Friday, 27 April 2012

FEMALE ENDURANCE


Once upon a time in California a girl was born, with a beautiful brain, both analytical and creative, its two halves in perfect harmony, so to speak.


There was never any doubt that greatness would bless her. On her way, she embarked on some serious studies, taking an engineering degree at UC Berkeley at a time, when universities on the old continent still refused to accept the fairer sex in its institutions of high learning. This took care of sharpening the left half of her brain.


Not satisfied with a job half done, she set out to polish also the other half. Architecture appeared a suitable topic and what better place to study it than venturing to the capital of "La Belle Epoque" and applying for entry at the "Ecole des Beaux-Arts". Here came the first hurdle for her path to glory. The old continent categorically refused this young lady access to its foremost School of Arts. You and I would have returned home, stifled by this moth-eaten cloth of customs, but not this young lady. She produced a second application to the Ecole, a third, a forth ..., each consisting of a beautifully drafted and perfectly executed plan for a master building, a new one for every application. This went on for two years until, full of embarrassment, entrance was granted to her, but at a condition: she was to attend classes hidden behind a screen, so as not to embarrass and disturb the male students!


By now you certainly have guessed the name of this remarkable female: we are speaking of no other than Julia Morgan, one of the foremost architects in California at the beginning of last century and way into modern times.


I have always been intrigued by this female master builder, ever since visiting San Simeon in the 'seventies and admiring the way in which she used bits and pieces of "lootings" from the old continent to create, like laying a puzzle, an impressive monument, more in honor of herself than that of her employer, Randolph Hearst, the great newspaper magnate and capitalist.


Two years ago, on my first voyage down memory lane, I happened upon an entrance door at Durant Street, that looked out of the ordinary, among the many churches that are adorning the sidewalks. I could not quite identify the architectural style: was it Romanesque, or maybe Venetian Gothic, or possibly Moorish? In fact it seemed to embody all three of those styles in one simple doorway. This must have been constructed by an architect well versed in the history of buildings, I thought. Getting closer, a sign indicated that I was standing before the Berkeley Women's City Club, build by Julia Morgan in 1929.


Happy to have found another specimen wrought by Julia, I sought and read some material on this building. Apparently, this was her first edifice since San Simeon, and she was happy to construct it fully in line with her own ideas, after having spent some years down south, forced to follow the intentions of her overpowering contractor. Her engineering background served her well, since the construction was finalized in the record time of two years.


With these facts digested, I rushed back to the building to take some pictures of the interior, but it was not possible then to get access. The doors were firmly closed. As an aside, let me tell you a funky story that illustrates the charm of Berkeley. Short after this failed attempt to get access, I met a lady of a certain age at Peet's Coffee and Tea on Telegraph. She was of Persian descent and claimed to be a Member of the Club owning Julia's temple. She was all charm and promised me to provide access to the building's interior. Pleased about this generous offer, I invited her for  lunch at the best Persian restaurant in Berkeley. After a pleasant meal, spent in engaging conversations, she admitted, offering her elegant sympathy, that she had unfortunately no connections with the Club. As a consolation, she gave me a brochure about the building, which, as she put it, would be quite enough for me to get to know its interior. That was that as concerned my visit to Berkeley two years ago.


Three weeks ago I happened to pass by the same elaborate entrance once again. I am older now, and hopefully wiser, so I rang the bell, hoping for a positive response. To my surprise, the door opened for me and I was greeted by a charming young lady who turned out to be the manager of the premises. When she heard that I was a photographer, she was pleased to grant me access to the building and – bliss upon bliss – even invited me to lunch in the building's pleasant dining hall. What a difference two years make!


Thanks to Laura Bourret – the charming manager – I spent an engaging morning in Julia's Berkeley castle. Whilst walking through the premises I couldn't help comparing Julia's masterpiece with that of contemporary architects on our own continent. I lived in Brussels for ten years and am familiar with the edifices of the Belgian Art Nouveau architects, in particular their foremost representative, Victor Horta. Interestingly, whilst our European innovators used mostly cast iron as bearing building element, clothing them in colored glasses and elegant stone facades, Julia and her Californian compatriots built in a much more massive style, using concrete as main building element. As it has been explained to me, buildings such as wrought by Victor Horta would not be able to withstand the pressure of earth quakes, forcing native architects to find their own unique style.


Julia turned out to be a master of building elegant mansions in concrete. Like her European counterparts, she put her pride in designing each building from outside in. Every little detail in the interior was conceived so as to harmonize with the whole. Even the roof decorations in the large salons of the Berkeley Club were carefully designed to be a perfect simulation of wooden roof beams, although being wrought in concrete as all the other details outside and inside the house.


Although Julia was an innovator in the use of concrete as building material, she was surprisingly old-fashioned in her choice of architectural details. As already mentioned above concerning the details of the entrance doorway, windows, staircases, furnaces and other interior embellishments exhibit a curious mix of gothic monasterial, moorish and other historical styles. Could it be that Julia, having spent so much effort to enter the Académie des Beaux Arts, felt obliged to follow the teachings of that Architectural School, who was at her time still bonded to the building styles of yore, in the period of La Belle Epoque – Gründerzeit in Austria – when it was en vogue for architects to pick and choose from history in conceiving their own buildings?


Be that as it may, the Berkeley City Club is still a masterpiece of elegant structure, with all bits and pieces falling in line to render a harmonious whole. Furthermore, Julia was not above inventing her own modern architectural style; as I understand it, her creative talent came into full bloom whenever she was to design a swimming pool on the premises. Already in San Simeon, the two swimming pools are architectural masterpieces. But they are surpassed by the subtle elegance and shimmering beauty of the pool in the City Club, where Julia is showing with bravour, that she could be a master of Art Nouveau or, for that sake, Art Déco, if she so desired, which of course she seldom did. One of her feet was always firmly grounded in the architectural style she had learned once upon a time in Paris and she refused categorically – in her more mature age – to design buildings in a modern style, such as the functionalist style that came en vogue in the 'thirties.


Friday, 20 April 2012

GRASSROOTS BERKELEY


The people sitting here in the title picture are some valiant warriors for and guardians of a city worth living in: the LeConte Neighborhood Association, embracing most of the residences in South Berkeley. The man on top of the "pyramid" in the picture is Karl Reeh, the Association's co-ordinator, well known by now as a valid source of information about all things Berkeley-ish.


I am standing in the large cafeteria of LeConte Elementary School on Russell Street in South Berkeley. For being such an important institute of learning, much embraced by the generations of residents having started their education here, the room is looking – let's admit it – rather worn down and shabby, with a refrigerator from the 'fifties (I presume) laboring with impressive noise in the background, with drapes askew and generally with a forlorn look about it. I wouldn't care to mention this, were it not of importance for what will be discussed later on in this post.


Last evening the Association held a meeting there and I was eager to attend it, as soon as I heard about it. You may have guessed from my earlier blog posts this year that I have kind of fallen in love with the South Berkeley neighborhood and any activities aiming at preserving it receive my keen attention nowadays. The Association, emerging from the neighborhood initiative SNAP, is officially recognized by the City Council and is manning the planning City's Planning Commissions, as already explained in an earlier blog. Its Commission representatives, and anyone else having a planning problem to bring forward, are presenting their case at regular meetings of the Association, to gain support for their initiatives in the typical American way of signing lists and writing letters to their City Councillor.


Listening to the problems put on the table by a number of engaged speakers opened my eyes to the planning problems encountered in this wonderful city, albeit maybe a bit atypical for the average American town. Previously I had the impression that the city zoning delineations are set in stone, only to be changed at long term reviews with ample opportunities for concerned citizens to express their concerns and affect the outcome for the general good. The meeting made me understand that the issue is far from as clear-cut. Even if zoning delineations and rules applying for each zone are being decided for long periods ahead, they are not set in stone. There is a constant process of finagling and manipulating going on, with the persistent danger that well-financed developers, in cahoots with easily persuaded City Councillors could, by bending the rules, get new building initiatives voted through that deviated considerably from the agreed upon long-term development plans.



Even in zones reserved for calm residences, lax supervision by the city often is permitting owners of large such a residence to convert it into rented apartments. Some of these buildings soon degenerate, due to landlord's neglect and without city supervision, into worn-down and destitute remains of their former glory.



To this has to be added that Berkeley is a poor city, with a serious budget problem and much in debt. Even if there were an ambition to govern city development for the general good, a constant lack of financing would prevent the city of carrying out such projects on its own. Any redevelopment of worn-down city areas, such as the Downtown and some industrial areas in West Berkeley, has to depend on financing by private developers, holding the city hostage with plans that, on the one hand, provide a host of needed new real estate but, on the other hand, lead to a city landscape seriously lacking in aesthetic values, counter to the demands for a human scale and often directly offending to the eyes of the beholder.


Once you have understood the real world of town planning in this city, you also start seeing its effects. Public institutions owned by the city are badly maintained, due to lack of funds. Furthermore, open public spaces, such as parks and some sports fields, are ever being threatened to be taken over by developers for building purposes. There is an on-going process of University institutions and housing encroaching upon the small residence areas to its North and South. And new development actions, in Downtown as well as in West Berkeley, threaten to permanently change the character of the city, by introducing walls of high-risers in a city known for its buildings with a human perspective. But why spend a lot of words on this? Seeing is believing! Take a look at the latest grand scheme, as it looks seen from one of Berkeley's foremost public attractions, the Aquatic Park on the waterfront:



How effective is a grass roots organization as the LeConte Association in countering all these threats to a humane and delightful Berkeley? It is difficult for me to judge. What I was seeing here in LeConte Elementary was a group of friendly neighbors, getting increasingly upset and angry at the various new schemes being envisaged and even put in action by a forward City Council. What I cannot judge is, how the various action lists being signed at the meeting and all the subsequent contacts with Councillors will affect the final outcome of those plans. I am recalling my long-time friend and Stockholm City activist Richard Murray, who in Stockholm was forced to form a local political party when he wanted to get his views observed and implemented. This party, the Stockholm Party, was for a long time instrumental in achieving a more humane Stockholm. But here in the US the local politic system seems to work differently and it may well be, that its more individualistic approach, which I find quite engaging, works here as well as our more institutional approach did in Stockholm.


Friday, 13 April 2012

VENERABLE VETERANS


You may have noticed that most of my pictures of Berkeley streets are of flowers. This is no accident. When walking along the sidewalks of Southern Berkeley at this time of the year, the eyes are automatically drawn towards watching the blooming splendor. So here I go, usually, with my eyes at street level, looking at and photographing blooms, a bit like a dog sniffing at the ground to identify his whereabouts. But increasingly, and more so when the flowering period abates, I will try to raise my head and watch more of the scenery above the efflorescence.

Last Sunday morning, I got a splendid opportunity to do so, when Karl Reeh was so kind to take me along as a friend to visit a young couple at their place on Blake/Fulton. The couple was inviting neighbors to a housewarming brunch. When I arrived at the place, I was astounded. Before my eyes rose a beautifully restored Victorian Mansion. The restoration of the greens around the house is in progress, so their was no flowery carpet to lure my eyes down. I just had to take a picture of this jewel of a house, painted in cyan and magenta.

Nathan and Angela, the proud restorers of an ancient mansion

Nathan and Angela, as was the name of the couple, welcomed me with open arms and showed me the inside of the house. They explained to me that this was the oldest residence in Berkeley still standing, having been finished in 1877. Having restored the exterior they were now undertaking the renovation of the inside. I have to admire this energetic venture undertaken by a couple half my age and the consideration they show for preserving what is best in Southern Berkeley. Let's hope that we begin to glance a beneficial future for the manifold of houses still in dear need of preservation, if not restoration. If the younger generation in general would start to show an interest in preserving the unique character of this cosy neighborhood, our generation could sleep more easily at night, knowing that a changing of the guard will eventually be happening.


After this up-lifting experience, I contentedly strolled back to Stuart Street, this time giving more attention to the houses than the flowers. And suddenly, it was as if a curtain had been lifted before my eyes, to reveal one interesting house after another. I then decided that it may be worthwhile to raise the camera above street level from time to time, even if flowers would remain my main interest. 

To prove this point, let me show you a picture of another venerable mansion, this time located on Ward/Fulton, barely five minutes from my apartment. Although not as old as the earlier mentioned house, it has an impressive stature too. It probably is not pure chance to find formidable houses on street corners. Building a house on the corner invites the architect to go for prominence, which in turn makes it more difficult in the future to subdivide the property and crowd the mansion with buildings of lesser quality.


The picture is showing another interesting characteristic of South Berkeley. Smack in the middle of the street you see a round flowerbed, full with Californian poppy. This indicates that there is a roundabout in this crossing. Once you notice it you start seeing that almost all crossings in the area have such a roundabout. This was actually new to me when I came back to Berkeley after 35 years, in 2010. As I remember the streets from my student days, there was lot of traffic there, unhindered by any flowerbeds full with poppy. These small streets were then used as alternative routes around town, as soon as the main routes, such as Shattuck, were filling up with rush hour traffic. The neighborhood is now a much more peaceful venue for gallivanting old-timers like myself. We have to thank the active neighborhood association for this. It was their initiative, bearing fruit first after a long and burdensome struggle with city administration.



Wednesday, 11 April 2012

SOME LIKE IT HOT


Courtesy 42nd Street Moon       Photo DavidAllenStudio.com
Everyone I know has seen, or at least heard about a somewhat equivoke movie with the above name. Considerably less known is the fact that there exists a musical that is based on the script of that movie. Its name is Sugar, which has an interesting Swedish angle to it. The actress first planned for the title role was Ann Margret. Unfortunately, she backed out of the project, but the title stayed.

You may have guessed by now that I was once again on my way to San Francisco last Sunday, to witness yet another performance of the splendid company 42nd Street Moon. And you would have guessed right, at least those of you who remember my blog post All the Things You Are. I begin to realize that I am more and more drawn into a new nostalgic undertaking, being nostalgic about the nostalgy, so to speak, by reliving experiences from only two years ago. Where will this end, will I eventually get nostalgic about things I experienced only yesterday?

Be that as it may, with the show starting at 3 pm, I took BART early on, so as to shove in some serious photographing before the play. Eureka Theatre, the venue of the performance, lies smack in the middle of San Francisco's Commercial District, with all its high risers, and I wanted to catch at least some of them on my little toy camera. Debarking at Embarcadero Station (sounds funny, doesn't it?) there was half an hour's walk to the theatre, which is located on Jackson Street. Ambling along Davis Street in that general direction, with my eyes in the sky, something strange suddenly caught my attention at street level. An unexpected green light shone from my right, as if emanating from a salt sea aquarium illuminated from below with a green spotlight.

This I just had to investigate further. Getting closer, the whole arrangement looked more like a staircase leading straight to a gardener's heaven. I ran up the stairs to see what this was all about and, to my surprise, stepped out onto a wide expanse of a promenade, one floor removed from the street level. You could walk several blocks here above the fray, with bridges spanning the streets in between and there were restaurants aplenty to sample for the hungry wanderer. Even a movie theatre was placed on this unusual platform, called Embarcadero Center.

But that was not all. My favorite among the sky-scrapers in San Francisco is the Transamerica Pyramid, a needlelike shape as made for sticking holes in the always present clouds of this elegant city. Even if I have some views of this pyramid on film (in the book as well), I was still looking for the picture that puts the needle against an appropriate foreground. And, lo and behold, suddenly all elements of an elegant view clicked into place and I had only to push the button. Of course, as photographer you are never satisfied, always looking for a better view waiting around the corner; but I have to admit that I am rather pleased with this one.


After taking this and several other pictures I reached the northern end of this elegant promenade and it was time to descend back down to reality. This turned out to be Battery Street and from there it was only  five minutes' walk to the theatre. So let the show begin!

In contrast to the earlier musical I had seen at this theatre, Sugar is not a forgotten relic from the past. It is very much alive and kicking; in fact, I am looking forward to the show to be staged in Stockholm soon after my return home. So to me this play seemed a bit out of the ordinary for 42nd Street Moon, whose mission I understand is to keep the musical tradition alive by presenting more rarely played specimen from the golden past. But I guess it doesn't hurt to alternate with more recent and popular pieces; variety of that kind will certainly keep the faithful audience happy and returning to the theatre.

The audience sure enough was bubbling with glad anticipation, when the show began and soon we lost ourselves in the funky tale unwrapping before our admiring eyes. It is not easy for a theatre production to compete with a classic movie with actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, but the company held its own formidably. I was glad that there was no effort to imitate the postures and idiosyncrasies of those great actors; instead, the players used their own personalities to the full in their interpretation of the tale. 

Let me just single out some shining details from this entertaining show. We can start with the apparition of the gangsters in the piece, hunting the two male musicians, in Chicago as well as in Florida. In an extraordinary show of creativity, they did not walk or run on scene, but were consistently step dancing through their roles. I am not sure whether this was a genial idea of the director, or was already conceived by the writers of the musical; either way, it was highly entertaining to watch. Secondly, the main female character (see title picture) gave an impressive performance, developing her own style in a way that could let us even forget that there was a great forerunner. In a similar manner, one of the main male characters  (on the left in the title picture) developed his feminine side with bravour, especially in the scenes were he/she was being wooed by a love craving millionaire. 

Last, but not least, I could not help noticing that the ladies in the chorus were all well-nourished and well-built. A bit anachronistic maybe, considering that the story is placed in the early depression years; but I was not complaining, far from it! Could it be that I am now getting to that age where ladies start to sing after me "dirty old men, dirty old men" as the Chorus did in the show? ;-)

Pleasantly satiated by this amusing experience I slowly ambled back towards BART, even choosing to prolong the walk and enter the tube first on Powell Station. This proved to be an excellent idea. The late evening sun shone its warm rays on the skyscrapers, old and new, adorning that station and I hurried to say "Goodbye" to San Francisco by documenting the scene with my toy camera.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

HOW TO CREATE – AND PRESERVE – A NICE NEIGHBORHOOD


















I have to confess that I have special feelings for one little street in the world, or rather, a short stretch of a street, four blocks long. It is located in Northern California and its name is Stuart Street.

I have met this little green enclave for the first time in 1976. We rented an apartment there from Mr. and Mrs. Fujimoto, a nice Japanese family. The first morning after moving in, I ventured out into the street with my trusted Pentax Spotmatic. It was a clear morning, with blue sky and dewy growth and I was immediately enchanted by this green marvel of a street. Slowly promenading upwards, I admired the little gardens adorning the front of each building, as well as the alley of trees providing welcome shade for the walker.

















Suddenly, I stopped, taken aback by the view of a flower I had never seen before. It gleamed red, alighted from a ray of sun having found its way through the leafy greens and looked to me like a glorious dish brush, with red bristles surrounding a golden yellow flower stem. "Click", said the camera (in those days they didn't yet say "Clapunck") and the slide in question is still resting quietly in my cupboard of old slides back home. From time to time I had picture shows from my early trip to Berkeley at the University of Stockholm where I then worked, and that picture always received an astonished "Aah!" from the audience.

I did  not take many pictures of Stuart Street in those days – I think I have only about five in my cupboard at home – but that red flower, aptly named "Bottlebrush", got me hooked on Stuart Street. When I came back to stay there two years ago, I immediately rushed out to take some more pictures and you have already seen the results in earlier chapters of this blog.















The surprising fact about Stuart Street is that it appears to remain in a bubble of contented stability. I cannot see that any of the lovely little houses on these four blocks has been torn down and replaced with more modern, uglier structures. All the buildings remain essentially as they were more than 35 years ago, when I first took the picture of the bottle brush; a time traveler, suddenly transported forward from the 'seventies, would not feel that he had travelled into the future at all!

How can this be? Why haven't at least some houses and properties been remade into ugly modern apartment buildings? As I understand it, we have two explanations for that. Firstly, the city zoning ordinances promote the preservation of the present structures, by drawing a sharp distinction between residential and commercial city areas. As long as an area remains classified as a residential area, it is not easy to convert buildings without consent from the City Council.
















But the second explanation is more important. The residents on Stuart Street, at least those on the first block upward from the apartment I am renting, are famous for having formed, some twenty years back, a close-knitted association (called SNAP, Stuart Street Neighbors Actively Prepared) that works actively for the upkeep of a good neighborhood. One of the pioneers of this association, Mr. Kurt Reeh, who lives on Stuart Street, was so kind as to invite me over for tea and tell me the background story of this venture.

The prime cause for starting this association was a serious earthquake, that shook Berkeley and Oakland in 1989. Within a year, the second block upwards from my apartment began to organize itself in the above mentioned association in order to prepare the residents for the next big quake. Although fear of future quakes has abated since, other natural catastrophes, such as the big Berkeley and Oakland Hills fire storm of 1991 that destroyed more than 3000 residences, kept neighborhood vigilance alive. Subsequently, the neighbor co-operation got more broadened goals and this nucleus of neighbor gatherings also got enlarged into a bigger association, with links to the city government. Nowadays, there is a net of city-sponsored such associations all over Berkeley. Stuart Street forms part of the Le Conte Neighborhood Association, with Karl Reeh as co-ordinator.

With this very active representation of resident interests vis-á-vis the City Council, I am confident that the best part of South Berkeley living, as demonstrated by the manifold of small houses along Stuart Street, each adorned with its individually configured garden (the variation is surprising!) will survive the curse of modernity and be as pleasant to behold to future generations as it was and is to me at my recurring visits.




Saturday, 7 April 2012

WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO SHOP HERE?
















You are looking at the citrus fruit section of my local grocery store here in Berkeley. It lies only 5 minutes walk from my flat at Stuart Street. Whenever I enter this temple of abundance I start feeling sorry for myself, for never having learned to cook. Whatever ingredient you would need for you favorite recipe, I am sure you could find it here.

For instance, whilst my Swedish shop usually carries about 4 types of citrus fruit, I am counting about 20 different variants here on this yellow-red row. And this is just citrus fruit! Row of row of fruit and vegetables of any possible variety cater to the craving customer.

















Of course, not all grocery stores in Berkeley exhibit such an abundance of riches. In fact, this shop, called Berkeley Bowl, is rather unique. It just so happens that I live close by it. As I learned from Joshua, a newly-won friend here in Berkeley, it started out as a simple fruit-and-vegetable shop, located in a former Bowling Hall near my apartment. The bowling lanes were converted to "sidewalks" and along them crates of fruits and vegetables were stapled for the customers to choose from. Eventually, a steady flow of satisfied customers outgrew the premises. When a Safeway Shopping-center down the block got emptied, the company decided, prompted by the active neighborhood organization in the area, to move into its premises. Its name,  Berkeley Bowl, still reminds of its more humble beginnings. As explained to me by Karl Reeh, the coordinator of the Stuart Street neighborhood organization, it took some nudging for the company to widen its range of goods sold, so it became a fully supplied grocery store.
















I am shopping here every four days and my fellow shoppers usually are astounded, when looking at my small shopping bag. Besides some apples, tomatoes, bread, cheese and milk, the bag is empty; I am buying only essentials for my simple breakfast. It almost seems a waste of effort to enter this commercial wastness, but there is no smaller store in the neighborhood!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

HOW THE OTHER SIDE LIVES
















You are eager to hear about social conditions in the US, you say? Well, I had not thought to talk about this, having a quite different topic in mind.

But since you brought it up, I guess I have to speak a few words about it, after all. When I stayed here in Berkeley in 2010, it was quite clear that the US was still in a deep recession. You could it even notice in restaurants. For instance, my favorite lunch place was advertising "Recession" lunch at  $4.50 for the lunch special. Notably, the misery seemed to be shared by many, although the number of vagrants on the streets did not appear especially pronounced (compared to the situation in the 'seventies, when the "misérables" were much more visible).







This year, no "Recession" lunches anymore on restaurants' menu. Prices have increased notably, but restaurants seem full most of the time despite that. I take this to be a sign of on-going recovery, but it is a peculiar type of recovery, with a knife edge division between what happens to the haves and to the have-nots. You cannot but help noticing a large number of vagrants on the streets this year, with quite an aggressive way of  addressing passers-by and asking for sustenance. Although official unemployment figures are decreasing, the number of vagrants is increasing! It must be so that long-term unemployed increasingly give up hope and drop out of the labour market. The US seems to follow the European example of labour saving growth, with a majority of the population happily employed and enjoying the benefits of a growing economy, whereas an increasing minority remains permanently locked out from the labour market.


Getting out of such a corner solution to the "Wealth of the Nation" is a difficult task and demands a good deal of good sense, pragmatism and courage from the politicians. Let's hope that such a bunch of leaders emerges eventually; it is clear that a new Roosevelt would not be bad to have in these days of need, not to speak of a Congress to respect and support such a man's régime of harsh but necessary decisions.















Now to the topic of today's blog post: When planning the trip to Berkeley this time, I decided to take a vacation from photography and travel without a camera. But hardly had I arrived here in California, than a persistent urge for venturing out and taking pictures was making itself felt, from deep down my subconscious. So I felt obliged to address Amazon to relieve the pressure, and buy a smaller, more portable camera, which I had planned to acquire anyhow in the near future. But no sooner had I pushed the button that permits Amazon to charge my credit card than I got the message that the camera would be delivered first in the last weeks of May! Getting slightly frustrated now, I went to Looking Glass Photo, a shop just around the corner from Stuart Street, and bought the cheapest digital Nikon they had in stock.
















The "thingy" in question – it does not really look like a camera – has now plagued me for days. It is a little plaything you hold with both your arms at a distance and squint at from the back when taking pictures. At long last I begin to understand why people have so miserable photos to show for, when coming home from vacations. I used to say that it it is not the camera, but the photographer who takes the picture. But I have now learned that this is not exactly true. These small digital thingies put a big handicap as load on your back, countering – as well as they can – your efforts to take good pictures. I won't go into detail here as concerns the drawbacks; suffice it to say that the contrast range of such cameras is severely limited. Even venerable old Kodachrome of ill fate was more forgiving to the photographers than these digital miniatures.


















Still, with a bit of practice I have now begun to understand how to apply the thingy to the very limited range of subjects that lead to acceptable pictures. The trick is simply to limit yourself to motives with a low contrast range or to motives that demand high contrast for best effect. Until the real camera arrives, you have to bear with me. For I should not complain. As limited as is the camera, it still allows me to embellish this blog with some views. You will appreciate those the more, if you realize that each picture of reasonable impact taken with this camera and placed on this blog demands about a hundred efforts that fail to deliver.