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.