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 šŸ™‚

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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?
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Lisboa

Last week-end I went to Lisbon.
I hadn’t been back for a while and it was really nice to see the city again. I hadn’t realised I had missed it so much.

I have visited many cities by the sea, but none of them has such an intense relation with water, the sea, the river. So much of its folklore, traditions, art is intimately related to water. It is a town that is open and welcoming towards its river, the Tejo: if you go to the grand PraƧa do Comercio, the entrance to Lisbon from the river, you see a huge square, one side of which is the river itself, and even if it’s huge you do not feel intimidated or dwarfed, you see an embrace.

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I like the light in Lisbon’s old town: the streets are cobbled with white stones that reflect the clear light and the atmosphere is really special. Sometimes they are paired with black stones to form patterns and designs, and the result is always very pleasing. (Black and white are Lisbon’s colours)

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Lisbon is also the city of hills, steep hills. It’s a bit like San Francisco, even if the impression is completely different, as the streets are very narrow, sometimes to the point that there is no car transit, the houses are made of stone, and usually there are drying clothes hanging from the balconies.

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Fascination for emptiness

Not so long ago I visited the Death Valley and, against my natural inclinations, I decided to get up well before the crack of dawn, to see the sun rise at Zabriskie Point. I did not know exactly what to expect from the experience, and at the time I was too sleepy to think about it.

I just got into the car and drove in the dark to reach the place. I walked to the top of the hill and joined the ten people that were already there, waiting and chatting softly.
It was dark and chilly, but comfortable.
The light yellow rocks reflected some light, so I could make out their shape, their rolling waves crossed by a dark ‘river’ of stones.

Then the light started changing and it got clearer, everyone went shutter happy and you could hear technical discussions about aperture, lenses and shutter speed, but I tried not to listen to the human voices and just take in the sound of the blowing breeze.

And then the sun finally came and it was a fast show of light and shadows on the rolling landscape below.
It was so beautiful and strange. I was struck, and I still am, I didn’t want to leave, I could have stayed there for the whole day, just looking down.
So I came back two more times during the day, and the view was always the same and always different.
I do not understand why I am so attracted by that place: there is nothing. No trees, no bushes, no animals that you can see. It’s barren, and it’s clear that it’s not suitable for life, but still I would like to go back, I would like to live nearer to be able to go there more often. I would like to be there now.

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Wandering makes me happy

I have been away for a while, partly due to work issues, partly to a long overdue holiday. Yay!

I am not sure why, but I felt I needed to go to the desert, I wanted to see the Joshua trees, so my trip developed around the fact that I wanted to visit the Joshua Tree Park in California.

I experienced several different landscapes while I drove from San Francisco down the coast and then towards the Death Valley and Las Vegas and back to Los AngelesĀ across Joshua Tree Park. I thoroughly enjoyed being alone in the desert. Many people asked: “Were you not afraid? What if something happened?” I don’t know, I never thought of that, I just lived the moment, I didn’t care about the “what ifs”.

I stopped in some places along the road where there really was no one in sight for miles, I got out of the car and not even the wind was blowing, there was a perfect silence, something which I am not used to, something that I didn’t think of until I actually encountered it, and I looked around at the beautiful scenery and I felt in peace.