A Few Days Of Heaven

Monument Blossoms

Like happiness, it never last very long. That’s just the way it is, but while it lasts, it is nothing short of heaven. I’m obviously referring to the yearly spectacle that is the Cherry Blossoms blooming season around the Tidal Basin area downtown Washington, DC. That’s right, the same town where politicians have given new meaning to the word hate, but where nature, in spite of their attempt to spoil it, explodes in all its beauty for a few days in March every year. Around the grassy meadows of the Washington Mall, the eternal fights just a few blocks away seem as in a different galaxy. The beautiful bloom of these bendy trees remains as oblivious of the politicians as the politicians remain of their delicate flowers. In fact, the Cherry Blossoms are a happy zone, a zone where smiles and enjoyment of what life has to offer are potent enough to exclude any feeling of unhappiness and dejection. A zone where “public demonstrations of affection” are not only evident everywhere you look, but where they are impossible to repress amongst so much beauty. It is a yearly ritual that only lasts three or four days, but one that that is the clearest symbol of spring and of the beauty, happiness, and hope that still exists in the world. Nature, and people, at their best. The world could use a little bit more of both.

Cherry Blossoms Did Show Up After All

Blossoms Girl

It was a cliffhanger, but the famous Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms did manage to show up after all. A bit subdued mind you, but there they are along with the crowds. And while the cold, rainy season is kind of putting a damper on people’s mood, it is virtually impossible to walk amongst these wonderful trees and not feel some sort of uplifting, positive force that could can turn any sour Washington bureaucrat into a happy person. And believe me, that is saying a lot. Every year, this beautiful gift of nature appears to remind us that not everything is gloom and doom in this world. In fact, it is a reminder that the dark, cold days of winter don’t last forever, and that there will always be a spring, and flowers blooming, and lovers moved by nature’s spectacle. Life as an eternal cycle, with endless springs to come.

The First Days Of Spring

The first days of spring bring incredible colors to the Washington, DC area. [Click photo for larger version]
The first days of spring bring incredible colors to the area.
Magnolia trees begin to bloom at the Smithsonian Institution garden.
Magnolia trees begin to bloom at the Smithsonian Institution garden.
The quiet and understated Mary Livingston Ripley Garden behind the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.
The quiet and understated Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.

Oh, spring. It comes every year as a refreshing breeze that renews our spirits in ways that are hard to describe. With the emergence of those wonderful first flower buds from their winter slumber, we can’t help but think that life continues its yearly ritual of offering us a new beginning, and a much-needed momentary antidote to all that the gloom accumulated during the winter months. And as we take those first, hesitant steps into the warm sunshine infused with the subtle perfume of those first blooms, we realize once more that in spite of all the challenges in our lives, there is still plenty of beauty out there for us to enjoy.

And strange as it may sound, one of the most wonderful places in the wold to enjoy the glory of a new spring is none other than our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. From the incomparable beauty of the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin, to the dreamlike magnolia trees at the Smithsonian Parterre and Moongate gardens, this city of massive concrete buildings and long faces suddenly cheers up as it transforms into one of the greatest gardens in the world. Bureaucrats don’t seem to hurry as much, passerby’s actually smile a lot more, and lo-and-behold, the city experiences a dramatic increase in “public displays of affection.” And if the spring flowering ritual can infuse such transformation on hardened DC bureaucrats, just imagine the effect that it has on the rest of us. Without a doubt, a magic potion for all that afflicts us.

Zurich, Switzerland Never Disappoints

The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]
The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland.
Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.
Incredible city landscape.
Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.
Get off-the-beaten-path for some unique finds.
Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.
It is the little things that make Zurich so special.
While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.
Local eateries do cater to those short of time.
A local chef and a bartender take a break before the dinner crowds descend on their establishment.
A local chef and a bartender.
Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.
Ever wonder why photographers love European models?
In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.
Christmas celebrations in Old Town.

It’s been a long while since I last visited Zurich, Switzerland.  In fact, it’s been about a decade, to be precise, and if it was wonderful the day I left, it has gotten even better now.  Sure, the crowds have increased quite a bit, and this world financial center has not gotten any cheaper.  But the Alpine magic that once captivated a younger version of myself is still there, and in great quantities.  The blue evening glow generated by the sun’s reflected light from the snow-capped mountains, the chilly morning strolls along the Limmat river, and the joyful holiday spirit that makes the Christmas season so special along the Alpine Region of Europe.  Yes, they are all still there, and so is the evoked feeling that you are visiting a very special place in the world, where in the course of one day you can’t avoid but feel that you have heard just about every language under the sun spoken along the old, cobblestone streets in the city.  I may not understand most of them, but one thing I do know for sure: that they are as fascinated as I am with this gem of a city.  How do I know this?  Because a happy face is easy to spot, and happy faces they have.  After all, couples don’t hold hands and kiss in public places when they are not happy.  But Zurich has that effect on people, and as long as it does, this aging traveler will continue to come back to find its incredible magic.

Cherry Blossoms Mark The Arrival Of Spring

The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photo for larger version]
The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photos for larger version]
The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.
The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.
When the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, momentarily displays a decidedly Parisian flare.
With the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, suddenly shows a decidedly Parisian flare.

It is a yearly ritual, but it never ceases to amaze. The annual spring blooming of the Cherry Blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC is one of those unique gifts of nature that no matter how many times you have experienced it in the past, the sheer beauty of this blooming spectacle is something not to be missed. Sure, the photos by now have all started to look the same, and the crowds will always descend on the place as pilgrims on a pilgrimage, but it really doesn’t matter. Has anyone ever tired of looking at a pretty face? Or has anyone ever wished for less happiness in their lives? Impossible. In the early morning hours of a perfect spring day, the blossoming cherry trees along the undulating shores of the Tidal Basin are the stuff of fantasies. The pink and white colors of the blooming flowers appear to fight for everyone’s attention, while the cool, misty fog along the water’s surface gradually gives way to the lazy, yellow light of a morning sun. It is a spectacle like no other, and year after year, it will bring us back to see and feel the coming of a new spring. A reminder of how beautiful life can be, and how great it is to be alive.

 

An Ode To Roundness

Gateway Park in Rosslyn, Virginia hardly sees any visitors, but the place pays homage to all sorts of curvy lines.
Gateway Park in Rosslyn, Virginia hardly sees any visitors, but the place pays homage to all sorts of curvy lines.
While people hardly notice any more, round designs do seem to play a big role in our enjoyment of the urban landscape.
While people hardly notice any more, round designs do seem to play a big role in our enjoyment of the urban landscape.
Local artists have embraced circular design options to decorate large corporate walls in the Rosslyn area.
Local artists have embraced circular design options to decorate large corporate walls in the Rosslyn area.
The round Rosslyn Artisphere is one of the key local attractions in the area.
The round Rosslyn Artisphere is one of the key local attractions in the area.

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.

Spring Is Finally Here

You can barely tell that a couple of weeks ago temperatures were at the freezing level and it was snowing in the Mid-Atlantic region.
You can barely tell that a couple of weeks ago temperatures were at the freezing level and it was snowing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

What a difference a couple of weeks make.  As April started in the Mid-Atlantic region, freezing temperatures and a couple of inches of snow would have led you to believe that winter would never end.  Instead of birds singing in the morning all you could hear was the unmistakable raspy sound of ice scrapers chiseling away windshields before the dreaded morning commute to work got started.  Gladly, all that appears to be behind us now and those dreaded ice scrappers have been put away for good.  This coming week should also be the peak bloom period for the famous cherry trees lining the Tidal Basin in DC.  The annual Cherry Blossom Festival is in full force and the weather could not be more perfect.  Time to get out and see the world waking up from its long, winter slumber.  See you out there.

The Static Photograph

Some everyday photographs remind me of paintings in a museum.  Leica M 240, Zeiss Ikon 35mm f/2 T* ZM Biogon
Some everyday street photographs remind me of paintings in a museum. Leica M 240, Zeiss Ikon 35mm f/2 T* ZM Biogon.

One of the great things about photography is its ability to hold on to a scene so we can take our time in analyzing it.  This is what photographers commonly refer to as “capturing the moment.”  Now mind you that this “moment” doesn’t really have to be publishable material, but rather it is a moment that has the effect of grabbing on to your attention while simultaneously precluding you from moving on in a hurry.  The phenomenon is commonly experienced when we flip through a photo book or magazine barely noticing much of its content, until something makes us stop and take notice.  Sometimes it’s bewilderment, sometimes it’s just plain old curiosity.  But we do stop and linger while our eyes and brains get in synch to make sense of what lies before us.  Not that this whole synching thing takes a long time.  After all, we’re talking Internet-era attention span here.  But unlike video, our “moment” goes nowhere and there’s never a need to rewind.  It is static, suspended in time until we are done with it.  It is a story onto itself, and we rarely know what happened before or after this fraction of a second in time.  An incomplete story where more often than not our imagination must fill in the blanks.  Perhaps that’s why we linger after all, to take our time in completing the story.