Thursday, March 9, 2017

Washington D.C. 2017

A decade ago I used to go for business regularly to the “Swamp” (that may be drained).  I never cared about this city since it was run down, dirty, with lots of street people and graffiti; but it has cleaned its act and more appealing. I returned to see the new Afro-American and Native American Museums.  This blog follows the walks to and from the hotel to the sites mentioned above.  Hotels are numerous in D.C. and,  for contrast, the lobbies of the Henley Park and the Marriott Marquis are below, the former from the late 1890’s and the latter contemporary.  I prefer the quaint old one to the new one – with open space with a huge sculpture whose meaning is only known to the creator.

 Leaving the safety of the hotel’s lobby one encounters various monuments to personages of the past such as the one of Samuel Gompers (1850-1924) who founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to improve the working conditions of the working class. Ironically he opposed European and Chinese immigration because it lowered wages and were not easily assimilated…have things changed?  And by the homeless making this monument a home, Samuel’s dream of achieving an American standard of living that provided adequate food, shelter and money still remains a dream.
 Down the street is Ford’s Theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, who plotted the attack not far down the street at the boarding house of Mary Surrat.  Booth was killed while being captured but the investigation of the plot involved Mary Surrat who was convicted and hung. The house located in Chinatown is listed as a National Historic Place and is now a Chinese Restaurant. 

 Passing by the Capital Grill, a place where the politicians and lobbyists determine the future of the nation I crossed Constitution Avenue and entered the mall where a TV crew was getting ready to videotape an alternative news report. Notice the complex set-up of lighting and audio gear and signal transmitter all powered by small battery; not long ago this required a van and a larger crew; now two people can do it all with hand-carried equipment.  

 Arriving at the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture I found that I needed to have a pass to enter.  But I was lucky; one of the attendants in the line had extra passes and I got in. Entering into the lobby I was greeted by a hanging of so called art work. I wondered what is this doing here and though this was misplaced and really belonged in the National Air and Space Museum since it resembles more a Klingon spacecraft.

 The graphic arts were also represented by very colorful and attractive sculptures and paintings from artists that I never knew about but of great talent. There are lots of interactive exhibits and the various styles of music created by the Afro-American artist.

 The building itself is an architectural mixture of styles that in my opinion was not well coordinated.  The building exterior is basically of straight lines while internally is mostly curved in design. I found that the lay-out of the floors was difficult to follow since the exhibits were randomly located and hard to walk thru without missing some. This museum does not resemble in its layout the ones that I am accustomed to from the other museums in the Mall.

 The National Museum of the American Indian is located at the other end of the Mall next to the Capital with a totally different architectural style.  It was easier to navigate thru the exhibits than the museum previously visited and more in the style of the older Mall museums. Below there are two images of the main entrance to the museum in two renditions, both from the same image. The third image below is of the main lobby taken from the upper floor.

 This museum describes the history of the native Americans from before the arrival of the Europeans to the present and emphasizes the number of treaties that were made with the U.S. Government. Most of these treaties were broken by the expansion of the western culture due to the search for gold and more lands across the continent.  At the time there was a display of the  Inca Road in South America.  I did spent lots of time immersed in the exhibits and forgot to take more photos.

 Leaving the American Indian Museum on my way back to the hotel I encountered  a couple of chess players whose chessboard was stolen.  I saw the Cuba Libre restaurant and decided to dine there.  I pride myself of being a connoisseur of the famous “Cuban Sandwich” and decided to try one…well…close but not the real thing; for those you have to go to the Versailles or La Carreta restaurants in Miami.  The restaurant bar area is supposed to be a copy of the famous “Floridita Bar” in Havana.  

 After dinner, I headed to my hotel and had to take a last photo of a striking facade of the Woodward and Lothrop Department Store opened in 1887 and known as Woodies that closed in 1995.  The external facades are painted cast iron; this is the side fronting 7 Street NW that was clear of obstructions since the other sides allowed for parking obscuring the view.  And for those interested, the photo taken  handheld with a 11-24 mm lens at 18 mm,  f 4 , 1/125 and ISO 8000; the wonders of digital photography.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hummingbirds of Ecuador

I had not been back in Ecuador for about twenty years.  Quito has a brand new airport that eliminated the anxieties of landing in the old one, where the landing approach was between the mountains, so close that it appeared that at anytime the tips of the wings were going to be torn away.  The drive along the mountain roads was then dangerous;  expecting that at the next curve there would be no road.  The highways now  are now first class (at least the ones I traveled on). Overall I observed great improvement. And the currency is the “mighty dollar”; no fuss with money exchanges.

  Photographing hummingbirds is easy; you visit various lodges in the mountain that specialize in this endeavor.  One select lodging is at different altitudes, since the vertical differences give one the opportunity of photographing different species.  Below is an Andean  Emerald followed by a Sparkling Violetear.

 Hummingbird photography has become very sophisticated but I only used one flash and sat near the feeders waiting for the flying jewels to fly by… easy to capture them since they are so fast.  Others use multiple flashes and enclosures to control the backgrounds.  And most likely when you see a hummingbird libating from a flower, it was a set-up where sugar water is added to attract them.  Yes, some of my images were done that way but when birds are flying it is a different story; these are mostly pure luck to capture since they are so fast.  The two images below have a great flaw that most observers will not notice.  First, a banana flower and when hanging from the plant, it points down; here it is pointing up and was filled with sugar water.  In the third image below, the flower was cut from the plant and held on a pedestal - also baited with sugar water.  Giving away secrets of the trade.  Below is a Fawn-breasted Brilliant  followed by a Booted Racket-Tail with a wasp (the hummers stay away from flowers with wasps).  Then the later image is again with a Purple-bibbed Whitetip and a Booted Racked Tail visiting a flower.

 The next images were not set-up; they were captured in a normal environment but no doubt were attracted to the area by the activities of the other hummingbirds.  These are not concerned with the presence of people and would at times land on your camera gear; I have red strap camera connectors and they will come and sit on them; these birds are definitely attracted to bright red and yellow flowers.  This  way the plants ensure that their flowers will be pollinated.  Hummers do not only feed on honey but on small flying insects and maneuvering while chasing them, perform aerobatics that would make the Blue Angels jealous. Below we have a lazy one, a Purple-bibbed Whitetip does not want to fly to get his sweets followed by the Violet-tailed Sylph, probably the nicest looking one I saw.

 Hummingbirds are very territorial and will claim ownership of a feeder and guard it by chasing the others away when they attempt to feed.  This results in lengthy battles and I witnessed at times them using their bills like thrusting swords to the body and at times locking bills.  But in the end, one is chased away. Those fighting are Booted Racket-Tails followed by the image of a Buff-tailed Coronet.

 Below are the Sword-billed hummingbird and the Long-tailed Sylph (in the background out of focus) who were visiting the same feeder. The Sword-billed did not stick the bill in the feeder but used the tongue to lap the liquid as a dog would drink.

 There are other birds that will fly by such as the Toucan Barbet that has caught a moth.  They don’t eat the wings so they beat the insect against a branch until the wings are dislodged.  In one of the lodges they had a feeder with fruits that attracted red squirrels closely observed by Crimson-rumped Toucanet; they seem not to mind each other.  And to complete this blog - a gorgeous bird, the Rufous Motmot.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New York 2016

This city has undergone a revival in the last 20 years. On my yearly visits, I always find something old and new. Not all that looks old is; for example, St John the Divine Cathedral that looks like a medieval European one, started construction in 1892 and is said that it will take 700 years to complete.  It claims to be the biggest cathedral in the world but others claim that it is among the 5 biggest. It is in the Gothic style and Episcopalian denomination. But I would say of eclectic practice due to the various offices that take place such as days for the blessing of the animals, bicycles, solstice rituals and Halloween celebrations and more.

It has Apocalyptic pillars depicting the destruction of New York City and figurines expressing the corruption of finances, gluttony and more; these I found interesting and was surprised to find them in a church. One of the carvings in the front of the church represents George Washington; I did not know that he was elevated to sainthood, but wait, you also find Lincoln, Einstein, Gandhi and others here too.

Next to the cathedral is a park with the Peace Fountain representing the battle between God and Evil.  Created in bronze in 1985; includes a muscular Archangel Michael defeating the devil, surrendered by giraffes representing peacefulness.  At the bottom of the statue the devil is hanging between crab claws. Traditionally of religion, all visitors are warned of all the “shall not” practices forbidden in the park, otherwise the devil will devour the transgressors. 

The Cathedral is in a typical NYC neighborhood where the mundane shares the space with the celestial. Have you ever seen a truck with a see-thru window?  And I saw rats in the park; maybe they learned to read.

I previously covered the elevated abandoned railroad tracks in the West Side that were recycled and now called the High Line in a previous blog. Now it is the Hunter’s Point area, also an old railroad related area where the gantries were used to load and unload railroad cars from the river barges, undergoing a similar transformation, the  Queen’s Gantry Plaza Estate Park.

The Pepsi Cola sign dating from 1936 was rescued from the company’s bottling facility that was demolished in the same area.  After restoration it was located here in 2009 and measures 120 x 60 feet,I a nice addition to the area. The building under construction is going to be a library when completed.  

A few blocks away from the waterfront, the area is being gentrified and old dilapidated homes and buildings renovated, and yes, I added graffiti to my collection. It was stitched from several photos taken with an iPhone.

Further away from the city, I visited Philipsburg Manor, an XVIII century farm with a watermill located near Tarrytown, where Washington Irving wrote the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.  The statue of the soldier is a World War I memorial with a plaque honoring 8 soldiers that died in the war and another with a list of 196 that served in that war.

Kykuit was built by John D. Rockefeller near Mount Pleasant overlooking the Hudson River.  It is now a National Historic landmark, and Nelson Rockefeller, the former governor of New York was the last of the family to live there. Inside is it not much different than a British Manor House, to which modern enhancements added by Nelson that added and underground gallery containing works of arts by mostly XXth century artists.

The estate has large gardens with a golf course, stables for horses that evolved into garages where a collection of horse carriage and gasoline vehicles owned by the family are now on display, and other utility buildings.  The gardens have gazebos, a grotto, covered walkways, garden sculptures and water fountains. Rockefeller family members still live in the estate but it is open for public tours. The last image is a concrete step to allow for an easy mounting of the horses; I saw these devices for the first time in London.