Thursday, February 25, 2010

London Remembered and Anticipated

It's less than a month to my trip to Wales, Scotland, and England. I've starting to really anticipate the trip and, at the same time, have been reflecting on how I'm going to capture it in photos. It should be different. For one thing, I've gotten over the "luxury" of not being limited by changing rolls of film at key moments. Maybe I'll be more relaxed and even show a little restraint in taking pictures. The other thing is that I've gotten more comfortable about unobtrusively taking photos of people going about their daily lives. We shall see what happens.

The photos in this post give me flashbacks of wandering through the streets on London by foot and by double decked bus. The corner pub where we had a pint and a traditional Sunday roast lamb. Big Ben with its towering majesty. Kingly statues, reminders of the past found everywhere in democratic Britain. An active protest to stop fox hunting. The unicorn, a beast of fantasy. Each of these is a reminder of a very comfortable and enjoyable stay;it won't be long before the next time.

Thank you for visiting. May your travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crete Revisited

It all began in early 1972 after I had taught in Kenya for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. I had an open-dated ticket which would eventually get me to Boston, USA and a few scheduled stops along the way, one of them being Athens, Greece. While I was staying at a hostel in Tel Aviv, Israel I met a South African backpacker who was headed back to Africa. He told me that if I was going to spend time in Greece, I had to experience a stay in the town of Agios Nikalaos on the Grecian island of Crete. As I had time on my hands and no future plans (those were the days of true freedom!) I took his advice. Once I reached Agios Nikalaos, I ended up staying there for a month.

I have some memories of traveling to Crete from the mainland by boat, third class. Third class was close to water level and involved a large dorm room with many bunk beds. On the trip over I leaned two things about myself. I did not get sea sick , in spite of my position in the boat and the rough waves. I also learned that I liked retsina, a white wine that gets its name from its resiny taste. My appreciation of retsina may be why I don't have more memories of the trip from the mainland.

Once I arrived at Crete's capitol, Herakilion, I traveled by bus to Agios Nikalaos. Being a free spirit of the 1970's with backpack on shoulders, I wandered around looking for a place to find a place to stay. As there was no tourist information center I ended up at the local police station, of all places. There a friendly police officer(amazing!) who liked to discuss Bertrand Russel and helped make connections with a pension on a hillside that overlooked the sea. This was to be "my home" for the next month.

My stay in Agios Nikalaos left me with many fond memories. There was the friendly pension courtyard where residents were welcome to dip their hand into a large earthen pot and sample black olives soaking in brine. The coffee shop where I learned to order cups of thick Greek coffee, not "Turkish" coffee. (Cretans had less than fond memories of their relationship with the Turkish people.) The butcher shop with its heads of lamb staring out the storefront window. The "Octopus' Garden" disco run by a grey-mustached former New York City cab driver. Fresh breads, yogurt, cheeses, Rhoditis or retsina wine, and lots of olives were the main staples of my diet. Walks on a stone pier with waters lined with spiny sea urchins. It's amazing to me what strong impressions I have of the place after all of these years.

My month in Agios Nikalaos was a good transition from my immediate African past to an uncertain future. When I was not exploring the area, I spent time reading the works of Nikos Kanantzakis who had grown up just a few miles away in Heralilion. I started out with the popular "Zorba, the Greek", but moved on to heavier stuff. "Freedom and Death" was followed by his most controversial "The last Temptation of Christ". It was interesting to me to read his works in the locale of where he had written them; it gave the reading a special flavor. It was also mind-opening.

Eventually, my money started to dwindle and it was time to head closer to the USA. For the most part, I have good memories of that part of my travels. I do, however, remember the boat trip back to the mainland where my boat ticket was stolen in the dormatory room and I had to borrow money to buy another ticket so that I would be allowed to disembark. Travelers beware!

I have never returned to Agios Nikalaos and have mixed feelings about doing so in the future. In February of 1972, the town had few tourists during the off-season and there weren't large tourist hotels that I can remember. I would like to revisit, but am a little afraid of the changes that may have been made. Commercialization of a good place is always a danger. Maybe I'll still chance it and see what happens.

Thank you for visiting and sharing my memories of Crete. May your own travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Note:The photos in this blog were taken in 1972 with a 35 mm camera, scanned, and digitally edited.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rural Wisconsin

How do you capture the essence of a place? In my mind, that essence is a combination of the nature of the land and the culture of the people who live there. The images that you find in this post are my attempt to capture that essence while riding a car on a Sunday winter afternoon.

Dairy farming has been an important part of Wisconsin's settlement. While the family farm is losing ground to agribusinesses, it is still an ever present part of the landscape. As farm buildings sprang up, so did two other key parts of the community-the churches and the local taverns. (In many communities there are an equal number of churches and taverns to be found.) The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) buildings serve as social meeting places for many members of the community as well. For many rural Wisconsinites, in spite of their relative farm isolation, community is a very important part of their culture whether it is church, tavern, or social organization.

Besides the farm and town, I couldn't resist including an image of another social activity found in rural Wisconsin during the winter-ice fishing. Once the ponds and small lakes freeze sufficiently Wisconsinites, mostly males, drive their cars, trucks, and even campers onto the ice, cut a hole, install a fishing shack, open a cold beer, and fish. A couple of related comments. First, as a non-native Wisconsinite, I did not grow up with an ice-fishing tradition, nor have I ever been inclined to adopt that part of Wisconsin culture. Sitting on the ice in the middle of a frozen lake drinking a cold beer just isn't my idea of a "fun time". The other comment I'd like to make is that sometimes ice-fishermen misjudge the condition of the ice that they take their expensive vehicles on, especially after a few warmer days followed by colder days. The result is that many Wisconsin ponds and small lakes have assorted vehicles as permanent underwater decorations (rather expensive and environmentally unsound from my point of view). Still, the tradition lives on.

I hope that you have enjoyed your visit to rural Wisconsin. Please feel free to stop by again. Any comment that you leave behind is always welcome. May your travels be interesting and enjoyable.