Empty Tables

There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.
There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.
Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.
Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.
Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.
Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.

I’m fascinated by tables. No, it’s not a clinical condition or anything of the sort, but rather that whenever I see a table with some chairs, it is almost impossible for me not to photograph it. Now, mind you, that I’m not talking about just any table out there. My photographic fascination lies with those unoccupied, lonely, waiting-for-someone kind of tables. Yes, yes, a bit awkward, I’ll grant you that, but I just can’t help it. Every time I see one, I am inevitably transported to an imaginary story of a secret rendezvous, a long wait for a person who never shows up, or the melancholic story of a table that remains unoccupied, night after solitary night. Yes, I can see it now: a long wait, nervous anticipation, an uncomfortable smile, a conversation, a tear. Who knows. All I know is that I’m no writer, but if I were, perhaps it would be at one of those empty tables where I would start my next great story, or end it.

 

A Little Street Photography Therapy

The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]
The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]
Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.
Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.
You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.
You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.
Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.
Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.

You know those days when no matter how hard you try, it is virtually impossible to come up with any great idea for a photographic project? Well, today was one of those days. Nothing there. So as I have done so many times in the past when I am in desperate need of some photographic therapy, I grabbed my camera and out I went. I figured that a little street photography would do me some good by clearing up the Friday photographic fog. No plans, just random walking for as long as my feet could stand it. I’m glad I went out, thought, because everyone seemed to be in a good mood in this otherwise grumpy city. No doubt the Friday “I’m out of here” thing was beginning to sink in or something, but more likely it was the effect of a perfect spring day before a long holiday weekend. Whatever it was, it was definitely contagious. Over six miles of walking with my camera, a very enjoyable culinary visit to several of the local food trucks, and a quick stop for some liquid therapy at the bar in Jaleo, and everything was well with the universe once more. A great day after all.

 

Searching For Urban Serenity

Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]
Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]
Movement without movement.
Movement without movement.
Memories of another season.
Memories of another season.
Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.
Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.
A place where endless stories are written.
A place where endless stories are written.

I have long been fascinated by the notion of capturing urban serenity in my photos. Not that I’ve always been successful in doing so, but rather that I enjoy looking for these types of scenes as if with the devotion of an astronomer looking for a new star. I know these scenes are out there, but my eyes don’t always see them. This is not for lack of trying,mind you, but rather that in the visually oversaturated environments of our modern cities, it is not easy to avoid visual distractions. Sort of like trying to write the next, great American novel in a room full of people who insist on constantly talking to you. Not easy, to say the least.

The challenge of capturing an image depicting urban serenity is compounded by the fact that most of these scenes can only be found in a portion of our natural field of view. That is, they hide in parts of what we see, not in all we see. Sometimes they may not amount to more than 10-20 percent of what’s in front of us, off to a corner and easily overshadowed by the more visually-demanding center of the scene. From the photographer (or the creative), these hidden gems demand a certain level of visual cropping–the ability to segment a scene into smaller micro-scenes that could stand visually on their own. It is the proverbial needle in the haystack challenge, and it’s never an easy one.

There is also a certain calm in those scenes. Like the quiet person in a busy room, they can’t help but attract your attention in spite of their best effort to be ignored. They attract us because they engage us, they make us think, or at the very least, imagine. And even if for a brief, but precious moment, what better place to live than in our imaginations.

 

A Short (And Wonderful) Visit To Milan, Italy

Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]
Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]
The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.
The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.
Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.
Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.
Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II there are some of the best cafés in the city.
Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II you can find some of the best cafés in the city.
Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.
Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.
The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.
The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.
The busy cafés along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.
The busy coffee bars along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.
If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.
If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.
One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.
One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.
One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.
One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.
Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.
Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

The richest city in Italy is one that is often ignored by tourists. Not that they never go there, but rather that it just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Venice to the east or Rome to the south. That’s a pity, because after spending some time in Milan, I am convinced that this northern powerhouse has to be one of the nicest cities I’ve visited in a long time. While Venice and Rome are representatives of the country’s past, Milan is definitely the poster child for Italy’s future. Sophisticated, classy, and energetic, this northern-most post of all things Italian oozes with class and energy. Not sure what it is, but there’s definitely a different vive about it that is hard to find in other parts of Italy. Not necessarily better, but different, and in a good way.

Landing in Milan I was well aware of the city’s fashion and publishing fame. In fact, the publisher who brought the world Boris Pasternak’s smuggled script of Doctor Zhivago hailed from Milan. And when it comes to fashion, you name it and it is in Milan. But what I was not aware of was how nice the Italians from this city were. Friendly, conversational, and kind of patient with the hordes of people who swarm the city during international events like the World Expo, they are approachable and always willing to help.  And then there’s food. It’s almost impossible to do it justice with words alone, but suffice it to say that if you spend any time in Milan and don’t put on some serious poundage, then there’s something definitely wrong with you. From the famous Aperitivo hours (a sort of Happy Hour where you buy a single drink and can gorge from a buffet for three hours) to the out-of-this-world Risotto a la Milanese, the city’s bounty is a perfect compliment to the fabulous wines from the adjacent regions (Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Amarone). And coffee. As far as I am concerned, standing along coffee bar counters for a quick caffè, macchiato, or marocchino in the afternoon is reason alone to visit Italy, and in Milan you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with perfectly coiffed locals getting their afternoon fix.

The visual rewards of the city are just as compelling as its lifestyle. The downtown is dominated by two of the most famous structures in the world: the gothic-styled Dumo Cathedral with its 3,600 statutes and the über-elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Both breathtaking to say the least. Drift behind the Galleria and you will find yourself face-to-face with Teatro alla Scala, the most famous opera theater in the world. Walk a bit further and you can get happily lost in Brera, a neighborhood of twisted streets, university-district ambiance, and a multitude of incredible, small restaurants that could easily be featured in postcards. The green Metro line will rapidly take you to the Navigli, where elegant canals designed by Michelangelo are lined with restaurants and stylish bars that provide some of the best nightlife in the city.

There’s a lot more to Milan that I could ever describe in these short paragraphs. Suffice it to say that this photo-friendly city (no doubt the result of the armies of models and designers that hang around the place) was a real joy to visit. And when the time came to catch my return flight, I simply wasn’t ready at all to leave this wonderful place. Like Zurich to the north, Milan is one of those understated cities where you immediately (and effortlessly) feel at home, even if most tourist brochures never tell you this. Then again, this may be one of the best kept secrets in the world, so I better stop talking. Just don’t tell anyone.