the spring so while sipping a glass of wine at the end of the first evening’s dinner I asked him how he was doing and got a shrug of the shoulders, “It’s been okay. At least we’ve been busy.” 

Chef Neil Brown with the world's simplest kitchen in the background

He went on to ask, “You know what happened don’t you?” I replied, “No. What you do you mean?”

“We just did Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay.”

I expressed total surprise. “Your kitchen’s not a nightmare by any stretch of the imagination, Neil. That's a great little kitchen. How the hell did that happen?”

He said, “It was the owners’ idea. They thought the coverage would be good for business.” 

“Not so good for your self-esteem.” I thought to myself.

I told Neil, “I thought you owned the place.”

“No. I’m a working stiff. I’m just the chef and manager of the restaurant. I have a wife and two kids. I need to work.”

“How was it? Was he the asshole he seems to be on TV?” I asked.

“He was okay. I think he knew not to screw (not precisely the word he used) with me too much. But it was a real drill. First I spent four weeks with one of his producers in the kitchen and then a week with Gordon and a cast of thousands taping the show. Not a lot of fun. Then I wound up with his menu actually until this week. The show airs October 6 but I refuse to watch the thing. It’s the UK version of the show but you might be able to find it in the US.”

I tried to view the La Granada Divino episode without success. If any of you figure it out please let me know.

PS. Chris Schlesinger sold his extraordinary East Coast Grill in the spring of 2013 after twenty five years. It continues it's run under the able stewardship of Jason Heard. SI

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Spanish Lessons

On the way to Cordoba

My solo trip in Spain was chock full of discoveries, lots about how to travel, some of why to travel and some about managing anxiety in situations when you’re alone and afraid. Take a deep breath and slow the hell down.

Traveling light is a big part of making travel work, I’m not John Farnsworth who travels for months with a man purse, but I have made inroads in the make it easy on yourself part of wandering. It’s just two bags now, a carry-on backpack and one decidedly smaller checked bag than before. I’m down to two lenses for my DSLR with two pocket cameras as back-ups. That said I missed a tripod on a couple of occasions, flash too.

My kit at Estacio Sants, Barcelona

I suppose the full tilt boogie is still two DSLR bodies, plus an additional longer lens, the tripod and a flash. Then again, the other paradigm would be a big sensor compact camera with an even smaller one as a back-up plus a small tripod and flash. Oh, and the computer, that’s a whole other thing. It can be smaller but isn’t expendable just yet. Two portable hard drives, one for back-up, are de rigueur. Never again will I lose a month of photographs.

With my new Sony RX100 II I may be on to something. That compact little unit has 20MP resolution and decent sensor size. All the Marseille fish market shots were shot at an ISO of 400 with the RX100 and my first largish print of 12”x18” showed no degradation whatsoever. Someday soon somebody will introduce a camera I can stick in the front pocket of my Levis, one that has a full size sensor and let’s say a 24mm to 120mm zoom at a continuous f.2.8 or faster. There’s a Nobel Prize awaiting that somebody I reckon.

When I can carry on the whole shebang I'll have reached some kind of nirvana. 

High Speed AVE trains before lift-off. That's Malaga I think.

My second class cabin on the way to Seville.

I learned that public transportation in Spain is the way to go.  Renfe trains are spacious and modern; and go wicked fast between the major hubs like Barcelona and Madrid. They’re twice as fast a car and you can relax the whole trip. And the added bonus is that Second Class is virtually as nice as First Class. There’s absolutely no reason not to go coach. And the next time you’re going to flag a cab from the airport to El Centro think again and catch the handy dandy downtown bus. From Marseille airport I took the commodious non-stop bus to the train station downtown for 8.20 Euros. A taxi was 50 Euros. And, speaking of trains, Madrid’s Atocha station was a short two blocks from my two star hotel the Mediodia. That means no taxi or bus and no tips either.

My Hotel Mediodia from Atocha Station, Madrid.

The Mediodia at $70 per.

And on the subject of stars or lack thereof I’m on Team Cheapo from now on.  My no star in Cordoba, the charming Antigua Convento at $65 a night, was perfecto. It boasted a lovely courtyard and included a served breakfast. A scant two blocks and two right turns and I arrived at La Mezquita. The two star Hotel Sevilla at $95 in, you guessed it, Seville was equally charming and it included breakfast, as well. Outside the major cities accommodations cost less so I sprung for a three star in Girona at $75 per. Breakfast another 12 Euros. That’s where they get you. My hostel El Caballo Andaluz in Gaucin was $75 a night with an alleged breakfast of a piece of toast and coffee. On the other hand I had a huge room with three twin beds. My student housing in Barcelona was another $75 with breakfast and while as plain as a minimum security prison was actually a one bedroom apartment replete with kitchen. Four blocks from the beach to boot.

Hotel Sevilla, Seville.

Hotel Sevilla, Seville.

Breakfast at El Antiguo Convento, Cordoba

With such excellent public transportation there’s little need to drive. So in my eighteen days I drove in the countryside for 2-1/2 of them. If I’d tried harder I imagine that I could have found a bus to Gaucin but the backroads were therapeutic. On the flip side retracing my steps back to the train station in teaming Malaga was hell.  If a thoughtful Spanish gentleman hadn’t literally gotten into the passenger seat with me to show me the way I’d still be circling the city like Charlie on the MTA. It was the closest I had to a panic moment the whole trip and underscored why they shouldn’t let me drive in cities.

You can still work the tapas game to eat on the cheap though I think it’s getting harder. My least expensive meal of the trip was a $6 lunch of a tapa of sliced chorizo, a tapa of excellent paella, pan con Jamon de Serrano and a draft beer at a bar on upscale Via Castellano.  The beer was a buck which sure does keep the tab down. And it was a block from Calle Atocha and just across from El Prado.

A tapas lunch in Madrid

Paella tapa at the above establishment

I had hoped to live on $100 a day but fell far short most days. If I could wangle a room for $65-$75 including breakfast I had a shot at the hundred. And if I didn’t seek out really good restaurants the target would have been more likely.  But that might not be living if you know what I mean.

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.