Saturday, December 24, 2011

snowy day in Bisbee

We took my wife's sister down to Bisbee today--a couple of hours to the SE of Tucson, a mile-high up in the Mule Mountains just north of the Mexican border...and it SNOWED!

Main Street in this Victorian mountain mining town:

At one time, Bisbee was the largest city between the Mississippi River and San Francisco...Mining is no longer what it was here; the mountain town is a curious mix of restored b&b's, espresso stands, seedy taverns, art galleries, motorcycle hangouts, chic boutiques, Tucsonans on day-trips and Europeans on quests to see the 'real Wild West'...

    ...symmetry of complementary color on a streetcorner:
This stairway tucked into a narrow passageway also caught my eye: 
(I'm still playing around a lot with the app I mentioned in the previous posting;
photography on a snowy day with the iPhone is just so easy.
I didn't bring my other camera, but with the snow,
I wouldn't have taken it out anyway...)

Through a gallery window--an artist at work:
His name is Poe Dismuke, and he and his wife, Sam Woolcott, are the artists and owners.
His sculptures and drawings and her paintings fill the gallery, which is also his work space:
(For more info, click here:

A couple of doors down, in the PanTerra gallery, my wife and her sister got felt hats, (the snowy weather was good for business), and I bought this surreal print:
The photographer/digital artist is Dale O'Dell, from up in Prescott, AZ.
(I just had to get this print--feeling a bit homesick for the Pacific NW...and when I was younger, I used to want to live in a tree. S. and I have walked inside a tree on the Olympic Peninsula that would be big enough to live in; it literally had room-like partitions within its trunk...)

So, as I said, it snowed--for a couple of hours, the flakes came down quite copiously...
...not a particularly noteworthy photo, the one above, but I did e-mail it,
directly from my iPhone, to our local ABC news channel--you know, for those
'local weather scene' type things--and on tonight's news on KGUN ch. 9, there it was on tv!
Snow is always exciting in southern Arizona...

 Right as the snow began, we stopped for lunch:
The patio of "Poco" restaurant is tucked into a shady alley in this Victorian town, but on this wintry day, we said 'no' to al fresco dining. Inside this hole-in-the-wall, we had creative local fusion fare. My lunch was the 'poco dog:' Korea meets Mexico in a vegan version of the classic 'Sonoran hot dog:' chipotle aioli and homemade kimchi (kimchi!) and guacamole atop a vegetarian sausage and refried black beans on a bolillo roll! East meets south-of-the-border: viva!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

fall color on the first day of winter...playing with 'snapseed'

My sister-in-law is in town. Yesterday my wife and I took her for the obligatory visit to Sabino Canyon; seeing the remaining fall color in the canyon made me return there today to go for a late-morning run.

I took along my iPhone, strapped to my wrist--here are a few photos from the first day of winter here in Tucson. The autumn foliage begins late here in the desert; the cottonwoods, sycamores and ash are often at their peak right around the winter solstice:

 ...perfect morning light...
 The recent rains have replenished the creek, which is flowing higher than normal:

...the cottonwoods are glorious:

And below, a few photos from yesterday evening, when we took my sister-in-law:
So yes, you can tell that these iPhone photos have been 'manipulated' a bit--yep, I'm playing with a new app I just got: "Snapseed," which was recently named by Apple as one of the best apps of the year, 'app of the year,' in fact!

For photo-editing in the palm of your hand, this app is amazing! It allows you to do all sorts of correcting--'teasing out' what your eyes see in cases of tricky exposure in addition to applying filters. For example, the photo above began as this:

And here's another 'fixed' photo...
    ...and its original dark form:

And one more before...
 ...and after:

Snapseed has truly been a 'toy' the past couple of days--and with plenty of photo-fodder in the canyon, I've been playing a lot. The editing features are so easy to learn how to use--very intuitive--and I'm still blown away that I can do it all in the palm of my hand just seconds after taking the original photo!

I'm overusing the 'tilt and shift' filter right now, (also known as 'miniature' or 'toy' effect), but the effect can be fun, so here are a few more examples, from photos I happened to have on my phone:

The Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis:

 A bit of old almost lost amidst the new in central Seoul,
the late Yi-dynasty 'Altar of Heaven' in the garden of the Westin Hotel:

More old/new in Seoul--the grounds of Toksu-gung Palace in the center of the city:

 And something more 'local'--the 1920's Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Dear Leader" dead...renewed uncertainty for the Korean peninsula

Sunday night in Tucson...I was going to upload a few photos.
Instead, I go online and see breaking news.

Here is a clip from the BBC, showing the official North Korean state media announcement:

...more uncertainty for the Korean peninsula...
will the surreal personality cult of the Kim dynasty continue in the North?
Will the father-to-son succession go smoothly?
Or will there be a North Korean 'spring' following the pattern of the Arab spring?
What does this mean for the South? for the rest of NE Asia?
Does this mean a potential re-unification might happen sooner...or later?

As 'modern' as the world likes to think it is, it's amazing how much, geopolitically, still depends on certain individuals--Castro in Cuba, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Kim in N.Korea...

Lots of questions...
...especially about Kim Jong-Un (also spelled Jong-eun), the 'heir apparent.'
Al-Jazeera featured this piece about him last year--the little bit known of him during the time he spent at a boarding school in Switzerland as a young teenager:


And while reading about North Korea, I came across this--some great independent Canadian reporting on North Korean labor camps in Siberia; here's the trailer:

Click here for more information from CNN, which featured the above journalism.


A couple of colleagues of mine have started a new
literary and visual arts journal: Three Coyotes,
published here in Tucson.

Its mission: to publish "the work of our best poets, writers and artists
 in response to the environment, the American West,
current issues, animals, the arts,
imagination and survival."

So, incidentally, in this year's Fall/Winter issue of this year, which just came out,
a photo of mine is published--on page 121:

"Eye Contact"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TURKEYS have EGGS? Wait, olives grow on TREES? Sanity restored by a run in the canyon...

Two more days, and then au revoir and adios to my students until 2012...

The semester break comes just in time.
In recent weeks the following student exclamations have colored my workdays:

"What--turkeys have eggs!? I thought just chickens did!"
(source of that quote--a sophomore...kid is fifteen years old, can get behind the wheel of a car for driving lessons...scary...)

And this:
"Wait...olives grow on TREES? No way!"

Thankfully I teach neither botany nor avian reproduction.
But food--la cuisine--la comida--inevitably gets discussed in foreign language classrooms, and I continue to be astounded.

Seriously, today, I also heard this,
not for the first time:
"Whoa--so, how does pasta grow?"

I wish I were making this up.

Sanity requires an afternoon run in the hills:

We've had a string of stormy days here in the desert--
cold rain on the cacti and snowcapped mountain peaks;
today the sun came back out...
I took my iPhone with me on my run on the hills above Sabino Canyon...

 ...and down in the canyon itself, where the creek is flowing strong
and the late fall cottonwoods are coloring its banks:

...ahh, running into the sunset...sanity restored, patience refilled...and just two days of exams to get through...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

post-sprain "test-hike;" Black Friday in Bear Canyon

For the past few years, 'Black Friday' has been a hiking day, far from the madding crowds of the malls...Last week, when I sprained my ankle, I was afraid I might not be able to go for a hike this year, but fortunately, it seems to be healing quickly. So, yesterday, a couple of friends and I met for breakfast and then headed to Bear Canyon.

Parallel to Sabino Canyon, the trail to Seven Falls is mostly flat, although it zigzags across a boulder-strewn creek for a couple of miles before switchbacking a few hundred feet up the south wall of the canyon. (We figured if my ankle acted up, I could just forego the last part...but, bandaged, I made it all the way, no problem.)

(took my iPhone with me...such a handy camera!) Two weekends ago, I went for a trail-run in here, and there wasn't much water--we've had a pretty rainy November, though, so the creek's been 're-charged'...just enough for some reflective pools among the fall color...

[above photo just published in the Tucson newspaper...]

...and after 3 1/2 miles, voilà: 

I pieced together eight phone-photos for this panorama--gives an idea of the terrain:
...from the left of the photo--looking down and out Bear Canyon toward the southwest, to the right of the photo--looking straight west into the Santa Catalina mountains, at Seven Falls, cascading down a steep smooth-stone gorge...

We shared the trail with lots of other post-turkey hikers--nice to see groups of multigenerational trekkers--grandparents, their kids and grandkids--all together, outdoors as family instead of being indoors somewhere amidst the consumer-frenzy...

Monday, November 21, 2011

from the whiteboard: today's linguistic epiphany

Earlier today, a student of mine, unbidden, wrote this on the board in my classroom:

Teenagers + dry-erase-markers = "insight"

Spelling? Grammar?
I have my work cut out for me, no?


At the end of last week, on my afternoon run, I sprained my ankle.

I've learned the sports-medicine acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation...

(Fortunately, it wasn't severe; I don't think I'll miss more than a week of running...the half-marathon in Phoenix--my third!--is only about eight weeks away!)

And so, with bandaged appendage, I've had a bit of time indoors--time to play with photos and words, from near and far:

Desert Doorways: Tucson's Barrio Viejo

On the western edge of the city is "Old Tucson," the tv/movie set theme park of ersatz wild west streets. But the REAL Old Tucson is here: just south of the downtown core, full of preserved and restored adobe houses.

The Hohokam and Tohono O'odham peoples lived in this area long before Europeans arrived. The year before The Declaration of Independence was signed on the other end of the continent, the Spanish set up a presidio here. By 1821, this outpost became a Mexican settlement; it wasn't until 1854, with the Gadsden Purchase, that Tucson became a U.S. territorial town.

As with most western U.S. cities, strip-malls that could be from anywhere can sometimes detract from the mountainous setting...but seek history and you shall find; colors and stories in the desert abound.
When I first walked around the Barrio Viejo, I almost felt as if I were in a Mediterranean village...later, I came across this description, written by a Dr. J.H. Robinson of Columbia University, who visited Tucson for the first time in the 1930’s:

"But this cannot be the United States of America, Tucson, Arizona! This is northern Africa - Tunis! Algiers! - or even Greece, where I have seen as here, houses built flush with the sidewalks with pink, blue, green and yellow walls, flowers climbing out of hidden patios and overall, an unbelievable blue sky. And the sweet-acrid smell in the air? Burning mesquite. Lovely! And the people - charming. But all this is the Old World, not America."


Communing with ducks on the Sorgue
Ahh, to lie in a hammock on a summer afternoon in the South of France...
My wife and I had gone to visit friends who lived in LeThor, a town of a few thousand on the banks of the Sorgue River in Provence. (Between the very visited cities of Avignon and L'Île-sur-la-Sorgue, Le Thor is a quiet gem.) Their house was built into the medieval wall, just around a bend in the river from a 12th-century Romanesque church. We rowed a bit in the shade of plane trees, ducks for company...
In between the wall and the river, just enough room for a hammock, a table and four chairs--des olives, du pastis, and la sieste: perfect...
Sedona: into the elements...

Color, shape, naked geology--Northern Arizona appeals to senses in the most elemental ways. Agnostic hikers, secular scientists, souls searching for spiritual energy--all end up in Sedona, seeking and finding.

Mid-week in this red-rock country, we found a few days of calm--early morning trails around town, afternoons in galleries seeking shelter from summer thunderstorms. Weekends bring crowds from Phoenix, just two hours to the south, but away from pavement, you can still get away, going into the elements.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

caffeination, music, mountain color...'burnt library'...

On a recent rainy autumn evening, (rare in Tucson), I got around to playing with some photos--I'd been thinking about grouping them for a project...both fun and pensive.

First, the fun, from this past summer's trip to Korea:

Coffee-crazy in Korea's capital

Seoul has to be Asia's most caffeinated mega-city. There is plenty of tea to be had, but coffee rules in Korea's capital.
Along with an abundance of multi-storied Starbucks, every street seems to have sprouted a home-grown café: from the Italian-inspired (Pascucci, Caffe Bene) to the French (Paris Baguette, Tous les Jours), the sacreligious (God in a cup) and the pseudo-religious (Angel-in-us), royal (Coffee Prince) and musical (Johannes Brahms), prepositions ("at-to-on"?), from the purely Asian (Gurunaru), to delightfully fractured English (Yoger presso, A twosome place, Me Too, cafe sand&food). Coffee and kimchee--it's what Koreans run on!
As erstwhile Seattlites, my wife and I had our fun sampling the different interpretations of the bean while in Seoul. Some were good, some were bad, many were puzzling (red bean latte? black bean latte? GREEN bean latte?), and most all were pricey...

Musicians: a palace restored

 Late spring and early summer in Seoul: musicians in medieval clothing infuse the grounds of Gyeongbok Palace with a sense of its storied past.
Built in the 1390's when a new dynasty established Seoul as its capital, Gyeongbok-gung ("The Palace of Shining Happiness") was a city unto itself. In the 1590's, in the chaos of the Japanese invasions, the palace was burned and lay largely in ruins until the 19th century. The reconstruction almost bankrupt the kingdom, and then the grounds were the scene of the assassination of Korea's last empress. During the Japanese colonization (1910-1945), eighty-five percent of the palace compound was either destroyed or dismantled...
The last two decades have seen a remarkable period of revival and rebuilding. Today about forty percent of the palace has been restored. With colorful concerts, tea-ceremonies, and the changing of the guard, this palace is shining once again.
Years ago, during a summer staying with relatives, I had visited Gyeongbok-gung. Two decades later, it was such a treat to revisit the Palace, renewed, and with a 'live soundtrack.'
...and, from the fun to the pensive...
Pensive, because the photos below are from the trip I took to Korea when I was eighteen years old. The same weekend I went hiking in these mountains, after we returned to Seoul, my grandmother died...The uncle I tagged along with (mentioned below), died about a year ago...and just over a week ago, my one remaining uncle in Korea--the one my wife and I accompanied my mother to visit this past summer--he just passed away. We are so glad that we went when we did; it ended up being my mother's last visit with the brother to whom she was closest...
vibrant morning palette
...scenes from a morning in the midst of autumn's palette in Odae-san National Park: steam ascending from temple breakfast fires at sunrise, climbing up through maples and pungent gingkoes, happening upon a folk-painting of a tiger on a trail-side shrine...
I'd tagged along with my uncle as he drove from Seoul to the mountains along the east coast of Korea. We were going to pick up my aunt, who'd just spent a week-long retreat at Sang-won-sa, a "Seon" ('Zen' in Korean) temple established in the year 643. While they spent the morning around the grounds, I went for a hike.
This national park, near the site of the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, is dotted with Buddhist sites established in the 6th and 7th centuries. (Odae-san is one of Korea's 'holy mountains.') During the fall, the temple's vibrant architecture blends in perfectly with the forested slopes; the colors of the folk-paintings seem to spring from the mountains themselves.
Earlier this year, when I realized that we would be going to Korea, an African proverb began running through my thoughts: "quand un vieil homme meurt, c'est toute une bibliothèque qui brûle." (Roughly translated: when an old man dies, it's like a library burns down.) I'd had the feeling that this trip might end up being the last time I would see my uncle, the last time that my mother would be able to share her childhood with her next-in-age sibling, the last chance to access this avuncular 'library'... I'd had that feeling, but I hoped I'd be wrong...
Now there are only the embers, echoed through my mother, through the filter of translation. We'd so hoped to make at least one more trip... Not long before my mother's surgery last month, her brother had been calling her, saying how much he enjoyed the past summer, but how much he looked forward to 'next time, just one more time...' She could only reply that after back surgery she would have to wait and see...
I returned from Seoul with a stack of grammar and language reference books--they sit on the corner of my desk as I type this...My plan was to dive, again, into the intricacies of Korean vocabulary and syntax--to finally 'master' the language, to finally be able to speak, deeply and openly and freely, with my uncle 'next time,' conversant in the language of his library. Man...
So. Any future visits to Korea will be sibling-less for my mother, sans oncle pour longer will there be 'visits to see family'...but with familial resonance, chasing echoes I'll hope to understand...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

published in AFAR! a scene from Brussels...

...just got back from GA; re-acclimatizing to the desert and getting ready to go back to work tomorrow, and I find out that a photo of mine has been published in a travel magazine! Gotta share the thrill:

...on the top of p.22 of the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of AFAR magazine,
look on the right:

voilà l'originale:

A comic-book surprise on a streetcorner in an otherwise gritty part of Brussels, known for its bédé ('comics' in French) culture...Years ago, when I lived in Paris, a friend from the U.S. came to visit; his time was limited, so we hopped on the Eurostar high-speed train just after breakfast one day and spent the day in Belgium. Chocolate, waffles, beer, french fries and 'mussels in Brussels' were inevitable, but on that cold winter day, there was also a lot of art to brighten up the city under the grey...

...and here's the cover so you can find the current issue
of this magazine at your local newsstand or bookstore:
(Incidentally, last year, AFAR won a travel writers' award for 'best travel magazine'...