Friday, June 27, 2008

Eclectic European Spaces

One of the points of interest to me when I travel is the kinds of buildings that different peoples build and where they build them. Europe seems to me to be a region of greater contrasts than those found in parts of my own country. Perhaps it’s the absence of strip malls (at least at this point in time) with their fast food franchises that blend in to one another, unlike the myriads that are found in the USA. More likely it’s because European settlement patterns have had centuries more to evolve and there is a greater sense of permanency. In any event, rather than focusing upon an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon, I’d rather just appreciate the settings that I have been able to visit and let the photos speak for themselves. Vive la difference!

Included in this selection of photos:

- a fort in the harbor of Collioure in southern France
-a building on the Thames River in London,England
-a Tuscan palace in Lucca, Italy
-apartments in the Champs du Mars section of Paris,France
-Spanish apartments and houses in the Pyrenees.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lincoln's New Salem: A Trip Back in Time

One of the goals of our recent travels was to visit places significant to the life of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and 16th American president. Lincoln, who was president during the American Civil War (mid 1800’s) and was responsible for the ending of slavery in the USA, spent part of his life in Illinois. New Salem, Illinois is a place where he lived as a young man before the start of his political career.

The area in which the New Salem settlement was located is presently a National Park. The settlement was recreated by workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps (a federal employment initiative for the unemployed during the Great Depression of the 1930’s). Individual settlement homes and businesses are staffed by very knowledgeable people who re-enact the daily life of New Salem in the 1830’s in period costumes.

The day was “picture perfect” from a travel photographer’s point of view. There was a subdued sunlight, a cool breeze, and we were about an hour and a half ahead of the crowds. As a result, I was able to take photos without interference from “outsiders” and there was a sense of traveling back in time as we wandered the shaded dirt roads that were bordered by moss–covered cabins and buildings necessary to support an 1830’s community in central Illinois.

The first two photos in this post show re-creations typical homes. The third shows a traditional garden, including poles placed for climbing beans. ( Note-This is where the phrase “as tall as a bean pole” came from. The last photo is that of the exterior of a mill.

The visit to New Salem was an excellent experience. The setting of the town was skillfully recreated. The reenactors were well-versed in their roles and interesting. It was truly as close to traveling back in time as our present will permit.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

the Mississippi River on the rise

For the last few days, we have been exploring the area along the upper Mississippi River around the Tri-State Area (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin). The contrast between the bright, sunny days in the Galena, Illinois surroundings and the torrential rains to the north resulted in these photographs. By Saturday, it is predicted that the Mississippi River will have risen at least six feet above normal. At the moment, it is raining heavily in the surrounding areas, feeding more water into the already swollen river.

It was disturbing to go into stores and hear people wonder aloud if their homes would still be water-free at the end of their work day. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. Normally, the land along the Mississippi River is full of beauty. This week, rain storms, flooding and tornadoes make it a place of danger and disaster.

Eventually, the waters will recede and the people who live along the banks of the Mississippi will rebuild. People there are survivors, many who have lived on its banks for generations. In the end, life will return to normal. Barges will carry needed goods. Fishing and industry will prosper. Tourists and local people will enjoy the River's natural beauty. In the meantime, the only thing that can be done is to wait for the rains to end, and the waters to recede.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Images of the Unexpected

It’s time to abandon water themes for the present and look at images caught while wandering around cities on foot. This particular group represents aspects of visits made at different times to France, Britain, and Spain. Their common thread is a sense of the unusual and unexpected, either in what the image presents to the viewer or the context in which it was found. I have to admit that while I enjoy capturing images of places and their peoples that are new to me, I am drawn to the unusual as they appear unexpectedly a street corner is rounded..

A couple of years ago, some friends of ours took us to see Carcassonne while we were traveling with them in Spain and France. Carcassonne, among other things, was the setting for the children’s book, “Puss In Boots”. Carcassonne, the old city, is a combination of the ancient and the Disneyesque. Ancient edifices are interspersed with wax prisoners being punished in stocks and many, many tourist shops of every nature. As usual, my camera was drawn to the gargoyles and some street scenes. Turning a corner at the end of our exploration of the city, I came across the absinthe poster. Originally, I took the photo because I liked the contrast of colors between the poster, itself, and the textured tan wall from which it hung. In retrospect, its imagery may have reflected my state of mind after the sensory overload of the visit to Carcasonne.

I’m not quiet sure what there was about the image of the fountain of the water-spewing pharaoh in the area of Paris near the cathedral of Notre Dame. I don’t usually associate an overabundance of water with the pharaohs of Egypt, even though their civilization benefited from the waters of the Nile. To be honest, the fountain evoked images of the aftermath of excessive partying, something that the artist who designed it may have not had in mind at all.

I’m really into fantasy stories, be they set in other worlds such as those created by Mercedes Lackey, or modern urban fantasies such as those by de Lint or Gaiman. This particular London statue of a mythological creature brought to mind the idea of an ever-vigilant city guardian at dusk. Its discovery was as good for me as haphazardly coming across an interesting gargoyle!

Shoe store lion
Wandering through Vielha, Spain in the middle of the afternoon the traveler can find empty sidewalks and closed shops. While this means you are limited in satisfying your shopping needs, it also means that you can linger and take photos without being trampled by people have someplace that they actually need to go. Standing outside of the shoe store, I wondered if the owner had an unusual sense of humor or if it was just my interpretation of the display. It appears (to me) that the lion has devoured a child and all that remains is the shoe sticking out of its mouth. Regardless of the intent, I really didn’t care if anyone from Vielha thought I was strange. I had to have a photo.

Personal Reflection
In my mind, it is finding the unexpected that is part of the joy of travel. It doesn’t really matter to me if the “find” takes place in another country or another part of my own city. I hope that these photos were of interest and amusing and that , you too had a taste of the unexpected.