Hiroshima mon amour

I know it sounds quite predictable as a title for a post on Hiroshima, but I have just realised that it perfectly summarises my feelings for the place.
Some years ago I happened to visit Hiroshima just before the big celebrations on 6 August.
The city is not really nice, not in the common meaning of the word; it is not Kyoto, with its grand temples and quaint little alleys; nor is it Tokyo, with its many faces and bright lights. But it's intensely alive, with people strolling around, young couples and groups of friends laughing, old people walking in the parks, the atmosphere is lively and the restaurants are full, there are lots of bars on the riverbanks.

Of course, I visited the Bomb Museum and it's something I will never forget. The experience is tough. Yes, you know that the Japanese had done horrible things while conquering Asia, you know that the high ranks of the army did not want to give up, that they wanted to fight until the last man alive, but the people of Hiroshima that were hit that day were just students, nurses, workers, normal people at the beginning of a normal day.
The bomb produced a heat wave so strong that the copper roof of what is now the atomic dome melted and fell on the people below. The wind it provoked was so strong that all the traditional houses which formed most of the city were blown away. The glass windows of the hospital exploded and killed or injured countless people inside. But that was not the worst yet.

In the museum you can read the stories of many people who survived the first strike, but died because of the radiations, and it was a horrible death. People who were unrecognisable even for their own families, because of the radiation-induced damages they suffered, people whose skin started falling off, people who just disappeared, evaporated.
As I said, it was tough, and it's meant to be like this, it's meant to hit you as its primary goal is to never let anything like this happen again.

When I came out, I strolled in the Peace Park and an old man stopped to talk to me. I think he was a survivor and he said many things, but I only understood part of them with my poor Japanese. Before we parted he gave me an origami crane. Sometimes I look at it to remember that life goes on, despite everything, like the flowers that started to bloom the year after the bomb exploded and changed everything. And that is the reason why I liked Hiroshima: it is a very lively city, but it doesn't hide its difficult past.
Banzai Hiroshima!

La Grande Bellezza?

You may have heard that an Italian movie finally made it to the Oscars again, La grande bellezza directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
I don’t know why, but this has caused all sorts of polemics and pointless discussions about how unworthy of the Oscar the film is, how boring it is, and how it all was a political move (?)

I have just finished watching it and I liked it, and I can see why it has won (even if I haven’t watched any of the other contenders). The protagonist, journalist Jep Gambardella, is a fascinating, complex character, he is both cynical and quite sarcastic and very human and sensitive with people and events that deserve it. He is never mean just for the sake of it.
There are other characters that are a lot more than they may appear at first, and there are others, on the contrary, that are every bit as shallow as they look.
Some of the scenes are caustic, like the one at the Vatican when Sister Mary receives the homage paid by all sorts of religious people. That is really bordering on grotesque and quite funny. Or the cardinal that can explain the details of all sorts of recipes as solemnly as if he were celebrating mass, but flees at the merest hint of spiritual questions.
Some are dreamy, like the disappearing giraffe, or the flamingoes stopping on Jep’s balcony for a rest while migrating.

And then there’s the overwhelming presence of Rome, in all its beauty and decadence. Nothing can compare to taking a walk in Rome at night, when no one’s around and all the palaces, monuments and fountains are lit up. It doesn’t even seem real.

It’s a strange movie. I think it doesn’t have to be understood, it doesn’t have to be read, you just have to try and let it take you along with the story and then you’ll see its beauty, you’ll see that Jep’s life has come full circle: he probably started writing after being left by his then-girlfriend without understanding the reason, now the woman’s died and left a diary where she says she’s always loved him, all the time, but doesn’t explain why she left him, and this sparks Jep’s will to write a new novel, as so many people ask him to do. It’s not for everyone’s taste, but if you let it guide you, you’ll be part of a brilliant dance.

A Lesson In The Nature Of Light

As soon as I saw a picture of Antelope Canyon I knew I had to see it.  

Antelope Canyon is actually Antelope Canyons, as it’s split into two parts that are only accessible with guided tours, as they belong to the Navajo nation, and are also subject to flash floods.

Tours to the Upper Antelope Canyon are organised by different companies, while Lower Antelope seems to be a family-run business with just one company having access to it and taking no reservations. 

I had booked a tour in Upper Antelope during the so-called “prime time” the central hours of the day, when the light coming in creates rays similar to spotlights inside the canyon. You are taken to the entrance by 4WD on a very bumpy road, that is actually the bed where rain water flows when there are heavy storms. 

The entrance to the canyon is level with the ground and looks like theatre curtains, it’s amazing how water and wind managed to create such “flowing” shapes from stone. You feel the urge to touch it to confirm it’s solid rock. 

Then you enter the canyon and the surprise continues: it is quite dark inside, in some points, where it’s narrower it is really dark, as the opening at the top is much narrower than the bottom of the canyon where you walk, so there isn’t much light coming in. The stone itself is a reddish-purple colour when you look at it, but when you take pictures the magic happens. The images gathered by our eyes are constantly adjusted by our brain, so the colour we see is more or less constant, but if you use a camera, it gathers the available light, and there is where all the colours come to life. 

According to where and how you point your camera you can obtain different effects, without tampering with settings and white balance, just playing with the light reflected by the walls of the canyon. 

I know the physics that is at the base of this effect, but I still find it amazing and almost magic! 

I managed to get pictures of the famous and much sought-after rays in Upper Antelope, and I have to say it was worth it, even if it was really crowded, and I found being told what to photograph, from where and when, quite annoying. I know that guide was well-meaning, but I hate being told what to do (and to tell the truth, some people really needed advice, as they were using flash, spoiling the whole effect).

Then I went to Lower Antelope Canyon, which is said to be the opposite of Upper Antelope: Lower is an underground canyon with a V shape, so there are no light rays and access is a bit more difficult, as it happens through a crack in the ground, even if it’s well equipped with metal ladders. Unfortunately there had been a flash flood two days before I went and the canyon was still being cleaned, so I could only visit part of it. 

But I was lucky to be able to. This canyon is a lot less crowded and the guide was less obtrusive, she would take pictures of you in the canyon, if you wanted, but wasn’t rushing you, or telling you what to do. She was actually helpful with people who asked for advice. 

The canyon really is the opposite of Upper Antelope, it has a lot more textures and more colours are developed by the shape of the canyon. I think I will have to try and go back to walk it all! 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it was a real lesson in the use of light and reflections, and the way we see. And if you go there I suggest you visit both canyons as they are different and equally interesting.

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The perfect moment

Sometimes I think of it. About a month ago I was driving alone in New Mexico, crossing green plains, with light grey mountains in the background. One of them would draw closer at times bordering the road; the sky was perfectly blue and fluffy white clouds were playing tag.
I thought that maybe I could turn on the radio and “Take It Easy” filled my car.
It was such a perfect moment that I was almost moved to tears, one of those moments that seldom come in life and are always unexpected.

So I decided to start singing and it was soon chased away by my out-of-tune voice 🙂

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The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

I was at the Grand Canyon the other day
I knew it would be overwhelming. I knew it would be impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t actually experienced the vastness of its gape. I knew it would be unforgettable.

And yet, I thought it was a bit of a let down when I first saw it, as there were too many tourists (like me), the children were either bored or hyper, most of the adults just hopped off the bus, took a picture, ticked that viewpoint off and went.

It was a bit depressing. But then I started walking on the Rim Path and, after the first few bus stops, people really did thin out. I had some spots all for myself, I had the time to observe my surroundings and to notice the contrast of a cactus growing next to a pine tree. I guess that’s the only place on Earth where it happens.

I reached a rock jutting out of the main path, everyone else had left, I was left alone with the huge gaping valley and the red river below. I wanted to take a picture so I walked right to the rim, I stared out into the distance and the air called me: I felt a sudden urge to jump off. I wished I had wings to soar on those jagged rocks, to reach the condor nests, to dive straight down and then come up again brushing the many-coloured canyon walls.
I wished I had a glider at least, to be able to mock the grace of birds.
It was so powerful that I had to step back.

Shortly after that a crow flew up from a bush near me and gave a call. Then I saw it again a bit further up the way, it flew above my head and called and then came back and waited for me on a tree along the path. It was really weird. Can you have Stendhal syndrome in front of a marvel of nature?
Grand Canyon sunset

Beauty is in the (fish)eye of the beholder

As I said in another post, I am trying to travel as light as possible, and this includes my camera. I got a micro 4:3 mirror-less that I am quite happy with, especially after getting around for days with a fraction of the weight and a ‘normal’ (ie. non-camera) backpack.

However I have always had a soft spot for fisheye lenses, so when I saw the Samyang micro 4:3 7.5 mm I knew I had to buy it. It is quite cheap for a lens, so I wasn’t expecting much, despite reading good reviews, but I was wrong!

When I first opened the package I could not believe how tiny it is. But it’s also really well built, metal thread, and mostly metal construction; the aperture and focus ring are smooth to operate. Yes, it’s a manual lens, it’s actually my first all manual lens. I was a bit wary, but it’s actually really easy to operate: I usually set the camera to aperture priority, then I operate the lens. With the great depth of field of a lens so short it’s easy to have everything in focus, but if I really am not sure, I can always use the on-screen magnifier. No EXIF data, of course.

This is a full frame fisheye and it’s also surprisingly usable. It warps subjects only when you place them on the borders, which is something I found disappointing at the beginning, but I have come to appreciate.

Would you think this was taken with a fisheye? I didn’t correct anything.

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As you can see there are no flares, even with sun in the frame. I am impressed.

Here are some more shots, where you can appreciate the lens’s fisheyeishness 🙂

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Girl Bitten By A Lizard

I have always thought that the famous painting by Caravaggio – Boy Bitten By A Lizard – was a bit over the top. I mean, a green lizard (the Italian title specifies “green lizard”) Biting? Do green lizards even bite?
Then the other day one of my cats caught a green lizard and I had an epiphany.

I saw he was looking intently at something in the garden, so I went out, saw the poor lizard and took the cat inside. Then I went out again to check on the silly reptile: I saw it was wounded and was not moving, so I wanted to have a closer look and I caught it. It bit me.
Green lizards do bite. It didn’t really hurt, but I was taken aback. And I thought of the many times I scoffed at the painting’s title

http://www.friendsofart.net/en/art/caravaggio/boy-bitten-by-a-lizard