Sunday, December 10, 2023

Gutsy and Strong

Welcome to the Hitching Post


I crossed paths with Kristeena Smith for the first time last summer at the Taos Roundup, a western music extravaganza put on by Kristeena and other merchants on Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos. I was photographing the festivities, mostly the crowd, when she greeted our friend, Bob Dempsey. Bob, of course, knew Kristeena since he’s the most connected human in these parts. But that’s a story for another time.

Working Hands

Headshot One

Headshot Two

It was a brief encounter that led in two directions, one to have her cut my hair. She was named the Best Barber in Taos for 2023. And two, to take her portrait. Early in our shoot I told her that I favor headshots and prefer open shade like the ones in the doorway to her shop or a single softbox used for the rest. Both provide a soft caressing light. 

What I know about Kristeena is cobbled from what Bob has told me, what I heard while she gave my best haircut in recent times and during our conversation when I made her portrait. From Bob I learned that she's in her forties, dropped out of high school, later got her GED and is the single parent of a seventeen year old daughter.

Kristeena filled in the blanks for me. She grew up in Redondo Beach, a town I know well. I once lived two beach towns north. She left home when she was 16, worked in the hospitality industry for many years as a server, bartender, and manager. She told me she made the most money in a dive bar. I can relate. I spent the most money in dive bars. Then at some juncture, she went to barber school where she said she learned nothing except that she was the only student not afraid to use a straight razor. All the others were guys. At a barbershop chain with a comprehensive training program she really learned to barber. She cut hair in or near Redondo Beach then for five more years in wealthy Walnut Creek in Contra Costa County. She told me she couldn’t afford to live in here. She relocated to Taos three years ago and opened the Hitching Post Shave Company which earned its Best Barbershop accolades this year. I recalled to Kristeena that ten years ago I wrote about my friend and barber Juma Archuletta whom I called The Good Cutter. Kristeena gave me an au courant haircut, Bob Dempsey’s descriptor, and joins Juma in the pantheon of great barbers I have known.

My knowledge of Kristeena is completely superficial. And the arc of her story is drawn from my alleged memory. If the facts are sketchy, the gist is spot on. 

She is self-made, self-possessed, entrepreneurial, and brimming with style. And she has a game plan that will free her up to enjoy her horses. I commend her for having a plan and acting on it. In an earlier less subtle generation we’d have called her a helluva broad.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Adobe and Snow

When the snow falls overnight Peggy and I head south to iconic San Francisco de Asis Church (above) in Ranchos de Taos because adobe and snow are a magical pairing. Last Saturday we got 10 inches of wet powder at Casa Immel and hoped the same would be true in Ranchos. Alas, the church received more like six inches which had been reduced to four by mid-morning. Still bands of snow adhered to the rough texture of the mud plaster so there was abundant fodder for my growing adobe and snow portfolio.

But before arriving at Ranchos Church, we stopped across the street to photograph Martinez Hall (above), a onetime movie theatre, bar, and a failed restaurant with the too clever by half moniker Old Martina’s Hall. That was the only clever thing about the failed endeavor which endured several iterations before the owner Martina Gebhardt from Bavaria finely pulled the plug. The old building clutched the fresh snow to its bosom while the nineteenth century wagon with turquoise wheels vied for my attention. The relic was made for the spot color treatment as you can readily see.

After photographing Ranchos Church, we treated ourselves to brunch at the old school Ranchos Plaza Grill which warranted the four- mile drive all by itself. I had Huevos Rancheros Green which came with a homemade sopaipilla and honey for the munificent sum of $9.00. That's the cheapest in greater Taos and among the best. Plus the staff led by our host Lester was warm, engaging, and hospitable. It was just plain fun. The venerable establishment hasn’t been on our radar for some reason but earned its place on our short list of breakfast favorites. And its Carne Adovada is the most scrumptious in Taos according to me. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

What are friends for?

Meryll, Lenny and Steve in the Prosecco Hills.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to friendship lately. First, I found myself making a list of “best” or “real” friends, a purely gut level endeavor since you can’t really know. The exercise may have risen out of my rekindled friendship with Lenny Levenson in Italy after 39 years. Our instant mind meld and that we could have been continuing a conversation that began in the spring of 1984 touched me. Then on Tuesday last week I had lunch with Mark Asmus to share war stories about our recent trips to Europe. Mark and his partner, Lawrence, were in Paris for a month while Peggy and I hopscotched around Italy for three weeks. All four of us had a hard time of it for similar reasons, not the least of which being jet lagged and having long-lasting colds. Mark allowed that they might not “cross the pond” again. Peggy and I are pondering the same.

Mark Asmus, all 6"-5" of him.

But that’s not the essence of this tale. This is about deep and abiding friendship. I’d suggest that you may not know if the relationship is profound and unbreakable till it’s tested. And you hope it won’t be. Bill Roquemore whom I speak of below, says a real friend is the one who will be at your side, no matter what, in your time of need. When I met Mark Asmus for lunch on Tuesday, we shared that we have lots of social friends but not many with whom we can have full throated conversations. I suspect that’s a universal condition. People with whom you have the confidence to share more than small talk are rare and to be treasured. That’s why Mark and I look forward to our get-togethers so much.  

I told Mark that the previous day I had made a list of people who might be real friends. What’s the adage? “If you have more than one good friend, you’re a lucky person.” There are approximately 700 variations on that nugget, namely that real friends are rare. Count your blessings if you have several. And I just might.

The handsome specimen behind me is Bill Roquemore. You already know the Colonel. It was 1977 so I was a 36 year old Vice President of KFC Corporation while Bill was still in his twenties and already a District Manager in Columbus. He was a star and destined for big things. That white belt is cringe worthy isn't it?

Later that day I got a text message on my cell saying something like “You need to check your mailbox immediately” from my friend of fifty years, Bill Roquemore. I rushed to the post office where I found a yellow card saying I had a package for pick up. But it was after five, so I returned the next morning to find a rather heavy package. Since I knew of no occasions warranting a gift of any sort, I was intrigued. When home I opened the package and found a perfectly packed book, Koudelka Ikonar, Archival Constellations, a monograph of the photographs of the legendary Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka. In the book was a typed letter from Bill describing the path the book took to reach my hands more than a year later. It was signed “Your lifetime Friend.” In Bill’s elegant letter, he describes the story behind my signed copy of the book. Bill’s son Jonathon, a long-time photography impresario who lives in Switzerland, was finalizing a gallery show of Koudelka’s work at the Photo Elysée Gallery in Lausanne. According to Bill it was the best attended exhibition in the gallery’s storied history. The night before the opening Jonathon had hosted a dinner for Koudelka. At the gala dinner Bill and his wife Tracy spent time with Koudelka whom Bill describes as “a very eloquent elderly gentleman.” He’s 86. Reputedly, Bill calls me “A very elderly gentleman.”

2,500 copies of Koudelka Ikonar were printed, but only 50 were signed by Josef. At the opening Bill and his wife Tracy received one of the fifty prized editions. Knowing my love for photography, Bill requested a signed book for me, as well. Jonathon told Bill that Koudelka didn’t like signing books and those 50 signed editions were it.

Then in Bill and Tracy’s latest visit to Jonathon and his family in Switzerland Bill had a surprise in store. Jonathon handed him a copy signed “To Steve Thank you, Josef” When I read the inscription, Bill’s heartfelt letter and leafed through book I cried like a baby.

Yesterday I learned that Koudelka Ikonar was awarded the Gold Medal for Germany Switzerland and Austria at the International Festival Fotografischer Bilder. So, in Bill's words the book is officially a Collector's item especially a signed copy.

Here's to true friends. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023


A last look at Venice

Verona shadows

I have little to say or show this week. I’ve taken nary a photograph since returning from Italy. That’s not quite true. There were wild horses near San Luis, Colorado. So, I’m going to let the keyboard take charge and see where it leads me. I’ve had a story about Lenny Levenson, my friend and co-worker from the early 80s on my mind since we reconnected in Treviso, Italy in November. His story is a book waiting to be written. I’ve encouraged Lenny to write the book but like me he doubts that he has the drive and discipline to do it. But he knows more Levenson lore than I could ever learn. He should decide which secrets to reveal. Besides Lenny’s a natural storyteller and a fine writer. At worst my questions have bamboozled him into doing the research for a lousy blog post.

Italians smoke when they kiss. Bologna.

And vape. Florence.

Italians serve the best steaks in the known universe. Roberto Martone's dry aged steaks at La Trattoria da Olinda in Favaro were unbelievable. Roberto, in his words, works 26 hours a day. He cooked our breakfast, worked the grill at his restaurant till 11pm then drove us in the van to the Venice airport the next morning. The steak was top fiver. Ever.

Want a cab? Bring lunch. Florence.

This isn't Venice anymore, Toto. It's mustangs along the highway in San Luis, Colorado.

In the meantime, here are random musings and images from the barrens of my brain.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Small Works Great Wonders

Peggy presents her work

Sold. Just the way we like it.

We just returned from Oklahoma City where Peggy was an invited artist at the Small Works Great Wonders show at the National Museum of the Cowboy. It was her fourth year in the prestigious exhibition. All the work in the show was extraordinary, which is no surprise since the artists are among the crème de la crème of western painters. And I can’t say enough about the 220,000 square foot museum which celebrates the grand history of the West with special focus on the mythic American cowboy. It should be noted that cowboy attire from boot to hat was practically obligatory at the opening. I skipped the hat part. It musses up my hair.

Peggy with the proud owners of both paintings.

As to Small Works Great Wonders, Peggy’s paintings were luminous and poetic in a way that some of the paintings weren’t despite the skills so evident in the work. Of course, that’s just my very objective assessment. And both sold to a lovely couple from OKC who proudly announced. “We already have two of your pieces and we know exactly where we’re going to hang our new ones.” I find such enthusiasm, even love, for a artist’s work touching and unforgettable.

Peggy and Jane Hunt. Their work is behind them.

The Ivanov Immel Hunt wall in that order.

We've become friends with the Aleksey and Olga Ivanov, artistic and life partners formerly from Russia, who are Peggy's wall mates. Their energetic bronc buster and bison are the first pair on the wall. 

The Ivanovs and Immels at play.

The Albert Bierstadt Glow.

We first encountered Albert Bierstadt's work at the Palm Springs Art Museum 15 years ago. We were amazed that we had never heard of his monumental work and became ardent fans. This the Bierstadt at the Cowboy Museum soared. What a storyteller Bierstadt was. 


Sunday, November 05, 2023

Italian Lessons

Murano, the antidote to Venice


It wasn’t till the 18th day of our three-week power tour of northern and central Italy that we realized that our sweet spot is the serenity of the countryside. Perversely all of our days were spent in cities till a winery tour in the Tuscan hills outside Siena reminded us that we’re at home under big skies with forever vistas. So, we booked our last two nights on a working farm north of Venice. It, too, reaffirmed our love of the high desert where we’ve made our home for twenty years. After a dicey check in, there was no one at reception when we arrived, we entered our second-floor room overlooking the farm and breathed for the first time since October 13. That’s when we knew our bliss in not in the city but in the calm of a village. That’s an awkward realization for an octogenarian who has professed his desire to live in bustling neighborhood in one of the world’s great cities, for complete immersion in city life and language for a full year. After Venice, Verona, Bologna, Florence, Siena, glorious cities all, I’m reassessing the way I want use the rest of my life.  I still crave more adventures, more surprises, more learning, more languages, and most of all new friends who were strangers till we shook hands for the first time. But where those experiences will take place is under review.

The broad Adige River and rainbow, Verona

A Venice Nocturne

The Prosecco Hills between Treviso and the Dolomites

Peggy had wanted to visit Venice with me for thirty years. For her significant birthday, I planned an itinerary the would be the greatest hits of historic Italian cities. I bit off more than we could comfortably chew. Schlepping two much stuff on public transport was a nightmare. The pressure and fatigue of our schedule was debilitating. What we saw as amazing, but fewer stops with more time in each and with much less baggage would have been a better idea. A single rural location or small city with daytrips and some overnighters as we've done in the past may be the ideal formula for a relaxed, creative idyll. We avoided driving on this trip. We'll rethink that, as well. There's a lot of freedom with wheels.

Il Campo, Siena

Peggy had been lobbying to add Siena to our itinerary. The weather had become dank in the north so visiting warmer Tuscany beckoned. Thankfully we opted for four nights in the Medieval city. Our apartment, the least expensive of the entire trip, was perfect but for spotty internet. We were on a quiet street a short block from the center of the city. Everything we wanted to see was less than a ten-minute walk. We were revived by the longer stay and the warm sun. An intimate tour of three wineries in Montalcino capped with a 2014 Brunello Reserva at a one women vineyard and cellar was perfection.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Juxtapositions and related questions

I fully expected to publish pretty pictures of our forced march from Venice to the Prosecco Hills and on to Verona, Bologna, Florence and now Siena. My expectation if not my plan was a travelogue interspersed with stories about Stefano, my photographer friend in Venice, and my touching reconnection with Lenny Levenson and his wife Meryll in Treviso just north of Venice.

I had thought we went in separate directions in 1982 but in fact he took a position with one of our Pizzeria Uno franchisees in 1984, right after we opened the Denver Uno. We opened more than twenty restaurants together and books could be written about those heady days. I left the company after opening the Brentwood, California restaurant in early 1985. So, Lenny and I hadn’t seen each other for 39 years. When we met for appetizers at Lenny and Meryll’s condo in Treviso, I told Meryll that Lenny was the most talented restaurant guy I’d ever met. Meryll told Peggy that Lenny idolized me. So, we're even.

That was the plan till circumstances interceded in the form of two photography exhibitions that we discovered quite by chance. On our first night in Bologna, we saw a banner for a Vivian Maier retrospective a mile away. We had 16 minutes to get there in time to be allowed in. We virtually ran to the gallery and arrived with a minute to spare. Street photographer Vivian Maier was unknown in her lifetime as a nanny in New York and Chicago. When boxes of her negatives were discovered by a former employer her work found an astounded contemporary audience and she is now recognized as one of the great street photographers of the latter half of the 20th century. To see perhaps 200 of her extraordinary images was breathtakingly good luck rivaled only our surprise encounter with the prestigious Siena Awards, an international photography competition held every year. The work was cutting edge, adventurous and large scale. Technical virtuosity was the hallmark of the show.

Among the award winners was The Ameriguns, which speaks to America’s gun culture as examined by Italian photojournalist Gabriele Calimberti. I’ll let Calimberti’s photographs speak for themselves. I'm including all of the images in the show because every one tells a story and his juxtapositions of the rabid and the banal are chilling. I can't unsee them. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

A Little Italian

My new best friend, Stefano, whom we met late on our first night.

Canal life.

Family unit, Venice style.

Working class.

The lagoon at sunset.

It’s 9pm in Bologna and I’m pondering my blog for the first time in a week. In most cases the subject and images have percolated for several days and by this time Sunday night I’ve done twenty or more edits. To say that I’m not focused on this entry puts it mildly. I don’t know whether it’s too many stimuli, being bone tired, no free time or the world’s worst cold, but my mind is an empty vessel. So, here are some random shots with little descriptive text. And to add insult to injury last week’s images included a couple of color ones which were rendered in black and white by for reasons that escape me.

All of these are color photographs befitting Venice and its Crayola hues. If they don’t appear in color squint your eyes and pretend.