Posts Tagged ‘photography’

In Astoria, walking west in the 31st Avenue, you cross Vernon Boulevard to find yourself in front of the East River. It is a surprising spot in NY, kind of underrated, sort of hidden, with far less audience and visitors than it deserves.

spring NYThe other side is Roosevelt Island, and the skyline behind is Manhattan. If you turn right, you would find eventually in Astoria Park, which is a more visited and acknowledge spot, closer to restaurants and bars and the N,Q line. But if going left, then surprises pile.

spring NY (5)You can plan a BBQ on the Socrates Sculpture Park, a name more sumptuous than reality checks. There are a couple of statues, and cryptic installations, mixed with a welcome green-grass in a corner of Queens, where red brick rules.

spring NY (3)It´s a reserved spot for cyclist, picnic-style families, yoga practitioners and dog walkers.

If you keep walking the path, after a momentary step into the Vernon Blvd at Broadway, you are right again entering through a Costco gate, heading to a waterfront that is the Rainey Park.

spring NY (7)spring NY (8)The exit takes you to the 34 avenue… you can then decide to go back or keep walking a longer distance to Queensbridge Park. Or none of these and just take your walk back to the red brick heading to 21st Avenue, and again to Broadway, and 31st Street, in a green Astoria.

spring NY2

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Texture is the theme for this week’s photo challenge.

I took this shot on Mount Etna, Sicily, on June 2010. Over that field of solidified magma, where I was having a hard time walking, trying to keep the guide’s pace, I found that fragment of broken mirror, sharply reflecting the sunlight. I remember I wondered why was that mirror there, of all places, in the middle of a field of dry volcanic lava. It also created a sharp contrast of textures.

(c)jennroig. Mount Etna, Sicily, 2010

(c) jennroig. Mount Etna, Sicily, 2010

Not all the times, and definitely not at first sight, but from certain angles and under a sort of nostalgic mood, Catania did remind me of Havana.

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

The choice of Catania was a matter of time and budget constraints, but it was also about dreams and good luck. I was in Europe at the beginning of the summer of 2010, to kick-start that long vacation of three months, a break between the sprint that was the winter semester in Amsterdam and what it would be my German marathon to complete my master’s research project. Still in Amsterdam, I knew that I wanted to feel some southern European warm before embracing the German weather. When I told about it to a very good friend, we dreamed of a longer journey that would take us from Rome to Sicily and then to the Greek Islands. But then the Euro crisis was starting, and as I can actually communicate in Italian but neither of us knew a word in Greek, we ended up deciding to spend our four days in Sicily.

catania plaza

Catania, Piazza Duomo

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, after Palermo, the island’s capital. We could have picked Palermo and it would have probably made a great experience as well. But Palermo is over the North Western Coast while Catania is located in the middle of the Eastern coast, so maybe we stuck with it because of the original thought of Greece… maybe that mood stayed with us… or maybe it was because it’s closer to Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe… or maybe it was just cheaper. I can’t really remember now.

We arrived there early in the morning, after a night journey that took us from from Rome to Sicily by train. Note: The Strait of Messina separates Italy from Sicily. As much as I can tell, there is no bridge yet connecting both sides of the country, and for sure there wasn’t any by then. But we didn’t need to leave our seats to board any ship, which makes me think there might be pretty gigantic ferries there. Or they separate the wagons… Any case, the mystery still haunts me today.

We arrived early, still hours away from the time when we could take over our beds on the B&B we had booked. But the owner was nice enough as to receive us, store our luggage and recommend us a great place to have a Sicilian breakfast.

When in Sicily, no matter at what time, make sure you’ll have a granita. And you can’t miss the oranges.

Roman, Arabic and Spanish heritage

catania 2

At different times in History, Catania has been dominated by culturally diverse powers. It was a Greek colony, part of the Roman empire, known as Medinat-Al-Fil during the emirate of Sicily and a member of the Crown of Aragon before the Spanish Empire would unified and claimed it as part of its territories. Only by the early 19th century Sicily -thus Catania- started to push toward the Italian unification, but it had to wait until 1960 when Garibaldi finally came to make it happen. Then Sicily joined the rest of the country.

aldabaDue to its proximity to Mount Etna, the volcanic eruptions have caused wreckage in the area on many occasions, so not every cultural legacy is as visible on the architecture and arts. Though the Spanish, the Arabic and the Roman influences are easy to notice in the streets and buildings of the city.

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Besides the sculpture of the elephant -made of lava- that is part of the monument in Piazza Duomo and was supposed to protect the city against calamities, a visible Arabic influence is the “Aldabas“, as Cubans call it. Italians call it “maniglie” to those handlers for front doors, but if it’s ornamented with some human or animal figure, it is a legacy from the period of Islamic domain over Southern Italy and the Iberian peninsula.

On the other hand, to put it mildly, the Roman remains are in your face, once you are walking around the streets of the city. The biggest testimony is the amphitheater and the ruins of the town that Catania used to be on ancient Roman and maybe Greek times. It is such a pity that the ruins are not taken care of as they should be.

anfiteatro

Obviously Catholicism makes up for another huge part of the cultural influences in Catania. There are many churches representing different periods in time and styles. As in the rest of Italy, just turning around a corner can make you find a building centuries old with a great story inside, and a storyteller eager to tell it.

catolicismo

My favorite, in fact, wasn’t the cathedral at Piazza Duomo. It was a smaller one, that I found so similar to the church that I used to visit back in my hometown.

chiesa

Now that I see it better, and I actually think about it, maybe it’s no similar at all. Maybe there’s little to no relation between this arty church in Catania and that old church in my memory. But that’s the thing with memory, right? It starts losing shapes and tones with years, it gets selective and irrational and it takes the most unexpected paths to bring feelings along.

If ever in Sicily, I recommend paying a visit to Catania. It is so close to wonders – both Human and natural – such as Mount Etna and the beaches of Taormina, and Syracuse, with many choices of public transport to do those short trips. The food is great, the people are endearing, the colors are awesome. And from the harbor there are ferries going to the Greek Islands, so you could make that Greek Dream to come true.

I confess it, I have some unresolved issues with Amsterdam. Although I lived there for a semester in 2010, from January to June, I didn’t manage to figure out my feelings for the city. So let’s try to break this down.

The landscape

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

Yes, Amsterdam is massive. It’s a mix of history, modernity, great architecture and engineering. A great evidence of how much mankind can accomplish. Have you heard the saying that “God created the Earth but the Dutch created the Netherlands”? Well, Amsterdam would be the exact embodiment of that statement. adam (6)

adam (5)As soon as you are there, before you’ll actually get to the Red District, the canals will be the first thing that catches your eyes. The second will be the bridges, especially the older ones that still work and are elevated to grant pass to the boats. I found interesting that, for a society that seemed to be in a hurry almost all the time, no one seemed upset waiting for the bridge to come down again.

Amsterdam is below the sea level, a city stolen from Poseidon. There has to be persistent supervision to all the infrastructure of bridges, canals, dams, harbors and the port. I guess this could be a reason why so many Dutch I met were so organized and good at planning.

In general, the infrastructure is great. From technology to public transport, everything seemed state of the art. Everything except for the architecture. The city is packed with these tall, skinny buildings that clearly show a sort of Lutheran style -beautiful but solemn and sober. The structures are so old that need that metallic reinforcement between stores. Some buildings are leaning over the next one, because the foundations are not strong and have changed with time. A clear evidence that is a city build over the water.

adam (9)

Even if buildings are leaning, and corpses of dead people need to be taken out through the windows because there’s no way to carry them down the stairs, rents in Amsterdam are easily among the most expensive in Europe, which is a lot to say in a continent that also includes Copenhagen, Paris, London and Hamburg…

If you are dreaming with a season living on one of those lovely boat-houses, I’ll recommend you to make sure you’ll dispose of a deep pocket.

adam (2)

What to do

Once in Amsterdam, there are of course some must-go places. The Van Gogh Museum comes to mind and the branch of the Hermitage; the “Bloemenmarkt” or Flower Market; The Anna Frank House if interested on the topic and the suffering; the local Chinatown is over Zeedijk Street, close to the train station, though there is a lot of Thai, Korean and other Asian cultures mixed there, not just Chinese; for shopping I’d recommend Kalvertoren; the Red District is over both Oudezijds Streets.

Oh! For a surrealist experience, don’t miss Paradiso, an ex church building turned into “sanctuary for the creatures of the night”.queen day (1)

Another “healthier” choice is heading to the city parks, in case you are simply a daylight person.

queen dayQueen’s Day used to be on April, celebrating Queen Beatrix birthday. You will have to check whether the Dutch keep the holiday or moved it match the current King’s B-day. Either way, there are no other days like those to party hard in the city.

Amsterdam is actually a really overcrowded city with over 780,000 inhabitants in a very small area. On Queen’s Night and following Day everybody goes out to parade, dance, smoke, drink, and eventually lay around under the sun or drunk in an alley or rather by the side of a canal.

Transportation

The public transportation system includes a metro system that covers a limited area -very narrow space where there are no canals-, buses and trams inside the city and trains that connect to suburbia and neighboring towns such as Hilversum or cities such as Haarlem. Everything runs punctual. But the farther you are from downtown, the less convenient it is to use it.

Imagine Amsterdam as a series of rings sharing the same center: the port that is close to the train station. That’s also the main spot to catch buses and trams. The different routs tend to follow lines that are like radius of the rings: so the wider the arch connecting the radius, the wider the distance between routes and stations. That is why, if you are planning to visit, you should consider renting a bicycle instead of a car or resorting to public transport.

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

I loved that it is a city made for boats, bikes and pedestrians. Going around in a car gets to be not only impractical, but a real nightmare. But I hated its very humid weather, the constant rain in the winter.

But I admit, when eventually the sun decides to shine, outside is the place to be.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

I also hated the city’s double standards. Prostitution is legal, but you would probably have a hard time finding any Dutch prostitute. The Red District feeds from human traffic, and those are the bodies in display behind the glasses. If you haven’t yet seen this ad for Stop the Traffik, do it now. A sharp irony is that the Red district is located one block away from the University van Amsterdam’s building where I attended my second semester as visiting MA student. UvA is among the most important centers of knowledge in Europe and probably the world. I can’t decide if this is real open mindedness or simple double standards.

Marihuana is sold legally in coffee shops and “soft drugs” are allowed to be consumed in student dorms, but the authorities aren’t granting any new licenses to open new coffee shops and they are actually using any pretext to shutdown the existing ones. In the surface is beautifully diverse, a cosmopolitan dream, but underground xenophobic feelings are polluting the air, water and soil. The name of Geert Wilders and the Party of Freedom comes to mind.

adam (7)Historically and culturally, The Netherlands are very influenced, and a lot can be explained and understood, by something called “Pillarisation“.

The pillars are four, segmenting people according ideology or religion. Catholics, Protestants, Social-Democratics and then Socialists. Back in time, a catholic would only read a catholic newspaper, purchase from a catholic business and employ catholic services. The same pattern would repeat in the rest of the groups. That explains a lot today’s political system and media in The Netherlands, to mention very visible elements.

According Wikipedia: “The development of pillarisation in the Netherlands was favoured by the emancipation of working and lower-middle classes on the one hand, and the execution of elite control on the other hand. The emancipation of the working class led to the establishment of socialist parties, trade unions, media, cooperative shops and collectively organised leisure activities. This “full care” of the socialist movement for its members existed similarly in other European countries. The emancipation of the conservative and often strongly religious lower-middle class fostered the emergence of the Protestant pillar. While the Dutch bourgeoisie was rather liberal and adhered to “enlightened” Protestantism, a large part of the lower middle class embraced a more orthodox Calvinist theology taught by preacher and politician Abraham Kuyper.”

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the wonders, peculiarities and greatness of Amsterdam. Still, I am not its advocate. Maybe it’s the best choice for a sudden, quick visit, but spending time there leaves a certain sense of otherness. There are so many people there, so many tourists in the way of locals, so many newcomers from so many corners of the world, that somehow the city has become a hostile playground where everyone could fit, but it is difficult to belong. adam (10)

I won’t say Italy’s the most beautiful country on Earth, because Italians are already crying that out loud. But I definitely say Italy offers some of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes on the planet.

(c)jennroig - Florence, a sight from San Miniato al Monte, January 2010

(c) jennroig – Florence, a sight from San Miniato al Monte, January 2010

In Italy, the Tuscany region is especially gifted. Within Tuscany, where every site can be unique, either in the countryside, the rural towns or the cities, Florence is indispensable in any list of go-to places.

I have been twice in Florence. First, during the Winter in 2010. That’s the rainy season, when the sky is gray and the colors of the trees seem opaque. Still, streets were crowded with tourists from every corner of the globe. If you are not carrying an umbrella, be prepared to be offered one every time you’ll be about to cross a street.

In fact, those days were so persistently rainy that the the waters of the Arno river had risen to levels not seen in years.

Arno River, January 2010

Arno River, January 2010

The Arno is Florence’s main river. It divides the city in two sides, pretty much like the Danube does to Budapest, without taking it to the extreme of turning it into two different parts with particular features and history. As it can be seen in the picture, walking to the left side would take to the oldest part of town. A lot of museums are there and art galleries and souvenir stores. To the right, it’s where you can go to find more modern cafes, business offices and and jewelry shopping.

The second time was by the Summer of 2011. The city was shining under the sun, glowing with every possible color and still bursting with foreign tourists; as usual, a lot of Asians with huge cameras. The Arno had its regular levels that time, and there was a lot of art and trade happening on each of the sides.

The Arno, Summer 2011

The Arno, Summer 2011

Planning a visit to Florence can be a bit of a headache of there’s not a lot of time or money. However, the city is far from being so pricy as Venice and it’s even less expensive than Rome. Among the many choices -museums, guided tours, trips to nearby towns- some can be taken at almost no cost and give you great joy.

Il Duomo

domoIl Duomo, also known as The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the main Cathedral and among the most important pieces of historic and artistic value in Italy, and probably in the entire Europe. outside duomoWhen you’ll walk around the building and enter the church, keep in mind that it took almost a century and a half of architectonic and engineering work to finish the construction (1296-1436).

A key information that is never missing from tourism guides and Art Encyclopedias the same, it’s that the Dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the giants of the Italian Renaissance.

The other must-know fact refers to the campanile, or that tall bell tower next to the basilica showing “rich sculptural decorations and polychrome marble encrustations”. It was designed by Giotto, another great name, famous due to his religious frescoes and paintings with a distinctive style that set him apart from another great artists of his time.

History tells that Giotto took over Arnolfo di Cambio’s work when the first Master of the Works died, leaving the work unfinished. A lapse of 30 years was needed to find and appoint a fair successor. Brunelleschi would only start working on the Dome by 1420. Sixteen years went by before it was finished.

il duomoGalleria degli Uffizi

Uffizi Gallery is one of my favorite museums ever. On the one hand, its catalog includes Botticelli’s La Primavera and The Birth of Venus. Only because of that, it’s worthwhile. But its collection goes far and beyond to include Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, besides paintings by Vasari, Raphael, Caravaggio and Piero della Francesca among others.

However, the real deal breaker here is that it is the one museum in Italy that I actually managed to visit gratis thanks to my press card.

San Miniato al Monte

Now, this is a place where a well informed local -basically any individual born and raised in the city- would tell you to go and even take you there. This Basilica stands over one of the highest points in the city. So, it’s a must-go for sightseeing. It tells a very interesting story that mixes Armenian influences with Ancient Roman Emperors and a the British King Henry II paying for a construction of the current building in 1013. Interestingly, it’s one of the last places on Earth where you can actually hear a mass told in Latin.

Atop of the hill, San Miniato al Monte

Atop of the hill, San Miniato al Monte

Very near to San Miniato there’s Piazzale Michelangelo, another awesome square to visit, having a very close-to-the-original copy of the David, the most famous of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s statues. Buonarroti, by the way, is a native from Florence and its most relevant artist of all times.

Just walk around and keep your eyes wide open

You’ll suddenly find yourself in a place with this view.

A street in Florence

A street in Florence

Whether in the winter or the summer, the city is lively and there will always be amazing scenes you can suddenly get to attend.

Winter's Renaissance Parade

Winter’s Renaissance Parade

Small shopping business are decorated with great taste.

Florence, June 2012

Florence, June 2012

Did you ever wonder about that thing of locking your love “forever and ever”? It may be originated there.

Lockers for lovers, in Il Ponte Vecchio

Lockers for lovers, in Il Ponte Vecchio

And whatever you do, don’t miss Il Ponte Vecchio.

Il Ponte Vecchio

Il Ponte Vecchio

I confess it: shiny landscapes draw my attention in the same way shiny objects repel it.

I keep some images well engraved in my memory:

– The sight of Alpine peaks covered by snow, glowing in the sunset.

– In Hamburg, the reflection of downtown buildings in the surface of a canal near the last flat I rent there. Also at sunset.

It seems I have some preference toward sunsets…

(c) jennroig. Santiago de Chile, 2012

(c) jennroig. Santiago de Chile, 2012

Like the sight of the sunset from my flat in Chile. The city locked by mountains, the vision of the Andean peaks was breathtaking to me.

But I am also attracted to the particular effect that golden lights can create in some older parts of towns and cities. I took that shot in Vigo, Galizia, in a street very close to the monument of “El Sireno”.

Vigo, Spain, 2010

Vigo, Spain, 2010

This week’s photo challenge is “Between

(c) jennroig - Valladolid, Spain, 2010

(c) jennroig – Valladolid, Spain, 2010

I shot this frame back in the summer of 2010, during the long break between academic years.

It was taken at the National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid, Spain, during the city’s festivities. A fragment of sky is trapped between the columns of the interior yard.

Spain had just won the World Cup. Spanish were a happy people.