Ever wonder whether we are all artists in some way or another? I mean, even if you have yet to express yourself publicly in some artistic form or fashion, it is not an exaggeration to say that within us all there is an artistic bend that has yet to be discovered, even by ourselves. Why am I saying this? It’s all because of the photograph above, or more precisely, because of the artistic expression that became the subject of the photograph above. You see, the lady in the photo was just spinning very slowly on the raised platform while every 4 to 5 seconds striking the same cords on the guitar. On and on it went, while the rest of us stood there at this famous museum simply staring and waiting for the next stroke to come on, even if it was not any different from the one that preceded it. And you know what? I thought it was great, even if right now I couldn’t tell you why. Suffice it to say that art is art, and the fact that someone may not admire a particular art form, does nothing to diminish this fact. It is creativity given expression through some mean, and just like a plate of food, someone’s dislike does not do away from the simple fact that it was actually food and someone else will like it. So it is perhaps high-time that most of us aspiring creatives just let loose out there. Paint if you feel like painting, write if you feel like writing, and sing if you want to let loose the song in your heart. And never worry about what others may be thinking. The lady with the guitar didn’t seem to mind, and still everyone stared admirably in silence eagerly waiting for her hand to move. Sounds absurd? No, it’s art.
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.
What can you say about the yearly H Street Festival downtown Washington, DC. Have I mentioned before that this is by far my favorite street festival in the area? Well, it is, and every year I go back to take some pictures and to enjoy the music, the incredible restaurants, and above all, the laid-back party atmosphere at the place. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking that way, as judging by the wall-to-wall crowds, this must be one of the best attended festival in DC. Not served by a metro station and somewhat out-of-the-way from the tourist areas in the city, H Street is one of those places that you reach by either intentionally walking there for a reason (and there are many reasons to visit) or simply by getting lost. But no one has problems finding the place in September, when masses of revelers and artists descend on the neighborhood for a cultural festival like no other in this town of buttoned-up politicians. Boasting some of the best ethnic restaurants in town, H Street more than makes up for its otherwise glamorous-challenged existence by becoming party central for a day. That the festival happens to coincide with the start of the famous Oktoberfest in Munich is even better, because just like in that great German festival, the folks at H Street never run out of beer either.
Ever been to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market? Well, if you haven’t, then I would suggest that you add this place to your bucket list, and do it soon. But before you visit this food paradise at the “City of Brotherly Love,” there are a few things that you must get out of the way, or come to terms with, to be more precise. For starters you must convince yourself that all food products in the world were meant to be eaten. Then you tell yourself that dieting is a bad thing, but unchecked consumption is a virtue. Follow that with some brainwashing on the benefits copious amounts of pork, beef, and Provolone cheese to your health, and then you will be mentally ready to tackle this heaven of culinary extravagance. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of lighter, salad stuff at the place, but this is Philly we’re talking about, and that to me means only one thing: go big, or go home. Dinic’s over-the-top pork sandwich? Must you ask. A few Amish filled doughnuts dripping with glaze? Why not. A block of Peach corn bread? Can I get an Amen! So as you can see, overindulgence will be the least of your problems at the Reading Market. Your greatest problem will be resisting the temptation to camp overnight so you can be the first in line the next morning. It is that good of a place and one that I’m sure I will be visiting many times in the future, but only after I’ve given my body a rest.
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.
Is it possible to have a favorite street corner in the whole world? I never gave this much thought until a few days ago when I happened to find myself in a very familiar spot in Washington, DC. You see, I have a kind of strange fascination with the Penn Quarters section of the city, and in previous occasions this neighborhood has been the subject of this blog. What makes this occasion different is that I just realized how much I really enjoy walking around this particular spot on earth with my camera. No matter how many times I go out to photograph everyday life, I seem to always find way to this corner of 7th Street NW & F Street NW, and with good reason.
The place is a beehive of human activity, from panhandlers selling tickets to sports events, to elegantly-attired folks headed half a block up E Street to the imposing Shakespeare Theater Company. It is like the point where various rivers converge, resulting in waters that become both turbulent and majestic at once. For photographers and admirers of the human condition, this is definitely the place to be. And no matter where other roads may take me from time to time, there’s one thing I know for sure: I will be back to this raucous corner many times in the future. Not that everyone there is happy to see you with your camera, but rather that there’s so much going on all the time, that most people don’t notice you much amongst the constant flow of people that cross that intersection every day. It is the perfect place to feel alive, and that puts it right up there on my book.
I realize that I have posted photos of street musicians many times on this blog, but this time I just couldn’t resist. What caught my attention about these two young men was the fact that they were both impeccably dressed and that their music didn’t quite fit the vaudeville style we usually associate with street musicians. In fact, after watching and listening for a while, I had this great compulsion to write their mothers a thank-you note for raising such great young men. In an European capital they would have had about a hundred people standing around them enjoying their music, but for reasons I don’t even want to get into right now, here in America only about three of us took the time to stop and listen. Sure, people were indeed contributing some money to their act, but all while zooming by at speeds that reminded me of a toll booth on an interstate highway. No time for music, I guess. Thankfully, these detached monetary acknowledgements didn’t deter our duo, who continued to play as if they were about to receive a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall. I guess that even when most people have no time to listen until the song ends, the music will still play on without them.
OK, I need you to relax, sit back, and bear with me on this one, as I know you will understand by the time I’m done. You see, I just realized that I have always been a musician, even if for a variety of reasons, I have never played a musical instrument in my life. In fact, the fact that my life has been devoid of outward manifestations of my musical talent has nothing to do with the inescapable fact that the heart of the musician has always been there, composing as life went on and in constant search for that elusive masterpiece. But why now? To what divine revelation can I attribute this sudden manifestation of my musical talents? The answer lies on a book. And to be more precise, to a particular chapter in a particular book. I’m talking about an obscure little book first written in 1940 in Budapest by a then-obscure author by the name of Sandor Marai. The book, “Casanova in Bolzano,” contains what I consider to be one of the best monologues I have ever read. Casanova, upon proclaiming himself to be a writer, is somewhat taken aback when his assistant points out to him the simple fact that he had never written anything. This throws Casanova into a duel of words, describing in great detail what a writer is and why he, who indeed had never written anything, perfectly fit the description of a writer. His words are poetry in the form of prose.
So I got to thinking. Yes, you could argue that I have never played a musical instrument. And yes, you would be technically correct in saying that I don’t know the difference between a diatonic, chromatic, or tremolo harmonica. The same with the distinction between a glissando, a staccato, or a fermata. Have I ever played a violin? No. A piano? Nope. Wouldn’t even know where to start, but it doesn’t matter. What I know is that there is song in my heart, that it is impossible to look at life around me without music playing in my ears. That in many occasions I have sat, pen in hand staring at an instrument in a futile attempt to compose a note, or play one for that matter. A life long lived for music and art, but with no success in creating its physical manifestation. I, the musician, have found it virtually impossible to write or play those notes. But why should I care? Why reduce the sublime to a mundane scribble on a piece of paper, or a strum on an old guitar? No, not me. I am too busy composing the music of my life to slow down to jot it down, or play it slow. Isn’t it good enough that I feel it and live it? Have people not enjoyed music for thousands of years without ever seen it written or listening to an orchestra? Yes, Sandor Marai was right. We are what we are. And I, my dear friends, am a musician at heart. In fact, I’m headed out to make more music. Good luck with your own music.
How do you know that spring is just around the corner? That is, besides peaking into whether Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow or not. I’m sure everyone has a personal way of presaging the arrival of spring, but for me, it is the appearance of music on city streets that unmistakably lets me know that it’s about time to start putting away those winter jackets. From violins to trashcan drums, I must admit I like it all and that I wait for those street sounds with the same level of fascination as the masses that assemble every year in Pennsylvania wait for that sage of a groundhog. To tell you the truth, I love street musicians, and I’m glad to see that traditions that were popularized in Europe have found their way into the streets of America. These performers give character to street corners and neighborhoods alike, and if you ever take the time to stop and listen (not to mention to drop a few bucks into their instrument box), you’d be surprised at how good they really are. So for now, I plan to enjoy their wonderful, musical contribution to our enjoyment of life, and some months from now, when the street music stops, I’ll know it is time to pull out that dreaded winter jacket again. Not particularly looking forward to it.
On a cool, fall day the horse-drawn carriages taking tourists around the downtown attractions impart Chattanooga with somewhat of an European flare. Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Like millions of Americans this past weekend, I found myself on an airplane headed to a great Thanksgiving celebration that someone else had labored for days to put together. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. It just means that as so many people in my position, my role was clearly pre-defined with the invite: show up, eat copious amounts of food, and flush it all down with gallons of delicious vino. Nevertheless, and since I had to reach my delectable gustatory destination via the famous city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I decided to take my trusted Leica M9 with me just in case I had a chance to pay this city a quick visit. Well, not only did I get to walk through some of its neighborhoods for most of a day, but to my great surprise, I found myself thoroughly captivated by the simple lifestyle and artistic bend of the city.
My visit started at the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo, which I must admit I had heard about, but didn’t quite know what it was famous for. Thankfully, someone smarter than myself in the group made sure that we didn’t miss this great monument to an era when railroads were a the center of transportation life in America. From here it was down to the commerce-line Broad Street, which dead-ends at the imposing Tennessee Aquarium and the undulating bridge adjacent to the Chattanooga History Center. This area between the Tennessee River and 3rd Street appear to be the center of social activity in the city. However, for a photographer, it is the walk up the statue-lined 1st Street and across the Glass Bridge to the Hunter Museum of American Art, followed by a walk across the pedestrian Walnut Street Bridge arching above the Tennessee River, that will provide the best views of the city and the North Shore. Take the time to enjoy this mile-long walk and you will be rewarded with sights of river boats, bridges, street art, city skylines, and orange sunsets casting soft shadows over the mighty Tennessee River. It is enough to make you fall in love with the place. Come to think of it, perhaps I did.