Saturday, December 20, 2014

Williamsburg is Best in Fall and Winter

 I first set foot in Williamsburg 46 years ago and have returned there often, just to walk around or photograph.  There is no other place in the USA where preservation has tried to keep the place as it once looked to Jefferson, Washington, Lafayette and other contemporaries.  Or captured the spirit of the age so well.  I believe it is a bit idealized since everything is so perfectly kept.  Perhaps the aroma of the manure of the horses carrying the tourists around, brings back a touch of reality as to how the olden days really were.

 Williamsburg is both a college and a tourist town.  You can tell the college kids because they will be jogging, riding bicycles or working as interpreters for Colonial Williamsburg…not all of them…just the young ones. The Gen-X tourists are all pushing baby strollers or yelling at kids.  Those of the golden age, chasing the tour leader, just walking around looking at maps, or waiting in line to get into one of the Taverns.  And then the photographers; always in the way messing up my images.

 Every year Colonial Williamsburg decorates for Christmas.  Competitions for awards enhance the originality and variety of the wreaths, not two are alike even if placed in the windows and doors of the same building.  In the 1970’s I used to go there and photograph the doors and made Christmas Cards with them…it was fun.  This alone is worth a visit and the best time is the week before Christmas when visitors are not numerous and parking spaces can be found.

 There also window decorations just as elaborate as those in the doors.  I should mention that these wreaths are all made with “organic materials” but do not know if they are from GMO certified farms.  Yes, the fruits, grasses and greens are real.  Lots of  expense and work has gone into fabricating these decorations.

 The enactors do add a special touch to the place.  They are all dressed in the attires of the 17th-18th centuries and speak in the slang of the time (wonder how they know how people sounded back them).  They just don’t talk but work as if they were really back in history…they will discuss issues related to the period but if you ask about events that occurred after their historical period, they would say they have no knowledge of such subjects.  It is worthwhile spending sometime visiting them, they are patient, courteous and really knowledgeable about the time period they represent.

 Time to move on, this is a “must visit place” thanks to the vision of John D, Rockefeller Jr and his wife Aldrich, whose interest and support preserved this historical town.  If you are short of time, an hour walk up and down the Duke of Gloucester Street will provide most of that is worth seen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgivings in New York

 There is so much to New York City that a lifetime can be spend there and never get to know the city.  Taking a walk in the cemeteries revealed historical personalities that I never knew were sleeping in this city.  What a surprise of encountering the burial place of John James Audubon, who had done more for the promotion of wildlife through his paintings than any other conservationist.  Yet, he killed lots of birds and then brought them back to live in the canvases that he painted.  Curiously the bird carved above him in the monument is a vulture, what revenge.  I found him in the Church of the Intercession at 155th Street and Broadway.

 This Church was originally part of Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan and when they ran out of burial space there, they opened the Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum across Broadway and bound at the opposite end by the Hudson River.  Here some of the socialites from the Big Apple are buried such as the Astors, Gallatins and others.  There are modern square mausoleums where the late comers are buried; real estate is expensive here too. One could spend hours looking at the names and then searching Wikipedia so figure out who they were.

 Nearby is the Jumel Terrace Historic District where a wooden row of houses are located in Sylvan Terrace.  These were built in the late 1890’s and went through a time of neglect but were renovated recently.  House # 18 (in one of the images) was sold in 2003 for $10 and is now for sale for about $1,000,000.  Nearby is the Norris-Jume Mansion that was used by George Washington as its headquarters in 1776 during the American Revolution; I was not able to visit it because is undergoing renovation.  What is peculiar about this Mansion is that the white walls are made of square timbers but look as made of cement.

 Moving down to Brooklyn one encounters the living; this is an area undergoing gentrification although it has a way to go.  Most buildings are still from late XIX century vintage with a few new ones such as the Thaddeus School for gifted students.  I walked up Stuyvesant Avenue to catch the train at the Myrtle Subway Station.  In the way there I ran into the first graffiti at the Liberty Tax business where the creature appears to be eating the trash.  Going up the stairs to the elevated platform was surprised to see the colored glass window in perfect conditions; appreciate the vandals that appreciate art and did not destroy it.  While in the platform I took a few shots of the city landscape.

 Boarded the subway and got off the subway in the Bowery where I found a flood of people, since it was Black Friday, the streets were congested and most incredibly, it took inquiring at 7 restaurants until I found a Brazilian one that had a table in the back…here I downed crafted beers and a Brazilian sausage sandwich.  I continued roaming the streets capturing the impromptu works of arts and weathered posters that caught my eye. I wonder how that bicycle is still there or the flowers all not gone?

 It got dark and about to lose the light, just time for a few shots; it is time to go home.  New York offers great photo opportunities, no wonder B&H, the paradise of photographers is here.  My motto about this city is:  “If you do not find it here, it is not made”.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fort Jefferson

 Located in the Dry Tortugas Islands about 70 miles southwest of Key West.  They were discovered by Ponce de Leon back in early XVI century and were named due to the abundance of sea turtles that used them as nesting sites.  The dry connotation came because there is no source of fresh water available and perhaps now also because no alcoholic beverages are sold there J.


 The islands were taken from Spain in 1822. Since they are strategically located at the maritime entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, the United States commenced to build a fort there in the late 1840’s but it was never completed. It was mostly used as a coaling station for the Navy and a prison during the Civil War.  The only notable historical note was that Dr. Samuel Muck and two others implicated in the assassination were incarcerated there.

 Fort Jefferson was built using 16 million bricks and the outer walls are now in a state of disrepair and crumbling down, particularly around the opening used to fire the guns. The bricks came from Pensacola and New York and the labor from slaves and prisoners.  The wives of the soldiers were employed in cooking and washing.  It is the most impressive brick structure I had seen along with the Coca Castle in Spain.

 It has been visited by some pirates of prominence such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway.   The only ways to get there now is mostly is by seaplane or boat.  I went by boat and it takes about 2 hours of navigation.  Once you get there is plenty of time to explore the fort.

 One of the beauties of this park is that unlike others, you can virtually walk over without restrictions.  Other than sightseeing, there is bird watching and snorkeling as well as just plainly relaxing. The islands have large rookeries of birds and are a major migration route. John J. Audubon while visiting there painted birds for his book.  To this day, it reminds a center of attractions for birdwatchers.