An “Almost” and an Abstract

Boy With Paper Airplane, Barcelona, 2017
Boy With Paper Airplane, Barcelona, 2017

 

I always keep the little Sony RX100 in my jacket pocket whenever I walk around the city. You never know what you might see.

This image is an “almost”, not quite skewering that Cartier-Bresson-ish “decisive moment” street photogs yearn for. I only had one chance to get it correct in the frame as he ran through and I missed. If the paper airplane were more distinguishable–possibly a faster shutter speed?–that might have helped. If there were better separation of the boy and the leaves, that would have helped as well–maybe the leaves in front of the boy and the boy just entering the frame?

Also, if he were running through the frame of that square window to his right and down below, might that have been better?

Another idea might be to simply retitle the image, “Boy Chasing the White Dove of Peace”, or some pseudo-arty-farty shenanigans like that. (Since you can’t readily tell it is a paper airplane in his hand, and it looks more like a bird anyway.)

Ah, well. All you can do is stay alert and keep trying!

 

Near that same area of Barcelona, I came across a very different scene that made for what I thought was an OK abstract. Hopefully, it will disorient you for a few seconds before you figure it out…or, perhaps, it is obvious:

 

December in Prague: Random Travel Comments, the Sony RX100ii, and the B61 Bomb

Prague, #43, Czech Republic, 2017 (Spanish Synagogue)
Prague, #43, Czech Republic, 2017 (Spanish Synagogue)

 

What I learned on my visit to Prague

–The climate and history must weigh heavily on Czech humor. Yes, a decided dourness abounds, but nothing a few words in Czech can’t penetrate (at least learn “thank you”, or děkuji, if nothing else). I think the Czechs would say that American service employees are two-faced, with their false friendliness and smiley helpfulness intended only to improve profits, not to gain friendship. With the Czechs, on the other hand, you get honesty–WYSIWYG.

–Russian matryoshka dolls are the Prague equivalent of the flamenco and bull fighter figurines you find in many cheap Barcelona curio shops. And those furry USSR hats? Yep, same category.

–The Charles Bridge is the Prague people-and-touron–watching equivalent of La Rambla in Barcelona…or Times Square in NYC…or Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. OK, I’m stretching it a bit on the last one.

–The Charles Bridge is mostly empty at sunrise–except for a dozen or so tripods with their attached cameras and photographers.

–There are probably 10,000+ locks in and around the Charles Bridge area (not counting the locks the boats use), all left behind by hopelessly enamored couples confirming their committment to each other. How many keys are at the bottom of the Vltava River? How many couples now wish they could return to Prague with a pair of heavy-duty bolt cutters?

–I wonder what the rest of Prague is like? The heavily-touristed city center is gorgeous, but super-trampled. What is life like in Prague for the typical resident not living or working in the tourist zone?

–There are penguins in Prague, albeit yellow plastic ones. And giant brown-bronze babies, too.

–Some people who write on the Lennon Wall are outright idiots with no sense of culture or history. A few are thoughtful. Not too many.

–Winter is freezing-ass cold, what with the fog and humidity and all…and it wasn’t even quite winter for us. Oh, how it cuts right through all your lumpy layers whilst you wait in line for your warm trdelník.

–I could definitely live here–from April through October, that is. The city is gorgeous and there is a lifetime of history and architecture to explore. The cold rest of the year? How about Mallorca!?

–It was crowded as hell the first week of December…what must the busy summer tourist season be like???

–The public transportation is awesome. With the Metro, buses, and trams, there is almost no need to use a car or taxi, especially downtown.

–They might be using the Euro currency in the Czech Republic by 2020, but they currently still use Czech crowns, or koruna. Current exchange rate: roughly 24-25 koruna to the Euro.

–Prague is part of the Schengen group of countries in the European Union. What does that mean? It means no customs or passport controls when traveling to/from these countries. This is a major convenience…like going from Colorado to California, for instance.

–McDonald’s and Ryan Air must use the same interior decorators. You need sunglasses to visit both…then there are the fast food ads on the backs of the airline seats that look they came from a Dairy Queen menu.

The B61 Nuclear Bomb

Finally, and soberingly, I was once a young F-16 pilot (“lawn dart”, or “viper” driver), based in West Germany, tasked with the job of “laying down” a B-61 nuclear bomb (or “dial-a-disaster”, as the kiloton yield could be adjusted with a dial on the bomb itself) on some underground Warsaw Pact communications center outside of Prague. That is, if the big bad balloon had gone up and the USA and the USSR had pressed their respective and figurative red doomsday buttons. All this, of course, IAW the SIOP…which carefully integrated the US military’s triad into a massive end-times attack as the ultimate of various options.

Ah, fun times during the Cold War.

The real B61 nuke “device” to some, had a beautiful mahogany nosecone and was much smaller than you’d think–less than a thousand pounds and easily stored in most standard living rooms on a very sturdy coffee table. Upon delivery of the “package”, even at Mach-snot, the Escape Distance Actual was less then the Escape Distance Required, if I remember right. That was way BITD in 1987-1989. Then The Wall came tumbling down and suddenly we were all friends, Trabants (“spark plugs with roofs”) were putt-putting into Berlin to buy stuff (anything!), we shook hands with the guards in East Berlin, rented a hammer and chisel from a couple of young Turks, and ended up with a multi-colored piece of The Wall on our mantelshelf.

Interesting how times and politics change. Thank you, Slim Pickens!

Oh, yes, photography!

As to the photography theme…I used the Sony RX100ii exclusively during this trip. It fits in your pocket–a huge convenience–and has a 20mp sensor that does pretty well in low light despite its small size. Its image stabilization works fairly well also, thus making for a good handheld system for a traveler. The lens has a 28mm to 100mm equivalent optical zoom (f/1.8-4.9). Newer versions of the RX100, starting with the iii (3), have a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens–so, you get a much faster lens for low light at the expense of telephoto range.

In the following pics, I will give you the basic EXIF data with each of these images (along with a few relevant comments) so you can judge for yourself how effective this little Sony might be in your personal paws. (They are up to version 5 now; the one I used on this trip was a version 2, or ii.) Click here to see a selection of Prague images, with commentary. Thanks!

The Ghost Women Return

Here in Barcelona, I have found a few more for the collection.

As in previous such photographs, it’s about juxtaposition of odd, found elements (in the detritus of old posters) that seem to work together (at least for me) to carry a story or message about women and their experiences.

 

The Queen sticks out her tongue in zombie-like psychedelic irony at the many class and testosterone-fueled revolutions of history:

Ghost Women, #101, Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #101, Barcelona, 2017

 

Woe to she who takes one step beyond, striving upwards, bumping against the glass ceiling, or (surprise!) even cracking through it. “How do you sleep at night?” (“¿Duermes?”), asks the threatening bearded Neanderthal caveman:

Ghost Women, #103, Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #103, Barcelona, 2017

 

“Dad’, screams the daughter, “put down your stupid phone and come to dinner!”, as her goofy older brother and no-longer-caring-and-blacked-out mother look on:

Ghost Women, #104, Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #104, Barcelona, 2017

 

The flower girl, pursued by five small fish (or, perhaps, large whales writ small), says, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows…not the flower.”

Ghost Women, #104, Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #104, Barcelona, 2017

La Model (La Modelo) Prison, Barcelona

La Modelo, #23. Barcelona, 2017
La Modelo, #23. Barcelona, 2017

 

I would call La Modelo sort of the Alcatraz of Barcelona, and free public visits were recently offered as it is now out-of-date, closed, empty, eerie, haunted, and scheduled for a major gutting and/or demolition. So off we went.

Both Alcatraz and La Modelo (la Model in Catalan) are islands of a sort…the first surrounded by water, the latter surrounded by city. And both are historical icons for their respective cultures.

Alcatraz, however, only lasted 29 years or so and proved to be too expensive to operate for the relatively few number of convicts. La Modelo, on the other hand, was an enlightened (for the time) attempt to treat prisioners in a way that might lead to rehabilitation (imagine that!) and it stayed in business for 113 years. Despite the intentions, the Barcelona facility was certainly not always used in the most enlightened of ways as political prisoners were frequent guests.

And then there was the one in-house execution by garrote vil with which I now have a sort of personal connection. More on that with the images that follow below the break.

 

La Modelo, #25, Barcelona, 2017 (From an early 20th century exhibit photo.)
La Modelo, #25, Barcelona, 2017 (From an early 20th century exhibit photo.)

 

But, for all that, it really was supposed to be a “model prison”, thus the name. Take a look at the design in the picture-of-a-picture above and note the six radiating wings which held prisoners, each wing dedicated to certain types of cons based on their characteristics and behavior. Especially note the tall tower in the middle. This was Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon concept (late 18th centiry) brought to life. It was all about control, observation, and subjugation of all prisoners from that one central, elevated, point–the all-seeing eye.

La Modelo ceased operations just this past June and the air was still heavy with history and tragedy.

Here are a few photographs from our visit, along with commentary–including the story of my personal connection to that execution I mentioned. For the curious photog, all of these were handheld shots captured by the small Sony RX100iv, often at ISO 1600 when indoors… Click here if you would like to read on and see the prison images.

The Long Shadows of Autumn

Shadows of Autumn. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2017 (iPhone 6)
Shadows of Autumn. Montjuic, Barcelona, 2017 (iPhone 6)

 

Yes, fall has been felled. But, in my view that gives us outdoor photographers yet more opportunities to create. You really have to love the quality of light with the sun so much lower in the sky. (Well, for many of us–apologies to my Southern Hemisphere friends!)

And, the bonus: We don’t have to get up so early to be there and square with our tripods for sunrise!

The Top Ten (Alternative) Best of Barcelona!

Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015
Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015

 

A caveat…What this is NOT: A list of must-see tourist sights as you pass through town on your way to your 3,000 passenger Mediterranean cruise ship. No…Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, and Park Güell will not be mentioned here.

You can get plenty of information about these and other popular and well-known sites and sights in Barcelona simply by asking la Sra. Google.

Instead, what follows are places you could visit once you have ticked off the standard tourist attractions–or, if you are simply interested in seeing Barcelona one layer down, a bit below the obvious and well-trammeled.

These are some of the unusual little places, most not-so-well-known that, for me, give Barcelona such depth of personality. Most will not be seen by your average tourist unless they happen to serendipitously bumble upon them…

In no particular order, we have:

Pastisseria Barcelona, Aragó, 228 (original) and a new locale at Via Augusta, 166 – The desserts here are authentic works o’ fine art which you will definitely want to photograph before you bite into them. You might even find yourself getting a little teary-eyed and emotional as you watch the running videos above the counter of the talented Josep Maria Rodríguez Guerola as he creates them, so delicate and sensitive is he with his myriad specialty tools and delicious materials. He won the World Cup Pastry Competition in 2011 with his dessert art–the first time anyone in Spain had ever earned that award–and he was a mere 25-years-old or so when he did it. He is now a new and proud father.

El Ingenio, Carrer d’en Rauric, 6 – This unique place was almost no more in 2015/2016, but managed to survive thanks to last-minute efforts by a family member. Their website says: “El Ingenio (the “Creative Genius” maybe?) is an icon of popular culture. It is an establishment with 179 years of uninterrupted history in the heart of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona dedicated to creating and selling giant heads, masks, stage props, circus articles, and a long list of products related to play, games, and the dramatic arts.” Go there and buy something–keep them in business and revel in the Catalan “Big Head” tradition! 

Casa Beethoven, La Rambla, 97 – This small store has been selling sheet music, musical scores, musical instruments, and other related gift items since 1880. A must-visit for the musician in the family. You’ll find it right next to the Palau de la Virreina / Centre de la Imatge (worth visiting in its own right), between Metro stops Plaça de Catalunya and Liceu as you stroll back and forth among the hordes, flowers, and human statues along La Rambla.

Granja La Pallaresa, Carrer de Petritxol, 11 – Established in 1947, they have the best chocolate and churros in town! On a chilly winter’s eve, this is mo-definitely the place to warm up! The chocolate they give you for dipping your churros into is so luscious and creamy-thick the spoon darn near stands up vertical in the cup all by itself…and whipped cream on top o’ that…aaahhhh, this is definitely the place for the choco-cream addict! There is another, similar, place just down the alley at Petrixol, 2. It’s called Granja Dulcinea, established in 1941. It is probably just as good but I can’t personally vouch for it. So, hey…maybe try them both!?

Gavineteria Roca, Plaça del Pi, 3 – Since 1911, this shop has offered up all manner of cutting tools, knives, scissors, shaving gear, and so on, as well as other kitchen gadgets. If it cuts, they have it. If they don’t, it doesn’t exist. Their storefront catches the eye of nearly every passerby and this facade alone is certainly worth a long pause, perusal, and photograph or two.

La Basílica Galería, Passeig de Gràcia, 26 – A new location–they were in the Gothic Quarter until recently. This shop is basically a museum of contemporary art. As their website says: “The Basílica Galería is a cabinet of curiosities. In addition to contemporary jewelry, photography, art, and accessories…it is also the largest perfume exhibit in the world with more than a thousand fragrances.” A unique and sometimes bizarre display of pretty things that is worth a long browse.

Museu de l’Eròtica, La Rambla, 96 bis – This one is actually fairly well-known, so maybe it should be on some mainstream tourist list rather than on my “alternative” list? That is, unless you are a frigid and guilt-ridden Puritan…or Catholic…or Jew…or Muslim…or adherent to any number of the world’s guilt-inducing philosophies or religions. OK, rant over. Since you will likely visit the wonderful and way over-crowded market, La Boqueria, along La Rambla anyway you might as well stop in here, too, as it is just across the street. From their website, the museum is… “a passionate voyage through the world of eroticism and its representation in art, as seen in the 800 plus pieces which make up our collection. Sensuality, sexuality, provocation… Fun! The museum you can’t miss.” 

The Ice Bar, Paseo Marítimo, 38 A – This is right on the beach. Take the Metro, yellow Line 4, and climb out at Ciutadella/Vila Olimpica, then walk 5-10 minutes toward the sea. Bring your jacket–or they will hand you one! It’s like walking into the guts of a glacier, but with bartenders and lots of the beautiful people. Currently, it will cost an adult 17.50 Euros to get in, kids between 5 and 12 are 8 Euros, and tots under 5 are free. This price includes jacket and gloves. Check out some of the pics and their FAQs at their website: Icebarcelona.

Montjuic Cemetary, on the SW side of Montjuic, the hill by the port – A most interesting place to stroll and pensively peruse the tombstones and plaques. There is no cost to enter. Photography is technically not allowed, but it is hard to resist when no one is about and you come across a gloriously ornate and decorated gypsy tomb. Some famous folks are buried here, like the artist Joan Miró, the urban planner (Eixempla) Ildefons Cerdà, and the politicians Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys (and my mother-in-law, Carme Fusté). Check in at the information station at the entrance for advice on what to see. You can peruse more info, cemetery hours, and so an at their website HERE

The Bunkers of Carmel, in the hills above Barcelona – Dating from the Spanish Civil War, this is the place to go to see the remains of an anti-aircraft site and troop barracks, as well as to get a wonderful and romantic panoramic view of the city and the sea. Movie scenes and commercials have been filmed here (Tengo Ganas de Ti). It certainly won’t be as crowded as Park Guell. In fact, you might find yourself surrounded by more locals than tourists. Bring a sandwich (entrepà), a camera, and have yourself a sunset picnic with your significant lover. To get there, you’ll need to hike uphill a few minutes in the vicinity of the Parc del Guinardó. Let Google Maps be your guide and search for “Búnquers del Carmel Barcelona“.  There is no fee or entrance station of any kind–it is always accessible.

Two bonus sites to make this an even dozen, if you have the time: the Chocolate Museum/Museu de la Xocolata and the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum. For lovers of these kinds o’ things, or the merely curious.

Ghost Women – A Few More

Here are a few additional photographs for my “Ghost Women” porfolio. They were made earlier this summer, in Barcelona, but I apparently never got around to posting them.

Perhaps you can think of other, more suitable, captions?

 

I am watching you, here from my secure hiding place. I know what you do…

Ghost Women, #61. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #61. Barcelona, 2017

 

The obvious escape route is blocked by iron bars. But there are other paths to freedom, less obvious and more devious, almost certainly…

Trapped by Trauma. Barcelona, 2017
Trapped by Trauma. Barcelona, 2017

 

“Think Less, Live More”…is that really a way to live? Or is it merely a stereotype for the butt of many jokes? Or maybe there is, perhaps, just a hint of philosophical wisdom in those words? Or…?

Ghost Women, #63. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #63. Barcelona, 2017

 

The girl from the Cala Vera Club…and the indigenous woman, coexisting on the same vertical plane–but one very much above the other…

Ghost Women, #64. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #64. Barcelona, 2017

 

For the dignity of all persons, yes, including her…

Ghost Women, #66. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #66. Barcelona, 2017

 

A man with a horse directs a blinded fashion model to her timely escape…

Ghost Women, #67. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #67. Barcelona, 2017

 

Memories of the mysterious Mr. BT62…

Ghost Women, #68. Barcelona, 2017
Ghost Women, #68. Barcelona, 2017