pool season, over

Well, I wasn’t able to do any more blog posts for a bit due to a) A maddening series of computer issues, ones which required me to purchase a new hard drive and reinstall Windows, and b) work, in a semester that’s starting earlier than before.

I do not miss the summer, however, or at least not the temperatures of summer. I’m just starting to get out with the “real” camera again (read, a dedicated camera, not a smart phone), and will post some shots from it. Thanks to the pandemic, however, I haven’t had many events to attend or taken trips for photo purposes. I have one of those planned for December, but I’ve been avoiding crowds.

One thing the pandemic has clearly taught me is that the camera is a way of getting in with a crowd, and studying places and people. I’m not making any sort of introverted images, or ones that involve self-reflection or reflect inner moods, necessarily. If my images do that, and I’m sure they do, they only do so indirectly.

What could seem like a possible exception are photos I took from inside the pool downstairs at my place this summer. I don’t have a thesis or anything for them, though. I just liked the way the shots looked, really, and love the way the pool looks at night.

But I do think they reflect something personal in that I’m a longtime swimmer. I started 20 minutes or more at least three or four times a week starting 2001, after saying sayonara to Big Tobacco. I’ve had periods where I’ve also been into jogging and cycling, and then just cycling and swimming for a bit. I’ve worked with a personal trainer as well. But swimming is my first adult exercise love.

During the summer, meanwhile, I was in the pool downstairs for more casual dips, but still doing flip turns and kicking from below to stir the water up, doing dolphin kicks under water for practice, and the like. Water is so heavy, so powerful, and mysterious, and I enjoyed watching it do its thing in a way I hadn’t in a lap pool.

There is, again, no deeper thing to say here, except maybe that the pool is my Great Escape. And now it’s over for a summer, except for the lap pool (for which I’m ready for more pandemic months, with water shoes, wet socks, and a parka ready so I can get in and out of the gym ASAP).

Oh, also I took a series of photos with a toy shark! Lest we forget. Farewell for the year, downstairs pool.

hiroshima, 2019

About year and two-and-a-half months ago today, I made a one-night’s stop in Hiroshima, Japan. It was all too brief, but memorable in a way that will likely be etched in my brain until I leave this earth. And I was just one of thousands of pilgrims to its Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park passing through daily, this on a quiet, cloudy Friday afternoon and evening.

Tomorrow will be a bigger day there, with the marking of the 75th anniversary of the city’s destruction by an American atomic bombing.

A bit of background, since I had not previously discussed anything about my trip on this site: I visited Hiroshima during a two-week tour of Japan in May 2019, on a personal visit. More specifically, I had scheduled a trip to the city to come after three days in Kyoto, about an hour-and-a-half away by a Shinkansen bullet train, and before a trip to a major art festival in the Seto Inland Sea, about four hours away trains and a ferry. I had to leave Kyoto later than I expected, however, and thus everything had to go right on my trip over to be able to see much of museum. But it did go right.

I will keep my feeling about things relatively brief here, in comparison to my journal, where I went on and on and on about the visit. One big of the entry stands out, however: A part where I mention finding myself frozen after reading about a girl’s being stuck in concrete and steel rubble after the bombing, unable to get out while suffering from a compound leg fracture, maggots around the wounds. I could relate, having suffered two compound leg fractures when I was younger. I could feel that pain, imagine the horror of being unable to get immediate aid, out in the humid August air. So I just stood there for a second, with hundreds of other visitors swarming around me, before telling myself to snap out of it and move on.

In my journal, I continued, “Now, upon thinking about this later, I wondered whether this (part of the) exhibit had anything to say about the horrors of nuclear war, specifically. Would such a story stemming from the Tokyo firebombing be any easier to take? What about a more recent drone bombing?”

My answer was partly that the overwhelming nature of the event, and the lack of any warning, maybe made this worse. (Not sure I agree with that now.) Otherwise, I thought the museum’s stressing, toward the end, of the need for world nuclear disarmament and consistent pushing for peace made telling the story here important by or through association.

Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph

Today, I read that today’s local officialdom has continued the tradition of speaking out in favor of peace and anything that leads to aggressive militarization and war, anywhere on Earth, this time with its mayor speaking out against “self-centered nationalism.” In so doing, the mayor was partly speaking to a domestic audience, given a rise in Japanese nationalism over the past few years, but also an international audience, given a rise in nationalism throughout Eastern Europe, and in China, Russia, and the United States, among so many other countries.

Hiroshima was not the only place where I saw the horrors of war, or anti-war messages during my visit. To the contrary, a week earlier, I visited a huge exhibit of war photography, with prints of shots taken over several decades, from all the major populated continents in Tokyo. The pro-peace message was much the same there as well.

Learning about the seemingly unending horror of what happened in just a short time in Hiroshima, however, had a cumulative effect. This came from going through parts of the exhibit about aftereffects including radioactive “black rain” and the early deaths of people who survived the bombing as children and such. (I had a hard time with evening beginning to watch some episodes of the HBO Chernobyl series, after getting home.)

Outside, however, in the gorgeous Peace Memorial Park people were cycling, jogging, hanging out. Adults led groups of uniformed school children around.

I stopped by my hotel after a bit, then went back out and had oysters (big local thing–these, shown below, were”grilled cheese oysters”) at a lovely little sidewalk cafe about half-a-block from the hypocenter of the bombing.

I had a couple of drinks back at the hotel, then sat up in my tiny room, trying to figure out Japanese broadcasts of game shows and noh theater. I woke up the next day, walked around and gawked at all the usual array of English signs around, even in a supermarket, a “Joe’s American Deep Dish Cafe” on a main drag, and so forth, and the ever-impressive (don’t think I’m joking) array of consumer offerings in the 7-11 where I picked up fancy doughnuts and coffee. By 9:30 a.m, I was gone. But I will always remember.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum at night

night and the movies

How to stay focused in the COVID-19 era? How do you keep yourself from wildly unhealthy doomscrolling, say? Maybe the existing sociopolitical order will completely collapse tomorrow, maybe it will. Or maybe you’ll look at too many articles about a direly important subject du jour, as if you’re going to solve all the world’s or lower jurisdiction’s problems all in one week?

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have all the all the answers, finding doomscrolling and social injustice and dysfunction issue pieces and videos hard to avoid right now, despite being busy over the summer. (More about what I’ve read below, with a couple of links.)

I can say, however, what has helped keep me sane, in an era when I can’t just bring my camera out and take shots of anything and everything: Old movies. Unlike about half of everyone else, I haven’t been watching many television series or new docs since mid-March. Instead, I’ve watched a couple of older movies a week, on average, usually late at night.

I started the movie watching for a couple of reasons. First, I knew I would be without cable late this summer, given that my condominium complex is no longer providing it with monthly fees. Comcast, meanwhile, decided to add Turner Classic Movies, which I loved, to a higher tier. Consequently, early on this year I paid for a couple of months of the higher tier, and recorded as many movies of interest to me from TCM as I could, thinking they tie me over until later. Now that I no longer have cable, I am getting TCM selections through HBO Max, and other classic movies and art films through the similarly outstanding Criteron Channel.

And the surfeit of cinema is one of the reasons I say that the stay-at-home season has seemed so surreal. Things are falling apart outside our front doors. The entertainment and accessible film options, though, have never been better.

Anyway, some of my favorite finds have included:

Night and the City (1950): While this classic film noir’s story is not particularly original or notable, the atmosphere it creates through its immediate post-World War II setting, design, and photography is like no other in film. It’s seedy but alluring, a portrait of the poor and depraved but uniquely glamorous. Or something to that effect.

I was so inspired by the lighting and photography in the film that I tried to imitate with self-portraits I took downstairs. The first homage is at the top of this page, with the other below, with screen shots/stills of Richard Widmark from the film for comparison.

The other major find was Saint Jack (1979), a once-seeming comeback film for director Peter Bogdanovich. It was based on a novel about an American trying to run (or at least start) a brothel in Singapore, and getting recruited for a CIA schemes, ultimately rejecting them. It is not a spy thriller, however, or an action film. It’s a character study, and a week-in-the-life story. It also just happened to be filmed on the sly, and captured an older, decaying yet romantic and wild-looking Singapore, before it underwent dramatic, rapid upward mobility. The film was banned in Singapore for decades, I read later, but has since become a festival favorite there. And it has a following, with a book about the film selling for a premium online and off. The plot was hard to keep up with, I found, but I never once wanted to turn the TV off when watching it. Again, the atmosphere carries the day.

Otherwise, I loved these:

Tokyo Olympiad (1965), via Criterion Channel (including a version with informed commentary).

The Red Shoes (1948), via TCM.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), via TCM.

I may cover some others later, but have to save something to keep me from doomscrolling on another day.

Today’s Media for Thought

  • “The Sociologist Who Could Save Us from Coronavirus,” from Foreign Policy. Some of this I think you would need to have read the book to fully appreciate. I have no read the book. Still, it was easy enough to get most of it.
  • “The Fabric is Torn in Oxford” from the nonprofit Mississippi Free Press. I thought this Part I was much stronger than this series on Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) fundraising’s Part II, which gets lost in the weeds of byzantine academic politics, how a PR effort might have gone better, and seeming score-settling with or one-upping of a competitor. Part I also doesn’t tell you nearly enough about how the Houston fundraiser Blake Tartt made his money and reputation (the gigantic Memorial City development in Houston, for one), but it does provide an unsettling look at efforts to keep troublesome university donors happy–in this case at one with a school that once made more of a big deal out of stressing an old south and Confederate-tied image–made it central, even, just before and during the Civil Rights Movement years. Then you see this intersect with Trump.
  • The Axios interview with Trump. Must watch, if pain-inducing.

that time again?

After more than a year of avoiding this blog, thanks mainly to thinking, Well, the writing and photos get more attention on social media, I have changed my mind. Sure, photo posts will get more attention at social media. But social media, particularly Facebook, has gotten on my last nerve in COVID-19 crisis era.

At the same time, the crisis era has left me adrift as far as my favorite pastime, which was photography. Travel isn’t sensible this summer, as the positive rate numbers clearly show. I’m not dining in at restaurants, no matter how often I’m encouraged to do so via restaurant accounts at Instagram. The brunch drinks look nice. But no thanks! I’m not going overseas, not going to blues festivals (which aren’t happening anyway), not taking photos of friends or people modeling or posing for me.

I was traveling around for photos a few times a year right up to the day the lockdowns began in the United States. Witness these photos from San Antonio TX, taken during the second week in March. I can remember washing my hands all the time them, and freaking out when briefly finding myself in a crowd, making sure I got out of it quickly. Then came hearing from others about how all this was overblown, once the Houston Rodeo was canceled. (I disagreed.) That was it for me for the year, it turned out. I later canceled a planned trip to Southeastern Utah for May.

One of my last restaurant meals, at the Hotel Havana’s Ocho in San Antonio TX

So I’m back here at the photo site blog. I am not sure what all I want to do with it. Still thinking that over, something I don’t have that much to time to do–or won’t have soon enough. What I do know is that I strongly opted against making this a now-standard sort of static photo portfolio site. I’m not in the photo biz professionally.

Otherwise, I thinking that a) I want to look for subjects that can get me to take photos here and there, or use old ones, say, while giving me a creative outlet for writing as well as photos, and b) I want to do my little part in bringing back an Internet outside of social media, news media, and business-oriented and professional sites and such.

Many people keep talking about the how the old normal wasn’t that hot, or wasn’t working at all. When, then, continue to act like we can just type our way into something new and better via the same dysfunctional platforms? Why not go out on our own?

Not that I want to set too high of a bar here or anything! More later.

kings canyon: hiking day

Well, it took me long enough to get to the last day. I finished the last entry, which covered the day before, about a week-and-a-half ago. (I had just been hiking at the eastern edge of Yosemite in that entry, and then drove toward Kings Canyon again.) 

In the interim, I went to an academic conference in Boston, taught classes during the week, and suffered my way through a sinus infection that left me with muffled hearing. No fun!

Now on to the subject: My last day, which I spent hiking–about 13 miles total. Most of it was spent on the Mist Falls Trail, and out-and-back that takes you about 9 miles total. And it’s beautiful for almost every foot. 

I referred to it to people I met on the trail as “preposterously gorgeous.” Here was the beginning. 

I mean, that’s pretty enough, right? The thing is, it just kept getting better and better, in a way that I thought was hard to convey through stills. The only way I thought I could give you some idea was just to throw as many decent photos I have of the trail in there.

Now, let’s keep going.

Around here, you had to take a left, and head toward the falls. And not long after that, you started hearing the unmistakable sound of a mountain river. 

The trail, meanwhile, started getting consistently steeper and rockier.

And there you were, standing on nothing but rock, staring out into the canyon.

After a bit, I found myself at the Mist Fall (but not as quickly as you might think here, to see the time jump), and it was time for a lunch. I put my feet in the water. Had a cranberry chicken salad sandwich and such, then headed back.

Once I got finished, though, I didn’t want to stop hiking. I remembered that there were other trails just a mile or so up the road from Road’s End (the end of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, where the Mist Trail began), near the Zumwalt Meadow trailhead.

I took one of these afterward, for another few miles. This easier trail, which hewed close to the byway for a bit, was an out-and-back to Roaring River Falls–which is more easily accessible via an asphalt trail nearby, but… I wanted to hike more.

That was about it. I drove back through the park and the Sequoia National Forest again via the byway, turning off only to make my way to a panoramic overlook near the John Muir Lodge. It was hazy out on the horizon, however, probably due to smoke from the Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite.

This was also, I should note, a wildly weaving route, and getting down it–after hiking another two-thirds of a mile or so to get to the overlook–made me feel a bit cranky. I was getting tired, and it was time to head toward my next top. That was Fresno. 

I only really saw the hotel I was staying at there. I had a shower, ordered a takeout pizza, and went to sleep. Then I got up at 4:45-ish and went to turn in my rental vehicle, and head to Los Angeles again.