If there’s such a thing as understated greatness, the Buddy Holly memorial and Texas Walk of Fame in Lubbock, Texas must be such a place. Not that I traveled all the way to Lubbock with the purpose of visiting the Buddy Holly Memorial Park, but rather that it would have been inconceivable to travel to Lubbock and not visit the park sandwiched between Cricket Avenue (named in memory of this famous band) and the Buddy Holly Avenue. The classy, yet small, memorial to Lubbock’s prodigal son is actually quite impressive by its sheer simplicity. A statute and some plaques commemorating some of the area’s great artists is all you’ll find in the perfectly manicured park adjacent to the former train station that now houses the Buddy Holly Center. The somewhat isolated area at the edge of town seemed to receive an occasional trickle of visitors while I was there, but slowly and quietly they kept on coming to pay their respects to the musical legend. A humble tribute to a boy from Lubbock who died a premature death, but who’s music and artistic influence will no doubt live forever.
Stockholm is not an easy city to get lost at. With its incredible public transportation system and orderly rhythm, getting lost is something that you really have to work at when visiting. But like in most of the great cities of the world, the city can easily be divided into places where tourists hang out and places where the locals go about their everyday lives. It is the latter that interest most photographers and creative people, even if the touristy places are also a necessity if you are ever going to understand the history and grandeur of these famous cities. Such is the case in Stockholm, where visiting the busy Sergels torg and the beautiful, horseshoe-shaped Nybroviken harbor area are a must. But so are the more off-the-beaten-path places like the Katarina-Sofia hilltop neighborhood with its cobblestone streets and its quaint, tree-shaded parks like Mosebacke torg, always blessed by the lazy, yellow light of a northern summer sun. So it is possible to get lost in Stockholm after all. In the process you are sure to discover not only the beauty of an ancient city, but also the wonders of a life with a more humane rhythm and balance. It is nice to know that such places still exist and that such a life is still possible in this modern, hectic world. Maybe it has something to do with only having a somewhat homogeneous population of about 9.6 million in the entire country (about half the population of New York state), or the fact that most of the year the country remains sun-starved and indoors. Who knows. Whatever the reason behind that lifestyle is, there is no denying that it is there nonetheless. Just don’t try getting a pizza delivered to your front door at midnight on a weekday. That, my friend, is why the Swedes come to our neck of the woods for.
It has definitely taken me a long time to visit this jewel of the north, but the long wait has only made me enjoy this glorious city that much more. Stockholm, Sweden is one of those places that is much more than a city. Yes, it is absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful architecture and incredible views that seem to pop right out of a postcard. But more than that, Stockholm seems to be a state of mind, a place that for those of us coming out of the über busy, constant stress western part of the world, seems to have almost a zen quality to it. Don’t get me wrong, the place is quite busy on its own, but you can’t spend more than a few days in the city without feeling that there is a certain rhythm to life here that is somehow lacking in our personal worlds. When visiting the residential area of Hornstull in the southern island of Södermalm, I actually met couples of professionals around 10:00 AM at a café who were actually enjoying a cup of coffee and a croissant together before going off to work. That’s right, 10:00 AM, couples, moving as in concert with the slow, yellow light of a morning sun. Who are these people?
No doubt the city itself has a lot to do with people’s attitudes towards everything from work to family life. A conglomeration of islands, Stockholm is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty that is best appreciated during the warmer summer months. The busy city center of Norrmalm rapidly gives way to the incredible middle island of Gamla Stan, or Old Town, anchored around the imposing Royal Palace and Parliament building. And then, there’s easy-going Södermalm, with views of the city of Stockholm that will take your breath away. Perhaps more than any other area in the city, Södermalm personifies the quintessential Scandinavian lifestyle, at least as the rest of the world imagines it. Beautifully old architecture around the cobblestone streets of Bastugatan and Pryssgränd, eclectic and trendy in the SoFo (south of Folkungagatan street) district, and idyllically laid back around its western Hornstull waterside neighborhood, Södermalm appeared to me to be the perfect place to live and raise a family. The incredible city views along the Monteliusvägen trail and the hilltop hangout at Mosebacke Terassen only add to the area’s incredible charm.
But there’s a lot more to Stockholm than Södermalm that I will be addressing over the coming days, even when fully aware that nothing I say here can truly capture the full scope and wonders of this great city. Even now when my feet are firmly planted back home where the skies are not as blue in a 24/7 world of take-out coffee and fast food restaurants, I’m finding it hard to release my mental grip from around that Stockholm state of mind. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to hang on to that feeling, but I’m going to try as hard as I can not to loose it.
Remember the fun days of summers from your youth? Well, they’re still there, even if these days we are mainly occupied with work, achievement, and all sorts of other important things. However, after watching this summer youth program along the Potomac River yesterday, I started to think about a conversation I once had with my college professor brother. Having asked him why he had chosen to remain a college professor for life in the place he did instead of entering the corporate world to make the big bucks, his reply kind of took me by surprise. He pointed out that while he recognized the earning potential of those who toil at their work all year round, he had made the conscious decision to choose a career where he “had not worked a single summer since his high school graduation.” Summers were his to engage in all sorts of personal projects and activities, and that long-term freedom must certainly have a value that cannot be measured by dollars alone. Fun? Summers off? Freedom? You can only imagine what was going through the head of yours truly, a never-summer-off dedicated public servant who spent most of his professional life in the United States Marine Corps. So here I was with my camera at the Washington Sailing Marina recording how much fun summers can be, thinking about how few of them we will have in our lifetimes, and realizing that my brother was a genius for the choices he made. It took a bunch of laughing, giggling, sun-drenched youth fumbling over sails and choppy waters to remind me of that.
I am convinced that driving along country backroads is a sure way of discovering all sorts of photographic wonders. Not that this sort of observation will lead to a Nobel Prize any time soon, but rather that in today’s busy world, driving for pleasure has become a rarity for too many people. If you are old enough to remember the family Sunday ride, you’ll know what I mean. It was all about the ride, and about looking around. A visual journey where time and speed were always subordinated to the thrill of discovering something new (or different) along the way. The rides were fun, unstructured, and rewarding. Sort of like sitting behind a glass window in a coffee shop watching the world go by, but with wheels. These photos were the product of one such ride along the Virginia countryside. Amazing what you find when your eyes insist on seeing.
Never gave this photograph much thought until I started to look at it in greater detail. Certainly, the contrast between the photo’s foreground and background could not have been more stark. In some sense, the photo is almost a reflection of the state of society in many of our major metropolitan areas, where the distance separating different worlds sometimes comes down to just a few feet. I can only wonder whether these worlds are conscious of each other’s existence or whether they have become numb or invisible to each other by now.
Photographs with lots of dark, contrasty areas are not generally my thing, but sometimes I can’t help but be intrigued by the mystery they convey. Not that I’m out to capture such photos as a matter of routine. In fact, more often than not they just happen without any degree of planning. Such was the case with this photograph, which I captured upon entering an indoor business plaza and seeing the gentleman walking down a dark, arched hallway. The photograph just emerged in front of me, and before I knew it, I brought my Leica to my eyes, focused, and hit the shutter release. Did I forget anything in the process? Yeap. To my surprise, I had failed to worry about two of the key components of a proper manual exposure: aperture and shutter speed. Being quick kind of took over from being perfect, but the results truly conveyed the mood of the scene that had unfolded right before my eyes. Perhaps there is some merit after all in the absence of perfection. I need to remember this more often.
Think that you have to travel to Scotland to find great whiskey? Then think again, because some great spirits are being concocted right here in your Virginia backyard. That’s right, just where the mighty Blue Ridge Mountains give way to the undulating plateau of Rappahannock County, the Copper Fox Distillery is quietly producing award-winning whiskeys and spirits that you have will not easily find at your local liquor stores (at least not yet, but check out the press they have received). These are not your average high-volume, mass-produced products for a global market, though. On the contrary, the whiskeys and spirits coming out of Copper Fox are handled by hand in relatively small batches that reflect the artisan’s approach to producing low-yield, high-quality products. During one of their scheduled tours, it was quite surprising to see how bottles were being handled one at a time with the painstaking care characteristic of a Swiss watchmaker. And while the distillery has been around since the year 2000, modernity appears to live well hand-in-hand with traditional methods of craftsmanship that are so rare in today’s world. One barrel at a time, Copper Fox seems to be putting Virginia whiskey on the connoisseur’s map. So what did I end up bringing home after my short trip down River Lane Road? I went for their signature Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (Batch No. 107). I am definitely no connoisseur, but I already have plans to enjoy this elixir as if I were one. Cheers.
Do you nap? If you are like most people, you probably won’t admit to it, even if you secretly grab a “z” or two throughout the day. For some reason, the old siesta trend has never taken much of a hold in North America. Coffee, mid-day power walks, and slacker phobias make sure that this doesn’t happen. Where Europeans and Latin Americans see rest, people in the good-old USA see laziness. Not that a little rest nap is less needed in the USA than any other place in the world, but rather that in the name of über-productivity, you are not getting paid to doze off while on the clock. Oh, sure, you can chat all day at the office and waste time like the best of them while getting paid, but napping? Just forget it. But as these photos show, sleeping in public places may be a new, socially accepted trend in America. For the modern worker, this could be a much-welcomed development. Going out for lunch can now be combined with a quick power nap at a park bench. No park benches where you hang out? No problem. Any flat, solid surface will do, as the only requirement seems to be that the surface be uncomfortable (which will send the message that you are not trying to get too comfortable). Knee up or knee down? I would recommend knee up because it conveys a more dynamic pose, which implies that while you are flat on your back, you do intend to get back to something productive soon. Who knows, this may just be what you need to move your career to the next level. What level will that be? That I’ll leave to you to find out.
Don’t convince yourself that you need to travel to Old Europe to see some incredible architecture. If you are curious enough, you can stick to some of your local attractions like this magnificent hall at the National Portrait Gallery. Frankly, this photo doesn’t do the hallway justice, as the sheer magnitude and beauty of this colorful hall is simply stunning. I guess when thinking about traveling is good to sometimes start thinking locally.
Ever come back from a photo outing and notice that there seems to be a pattern with your photographs? I did. After going over my photos after a trip to the Rosslyn area in Northern Virginia, I came to the realization that for whatever reason, I seemed to be fascinated with circular objects in the area. I grant you that this was a strange realization for me, but then again, I guess round objects and architecture do seem to break the linear mold that characterizes most modern, urban development in America. To tell you the truth, I never gave a lot of thought to the notion that our visual world is dominated by rectangles and straight lines. Well, not in Rosslyn, where folks do seem to have quite an artistic flare and love of round things. The neighborhood was already a favorite of mine because of the amazing reflections you see on the side of its tall, glass buildings. There’s simply nothing like it in the DC Metro area. And as far as I know, no one puts it on top of their list of priorities to go and spend a day wandering around Rosslyn, but I’m glad I did. The place never ceases to surprise me.
Ever heard of NoMa? Don’t blame you, as most people wonder whether the acronym stands for some sort of medical condition. But if there’s a neighborhood that is on its way up (and I mean way up), it is NoMa, or what is otherwise known to non-hipsters as North of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is still work in progress, but with its spacious metro stop (NoMa-Gallaudet Station) and proximity to Union Market (the hottest market in town), the area will no doubt have a great future as a place to live and work. Three significant employers are smack in the middle of the neighborhood: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), National Public Radio (NPR), and the DC facilities of SiriusXM Radio. Add to this a public wi-fi network, clean streets, and a whole slew of small, affordable restaurants, and you can’t help but be impressed with this up-and-coming neighborhood. It won’t remain undiscovered for long.
London has one and now there’s one within view of downtown Washington, DC. As if Maryland’s National Harbor needed anything else to establish it’s leading development role in the area, here comes one of the most exciting structures we’ve seen in the land of boxy government buildings: the 180-foot high Capital Wheel right at the edge of the Potomac River. This is an imposing structure, but it will no doubt cement the notion of National Harbor as one of the leading places to have some fun in the metro area. In fact, there’s nothing in DC that comes even remotely close to this structure and the way it makes you relive the joyful days of another era. And while I was there during the day, the friendly folks operating the wheel informed me that most of the crowds show up at night when the city and the harbor area are at their best illuminated selves. Even better, the lively nightlife is just down the pier just beyond the sunken Neptune. I guess I’ll be crossing that river from staid Alexandria a little bit more often from now on.
I never thought that the lonely, cutting sound of a small chisel would cause such a great impression on me. After all, this is something we don’t hear or see every day. A cold chisel being driven by gentle, patient hands into a granite wall with the methodical rhythm of someone who’s intent has more to do with achieving perfection than with worrying about time. As I watched this artist work the stone I couldn’t help but think that this is the same level of patience and precision that goes into the making of top-end Leica cameras (which just happens to be what I used to take this photo). For some people this is boring stuff, and no doubt watching an artisan’s slow, methodical work interspersed with numerous periods of silent observation is not everyone’s cup of tea. For others, it is like watching a chess match by Grand Masters, where the long, tense silence is suddenly disrupted by a stroke of genius involving the subtle move of a chess piece to an adjacent square on the board. Beauty lives in the very simplicity of the act.
While most people around the country imagine the glamour of working at a big city like Washington, for many of the local bureaucrats the magic seems to have faded a little. Not that the so-called power lunch is a thing of the past, but rather that the road to the inner circle appears to require some time on a bench like the one depicted on the photo above. But in a city where who you know is more important than what you know, the distance from that bench to a table with a white table cloth and expensive silverware could indeed be a short one. Better keep those eyes open and that suit pressed just in case.