i’m driving home today after doing some light grocery shopping, and while sipping on some sweet tea (just to conjure summer and drive winter back) my local station, WRNR 103.1 announces that they are giving out tickets to the 10th caller. The show for KEANE at the 930 club in DC is SOLD OUT, but i have 2 tickets for me and Marcy.
And that’s not even what i WON! i won tickets to a private luncheon event at The Ram’s Head Tavern Onstage which i have mentioned before and been to several times – a wonderful intimate venue. This is a private event BEFORE the actual show where winners get to meet & greet KEANE, hear a few songs like a warm up performance and participate in a Q&A session!
Well – it seems i survived the Storm of The Century of the Week. The Weather Channel kept referring to the approaching snowstorm as the “WINTER WALLOP.” i only see about 8″ but that’s enough to put everything to a halt out here. Maryland closes the schools and government if someone even whispers the word “snow.” The winds rolled in today, 24 hours late to do its job of whipping up some window high snowdrifts.
It was especially nice getting that call from work that said, “don’t bother coming in.” Of course – i missed out on money at work, but it wasn’t going to be your average Saturday nite nearing $300, so i didn’t risk sliding into a ditch for an unusual $80 or less.
What was really nice was watching the snowfall, baking croissants to eat with butter and homemade apple jelly spiced with red cinnamon, brewing some tea and watching the birdfeeder.
It’s butterflies in the summer and birds in the winter. Ok – so, i’m a bird nerd too. The birdfeeder has been like an airport the last few days. All manner of bird zooming in and chirping: chickadees, juncos, sparrows, tufted titmouse with their funny crowns, winter wrens, grey-cheeked thrush, red cardinals, and most exciting, i found (or it found me) a red-bellied woodpecker.
i shot a few from inside, caught some glare and then went outside, standing still and crouched against a wall to observe them swooping in to peck at the feeder. i then turned the camera in to my own window where Odin was watching intently, and probably wondering what i was doing out there in the snow with that silly white-spotted leopard flophat.
i don’t enjoying skiing or sledding or anything like that, but this kind of winter sport, i can learn to love because i love to learn.
DESIRE TO SLIDE INTO A DITCH AND DIE ON THE WAY TO WORK:
On this snowy day, a perfect day for doing some reading and thinking (and oh alright, some damn homework, if i must) i am wrapped in a soft red robe, bright as the cardinals lighting on the snow-laden branches and the bird feeder outside the window.
And so a trade in the weather calls for a trade in the birds . . .
I suppose i should tell you about my little Caribbean getaway, since i haven’t done that just yet . . .
We flew out of Philadelphia this time instead of Baltimore. The couple hours of extra driving were worth the $200 cheaper airfare. We were looking to go on the cheap since we would be checking in early evening (8pm) and leaving early morning (4am), so we stayed at the Motel 6 which i haven’t done since i was a child traveling across country. This place was squeaky cheap; the air was sterile, the lighting somber and jaundiced, the tv bolted down, not even any badly rendered seascapes or horrific art on the wall. The plaque on the bedside table discouraged smoking in the rooms but there were cigarette burns on the sheets. And as for the sheets . . . they were so over-bleached, thin and scratchy, i could barely tell them apart from the toilet paper which as you know, can be equally miserable!
But onto the actual vacation . . .
We arrived January 6th, on Beef Island and took a taxi to Tortola, for the first nite’s stay in the resort and the following day to collect the boat, a 42′ Beneteau monohull. It was Three Kings Day that day, celebrated in the Caribbean as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Hispanic communities, particular with Mexican Americans and especially on the East Coast. It is also known as the Epiphany feast, occurring 12 days after Christmas to commemorate the Three Kings – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who visited baby Jesus with gifts. The tradition is older than Christmas and Santa’s visit, but follows the similar gift-giving tradition. On the Eve of the Epiphany children collect hay, straw or grass and place it in boxes, containers or shoes (in Mexico) under their beds. This gesture is the equivalent of milk & cookies for Santa and is instead, a gift of food for the camels, elephants and horses that the Kings ride in on while they rest in between deliveries. If you thought a sleigh that landed on rooftops with reindeers was implausible, imagine a camel, horse or elephant on the roof! i’m sure you’d smell the barn yard coming . . .
But i digress – Three Kings Day, after the children received their presents and sweets, was more or less another reason to have a wild feast, bonfires, parades, and to consume Pusser’s Rum. Which no one needs an extra excuse to do down there.
Though i had only been to the British Virgin Islands once previous, getting back onto the boat, unpacking clothes and storing provisions was just like coming home. Everything in its proper place and then commence to stowing the Carib beer, getting plenty of ice, securing items and getting underway. The days are spent cooking breakfasts, sailing for a bit, stopping somewhere to moor or anchor near the island du jour, snorkeling, swimming, shopping, sunning. Showering off the saltwater and rinsing out the wetsuits. Catnapping through the brief, light rainfalls in the morning and mid-afternoon. Watching pelicans dive into the water after fish. Eating dinner on the boat or at some wonderful restaurant nearby. Drinking rum and beer until about 11pm or until you are too tired to resist the gentle sway of the boat and then it’s bedtime and up again with the morning rain sprinkling your face through the hatches and the 7am sun glinting off the water like pools of silver. i only seem to adhere this alien schedule when i am there. At home – i keep vampire hours.
We returned to our first sailing point, across the Sir Francis Drake Channel, past a collection of rock formations poking out of the water known as the Indians, and onto Norman Island, which is locally known as Treasure Island and is believed to have inspired the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic. We moored at an anchorage known as The Bight and rode our dinghy out to The Caves for snorkeling. The Caves are incredible rock formations only four feet deep, but dropping off to 40 feet near their entrance. The walls are encrusted with gorgeous, yellow and orange cup corals, sponges and incredible tropical fish swimming all around.
As we finished snorkeling, we were approached by a dingy with two frantic Italian men. One of them had deep-sixed their new, and expensive Oakley sunglasses. We rode out to their boat where i handed Brooks his weights and he dove to recover the lost glasses. Upon his resurfacing, the crew, 2 lovely women and four men all cheered, clapped and snapped photos. They offered us a couple beers, we sat down for an hour chat and they later gave us a bottle of wine from his brother’s vineyard! We drank that later with some fresh fruit, crackers and cheeses on our own boat.
We sailed past Peter and Salt Islands the next day and moored at Manchioneel Bay just off of Cooper Island. Manchioneel Bay is named for the trees on the beach with shiny, little, green, poisonous apples. The Carib Indians used this tree’s sap to poison their arrows as it causes severe skin blistering and, if in the eyes, at least temporary blindness. Manchioneel Bay is said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s famous “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” It is typically known for good snorkeling, but i must confess, this was a rainy, windy day where not much got done, besides popping anti-nausea medication, drinking ginger beer, and attempting to feel human. That night – eughhh . . . the boat swung around on the mooring ball and rocked sickeningly, prompting me to rename it “Lurch n Heel” or “Munch n Hurl” Bay. The only good thing is that Brooks got to go on his first dive that following morning, backtracking off Salt Island to a famous dive site, the Wreck of the Rhone, where the R.M.S Rhone (Royal Mail Steamer) went down in 1867 in a hurricane.
From there we sailed on to Virgin Gorda and landed in Spanish Town, where we stayed in the Yacht Harbor for two glorious (civilized) days. There we ate some wonderful food at a patio tavern called The Bath and Turtle. Chicken wings with Tamarind honey ginger barbeque sauce, conch fritters, some terrific fresh tuna and French Toast on actual French Bread for breakfast one morning. Chickens free-ranged everywhere with their chicks in tow (though they were not for dinner), goats roamed the local shore nibbling the grass, little dogs begged for food at the lunch tables in front of the small grocery store, bougainvillea grew in brilliant hedges, lizards flitted along fence posts and tree limbs. We took a taxi to visit a much-photographed scenic area called The Baths. The Baths are named for its large assortment of huge basalt boulders, formed deep underground from magma, which are properly called batholiths (from the Greek bathys and lithos, meaning “deep” and “stone.”) We climbed the trails, explored the caves and rocks, collected seashells and admired the feral cat with the torn ear who hung out at the little beach bar shack.
At the gift store, Brooks impulsively bought me a beautiful teardrop ring i had been turning over in my hand, hemming and hawing about amongst others, but was trying to behave by not purchasing. “I’ll take this one,” he said before the woman could put it back. “Is that the one i like?” i smiled and asked playfully. “Yes,” he said. And it was sealed. It’s so rare i buy jewelry for myself; to me wearing something is symbolic. It has to be right place, the right time, the right shape, color, energy, memory. Now i have something to remember Virgin Gorda and the Caribbean by.
We sailed past The Dogs (Seal Dogs, George Dog, West Dog and Great Dog) where there are a great many nesting birds and on to Marina Cay. Marina Cay is small eight-acre island with soft, white sand beaches, a beautiful nature trail with lush tropical plants, cactus, flowers, and wildlife, a small 8-bedroom hotel and bar, and a great little store attached to the tasty Pusser’s Restaurant. When we were there last time, a calico cat named Tess dined with us. In my lap, you could more correctly say. And she was still there! Cruising the dining room, being fed chicken scraps and shrimp tails. This time she sat with me while i rubbed her ears during dessert – rum soaked Bananas Boulangere with caramel, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Our dinners were sopped with the Pusser’s Rum creation called The Painkiller, available in levels 2-5.
Earlier in the day, the current was moving a bit, but i dove down and wedged the dingy anchor between two rocks on the silty, grassy bottom and Brooks went diving while i snorkeled with turtles and puffer fish along the reef. I found a beautiful tulip shell that i lost off the side of the boat in a clumsy, stumbling attempt to show off my prize. Brooks donned his dive equipment again and went down for recovery – surfacing with the shell and a few other lovely prizes. It wasn’t as interesting a dive as the one he took earlier in the week at Alice in Wonderland in South Bay on Ginger Island, but good search experience for his log.
We had a nice day of sailing and stopped off for an hour or so at Sandy Spit, the ideal tropical isle with the single leaning palm tree where i took this photo:
Our last stop was Great Harbor in Jost Van Dyke, only four miles long, named after a dutch pirate and known as an unspoiled “barefoot” island with a mere population of 200, a main street lined with restaurants and bars, the most famous of which is Foxy’s. We were privileged to catch Foxy Callwood himself singing in the afternoon and later during our dinner. He is notorious for dirty and corny joke-telling, and for making up songs about the people he meets and singing to them. He sang to Brooks who carried his shoes up from the beach on his hands and sang about him “wearing gloves on his feet.” He then sang to me as i took photos and encouraged me to use the flash or all i would get was “eyes and teeth” since he didn’t plan on getting his “black ass out into the sun.” Foxy’s throws infamous parties, one of which is New Year’s Eve. A New York Post journalist once wrote that there were only three places in the world to be on New Year’s Eve and voted Foxy’s as one of them. A staggering amount of people showed up that year and with all the boats, they turned the harbor into a giant raft. This tradition still continues . . .
We enjoyed a fabulous steak and lobster feast. The large, spiny lobster was fresh from the nearby Anegada Island. The music was enjoyable, the people danced wildly amid the Christmas lighting which still hung like colorful icicles from all the roof edges. Mind you – Foxy’s is like a sprawling lean together of tin roofs and wooden poles on which all manner of objects are stapled – any part of the structure it can be affixed to. The ceiling and visible areas are covered with business cards, t-shirts, boat flags, license plates, even signed underwear. All of which is proof of the many people the world over who have visited Foxy’s: a place that began as little more than a lemonade-stand-size bar, supposed to be open for one day only, and “has evolved into a major cultural force.” I know this to be the case because when i wear my Foxy’s t-shirt home, people smile and want to talk about it.
We stayed until the karaoke began and the overweight, sun burnt tourists began dancing to “Do you love me?” by The Contours.
We proceeded to wander down the beach to Corsairs Bar where Vinny “The Blade,” and wife Debbie were our fine and fabulous hosts. The last time we were there, we caught the last half of The Sopranos followed by Deadwood, where we invented our drinking game. Any time the word “fuck” or “cocksucker” or any derivative thereof was said, we took a drink. When someone was shot or died, we did a shot. We ended up giggling and toddling off to the dingy that night and pouring into bed i can tell you!
This time, we were treated to some drinks and interactive music from Reuben Chinnery. We were all (all meaning about 6 of us) encouraged to grab a percussive instrument out of a large milk crate including tambourines, shakers and a few things i failed to identify, and begin playing along. Reuben was wonderful, did a fine rendition of “Summertime,” and when a light rain began that chased us under the awning, he called the rain, “liquid moonlight.” A funny little drunk character named “Nippy” unloaded his hand-collected and crafted seashell necklaces onto the bar. i bought one and then he asked politely if he could touch my hair. Of course – i permitted.
I got to meet local artist, Aragorn who came by on his boat with t-shirt prints from his studio in Trellis Bay on Beef Island and also we received another visit from Deliverance, a small supply boat that offers ice, fruit, fresh baked goods and will pick up trash bags from your boat.
On the way back into Tortola, Brooks and i had to put on full rain gear. Two squalls hit us with winds and pelting rain and we had to motor all the way back in. We cleaned up the boat, collected the linens and cleared out. We were able to take a taxi into Road Town to see some local flair and culture.
As we waited to board the small plane, i noticed one of the women waiting with us. She had sung a Bob Marley song at Foxy’s during the karaoke madness. She hid her dark and lovely face behind her long, beautiful dreads and laughed as we said we recognized her. Turns out she is one of Foxy’s cousins.
My reward for the grey skies and the rain on the last day was a rainbow appearing just over the hillside as i walked onto the tarmac and boarded the plane.
With Douglas Adams on my iPod and into my ear, i drifted off to sleep. i was too tired to write in the little journal i brought with me, a journal whose pages rippled up from the wet and the salt, like the bends in my hair, some of the thoughts which are written here now.
i will be posting more snippets of memories in my scrapbook and my formal gallery as i look through the mega-folder of photos i took.
150 years ago, Charles Baudelaire expressed his passionate hatred of photography, for its scientific impression of reality, lacking any and all imagination, its Realism being a ” disgusting insult thrown into the face of all analysts.”
Diplomatically, he later on conceded to award the medium a supporting role, given proper castration;
“If photography is allowed to supplement art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it altogether….its true duty..is to be the servant of the sciences and arts – but the very humble servant, like printing or shorthand, which have neither created nor supplemented literature….”
In a discussion on photography, i recently read “in its purest form, photography is not creative, it’s reflective, it’s a perspective on what already exists. The artist creates, the photographer reveals.”
In essence, the photographer may not be a proper artist, not a true creator, but by taking in what conditions will produce, such as the angle of the photo, the lighting, the shadows, the weather, the composition of the image – having this understanding can be potentially both creative AND perceptive. The reproduction of something seen is not neutral — a selection is being made by the photographer and in this sense, aims to bring us something we may not have seen because of locale, or to recontextualize everyday objects and situations.
The photographer captures the image with a camera by way of lenses, film or digital media, shutter speed, aperture, additional lighting etc. That is the craft of photography. The photographer also sees things in the everyday world from a perspective and context that some people never notice. Therein lies the art of photography. Your own natural instincts often produce more in your photography than strict adherence to all of the rules and sometimes, you almost seem to conjure an image you didn’t intend, and it’s wonderful. That is the magic of photography and mostly, the reason i do it.
Yes yes yes. Craft. Magic. But ART? The word “art” comes from the Latin ars, which, loosely translated, means “arrangement” or “to arrange” The word “photography” comes from the Greek words phos (“light”), and graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or together meaning “drawing with light” or “representation by means of lines”, “drawing”. Indeed photography as art reveals it to be an arrangement of light intended to represent what is seen by means of lines.
Alfred Stieglitz, a U.S born photographer, married to Georgia O’Keefe, spent his career making photography an acceptable art form that could be considered alongside painting and sculpture.
i love all forms of photography and i appreciate ALL ways in which it is achieved from pinholes to digital SLRs and analog film. i am not a purist of, for or in anything. i simply don’t want to discount anyone’s ability or expression, nor do i want to insult them by claiming the tools or methods they choose are not acceptable or credible. And while, unlike Alfred, i don’t intend to spend my credit doing so – i am doing what most people do with their cameras whether it be snapshots of vacation places and family or some other more visionary, skilled pursuit: i am documenting life. My version of the human experience.
And speaking of a vacation with family . . .
If you recall my first trip to the British Virgin Islands, i embark on my return visit on the 5th of this month and will be gone until the 14th. I am looking forward to relaxation, to loosening the stiff, burning muscles in this back and neck of mine that heat pads and muscle relaxers barely take the edge off of, and of course – i plan to bring back plenty of art – uhhhhh . . . photography.
I will tell you something about stories,
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
My mother has an affinity for the Native American People. As her daughter, i felt the same connection to the earth beliefs of those tribal people: the interconnectedness of all things. i was born on Whidbey Island near Mount Baker and a reservation. The first shoes i came home in from the hospital were moccasins, and in my travels, i remember the pair of fawn-colored moccasins my mother used to wear. My mother had long auburn hair that swept the back of her thighs and the wind pulled it behind her like the dark, red scream of a horse’s mane. i remember driving across country, kicking up sand, looking out over desert and prairie. Looking out for rattlesnakes.
My mother recently visited me here in Maryland after the holiday and before the other and final one just passed. She brought my little sister Angel, who is now 13. We visited The National Museum of the American Indian, a most impressive circular, curving structure Situated on a 4.25-acre trapezoidal site, and new in the Smithsonian area on the Mall. So much care was put into the 15 year planning of the structure and design, i encourage you to read about it . . .
We watched some native dances, with accompanying drumming and singing. This took place in the Potomac, the central gathering place in the museum’s entry point which soars 120 feet to the top of the dome and spans 120 feet in diameter. All the way up, curving stairwells are lined with the heads of people, peering over to watch the presentations & dances. The word Potomac, which comes from the Piscataway word meaning “where the goods are brought in,” honors the Native peoples from the Washington, D.C., area.
I watched several dances including the Welcome Dance and a Fancy Dance. In some dances, performers imitate the movement of warriors sneaking up and killing an enemy or of them – Counting Coup, which was a way of bettering an opponent, almost teasing him, sneaking up on him, frightening him without killing him. The children volunteered to line up in a circle as a dancer performed the Counting Coup, startling them when he leapt in front of them randomly, then taking a “gimme five” slap to show they stood their ground and did not move. The act of touching a live enemy and getting away from them, touching rather than killing the enemy, was a way to show bravery. This was called Counting Coup and Eagle feathers were awarded for this act, the Grand Coup.
The WWII Memorial, newly erected in Washington, D.C., was something my mother wanted to see especially, out of all the monuments. Her father, my grandfather, Andrew Joseph Paull, who i was named for, would’ve been thrilled to see such a site, finally honoring those veterans. He was a POW in Tunisia, North Africa for two years before he finally came home. From him, my love of music, my knowledge of the guitar and Blue Grass, love for gardening and nature, the sour taste of crab apples, the sweet taste of creamed coffee and pancakes, buttered corn on the cob, and falling asleep to John Wayne Westerns.
Every time i visit, Arlington National Cemetery, i see and learn something new about the place itself and about American history. How “the remains of the Vietnam Unknown” at the Tomb of the Unknowns “were exhumed May 14, 1998 and based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972.” (the year i was born) He is no longer a soldier “known only to god” as the white marble sarcophagus declares. Of course we visited the Eternal Flame where John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis lie, flanked by two of their children, and the simple white cross at the Robert F. Kennedy gravesite. Something i had not seen before was the Nurses Memorial. A bone white, smooth granite statue of a nurse in uniform overlooks a rounded burial plot, her hand gesturing lightly from beneath a cape as if to say, “look at all these women who served alongside and cared for you.” The plot of grass where the nurses are buried is curved and concave, like a spoon where medicine is delivered, a bowl where food is given, a basin where the body is cleansed, a cupped hand to hold the head and hand of the dying, and a womb, a place to hold you and deliver you back.
My mother loves the Native American people and its history, my mother’s father was a WWII veteran, my mother treats men who are veterans at the VA hospital in Detroit, Michigan, my mother, the nurse – i wondered if she saw all of this.
All creatures great and . . .
There were birds: geese flying over the frozen Reflecting Pool before the Washington Monument and black squirrels everywhere we went on the path to the memorials. On the way back to the Metro a boy and his father sat on a park bench. My eye was drawn to the small, brown mouse sitting between them, eating a tiny, gold ball of caramel corn, shuddering. “His name is Buster,” said the boy smiling, “i think he’s cold,” he then said, adding a frown.
As for me . . .
This year. Wait. Last year. Right, the day has past already. All is quiet on New Year’s Day. This will not be my Year In Review, but more my time for reflection. It was a year for growing, for losing, for gaining. I lost three friends – i gained three others back. i lost a beloved pet, i welcomed a new one to love.
My Photos. My Pictures. My Scrapbook. My Informal Online Gallery. i am not brave enough to use phrases like my “work” or my “art.” Eugghh . . . no offense to anyone who feels comfortable with that sort of language, but i would just see myself as some wildly pompous assclown to go around touting myself as some grand photographer. I don’t even get PAID to do this stuff unless it’s a wedding. And i intend i think, to keep it that way, unless i sell it to someone who truly enjoys the image enough to hang on the wall, fridge, bulletin board, etc.
Have i gotten any better? i think so. And more – i SEE things better now and understand the tools and am getting better at conveying the basic and emotional element contained in the images i see and try to capture. Which means with more time (and MUCH more $$$) i will go about improving the tools i have to truly render the images i can see, but not perfect.
i try very hard to explain why and what i see when i take a picture as sometimes, the content is not fully expressed until perhaps you know what you are looking at and why. “Why did i want you to see this?” and “Do you see what i see?” is a game i play with all of my photos.
There’s not enough space or time here, but in my next rant – i will be sure to tell you what i think photography has done for me (and others) as an [art]form. People like to squawk about that one, and also like to argue about how digital technology is an abomination to the process. Lest we forget, any artform is documentation of the human experience and the human experience is a vast story book upon which everyone wishes to scribble on the pages. It is all proof we existed.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.