Tag: “Spain”

Flamenco All Night

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The music was strong, fast, and fundamental, the clapping frenetic, and the dancing masterful. The bull ring was filled with flamenco-lovers and the sherry was flowing. It was 2 am and the excitement and energy were building.

Each year the Fiesta de la Vendimia (Harvest Festival) in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain draws renowned flamenco performers and crowds of their fans to the bull ring for the Buleria. Jerez is the center of the cultural traditions for the Buleria flamenco style.

The festival is held in early autumn and the weather in southern Spain is still hot. The streets are filled with fiesta revelers, musicians, and other performers. But the Buleria is an overnight celebration of flamenco.

We were staying near Cádiz, in a little beach house in Zahora and had spent our days exploring hill villages such as Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera. These are beautiful, ancient, small villages that are perfect for walking and soaking up the warmth of the weather and the people. But things got a lot more exciting when we reached our little hotel in Jerez de la Frontera. The fiesta was in full swing and the Buleria was to be held the night that we arrived.

Lines formed in the late afternoon on the plaza outside the bull ring. And as night fell the crowd surged through the old gateway and we tried to get good chairs near the front. The bull ring is circular with stadium bench seating, but for this night the dirt of the arena was covered with plastic chairs.

Bull Ring Filling for a Night of Buleria Flamenco, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Deep under the arena vendors sold food and the sherry that area is famous for. Impromptu flamenco performances, accompanied by groups of rhythmic clapping supporters, broke out in several places along the dirt-floored passages under the stadium.

On this night the dancing was limited. Several famous flamenco singers performed along with their guitar and clapping accompanists. As each act concluded the crowd became more animated while waiting for the next performance. They started many syncopated clapping rifs that passed back and forth across the stadium, like a fan wave moving through a crowd.

Late in the night the headline dancer for the Buleria came out and thoroughly amazed everyone. He was supported by two guitarists and a group of five rhythmic clappers as percussionists. Still photographs do not do justice to the intensity and speed of the musicians or the dancer.

Andrés Peña

His name is Andrés Peña and he is a virtuoso dancer. His furious pace was mind-boggling, especially at 2 in the morning.

Well-deserved Bows

We left at 3:30 am and they hadn’t brought out all the musicians yet for the start of the finale jam session. The crowd was ecstatic and going strong. They were able to enjoy flamenco all night, but we just couldn’t make it any further. But we soaked up all that we could and it was spectacular!

Shadows of Spain

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Travel photographs are an exploration of photography as well as an exploration of place. In this case the location was a courtyard in Málaga, Spain.

Málaga is an interesting gateway to Spain. The international airport is connected to the main rail station by a short city rail line. Our hotel was a short walk from the station and was in the old town. Nearby there are several blocks dedicated to pedestrian shopping and restaurants. Old Málaga is very pleasant for strolling and dining outside on the plazas.

During our stay in Spain we rode the train around Andalucía and saw as much as we could in Cádiz, Zahora, Córdoba, Granada, and many small villages along the coast. Near the end of our stay we returned to our old town hotel in Málaga. Late in the evening after we had walked back from dinner I started photographing out our hotel window.

Outside the hotel there was a courtyard with one lane for vehicle traffic marked by blocks. The light was dim but there were many lights so shadows were cast in multiple directions. I photographed the courtyard, at first just seeing the geometric shapes. Each element had several shadows. I started keying in on the shadows and the narrow range of brightness. The images were subtle, but interesting.

Geometric Shapes and Shadows, Courtyard, Málaga, Spain

As often happens when you spend time working on a scene new elements came into the image.

The first new element was a person running across the courtyard. I was using only available light so the shutter speed was slow. Movement created challenges. This person has at least two distinct and intriguing shadows. The shadows are a different shape than the running person because of the angle of the light sources. The blocks again have multiple shadows.

Runner and Shadows, Málaga, Spain

The second new situation was two bicyclists. They were doing tricks using the planter boxes and other features in the courtyard. Some of their shadows are distinct and some are faint. In this photo the cyclist on the left is doing a ‘wheelie’ and his shadow records it precisely.

Bicyclists With at Least Three Shadows Each, Málaga, Spain

I treated this as a learning exercise with low light photography and shadows. I converted the photographs to simple black and white. To me, in this case, the range in brightness and shadows are the interesting aspects of these photos. This is one of the rare times that I have artificially converted photographs to black and white. In general, I favor color photographs because they better represent the real world. Other people prefer to use one channel of overall brightness and show the photographs as black and white. I understand the art of black and white, but I think a lot is lost with that artificial presentation. Some photographers will disagree strongly with that opinion and characterization. I also think that color photographs hold as much artistic power as photographs depicting only overall brightness. But it is traditional to think otherwise. Artistic expression is possible with both approaches.

Please comment if you have an opinion! If you are viewing the list of all the blog postings, you can leave a reply by selecting this post from the blog list or click on ‘…Comments’ above by the title of this posting.

Tangled Empires

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It’s good to be king!

It’s even better to be emperor. The title of Holy Roman Emperor was bestowed on King Charles I of Spain in 1519 and he took the new title ‘Emperor Carlos V’. He was not yet 20 years old!

His empire was vast. It encompassed much of Europe including Spain and most of Italy, among many other countries, but it also included ‘The New World’ that his grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella had passed on to him.

But this was clearly not enough. During his reign he fought repeatedly with King Francois of France and his son King Henri II. The kings of France fiercely fought to gain parts of northern Italy, while Carlos was trying to gain large portions of eastern France.

Many of the kingdoms at that time were the result of strategically arranged marriages of very young royal children. During one of the episodes of peace between wars King Francois of France married the Emperor’s sister. Peace was necessary periodically to refill the royal treasuries. And even though Francois’ mother and his wife (the Emperor’s own sister) tried to intervene war resumed between France and the Emperor. Neither side won a final victory. There was a long series of treaties, marriages, captivities, and ransoms that formed even more tangled empires.

Palacio de Carlos V, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

During this time Carlos decided he needed another palace and that it would be pleasant to take advantage of the splendid grounds of the Moorish Palaces at The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. He initiated his palace construction there in 1527. The outside of the palace has strong rectangular features formed by textured blocks. But the upper level has contrasting round openings and the interior courtyard is circular. (See Granada Moon in this blog.) Carlos never used this palace because construction was delayed. He enjoyed his other palaces but his court was mainly located in Madrid. Two years after Carlos started construction at Granada, King Francois began construction of his palace at Fontainebleau.

Palacio de Carlos V, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

What Francois could not accomplish on the battlefield he attempted to arrange with the marriage of his son Henri to Catherine de Medici of Italy. Henri and Catherine were teenagers when they were married in an extravagant ceremony in Marseilles. Catherine fell in love with Henri, but unfortunately, Henri had already given his chivalric devotion and his heart to the wise and beautiful Diane de Poirtiers. He dutifully created heirs with Catherine, but all knew that his life was dedicated to Diane. Their ménage à trois is a very famous story and is described from an insider’s viewpoint by Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent in the book The Serpent and the Moon.

King Henri II of France continued his father’s campaigns and defended France against the Emperor and his allies, including the King of England. This was not enough to fully occupy King Henri so he spent his idle time moving his entourage of thousands of people from palace to palace as the seasons and game dictated. Henri loved to hunt when he was not at war.

So while Carlos was building palaces in Spain, Francois and Henri were building their own palaces in France. Henri gave Diane de Poirtiers one of his most beautiful chateau. But in the end Catherine de Medici took it back abruptly upon Henri’s death.

The arranged empires that so many died for have passed away. But some of the palaces remain to show us the splendor that kings and emperors lived in. Outside the palace walls people lived in primitive poverty. Their lives were dictated by the needs and entanglements of the royal families. The peasants could create the beautiful stonework of the palaces, but they returned to stone age dwellings at the end of the work day.

Dawn Duty

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Early Morning Sky, Zahora, Spain

The early bird gets the … well they get a different experience. They get a longer day. They get more!

Photography trips are expensive. Transportation and lodging are big items. So it makes sense to get as much as you can out of each day. But you also definitely get a different experience from travel if you start your day before dawn.

It is also my favorite time of day to photograph. As I said in the recent post titled, “But the Sunset is Behind You”, I generally don’t photograph the dawn itself. The subtle lighting of predawn and shortly after dawn creates unique perspectives. Not only is the color of the light different, but also it is easier to show individual features which are selectively highlighted by that light.

Dawn is also a good time to walk through a village or city. The tourist vendors are not set up yet and the streets are quiet. Most people that you meet are friendly, unless you are too early. In the predawn darkness some people are suspicious or fearful of strangers. And perhaps there is personal danger as well. Although most people who are up before dawn are trying to get a jump on their endeavors for the day. They are hard workers not thieves.

It is a time when you can get to know a place on its terms without the street hustlers or crowds. At times it is a private tour. It is also easier to photograph scenes without people in them.

I have many memories that I would not have if I had slept in. I remember walking downhill in the dark  to the train station in Wengen, Switzerland to check the mountain summit weather to decide whether to ride the train to the top or not.  In order to get to the planned location for photographing when the light is right you have to start in the dark. And you have to carry all the equipment and be prepared in case the weather is right. Thankfully the hotel pastry order was delivered to the basement very early each morning so at least I was able to grab a croissant on my way out the massive back door.

The steep cobblestone streets in Yvoire, France were deserted when I walked through that village to the harbor. The only sound was my footsteps echoing off of the stone buildings. In Vejer de la Frontera, Spain I met a couple of curious people on their way to work in the dark as I set up my tripod in a small plaza overlooking the old town. I remember a cold wind whipping a French flag at a memorial next to the cathedral in Tréguier, France in Brittany. It was the only thing visible in the dark because it had a spotlight on it.

The concrete floor was so hard in the Gite d’Etape in Tizi Oussem, Morocco that I was glad to get up at dawn, and the reward was early morning vistas of the High Atlas Mountains. Driving the narrow hairpin corners up the passes in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy in the dark was slightly intimidating, especially when an impatient local driver can’t wait to get around you and  you meet a delivery truck coming around the corner going the other way. Somehow a long walk across urban Casablanca seemed safer at dawn. Although exploring the narrow alleys of Fez at dawn was a gut check.

You meet different people early in the day. They know that you are serious about what you are doing. And they treat you that way-early morning workers treating each other with respect, and some curiosity.

The early morning scene in the photograph above is in Zahora, Spain on the Atlantic coast near Gibraltar. The sunrise behind me shined selectively on this one oak tree. Even though the light was interesting it was not a quiet dawn. We were next to a hunting area which at each dawn sounded like a war zone. I guess some people like a noisy dawn. But our little cabin was a short walk from a very long beach and a short drive to many ancient Andalucían villages.

The thing is, my second most favorite time to photograph, like many photographers, is late afternoon to dusk and early night. So when I travel my days are long, but full. Full of people, experiences, views, and stories I would never have lying in bed sleeping.

Even though the photography trips are fulfilling they are also exhausting. It is difficult to describe how much goes into each image. By that I mean how much planning and traveling and effort to set up each image. But also there is a lot of emotional investment in thinking about the image and then letting ideas evolve during the creative process. Each photograph is one out of many different ideas that I attempt at each location. The light changes and things move into or out of the scene as I try different compositions and settings. The days are completely absorbing. It is not unusual to spend hours at one location.There is a surprising amount of frustration and even feelings of loss, when I miss an opportunity. I didn’t expect the creative part of photography to generate such strong emotions.

But maybe I am just tired from getting up before dawn. However, I wouldn’t do it any other way!

Coffee, No Shrugging Matter

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Coffee Break, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

One of the primary experiences of travel is trying new foods and beverages. Culture has many expressions that stimulate our senses. We travel to see and hear things that are different from our daily lives. We also savor tastes and smells that are new or distinctive. They are part of the adventure.

But we take our preferences and habits with us. There are certain things that we are used to or that we feel we need.

For me, one of the important things is coffee. Not everyone likes coffee and they may strive to find the beverages that they are used to.

When I travel I drink more coffee than I do at home. For one thing, it is just better tasting (most of the time). It is also a social way to experience a new place. Sitting at an outside table listening to the conversations around you, watching people walk by, planning the next activity, or just resting up from walking around town, coffee provides a reason to linger. Sometimes it is just an excuse to claim a table with a prime view.

At other times it is critically important. The morning coffee in a new country can be interesting for the first couple days. As with all menus it takes some time to figure out names and customs for the local beverages. You know what you like but you don’t know what they call it, and there might just be a local preparation that is even better.

In Spain I learned that the cortado doble was perfect for me. It is a double espresso cut (cortado) with steamed milk usually served in a short glass. It is like a short caffè latte but with a higher ratio of espresso to milk. Perfect.

In Italy a caffè latte is served as a small pitcher of strong coffee with a small pitcher of steamed milk so you can make your own mixture. If you order simply a ‘latte’ in Italy you get a pitcher of milk, as you requested.

The group of women in this photograph had met for coffee at a small neighborhood shop. Perhaps they met every morning. It wasn’t a fancy place, but it was ‘their’ place. Maybe it was the closest place to their homes or perhaps it was far away from their neighborhood and they met here so that they could talk freely. Maybe they knew the owners or maybe they used to work here when they were younger. Their table overlooked a busy boulevard and a fountain.

The waiter seemed to know them well. I don’t know what they had teased him about, but his gesture looks as if his reply was, “Hey, what can I say, huh?”

Little differences in social convention and ceremony add up to a rich cultural experience, if you watch for them and enjoy them.

Nasrid Splendor

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Hall of the Two Sisters, Nasrid Palace, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Art and architecture flourished during the nearly 800 years that southern Spain (Andalucía) was ruled by Moorish and Berber dynasties. It was also a time of religious and political conflict, but someone else can write about that.

Ancient architecture sounds dry and boring, you say? Take a moment and look at this spectacular palatial room, The Hall of the Two Sisters.

There are many examples of Andalucían Moorish architecture still in existence. The Nasrid Palace within The Alhambra complex in Granada, Spain is open for viewing but requires a ticket.

The Nasrid Palace was built over a number of years by successive rulers. The Hall of the Two Sisters (shown here) was built in the 14th century. It is about four stories tall inside.

The walls are covered with mind boggling intricately hand-carved plaster ornamentation. The plaster was gypsum based. After the plaster layer was applied, while it was still wet, artists carved geometric patterns, calligraphy, poems, and religious devotions  into it. The detail and enormity of this work has to be seen to be believed.

This was part of someone’s home!

The photo detail is about one foot (~0.3 meter) across. The ceiling is covered with stalactite ornamentation which represents the cosmos. It is hard to take it all in when you tilt your head back and stare straight up. It’s even harder with a camera, even with a wide angle lens.

Detail, Hand-Carved Plaster, Nasrid Palace

The name  “Two Sisters” comes from two matched marble stones in the floor.

I would have spent much longer within the palace, but when you buy your ticket you have to enter at a specific time. Mine ended up being the last entry of the day, so I couldn’t linger.

For further information:

Hall of the Two Sisters – A great slow pan of the inside wall and ceiling

Nasrid Plasterwork

Granada Moon

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Moon over Palacio de Carlos V, Granada, Spain

A full moon lights the circular courtyard of a renaissance Spanish palace.

There is just enough light to see the ancient columns. The coarse conglomerate stone was shaped into perfect Ionic columns almost five hundred years ago.

The palace was constructed at the command of Carlos V, the grandson of the Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. They had achieved the final reconquest of Spain in 1492 as well as funding the conquest of distant lands. It was a big year for them!

The palace was built adjacent to the Moorish Nasrid palace within The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Carlos wanted another palace and hired an architect who may have been an associate of Michelangelo early in his career (uncertain facts).

Carlos had the money, at least when he started the project in 1527 he did.

His mother (Joanne “The Crazy”) was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand. She passed on to Carlos all of Spain, parts of Italy, and all of the “discovered” land in America.

His father (Philip “The Handsome”) was the son of Emperor Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy. They provided Carlos with Holland, Germany, Austria, and Belgium (where he was born).

The outside of this palace is square and is made of massive distinctively cut and textured stone. The interior circular courtyard inside the square building was a unique combination at the time. The monarchs and their guests would have strolled under this second floor portico and enjoyed performances in the courtyard below. But the palace construction was troubled with delays and problems. The final roof was not finished until 1957. That is 1957, not 1597.

I wonder how people can conceive of buildings like this. It is starkly different than the ancient and exquisite Nasrid palace that it is connected to.

But it is a beautiful place to watch the moon on a hot Andalucían night. The imagination adds the musicians and the dancers below, lit by torches. The music and laughter echo off of the stone across the years.

For five centuries that fat moon has shown into this palace. The empire has dissolved but this stone is still solid. When you reach out and place your palm on the column, its warm smooth surface masks the fluvial chaos that formed the conglomerate stone and the political chaos of amassing and commanding a far-reaching empire.

Vendimia de Jerez, Fino, and Tapas

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Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

In southern Spain festivals celebrating the beginning of the wine crush take place in the heat of the Andalucían autumn. Many villages have these vendimia, or vintage festivals.

The Vendimia de Jerez is a mixture of wine festival, horse exhibition, bull fights, and flamenco celebration. It takes place in September in Jerez de la Frontera in southwestern Spain. Jerez is famous for its sherry, horses, and bulería.

The streets are filled with celebration in the evening and late into the night. During the heat of the day this old city also provides quiet shady plazas where you can pass the afternoon, after siesta. But even while sitting in the shade having some tapas and water you may be treated to an impromptu street flamenco ballad by someone from one of the nearby flamenco schools for dancers, guitarists, and singers. The street musicians are very polished and skillful. After each performance they pass through the outdoor cafe and collect Euros on the back of their outstretched guitar.

Jerez is the home of the bulería style of flamenco. Bulería is distinctive for its fast pace and syncopated clapping percussion. And the bulería performance in the Plaza de Toros (bullring) is a highlight of the Vendimia de Jerez.

Jerez has many sherry tasting rooms, or bodegas, and the sherries produced near Jerez are internationally famous. One of the most famous sherry houses is Pedro Domecq. It was begun by an Irishman in 1725 and passed to the French Domecq family in 1730. Many of the sherry producers were owned or influenced by investors from the United Kingdom where this fortified wine is still very popular.

Fino is a dry sherry. The Pedro Domecq La Ina is a very prominent fino sherry from Jerez and it is celebrated with this sign on the top of a building in downtown Jerez (photograph).

At the street level of this building we found our favorite tapas bar. In most places we weren’t too sure what we were ordering from the menu as each restaurant had its own creative names for their tapas. But here the tapas were on display in a curved glass case at a walk-up counter. The case followed the curve of the building. If we weren’t sure what something was we asked the person behind the counter. It was easy to pick out two or three tapas and have a great light meal. Also the tapas here were the best that we had in Spain. It was a great place to sit outside and enjoy people-watching as the streets came back to life after siesta. In most restaurants the menu items could be ordered as tapas or as a full entrée. We learned that in the heat of autumn the tapas size was best.

The Vendimia de Jerez is packed with Andalucían culture. People are in a fiesta mood and are friendly. Jerez de la Frontera is a beautiful old city and a great place to spend a few days in autumn.

Rolling Through Cultural Dessert

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Home Away From Home, Imlil, Morocco

Gawking at the jagged vertical splendor of the Dolomite Mountains, or plodding slowly up a long, dry valley in the High Atlas Mountains, or imagining 12 centuries of intrigue within a mosque-turned-cathedral can only reveal the faintest outlines of the giant heaps of cultural riches of Italy, Morocco, and Spain. But they are tasty morsels. These settings shape the culture of the people who live there.

During 2010 I visited those three countries. I wandered around and tried to photograph some distinctive scenes and learn about their cultures. This posting is a look back at some of the memories of getting around in those countries.

Our own culture is nearly transparent to us. It is just how things are in our daily world. We take it for granted. But when we travel we notice culture and tradition by their contrasts to our norms.

Architecture, art, literature, languages, religions, education, government, transportation, food, greetings, gender relations, holidays, and many other expressions of culture and tradition make travel interesting.

You learn that other cultures and other traditions work. Brief glimpses don’t reveal differences in personal liberty and fulfillment. But you see happy people who seem contented. Some of them appear more contented than those who have much more material wealth, while some families do stagger under generations of poverty. The contrasts of wealth are extreme in some places. There is a great deal to think about as you walk village streets, or drive through, or ride a train through  towns in these countries.

This morning I was unpacking and cleaning my old and trusty rolling carry-on luggage. We just returned from a family Christmas reunion. I am amazed at how well that luggage has held up over the years.

As I looked at the wheels my mind started drifting to all the places they had rolled through this year. I thought about those towns in Spain, Morocco, and Italy which are still vivid memories.

The port of Málaga and the torn-up streets along the river between our motel and the train station were a workout for those wheels. Ancient Cádiz led us down the coast to Zahora. We let the luggage rest in a small beach house while we explored and photographed Los Canos de Meca, Barbate, Conil de la Frontera, Zahara de los Atunes, Vejer de la Frontera and our local beach during the day. The autumn heat taught us the logic and beauty of the siesta. It also made the tapas option on the menu our only choice. Eating light was appropriate. You have to know how to order coffee the way you like it. This was a prime assignment for me for the first couple of days in each country. In Spain it was cortado doble! I photographed architecture, cathedrals, and street scenes in the beautiful hilltop village of Arcos de la Frontera. I learned about the frontier between religions in Andalucía. We spent an interesting night in a bull fighting arena in Jerez de la Frontera at a flamenco festival. After the train ride from Cádiz it was a long walk from the train station in Córdoba to our motel, but the luggage rolled on over paving stones, curbs, and concrete. In Granada we stood under an overhang near the train station waiting for the rain to stop. It didn’t. So we deployed our plastic garbage bag rain covers for the luggage and walked briskly to our motel. When we returned to Málaga we had to negotiate the construction zone around the train station again, but no luggage failures. (Local spellings are used here throughout.)

It was a long train ride from Málaga to Algeciras where I took the ferry to north Africa. Tanger, Morocco is a challenge for travelers and luggage. It is a rugged industrial port which is well-worn and full of street hustlers. I had a long walk uphill to find my decrepit hotel. Old cobblestones were a hard workout for the wheels. An even longer walk the next morning to the train station was fortunately mostly over newer sidewalks. The train station in Tanger is new and shiny. I was supposed to be met at the train station in Fes by a taxi arranged by the hotel, but we missed each other. I got in a cab and started toward the old walled city center, the medina. We went only one block before the driver stopped in the middle of the street, jumped out, and got into a violent shouting argument with someone standing by the street. The cab door was hanging open in the traffic and I was alone in the cab as a small crowd gathered.  They were yelling in Moroccan Arabic so I never knew what it was about and it was unresolved when the driver returned. We went one more block and he stopped and picked up a friend who wanted to ride in the same direction. When I finally got to the gate of the medina he stopped and told me that my hotel was 200 meters ‘that way’. No cars can navigate the maze of tiny alleys and 200 meters provided plenty of rough cobblestones and many intersections. I was lucky that there were signs to the hotel. The taxi ride and the tumult of the crowded noisy alleys in Fes were intimidating but I was almost always treated with respect and kind hospitality. I learned a lot about Fes history, traditional crafts, religion, and culture. The medina was a total immersion. When I wheeled my load back up the hill to the gate to leave Fes I had an even more interesting cab ride. There are lots of official red Petite Cabs in Fes. I was waiting for one to drive by when a grizzled grandpa in a funky helmet rode up on a motorcycle pedicab. He insisted that he was a safe driver and would get me to the train station in good shape. I loaded my luggage and jumped in the open truck bed and hung on as my luggage and I bounced around through the potholes and traffic anarchy of Fes. But we did arrive safely. The longest train ride (8 hours) was from Fes to Marrakech. Due to a bad map that luggage really got a workout rolling over the stones and broken sidewalks around the train station as I circled the area trying to find the motel. Finally I gave up and took a cab. The next day was interesting for that luggage as it started the day in the back of a new SUV driving into the High Atlas Mountains and ended the day in a saddlebag on a mule in the village of Imlil. The photo above shows the entrance to Dar Imlil, a guest house. If you end up in Imlil someday, it should be high on your list for lodging. It is a great place. The last test for the luggage in Morocco was Casablanca. The urban streets would have been tough, but the cab driver found the motel (after an unsettling amount of wandering) and let me out at the door.

The Casablanca airport was smooth and easy for those wheels, as was Rome and Milano. Going through security and checking the luggage in Casablanca was very similar to US airports, except I couldn’t carry it on board along with my camera pack-0nly one item. But it showed up promptly in Milano ready for Italy. The next morning I had an interesting drive across northern Italy from Milano through Bergamo, Brescia, Verona,Vicenza, Treviso and Belluno on my way into the Dolomite Mountains. I was on the Autostrada (toll expressway) for most of the way so I could only see domes and cathedrals on hills in the distance. I eventually found my way on the narrow, winding roads in the mountains to the tiny beautiful village of Cibiana di Cadore. I rolled the luggage into the hotel and it stayed there safely while I explored the Dolomites. I even drove to Venice one day and to Kitzbuhel, Austria on another day. The self-reliance and love-of-life typical of mountain people were on display in every little village. Just as each village in Morocco had its mosque and minaret, so each village in the Dolomites had its cathedral and steeple. And since tourism and mountain recreation is vitally important, the villages are decorated with colorful shutters, hanging flower baskets, and artistic homes. Having a car in Italy allowed me to explore the Dolomites and I got a good workout. It took several days to get used to the narrowness with cars coming the other way on hairpin corners and big drop-offs. But the scenery is simply exquisite. I took so many photographs that I got physically exhausted from holding the camera.

Finally I had to pack up and head back to Milano. I put the strap around my faithful luggage and headed to the airport. It had navigated cobblestones, broken sidewalks, mule leavings, curbs, airport security, stairs, and over-packing again. No problem. During 2010 it also made trips to visit family in California and Oregon, USA. It went through a lot.

I tried to mail home and stuff in mementos from the many places that I visited. But most of my keepsakes are photographs, memories, and knowledge. Each time I was faced with new culture and traditions I felt disoriented and intimidated. But quickly a few interactions taught me that the people shared similar values and that their traditions were versions of the same things I was used to. Honesty, integrity, respect, humility, and thoughtfulness were expressed in each of the cultures. There were different religions, governments, and other cultural aspects. But as many people learn from traveling, we have more values in common than we realize.

Throughout my travels this year I enjoyed the variety of cultures and traditions. And there was certainly variety. And once again I learned that variety in art, architecture, traditions, etc enriches the experiences of travel. And the more time I put into learning about them before the trip the  better my photography planning goes and the more I get out of it.

In 2011 we plan a village-to-village walking tour near Cahors, France. My faithful rolling luggage will be stowed in a hotel at the starting point and we will venture on with light packs. But we will also explore the area for a few days after our walking tour so the luggage will get a workout.

I hope that in 2011 our experiences teach us more about our shared values and the importance of human connections. I wish the same for you!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

An Oasis Under Terracotta Palms

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The Mezquita, Córdoba, Spain

Palm trees stretch in every direction in perfect rows to the horizon. The branches overhead create a shimmering hypnotic illusion.

They are not a mirage. But the orange and white colors introduce doubt.

The further you walk the stronger the illusion takes hold. It is impossible to see the entire field of columns and arches from any one point. The feeling of being in a hall of mirrors is powerful. Every tree is the same size, the curve of every branch equal. Almost immediately you become lost in the maze.

If you arrive early you can wander quietly under the grove of terracotta palms with few distractions. This is the Mezquita (Spanish for mosque) in Córdoba, Spain. The building also contains a cathedral.

The original Mezquita opened in 785 AD. It grew and evolved over several centuries. At its peak it contained 14, 400 square meters (~155,000 square feet). It recreates a feeling of the openness of desert expanses. The roof is supported by widely-spaced columns and arches. They simulate the appearance of date palms. At one time there were 1293 columns. Fewer than 900 remain.

It is difficult to photograph this expansiveness, even with a super wide angle lens (set to 19mm). The lighting is dim. I tried to use a monopod but a security person told me that was not allowed. I offered to put the rubber tip of the monopod on my shoe so it wouldn’t mar the ancient floor. But the rule was rigid. (The same thing happened in The Alhambra in Granada, Spain.)  This photograph is only a small alcove within the Mezquita. If you turn to the right from this view the columns stretch away from you in every direction as far as you can see.

I spent two long mornings within the Mezquita. If you arrive at 8:30 am entrance is free and the crowds are small. After 10 am they charge an entrance fee and the tours begin. I photographed until there were too many people. Then I sat and watched and listened to the tours which were given in a variety of languages. This also gave me time to think about the things that may have happened during more than 12 centuries within this building. It is a place of spiritual contemplation and introspection.

Four Bells Toll Whom?

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Bell Tower, Mezquita-Cathedral, Córdoba, Spain

The Sun emerged over the ancient walls of the Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain. The sky was clear and perfectly blue. The bright light slowly moved down the bell tower and highlighted each architectural flourish. It enhanced the colors of the stone and the well-worn bells and their framework.

The stone sculpture and ornamentation showed signs of weathering.

The bells stood ready. They are part of the communication to worshipers from the cathedral within the Mezquita. But the stones that contain the bells began their service as part of another call to worship.

The Mezquita (Spanish for mosque) in Córdoba is an enormous stone building filled with a spell-binding expanse of columns and arches designed to mimic the open feeling of the desert. It was built on the site of, and incorporates portions of, the church of St Vincent. In 784 this site of both Visigothic and Roman structures was purchased for the expanding Muslim population. The Mezquita was built on the site. Córdoba remained an important center of Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus or Andalucía) until the reconquest in 1236. In the 16th century King Carlos I ordered the construction of a cathedral in the center of the Mezquita.

The original minaret was also reconstructed. This photo shows the reconstructed and encased minaret. It was originally 48 meters (157 feet) tall. In the 16th century it was rebuilt into this bell tower and now stands 22 meters (72 feet) tall. So this tower began as a minaret to call Muslims to worship.

I spent two long mornings photographing inside the Mezquita-cathedral. It is a singular place of beauty and history. I will post some of the photos from the interior in this blog later. This photo was taken while I was waiting for the Mezquita to open. The grounds of the Mezquita, which cover several square blocks, are enclosed within a tall wall near the river Guadalquivir. This bell tower is incorporated into the wall on the north side.

Sorry for the title of this posting which is a distortion of the title of one of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous books. For Whom The Bell Tolls is set in Spain and tells stories of the Spanish Civil War but didn’t have anything to do with this Mezquita, but I saw the four bells and somehow ….


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Flamenco Performance, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Thousands of people crowded onto the dirt floor of the bull arena in Jerez de la Frontera. Plastic chairs stood in long rows where matadors usually roamed. Rhythmic, syncopated clapping reverberated through the bleachers that circled the arena.

There was a happy fiesta mood in the air and long lines at the refreshment counters  under the stands, deep inside the arena. The local fino (sherry) flowed into pitchers. It was a long-anticipated night and the famous flamenco performers were ready.

This was a bulería festival. The bulería is a fast and dramatic style of flamenco music. Jerez is the home of the bulería which originated there in the 19th century. The music involves one or two guitarists, a lead singer, and several people clapping in unison as the percussion section. The guitar playing is fast and incredible. The singing is intense and very dramatic with a narrow range of notes.

The clapping is distinctive because it is very fast and the complicated rhythms accent the guitar playing. Despite the complicated rhythms, as each performer gained speed through their performance, thousands of people joined in and kept up. Between acts there were call-and-reply clapping challenges sent from one side of the arena to the other. Inside the halls of the arena, where people went for refreshments and restrooms, impromptu groups of young adults started clapping and singing performances. Rather than being cynical about traditional music they relished it.

These performances were a highlight of the autumn fiestas (Fiestas de la Vendimia) in Jerez in September. There were many musical acts but very little dancing. We expected more dancing. It was a long evening and when we left at 3:30 am there was still one more performer before the finale and jam session.

The evening did feature one act headlined by a dancer. Of course a still photograph can not portray the speed and intensity of a flamenco dancer. This photo is only a frozen instant. This is Andrés Peña. Even though it was after 2 am his performance was a furious and extended virtuoso exhibition. The sounds of the racing guitars and staccato clapping barely kept up with the flurry of piercing taps from his flying boots. It was a memorable end to an immersion into flamenco and Andalusian culture.

High Art

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Tower Sculpture, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Tower Sculpture, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

High art. Not high-brow art, just HIGH art. I am working on an exhibit of photographs of art in high places such as steeples, towers, minarets, domes, and building ornamentation.

The exhibit will be in Moonrise Herbs in Arcata, California in November, 2010.

This exhibit is the result of telephoto explorations of artwork in Spain, Morocco, and Italy. It will include photographs of steeples and minarets, which are remarkably similar to one another. But it will also highlight sculpture and other ornamental details high on towers and buildings.

The question is: Why did they put such great artwork so far off of the ground?

The only way that most people will ever appreciate this work is by looking through  binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses. That is unfortunate because the detail and skill shown in this artwork is remarkable.

I will post some of these photos on this blog as I work my way through photographs from my recent excursion.

This first example is in Venice, Italy on a tower high above Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square). It is near Saint Mark’s Basilica. This entire piazza is crammed with high art. The buildings are enormous and densely decorated with sculpture. The roofs bristle with statues and weird ornamentations.

The tile background behind the lion sculpture is a rich blue color that still matches the sky, visible on the sides of the tower, on a beautiful sunny day in Venice. When I look closely at this photo I can see that there is netting stretched over the lion. It must be there to keep pigeons off of the sculpture. The lion is holding a book sculpture. I would not have been able to read the script on the book standing in the piazza. Can you read it? Probably not on this small version. In Latin it says, “Peace unto you Mark my evangelist”. When this is printed and framed it is very legible.

Frontier Monument

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Monument, Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

Monument, Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

The names of many villages in southern Spain (Andalucía) include the phrase “de la Frontera”,  because they were on the frontier when they were named. This was a frontier between cultures and religions.

A clash of cultures that lasted centuries took place in Spain. Muslim and Christian leaders battled for influence and power. Moroccans and Saharan Berbers controlled vast areas of Spain including Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada for more than 200 years. Islamic culture and ‘Moorish’ architecture and art are intricately woven into the fabric of Andalucía. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religions were all practiced, but didn’t always co-exist peacefully. To me, logically, religion should be the least likely pretense for fighting and war, but it has been a common cause of intolerance and conflict throughout history.

This monument is in Vejer de la Frontera near the southwest coast of Spain. The veiled Muslim woman is a powerful image.  It is a recognition of the period when Vejer was within the area controlled by Islamic leaders.

I found this little plaza and monument one morning just before dawn as I was photographing the streets and buildings.  It is surrounded by the so-called ‘Juderia’ or ancient Jewish section of Vejer. It was a quiet and thought-provoking space overlooking the newer part of the city. It was intended as a reminder of changing cultures and their influences.

Vejer de la Frontera is a beautiful and well-preserved ancient village. On the hill behind this monument there are three enormous old wooden windmills. Andalucía has not forgotten the advantages of wind. There are thousands of even bigger modern wind generators scattered over the rolling countryside mixed in with large solar power generation facilities. Spain is advanced in the use of these kinds of electrical generation technologies.




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