Gegants i Capgrossos, and the lamentable closing of El Ingenio

Heads at El Ingenio. Barcelona, 2015
Heads at El Ingenio. Barcelona, 2015

 

Gegants i Capgrossos…that’s “Giants and “Big Heads” in Catalan. You’ll see them at various festivals, most recently at the Les Festas de la Mercè here in Barcelona (a huge event each September).

There has been, for many, many years (since around 1835-1838!), a shop in Barcelona (El Ingenio) that made and sold these HUGE humorous noggins along with slightly smaller versions (as above). You could pick from quite a variety and be fully up to snuff for even the best of local festivals. Indeed, today, you are sure to find El Ingenio gegants or capgrossos in festivals all over Catalunya.

On the shelves, you could also feast your wide, childlike, eyes on unusual and very traditional puppets, strange and classic old-time toys, costumes, all manner of magic props and tricks, and so on and on and on. It was a shop stuck in the 19th century and full of titillating treasures–all articles not easily found anywhere else under the Mediterranean sun. A definite Dennis the Menace or Dora the Explorer paradise!

Unfortunately, the shop is closing and is selling off their entire inventory. Here is the kicker: they are closing after over 175 years in business! [See december, 2016 UPDATE below!!!]

Imagine that, 175 years (though not always the same family-owner, apparently). When the store first opened in 1838, Martin Van Buren had just succeeded Andrew Jackson as the U.S. President, and Isabella II was the child Queen of a monarchical Spain!

The relevant details in case you can get there before the doors shut for good sometime this fall:

El Ingenio, Carrer Rauric 6, 08002 Barcelona, Tel: 933 17 71 38

[UPDATE, December, 2016: The shop will NOT be closing after all! Another specialty shop, El Rei de la Màgia, has apparently purchased this long-standing and unique business and will continue it in the same tradition, preserving the ambiance and customs of the the original place. If you read Catalan, you will find an article explaining the details of the transfer of the business HERE. Another nice link, in Spanish/Castellano, which includes a short video tour and interview with the last owner, is HERE. For those limited to English, try THIS LINK, for a summary of what the shop was all about. Wonderful news and I am happy that this beautiful Catalan  tradition will continue on!]

 

Take care! Near the shop, you may run into some strange folks along the ancient narrow streets.

Tintin, maybe…

Tin Tin in Red. Barcelona, 2015
Tintin in Red. Barcelona, 2015

 

Or Betty Boop…

Betty Boop. Barcelona, 2015
Betty Boop. Barcelona, 2015

 

Or even Pablo Picasso himself…

Pablo Picasso. Barcelona, 2015
Pablo Picasso. Barcelona, 2015

Tracks in the Sand

There is quite a lot of activity recorded here on this section of beach, from human beans and their mean machines, to pedestrian strolls of canines, pigeons and seagulls. All temporarily recorded, that is, until the next storm or wave washes the slate clean once again. Much like the nature of our finite lives, perhaps.

What stories might these tracks tell? What stories do our all-too-brief “tracks in the sand” tell?

Machine, Human, Avian Tracks. Barcelona, 2015
Machine, Human, Avian Tracks. Barcelona, 2015

The Port of Barcelona from Montjuic

Yet another of my hot shot photo spots here in the City on the Sea is Montjuic. This is not a bad place for either sunrise or sunset–check The Photographer’s Ephemeris for sun/moon details on your planned visit.

This morning I was up there for the lunar eclipse…not a soul around…as if I had the whole mountain and its cemetery ghosts to myself, with the millions sleeping below amongst the shimmering lights.

Alone, on a stroll by the wall where Lluís Companys died by Franco firing squad in 1940. His last words “For Catalonia!”

An eerie, yet calming, place above the city.

Walk the trail all the way around the Castle for a variety of views and breathe in the cool, humid, sea breeze and the centuries of human history. Listen to the clank, grind, and hiss of a working port…the long, booming, klaxon of a departing ship. Walk toward the city, down the trail near the steep northeast slope, for more views of the metropolis.

My eclipse photos? Well, lets just say I am not much of an astrophotographer. At least I have the sight recorded in my personal cerebral memory card. You’ll find plenty of great photos of the event plastered all over the internet.

 

The constantly busy-as-a-bee industrial-commercial section of Barcelona’s port. Just how many containers pass through here each year? Something close to 3 million, apparently. The strange crane-tractors the modern stevedores use to move these things around are weird, bug-like, and impressive–the drivers haul and sort containers to and fro in mere minutes as if their machines were go-go-carts and the massive rectangular boxes were simply giant plastic Legos

Industrial Port. Barcelona, 2015
Industrial Port. Barcelona, 2015

 

A Mediterranean ferry, blurred by a slow shutter, arrives in port just before sunrise–from Mallorca, perhaps? A cruise ship, lights ablaze, prepares for departure. The controversial Hotel Vela stands guard. A launch, maybe a lone fisherman, returns to port…

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

 

The line forms outside the port, each awaiting the appointed time to load or unload. Who has to stand watch and who gets to take the zodiac into town?…

Awaiting Port Call. Barcelona, 2015
Awaiting Port Call. Barcelona, 2015

 

An airliner on approach to the Barcelona’s El Prat Airport just as the sun rises. If only the ship on the horizon had been just a bit farther out to sea–it would have shown up nicely as a silhouette against the red, roaring, plasmic meatball rising from the water…

Sunrise Arrival. Barcelona, 2015
Sunrise Arrival. Barcelona, 2015

Back to the Parc del Forum, Barcelona

Window on the Dawn. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015
Window on the Dawn. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015

 

I love this place. For sunrise, especially. Like I have said in a previous blog post, this would be an ideal area to bring a small group for a photography class on the “art of seeing”. The image possibilities are tremendous! I always come close to having a major indecision brain lock malfunction (MIBLM) when the light is fleeting yet good–there are just so many options from which to choose.

A couple of points I haven’t addressed in previous posts on this place:

–The park gates are not opened until 7a.m., which may not work for your summertime sunrise plans. You can still work the area around the Museu Blau, though, which isn’t bad ‘t’all (check out the weird reflective glass funnels and windows).

–I was told by a very polite security guy in a golf cart-like vehicle that I couldn’t photograph the small port where the luxury motor and sail yachts are parked–a first for me after maybe a dozen visits over the years. A security/terrorism thing, no doubt. But, there is no problem photographing the daylights out of the giant solar panel. Go figure.

–Be aware that on weekends and on holidays, special events, concerts, and so on may close down the park to normal access, especially in summer. Check Mr. Google as best you can for the schedule–perhaps THIS SITE or THIS SITE. Or just go and see for yourself.

Pointing to the Sun. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015
Pointing to the Sun. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015

 

A Shadow of Sixteen. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015
A Shadow of Sixteen. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015

Selva de Mar, Barcelona

The Barcelona beachfront is a photographer’s garden o’ unearthly earthly delights–or so thinks I. From the hump and castle of Montjuic and the main commercial port area, through the Vila Olímpica/Port Olímpic tourist zone, to the giant solar panel at the Museu Blau, there is plenty to explore–waves, “rompeolas” and “espigones“, graffiti par excellence, varied architecture, shadows, sand, fishermen, surfers, sunbathers, and of course always the sea…

This morning’s exploration took me to a section of the beach that has yet to be cleaned up and developed, essentially straight out and slightly north from the Selva de Mar Metro stop on Line 4 (yellow). The area borders Parc del Forum.

A few days before, I had discovered a couple of unofficial “fisherman gates” in the fencing that would let me in to my objective.

Here are some images from today’s morning light show:

This is a protected area of the sea often used by snorkelers. Venus watches over the twilight and the coming dawn. A long shutter speed smooths the surface of the water…

Selva de Mar Sunrise, #1. Barcelona, 2015
Selva de Mar Sunrise, #1. Barcelona, 2015

 

As the day brightens with the approach of the sun, one small sample of patriotic graffiti stands out…

Eyes of Catalunya. Barcelona, 2015
Eyes of Catalunya. Barcelona, 2015

 

A nuclear sunrise on a peaceful Mediterranean sea…

Sea Peace. Barcelona, 2015
Sea Peace. Barcelona, 2015

 

This is one of my favorite graffitis in the area–the “Old Man and the Sea”, I call it. For this image, I used a 9-stop neutral density filter and kept the shutter open for something like 25-30 seconds to calm the wave action on the blocks…

Old Man and the Sea. Barcelona, 2015
Old Man and the Sea. Barcelona, 2015

 

Yes, good times were had by all…by me, by the three fishermen on the espigón, and by the two snorkelers under the water or around the corner out there somewhere. This is another image in which I used the 9-stop ND filter to smooth the water…

Good Times. Barcelona, 2015
Good Times. Barcelona, 2015

Historic Elections Tomorrow (9-27) in Catalunya (Updated with results)

Independence Rally 9-25. Barcelona, 2015
Independence Rally 9-25. Barcelona, 2015

 

[NOTE: For an excellent, detailed, overview of the significance of the vote, the political parties involved, what the polls say, and so on, see THIS SUMMARY in The Guardian, a UK newspaper.]

 

Today is a “day of reflection” during which no political activity is allowed. It is a time for each voter to quietly contemplate how they will mark their ballot on Sunday.

Yes, tomorrow could be vewy, vewy intewesting.

Throughout Catalunya, tomorrow, citizens will go to the polls to make their selections for members of their provincial parliament–but, most importantly, it is billed as a vote for or against independence from Spain.

Why is this so, if the ballot actually does not include a specific referendum on independence? Well, if the majority of the Catalan voters select pro-independence candidates then these politicians, once in office, have promised to continue down the road toward an official declaration of independence from the government in Madrid.

Secession, essentially.

What will really happen is anyone’s guess. The polls seem to show a tilt toward independence.

If the vote indeed goes that way, what will Madrid do? Send in the tanks? That would look pretty bad in a peace-loving European Union, especially given that the Catalan independence movement so far has been extremely orderly and peaceful. I see whole families and kids out with their flags at the demonstrations. No extremists or Molotov cocktail-throwing radicals here!

There are pretty good arguments to be made on both sides–and I personally watched that take place last night on the street at the rally in the photograph above. I watched a man with a Catalan flag over his shoulder in a deep, animated, yet relatively cordial, discussion with another man from the party whose slogan is “Junts Millor”, or “Better Together”.

I am not sure how much of the rest o’ the world is paying attention, but there is a very palpable energy and excitement in the air in these parts. What will happen…what will happen?

Standby for an update once the results are known late Sunday night!

EXTRA, EXTRA!!! September 28, 2015: Post Election Update!!!

Well, if you are a supporter of the independence movement you are thrilled because your politicians now have a majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament–and they have promised to continue pursuing independence (possibly within 18 months!) from Madrid.

On the other hand, if you are a Spanish unionist, you are happy because the separatist candidates did not win a clear majority of the popular vote–and two separatist parties have to band together to make up an absolute secessionist majority of seats in the Catalan Parliament.

So, it was sort of a mixed bag. This will ensure that the Spanish political scene will remain a little unstable into the foreseeable future. As happy as the Catalan independentistas might be, there is a whole pile of work lining the long and winding road ahead–and Rajoy’s Partido Popular will probably need to reassess their so-far failed approach to address Catalan grievances.

Here are links to two pretty thorough New York Times articles (in English) in which the election results are discussed:

Vote Fails to Settle Dispute on Secession by Catalonia

Separatists in Catalonia Win Narrow Majority in Regional Elections

La Senyera Catalana. Barcelona, 2015

La Senyera Catalana. Barcelona, 2015

Review: Sony RX100iv

This little, baggy-pocket-sized, 20mp, wonder machine has been reviewed in-depth elsewhere. See especially the very complete analysis at THIS dpreview LINK.

My brief experience…

–Its files don’t compare to the files I get from my Nikon D800 DSLR but, for a small camera, they aren’t that bad either!

–The files are “good enough” (or better!) for most purposes, including decent prints to at least 13″ x 19″ as long as you don’t crop away too many pixels.

–The Zeiss wide-aperture (f/1.8-2.8) lens, the superb 1″ sensor, and the image stabilization really help those indoor or late evening shots.

–The 24-70mm equivalent lens is a little lacking on both ends for my dream machine (I would love 18mm to 120mm, for example, but that would compromise the optics), but it is adequate and much more versatile than the fixed lens on my Fuji X100s (a pretty darn good street camera in its own right).

–The Electronic Viewfinder and the built-in flash are very nice bonuses.

This has become my preferred street camera and it may well accompany me on climbs, long hikes, or backpacks when weight is an issue. It is perfect for the jersey pocket when out cycling.

If it fits your budget (around $1,000), I would highly recommend it, assuming you prefer something light and pocket-able.

The following three example images were all hand-held in low light.

Some details: I set the ISO on “Auto” with the “Slower” option selected (see the manual for an explanation). Also, these were JPEGs from the camera that I worked for a maximum of about five minutes each in Lightroom and Photoshop (noise reduction, straightening, lifting shadows, pulling back highlights, contrast, slight crop, etc.). I don’t yet have the update to open these Sony raw files–with which I know they will be even more capable of shadow/highlight/noise manipulation.

Here ya go:

 

La Catedral de Barcelona. In this one, not only was the light quite low, but the highlights in the higher domed area and the shadows on the pillar really pushed the dynamic range of the sensor. Even with a JPEG image, though, I was able to pull some detail out of the column shadows after mainly exposing for the dome highlights…

Catedral, #1. Barcelona, 2015
La Catedral, #1. Barcelona, 2015

 

Yes, the Moon is blown out, but that is hard to avoid with even a massive camera, unless you combine images. There is a lot of dynamic range in this one, too, that was handled fairly well by the small sensor…

Night Concert. Barcelona, 2015
Night Concert. Barcelona, 2015

 

I probably could have taken this one with my iPhone as I wanted the silhouettes black anyway–I wasn’t concerned about shadow detail. I just liked the photograph, so included it here as a bonus. What the heck…

It's All About the Image. Barcelona, 2015
It’s All About the Image. Barcelona, 2015

Flavor, in Color

Coffee with Heart (and Flavor!). Barcelona, 2015
Coffee with Heart (and Flavor!). Barcelona, 2015

 

This is something I notice whenever I travel away from my home country: the foreign food has flavor. Zest! Punch!

When I eat, it is as if someone turned on the colors inside my mouth.

If there is one thing we do really well in the United States it is to produce vast quantities of relatively cheap food. Unfortunately, this food has been bred and/or packaged for ease of transport (large country, factory farms in California), durability (we are all too busy to shop but once a week) and appearance (better sales) and not necessarily for taste.

Quantity and convenience has taken precedence over quality.

I am not sure the average U.S. citizen, if not a frequent traveler, understands just how much our taste buds have been dumbed down (or, the other extreme, blasted into insensitivity by excessive artificial spice and flavoring).

Whether it is the Netherlands or Norway, Barcelona or Bilbao, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, or Timbuktu, you’ll notice that the coffee, the grains, the cheeses, the meats, the fruits, berries and vegetables (even the lettuce!) all have a little extra, subtle-but-punchy, earthly flavor. Color for the sensitive tongue, you might say.

Does anyone really remember what a tomato is supposed to taste like? Blackberries? A melon? Grass-fed beef?

I guess the good news is we are slowly figuring this out in the U.S. of A. Thus the growing trend to produce and buy local from small farms, many of them organic.

Finally!

Obey, Consume (and buy a car!)

Apart from the off topic direction of this post, there is a photography angle to it.

To wit: can you decide which of these two images was made with the Sony RX100IV point-and-shoot and which with the Nikon D800 DSLR? Betcha can’t!

 

Yes…you MUST…obey…consume…

Obey and Consume. Barcelona, 2015
Obey and Consume. Barcelona, 2015

 

And buy things…and buy cars, many cars! This will make you happy and beautiful!

 

Some day (in the probably somewhat distant future) we will realize just how much damage we have done with the automobile and all its related industries from petroleum to mining–despite the wonderful fun and games we have had for the past 100 years with these amazing machines.

Car Culture. Barcelona, 2015
Car Culture. Barcelona, 2015

 

P.S. Anyone notice the irony of this post? I initially asked you to compare the results of two, fairly new, camera models–both not inexpensive consumer items. Yep, we are all locked into the system to one degree or another.