Monday, December 31, 2007

Blues In The Snow

It's five PM, and completely dark outside, right now. The sun set almost an hour ago and so I slowly gather my clothes together in my dimly lit minuscule apartment. The computer casts its rays across the room, which helps light the place up. In the six years that I have lived here, this is the closest thing that I have to Christmas lights.

I look out one of my two windows, and I see a vast parking lot, filled with snow-covered cars. Most of the vehicles have several inches of freshly fallen snow on them and it is still snowing. A tiny Bobcat plow is clearing he sidewalks. It darts back and forth, as it removes the snow from the pedestrian's path.

I bundle up warmly with a hooded sweat jacket, overcoat and wool hat, then I head for the front door and out into the cold night air. The large, crisp snowflakes sparkle and shine underneath the streetlights that break the huge dome of darkness, which rains down from the heavens above. It is a magical night for walking.

I have a forty minute stroll down the hill to my place of employment, where I wash dishes in a busy restaurant. It is an enjoyable walk, especially when I plug into the local radio station; the one that has the blues hour, which begins at five o'clock. The music is as beautiful as the thickly descending snow, even though the songs originate from that hot and humid place, called New Orleans.

The song is classic barrelhouse piano with a driving back beat. The artist is Henry Roeland Byrd, better known the world over as Professor Longhair. He is noted for his driving rhythms, which often come from his feet with which he constantly pounds against the base of the instrument. It is a captivating style of music, one which he first perfected during the heyday of R & B back in the sixties. The Professor enjoyed a second career years later when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival got going. Until his death in 1980 the New Orleans native was one of the fixtures of the very popular outdoor music stage.

Then another piano master from the Big Easy comes over the air. The song begins with a wild classical prelude, then it breaks into a funky style. This is the trademark of another keyboard wizard of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, the late great James Booker. He was a madman of the piano, known around the city as much as he unique style that developed from his early training as a classical pianist, as his legendary descent into a dark world through the doorway of illegal drug use. Booker was a child prodigy on the piano, who eventually found his way to a successful recording career. He too became a fixture at the Jazz Festival in New Orleans until he died in 1983 at the age of 43.

Music from these two marvelous musicians continues all the way along my snowy walk to work. It is a birthday party of sorts. A sort of wacky Jazz funeral that warms up the New England winter night, for these two maestros practically share the same birthday. Henry Byrd was born on December 19th and James Booker on December 17th.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day

Strings of Christmas Lights On The Porteous Building In Portland, Maine

More Christmas Lights in downtown Portland. I took a long walk on Christmas Eve and of course I brought along a trusted friend, my Kodak Digital Camera, which actually takes pretty good pictures, even at night. And that's what I have been doing at night lately. A healthy December snowfall, mixed in with a healthy dose of seasonal light shows and all of a sudden the ingredients are all available for some exciting winter photographs.

Christmas Day has been a quiet day for me. I slept until noon which was a fantastic thing to do. Then I drank a lot of egg nog that I mixed with some Blackstrap Rum. The rum was a recent purchase and a very tasty addition to the Christmas Day fare, which included a beef steak, mashed potatoes, fried kale, jellied cranberry sauce and some chocolate ice cream. What a feast!

Two holiday videos kept me from feeling too gloomy about spending the holiday season alone. The first being "Letters From Iwa Jima", which was a rather dark tale about the Japanese defense of the Pacific Island during World War II. For forty days the Emperor's troops made a determined and spectacular defense of a small Pacific atoll. The movie was a sympathetic look into the struggles of the ill-fated troops as the battle progressed towards the inevitable outcome of an American victory. Against all odds the Japanese held out for forty days in a battle that should have been over with in a few days. The hard part for me to take was way the Japanese were portrayed. I know Eastwood was trying to be sympathetic to the Japanese, but the fighting men in this film seemed incapable of a defense that would have lasted more than a day or two, much less the forty days that really happened.

The other movie a nutty, Spanish farce called Gaudi. It was filmed in Barcalona among the buildings of the great architect, which only adds to this delightful offbeat comedy, which is sure to warm the hearts of anyone, who watches it. It is not a holiday film per se, but it revolves around a struggling translator, who is approached by a spectacularly sexy American woman, who has just arrived in the Spanish city to try and locate a missing husband. Nothing is the same after the two meet and then try to locate the unaccounted for spouse. A delightful story.

Well so long for now wish I had another DVD to watch, but I don't so I think I'll lie down for a while and listen to Keith Jarrett in Koln.

Merry Christmas!!!Everybody!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas has arrived already. It is hard to believe and so is all the snow that is lying around on the ground and also piled up in huge mounds next to all the urban parking lots. With each passing winter, the snow seems to arrive later and later. But this year Mother Nature decided to turn back the clock a few decades and give us a white Christmas. I don't know if Christmases in Maine 40 years ago were all that white, but it is nice to think that they were. I can remember my first winter in Maine, which occurred about twelve years ago. It snowed like the Dickens all through the month of December, and kept on doing so for the entire winter.

Since then we might have a few inches on December 25, and then even more likely we might not. This year we got hammered early, but I have no idea of winters were more snowy in the past or not. The more likely scenario is that every ten years or so, we get hammered with the white stuff, early. This year we even got a rain storm just before the Noel, which is real blessing, for that means snowplow operators get to spend their Christmas with families and loved ones, and the average Joe does not have to spend Christmas Day shoveling snow. People in the Midwest may not be so lucky.

I am grateful because I get to take long walks in the white landscape with my camera. This Christmas season I have really gotten into photographing night lights and city skylines just after sunset. The world looks so peaceful in this northern latitude in the early evening nightfall. The picture above is a Christmas light, one of many that hangs in Deering Park, to help light up the dark, winter sky.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice

Today is the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. This afternoon is a very gray and overcast day with temperatures just below freezing. Tomorrow we celebrate the beginning of winter with a predicted day of light rain. On the other hand our autumn has finally left us, but not without a mighty blast of wind, snow and cold. I guess the weatherman must have come down with a bad case of dyslexia for he seems to have the two seasons backwards, though once January and February roll around things I'm sure that things will get back to normal.

This past week we have seen two snow storms of moderate size. Each one has left us with about a half foot of snow., making for a very snowy landscape here in the city. The sidewalks are in pretty good shape, but there are big piles of snow everywhere. It is kind of fun to walk down the narrow footpaths with four foot high piles of the white stuff on each side of you. One would never know that there are carefully laid brick sidewalks hidden beneath winter's fury. Sometimes when get to the end of the block there is no exit to the street and so you have to climb over the wall of snow. All in the day's adventure of life here in coastal Maine.

So long for now I have to traverse my way to work on a day when the sun sets just after four and darkness completely falls by five. Soon, the days will be longer and this special time of year will be nothing but a memory. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Nor'Easter Comes To Town

Shopping Cart In The Snow

It was snowing pretty hard at 7 A.M. when I first awoke this morning. The wind was coming hard out of the northeast, driving the snow diagonally across the street and parking lot. The storm must have been blowing for at least an hour or so, because the surface of the parking lot had already turned white. The rest of the local landscape has been white for a couple of weeks now, first indications that we are in for a classic Maine winter. I may even be snowshoeing in the city parks this winter, an event that is only seems possible every five or six years.

Now, it is just a little past noon and it is still snowing quite hard. At this rate we are headed for over a foot of the white stuff, though the weather forecasters have a different scenario in mind. They think warm air will get mixed in aloft and create freezing rain or even pure rain. Right now this looks like a ridiculous assumption, especially since the temperatures are close to the twenty degree mark. However, from past experience I do know that this does sometime happen, for the ground temperature does not completely determine, what type of form the precipitation will arrive in. However, at this point in time on the ground, I would be surprised to see a turnover.

This particular storm (blizzard really) is expected to last into the wee hours of Monday morning. At the present rate over a foot seems to be the likely outcome. Good news for skiers and snowmobilers all across New England and eastern Canada, though today is a good time to stay indoors and watch the snowflakes whizz by. Besides I need to catch with some of my bill paying.

This snowfall will definitely make for a white Christmas, which is less than two weeks away. The sun will come out and make everything look very beautiful. Then it will probably snow some more. Actually white Christmas is not the appropriate term here, I think polar Christmas is more like it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Has Arrived

Popular Bar With Fresh Coat of Snow On Roof

It looks like winter has arrived and is here to stay. With the onset of more snow (only 2" last night and more on the way) it appears that our blanket of snow is going to stick around for a while. Time to look on the bright side, for that means a white Christmas is just around the corner. Right now the city of Portland looks like a Christmas card with the light dusting we received last night of the white and fluffy variety. All the evergreens have white blobs on them and even the piles of street slush that the snow plows left behind have a pretty white coating. Cross-country skiers are out and about, which is a December abnormality even at this northern latitude.

All this adds up to party time. The warm hearth of the homes, restaurants and drinking establishments beckon everyone to celebrate. Don't forget a trip to the local stage or music club for the offerings are many. Even a recluse like myself will be attending more than one celebratory affair. Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Early Snowstorm

Fence and Snow Shadows

An early snow storm arrived early Monday morning and actually lasted well into Tuesday afternoon. We were graced with periodic stretches of light snow that gave us maybe 6" to 8" here in the city. Some of the mountain areas had 20' of the light fluffy variety. The sun did not come out in full force until Thursday, which is when I took this picture. The oak leaves on the snow are a tell-tale sign that this particular storm was an early arrival.
The oaks are one of the last trees to change colors and hence they are still dropping a few leaves even at this time of year. The young saplings sometimes hold on to copper colored leaf until the spring rolls around, but the big trees are close to bare by now. Perhaps this snow will stay around and give us a white Christmas. That would be wonderful, but it looks things will warm up next week and then bring us some rain. So, if we are to get a white Christmas we will need some more snow. This could easily happen. With one good snowfall under our belt for the season, we could just as likely have one more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights in Portland, Maine With the Eastland Hotel in Background

The colorful lights have been up for a couple of weeks now. They are located on buildings and trees all around the downtown area of the city. The ones that hang from the trees by the skating rink in the city park are especially cool to look at during the night. They hang from the branches and to someone, who is sober, they look like Japanese lanterns. To some one, who is under the influence of the holiday spirits, they must look like a fleet of flying saucers.

The ones pictured here are hung from lampposts right in Congress Square, just across the street from the Portland Museum of Art. In the background is the Eastland Hotel. As we are quickly approaching the shortest day of the year, their colorful presence is most welcome. Living where the sun sets at four o'clock in the afternoon takes some getting use to, but once that is done the winter season can be the most fun of all. These long winter nights were just made for partying long into the winter night. Nothing is more enjoyable than a long walk outside on a crystal clear night when the stars seem so much closer to the earth. (Actually they are farther away and even so the change is unnoticeable.) Happy holidays everyone.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Good-bye To A Faithful Friend

Tuesday July 10, 2007- I said good-bye to my car today. It was a very dependable means of transportation, and I parted ways with the vehicle in the same way, I would say good-bye to an old friend. The young man was a very happy buyer, and I was more than pleased to get my asking price. The money, which won’t last very long will come in handy in my struggle for financial independence, plus I figure I can get by pretty well without the old Buick, but I sure will miss it.

I spent the rest of the day going around town on the bus. It was quite the letdown from having a dependable means of transportation, that always started and did not give me any problems. Nonetheless,I got everything done, which needed doing and I even had time to take this picture of a large leafy plant, that is part of the landscaping at the hospital parking lot, that is located right next to the apartment building where I live.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Brick Sidewalk

        Monday, July 9,2007 -Last evening after a long day of rain, the sun came out about an hour before sunset. I immediately took advantage of the situation and headed out the door on a long walk, that took me to the video store, where I returned some DVD movies, and then continued my ramble onwards to the Maine state pier and the adjacent waterfront. From where I live, all the way to the downtown area, the streets are edged with brick sidewalks, such as you can see in the picture above. Only when one approaches the waterfront, does one encounter the concrete walkways, that dominate most cities in the US.
       It was near the downtown center, that I found the bank building reflected in a pool of water, that had collected on the bricks. The contrast in colors and the conflicting angles of the bricks with the high-rise building, combine to bring this picture together. It is also a tribute to the city, who is willing to make the sacrifice to maintain the vast maze of bricks, that cover a substantial part of the city. The winter snow pack does a number on the brick pathways, yet every spring crews will be out as soon as the snow melts away, to replace or repair any section of walkway, that might require such work.
       The miles, that I have walked along these corridors of baked clay, adds up over the many years, that I have lived in this beautiful city by the bay. Only last night did I fine or attempt a picture, that in some way displays, one of the unique attributes of the place where I dwell. My feet are also grateful for the more gentle steps of passage, as I frequently forgo the comfort of motorized transport and partake in the age old way of bipedal locomotion.
       Today it rained again, and I walked the 20 minute route downtown to the camera store,where I dropped off some old negatives, that I had just found and long thought missing, and then visited the library. I felt pretty good, because I had finally found a buyer for my car, which I am reluctantly selling, so that I may continue my artistic pursuits, without resorting to a full time job. Still, if I do not much artwork, a part-time summer job may be in the very near future.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Friend Visits My Display

Caution Tape Against a Red Plywood Background

       July 7, 2007- Today is a day of great mathematical significance. If converted to numbers, it reads 7/7/07, but for me it was just an ordinary day on the street. Actually, my numbers weren't all that good. I made only two sales, and one was to a friend, who stopped by to cheer me along. Still,the fact is that I immensely enjoy doing the street scene, even with a series of color photos, that could easily passed off as fine art.
       I came back to the street today after dodging raindrops all day on Friday. There was a setup nearby of a second group of street vendors, sanctioned directly by the city. Some antique dealers were supposed to be present, but I guess the city couldn't find any willing to take a chance on the square on a beautiful summer Saturday, for only about a half a dozen, arts and crafts vendors bothered to set up. Early results were mixed, but this Saturday venue just might have a chance of moderate success, even without the antique dealers. The Saturday event is scheduled to continue until the end of August.
       Fred stopped by, and took an immediate liking to my photographs. He took a few of my photo greeting cards home with him, but not before staying for a long conversation, concerning the glorious subject of color photography. I knew he had gone to M.I.T., and was commenting about the amazing images, that the Hubble has produced; and also how much these pictures of distant nebuli and galaxies, beamed back from the darkness of outer space, resemble micro-organisms seen through the amazing optics of modern microscopes. The similarities between the two is uncanny, and can be easily viewed by anybody with access to the internet.
       All in all the day turned out pretty good except for the $30 dollar parking ticket, I received while loading my wares into my car. I had only gone inside for about five minutes, when the ticket mysteriously appeared on my windshield. Silly me, I thought all the meter maids had all gone home for the weekend.
       I did not do any picture-taking yesterday, but I have included a picture from several weeks ago, shot in the near vicinity, where I was set up.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Wet Day in Downtown Portland

Wet Pansies

      July 6, 2007- I went downtown to sell my photographs and color photo greeting cards, but the weather played the upper hand on me. I go to the city center, maybe once or twice a week, in order to set up a table, and then display some framed photographs on small tripods, along with a box of small matted prints and photo greeting cards. Here, prospective buyers can leisurely thumb through the pictures and when the buying mood overwhelms them, then they can take a picture of Maine, home with them. So far it has been a marginally successful effort, but a lot of fun. I get to sit and talk to all the browsers, all the while taking in the daily activities, that occur near our central locale, which is called, Monument Square.
      Today the weather provided all the excitement, as a cold front came bearing down on the sultry summer day. The first raindrops hit around 11:30, and then about a half an hour later a steady rain began to fall. The few vendors, including myself, packed up and then came back a couple of hours later, to set up again. It was after the first rain, which was rather light, that I took the picture of the pansies. They were growing in a cement planter, not too far from the square.
      The sun came out again and so we tried to set up again. This lasted about an hour, when a loud clap of thunder and a quick flash of light gave us sufficient warning, that bad weather was on the way. This second burst of precipitation was much more intense than the first, pretty much ending the day for us outside vendors.
      During this storm another artist showed up with a big round painting, that was wonderfully reminiscent of Australian Aborigine art. Kathy was her name, and she bought me a cup of Chai for helping her move some paintings through the rain. Pretty soon she had eight or so wonderful round acrylic paintings lined up against the storefront, where we conduct our business. I stood back aways, in the lingering rain showers, and admired her incredible paintings, as did everybody else who was passing by. She decided to stay till dark as it looked like the rain would finally end, while the rest of us decided that tomorrow would be a better day.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Blue Door

The Blue Door

      July 5, 2007- I went walking in South Portland today among the lighthouses, beaches,docks and walkways at Spring Point. Spring Point is a beautiful place with an old fort. a lighthouse, a recently-built wooden dock, a harbor museum, much waterfront acreage and a community college. I found this modern blue door at one of the educational buildings on the campus of the community college. It is completely atypical of what I saw today, but somehow I was compelled to record its intense metallic blue along with the distorted shadow, that the shiny metal handle made.
      I also wandered over to Bug Light, another small, even tiny lighthouse, that guards the Portland Harbor. From here there is a beautiful view of the city of Portland and Casco Bay. The day was hot and humid, and as a result the beaches were filled with families, finding some respite from the heat in the very cool Maine waters. Around the bend, there was a big oil tanker moored in the harbor, giving an industrial overtone to the whole scene. On a more surreal note a nesting pair of Ospreys, attended to their hungry and noisy chicks on a man-made platform, that had been set out just for such a bird. They seemed quite oblivious to all the days activities, even though the nest was next to a busy marina and not far from the place,where the oil tanker was moored.
      Still I liked the blue door the best for its intense ultramarine color, unusual shadow and thin yellow line.

Confessions of a Zen Lunatic

Confessions of a Zen Lunatic

       This blog is not so much about the practice of Zen Buddhism, but instead it is about the simplicity and beauty of everyday things, that one may encounter anywhere. For me, the sitting posture of traditional Zen, has been replaced by my daily walks around the place where I live, and for enlightenment I have chosen to focus on the small things, that I see all around me. Again I have departed from the normal practice of Zen Buddhism, for I am using a rather simple digital camera to record and transform the imagery.
       On a primary level, my artistic efforts are more about color-space-compositions, than they are concerned with any sort of religious experience. However, I would hope that as one digs deeper into the pictures, that they might see some sort of common thread between the two practices. Even if you don't see any connection, there still remains here an interesting collection of photographic images from the vicinity of Portland, Maine, where I now reside.