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September 22, 2011

New York, New York

New York, New York

My otherwise very enjoyable visit to New York (and thus the whole trip) ended on a bad note – or two. It will definitely NOT ruin my otherwise great trip, but I surely could have done without the bad experiences. Read all about it when I get this post up.

In the meantime here are a couple of photos from New York City. More will be coming!

This HDR image af the Empire State Building was created from three exposures in Photomatix.

 

These guys could dance - not least the dude to the right, who would spin around on his head! They also gave me a piece of advice; Webster's Hall was to the place to go out on a Saturday night...

 

This is a self portrait by a famous Danish artist. So, who do you think it is?

 

September 20, 2011

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

What an amazing visit I had today to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. I was lucky to be able to tag along with a group of the nicest ladies and Daniel, who took us to the most unbelievable and (previously) secret placesin the world’s biggest, best and most amazing railroad terminal. Daniel did a fantastic job and kept all of us mesmerized for hours.

Thank you ladies, thank you Daniel!

I look forward to sharing the story and some more photos, a.s.a.p. when I get them processed.

This photo was taken from the opposite window to what you see at the end of the terminal. There are glass walkways, so we could walk "inside" the huge windows. As you can see the window could also open. For me it was the window of opportunity...

 

To take this photo I had to go through the situation room of Grand Central, the control room, through a secret door and climb up an old rusty ladder all the way up behind the iconic Tiffany's clock. How about it?

 

September 14, 2011

Monumental Washington

Monumental Washington

I spent September 11th and a few days thereafter in Washington. A short story – for once – and a bunch of photos will be coming up!

The moon rises over the capitol.

 

Here is a photo of a sculpture inspired by a photo - the Iwo Jima Memorial.

 

September 7, 2011

Charming Charleston

Charming Charleston

Charleston is a beautiful and charming city. I love it here! But in this post I will also have to deal with the darker sides of the city’s history – not least concerning slavery…

Pineapple is the symbol of southern hospitality - so why not a Pineapple Fountain to show it off? I had to stack a few neutral density filters on the TS-E 24mm lens to get a slow enough shutter speed to show off the flowing water. I love this shot. How about you?

 

How about this set of balls?

 

Here is the Canon that goes with it in Charleston's Battery Park. For this and the previous shot I used the Canon (no pun intended) 50mm f/1.4 lens, which I really have neglected to use so far. Here I am using it wide open to achieve a nice shallow depth of field.

 

Here is a prime (pun intended) example of the shallow depth of field that you can achieve with the Canon 50mm f/1.4 wide open. The bokeh (background blur) is admittedly a bit nervous. But there is a lot of it, and you really get bang (!) for the buck considering the fair price of this lens. It makes me crave the Canon 85mm f/1.2 for portraits and/or the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II. Oh, man...

 

The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston. We will get into all that when I get my post up!

 

Not least we will get into the dark sides of Charleston and South Carolina's history concerning slavery. Here is the Old Slave Mart (Museum), where people were held, inspected and sold like cattle. Think of the destinies that came through this place...

 

The United States Custom House in Charleston. As you probably can tell, I took this with the TS-E 24mm and quite a bit of tilt. Remember to click on any photo to enlarge!

Come back to read my post and see more photos that will shed light on different perspectives of Charleston!

 

August 27, 2011

New Orleans – a mixed bag

New Orleans – a mixed bag

I was disappointed and disgusted by New Orleans on the day of my arrival.

Well, actually I did not arrive in the day but at night. So I was ready for a bite of food and a beer after a long journey.

Since Bourbon Street – the party street of New Orleans – was nearby, it seemed like a sensible destination to go. And there was certainly something for my senses in Bourbon Street.

The first thing that struck me, as I entered the street, was the horrible stench of horse manure, garbage, urine and vomit that mixed in the hot and humid air. Oh boy…

At the same time my eyes were met with the flashing signs of the various establishments of Bourbon Street. And the first few establishments on the street were exactly “establishments” if you know, what I mean – and I think you do.

If the signs were not enough to get your attention, one or more girls of the said establishments would stand in the doorway “wearing nothing but a button and a bow” – to quote a song by Leiber and Stoller – while pointing at you and yelling: “come heeeeere!”

The girls had to yell pretty loud because the street was like a disco inferno. It seems that the loudspeakers were turned out the windows and doorways in another attempt to get your attention.

The crowd was as thick as the stench, and everybody seemed to be intoxicated to the point where they had lost any inhibition.

From the balconies “pearl” necklaces went flying though the air aimed at the ladies walking on the street. Some would pick them up and in turn flash something the other way. It is apparently a New Orleans tradition…

In the pubs I witnessed a way of “dancing” that I had not seen carried that far before. And I have to admit that I am not ashamed on a dance floor. Let’s give them something to talk about, right?

But hey, the “dry dancing” that I saw that night was a bit over the top. In one place the singer of a band put her big behind over the railing. A guy in the audience would then stick his whole face – well, you know where – and rub it in. His wife cheered him on…

If that was not enough, the big mamma on stage would then turn around, grab his head with one leg around his neck while standing on the other and rubbed his face in again. Meanwhile, another couple was “dry dancing” against the railing. I left…

In fact I left Bourbon Street after a couple of beers and walked back disgusted by the place.

I was thinking to myself – what is this place? Well, it was certainly dirty in every meaning of the word.

It really is a shame, because there is so much history, culture and cuisine in New Orleans, which is easily overshadowed by all the decadence and tacky touristic stuff.

Now, it is not as bad everywhere in Bourbon Street as described above. But being just by myself, being sober and unable to engage anyone in a normal conversation, I took a negative focus, I guess.

However, the next day I started to view New Orleans from a different perspectives. I received an email from my hiking buddy, Tania, who I had met in Yellowstone. She was in town with her colleagues for a convention and invited me to join them for lunch. How nice – I ran to the “Crazy Lobster” to join the group!

We had some nice seafood, and afterwards Tania and I went for smoothie (not smooching) and a chat on a bench overlooking the mighty Mississippi. As mentioned in other posts, the social experiences on my trip are really the best part of it. And it is really amazing how you sometimes can have a great conversation with someone that you have just met recently.

Tania was a bit stricken after a few days of attending the convention (and partying with her colleagues), so she went back to her hotel to get a nap, while I wandered on through town and looked at some of the nice galleries and antique shops in the French quarter.

In the evening I had the opportunity to hang out with Tania and her colleagues again. I really appreciated that. Suddenly, I saw Bourbon Street from another angle as I was now part of a group and could focus on my new friends instead of feeling alienated by the too-much behavior of some of the people.

We had a ball, and I was thankful that I did not have to go straight to the airport like my new friends from Texas.

In fact, I stayed a few more days exploring the Big Easy and trying to discover more of the genuine culture, cuisine and architecture.

It is there – actually, there is so much of it. But it is like grasping for gold nuggets in a muddy stream, if you do not come prepared: you do not know where to reach, the stream might lead you on a detour, you might grab something unintentional and get your hands dirty, if you are not careful…

So, during the next couple of days I tried to grasp those nuggets in the muddy stream and avoiding the cheap offers and the tricksters of the town.

Among other activities, I went for a nice historic walk in the garden district with a very educated guide, Nancy, and a couple of other tourists from New York.

We were just the four of us, so it was a real personal experience and I even had the time to do a bit of photography along the way, setting up my tripod etc.

We started at the historic Lafayette Cemetery, where Nancy explained how a Louisiana burial works.  A family tomb usually consists of a small mausoleum with two burial chambers – one above the other.

When somebody dies, the body is placed in the chamber below in a thin wooden casket. When the next family member passes – if at least one year and one day has passed – the burial chamber will be cleaned out and the remains moved to the “second floor” with the rest of the family. You see, after a year of “cooking” (as Nancy put it) in the Louisiana heat and humidity, the body and casket is broken down almost completely. Only the scull and pelvis may be left with the remaining dust…

We went on to see a lot of interesting homes in the beautiful garden district – a very nice break from dirty downtown. As we stopped at the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, where he in fact died, I had to ask Nancy how southerners feel about the civil war.

I had expected a rather complicated explanation, but almost before I finished the question, Nancy blurted out: “we should have won!”

Nancy went on to explain how Lincoln had not freed (all) the slaves; that the proclamation of emancipation was only directed at the Confederate States as a measure of war. The slaves of the rest of the country (Union states and various other areas) were only freed in 1865 when congress passed the 13th amendment, she informed me.

Well, I learn and experience something new every day. Hmmm…

Nancy could also tell a ghost story or two. In her house, the pictures would come off the wall. They would not fall down and break. No, the ghost of a young woman would gently pick them down and put them on the floor. Hmmm, Nancy, maybe you husband is playing tricks with you!

Anyway, it seemed like a fitting story, as we would soon pass the house not only of local residents Sandra Bullock and John Goodman, but also the birthplace of Ann Rice, who wrote “Interview with the Vampire” – which by the way was filmed in part at Oak Alley Plantation, which I would later visit.

I highly recommend such a walk in the garden district, if you visit New Orleans.

Back in dirty downtown I continued to explore and grasp for the golden nuggets in the muddy stream of New Orleans. One nugget was easy to locate: Preservation Hall just off Bourbon Street. The building truly looks dilapidated and the interior is even “worse” – but that is part of its charm! And every night it comes alive with original and acoustic New Orleans jazz without any amplification whatsoever. It is great – go there, if you are in N’awlins!

I also got to hear some great amplified music in another street – where you definitely have to go, if you are in town – Frenchmen Street. It is just off the French quarter, but more authentic than the tourist district. There are lots of places with live music on Frenchmen Street – and as opposed to Bourbon Street it is fortunately not a bunch of Bon Jovi cover bands. It is the real thing.

One night I heard the greatest blues-jazz-funk I have ever experienced. The band was smoking hot. In the middle of a set a blind gentleman, who looked like the ghost of Ray Charles, stepped up to the vintage Fender Rhodes and set the place on fire. Well, it looked like his fingers were on fire the way he played. And what music he/they made; man it rocked – or as a native son of Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis, once put it: “down in Louisiana, we call that boogie-woogie…”

By the way, in that pub I had the good fortune of meeting a nice young couple, Kim and Jason, from Chicago. They seemed to match each other perfectly like yin and yang. Kim had her 32nd birthday and probably had a drink or two to celebrate it. Or perhaps she just let all of her charisma and extrovert personality shine through on her birthday. Jason on the other hand was calm as a rock taking in the experience of the band in a cool relaxed fashion. I enjoyed hanging out with my new friends for a couple of drinks and enjoying the incredible band together. By the way, thanks guys, for the party photos – I really appreciate it! ;-)

As I walked home, I passed a couple of poetry writers on the street. They were typing away on old typewriters, writing poetry at demand. One of them was sitting on a chair. The other was sitting in a (clean) trashcan on a cushion. Hmm…

As I approached my hotel, I was approached myself by a working girl, but she was fortunately no hassle. Then next a fat rat crossed the street and literally ran over my feet as it headed for the basement of a luxury hotel, which I will leave unnamed.

Yes, New Orleans is a mixed bag indeed. But do go to the Big Easy to visit – especially if you have somebody to go with. Just prepare yourself so that you know in advance where to find the golden nuggets of your interest. Then you can have a great time spiced with some rather unusual impressions…

To my surprise, I was almost thrown out of Jackson Square for setting up my tripod to take a photo of the equestrian statue and the cathedral. Notice that this is one of the rare equestrian statues, where the horse is only resting on two legs. Usually, the statue is also resting on the tail for structural strength.

 

St. Louis Cathedral is a catholic church.

 

I met Giovanni just around the corner from Jackson Square. He was down on his luck and I gave him a buck or two. In turn he posed for a photo or two. I promised to tell everybody to go look for Giovanni, if you go to New Orleans!

 

Preservation Hall also looks like it has been through a lot. It is a great place to experience authentic New Orleans jazz.

 

There is a woodoo shop just across the street from Preservation Hall. Here is the shop's window display.

 

A waitress, Rita, was hanging out in the doorway waiting for guests. She kindly offered me a glass of water as she saw that I was dehydrated. In return I took her portrait and this silhouette as I cooled off inside.

 

Certain parts of Bourbon Street are quite dirty...

 

...in every sense of the word. I will spare you from pictures from this spot at night, when the "staff" started working...

 

Here is another shot from Bourbon Street before sunset, when the creatures of the night would really come out. I was heading back for my hotel as I did not want to get stranded there with all my photo equipment.

 

A residence in the French quarter a bit earlier in the day. I think somebody likes white here...

 

Here are a couple of garden cottages in the French quarter. I used the Canon TS-E 24mm II to blur the top and bottom of the photo - but it really only shows at the bottom as there is no detail in the sky. A nice effect, I think.

 

Now we are in the garden district, which is much nicer and cleaner. I just love the the Greek revival architecture and the columns.

 

Here is another set of columns. Former President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, died in this home in the garden district. He was first laid to rest in New Orleans. Later his remains were moved to Richmond, Virginia.

 

The members of a secret society are resting in these tombs. Nobody knows exactly what it was about, because the last member burned all the papers of the secret society before passing away. Your guess is as good as mine...

 

August 26, 2011

Windsor ruins

Windsor ruins

About 12 miles southwest of Port Gibson, Mississippi I came by the Windsor ruins.

The ruins are located in the solitude of a forest, and I truly enjoyed the peace and quiet, not having to buy a ticket or go through a gift shop for a change! J

The plantation home was built in 1861 and survived the civil war.

Mark Twain is said to have stayed at the home after the war and to have used the roof observatory to get a view of the Mississippi River.

February 17th 1890 a guest left or dropped a cigar or cigarette that set the house on fire, while the family was in town to pick up their mail. When they returned the plantation was in flames.

The fire started at the top of the building making it impossible to extinguish, and the house burned to the ground leaving only the 23 columns, some wrought-iron stairs and parts of the balustrade.

The stairs and the balustrade were since built into the nearby Alcorn State University Chapel.

The Windsor ruins have been used as a set in several movies, including ”Raintree County” starring Elizabeth Taylor and “Ghosts of Mississippi” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Alec Baldwin.

Windsor ruins. Of course I used the TS-E 24mm II lens.

 

I liked this angle with the tree next to the columns.

 

August 26, 2011

Longwood, Natchez

Longwood, Natchez

Longwood is not only unique for being the biggest octogonal house in the USA. It is also unique because it was never finished.

In 1859 the rich cotton planter Dr. Haller Nutt had architect Samual Sloan design a new home for him in Natchez, MS.

Unlike many other plantation mansions in the area it was not designed in Greek revival style but featured an octogonal layout and a byzantine onion-shaped dome.

Work was halted in 1861 when the civil war broke out and the workers fled. Thus the family moved into the only completed floor – the basement, which only has 9 feet tall ceilings.

Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the living quarters of the basement but it resembles other plantation homes closely – except for the low ceilings.

Dr. Nutt died during the war in 1864 of pneumonia, and the family was never able to complete the mansion.

Today, Longwood is owned and operated as a museum by the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

As mentioned above there are many beautiful mansions in Greek revival style in Natchez. It is really a very nice old town to explore. There is also a nice overlook over the Mississippi and the bridge to Louisiana. The view is further enhanced by the placement of a steamboat casino on the Mississippi side of the river.

I could have taken many more photos in Natchez – but I will leave it for you to explore, when you go on your road trip of the USA!

Longwood photographed straight on. I used the Canon TS-E 24mm II to avoid converging lines.

 

Here Longwood is seen between the trees. Again the TS-E 24mm II lens comes in handy avoiding converging lines.

 

Longwood was never finished. Here is a look up through the galleries and dome.

 

The piano sitting in the finished basement level was delivered in this crate, which is now sitting in the unfinished bel-étage. It should really have been the other way around, should it not?

 

Old moving crates in the unfinished bel-étage.

 

These old cans and barrels probably contained paint and other building materials.

 

The Nutt family cemetery at Longwood. Here I used the swing feature of the TS-E 24mm II to create blur to the sides and narrow the focus to the cross. The camera was leveled. The headstones are not!

 

August 25, 2011

The Cabin Restaurant

The Cabin Restaurant

There are not many slave cabins left at the old plantations. In fact there were none at the couple of plantations that I visited. So to get the full picture I visited the Cabin Restaurant in Burnside, which is based in an old slave cabin that was moved from a plantation to its present location.

It is a very nice rustic place with a lot of great old antiques and wonderful junk around. Inside the cabin still has old newspapers in certain places as “wallpaper” to insulate it.

I highly recommend the Cabin Restaurant – not only because of the authenticity of the building and the decor – but also for the authentic great southern cooking. And you get your ice tea in an old fruit jar!

I visited the Cabin Restaurant in Burnside in the afternoon when the sun was behind the cabin. The sky would have been blown out or the cabin would have been in darkness, if I took a normal photo. So instead I took three bracketed exposures and combined them into a high dynamic range image (HDR) via Photomax. I am not very experienced with Photomatix yet. But, what do you think?

 

Some of the nice old junk as seen through the Canon TS-E 24mm II lens with a bit of swing.

 

I also let the TS-E 24mm II shine on this rustic old wreck of a safe. I tried just to keep (part of) the combination lock in focus.

 

August 25, 2011

Nottoway UPDATED

Nottoway UPDATED

My reason to visit Nottoway was primarily to see the Greek Revival and Italianate style architecture designed by Henry Howard of New Orleans.

The “White Castle” was completed in 1859 for John Hampden Randolph and his wife, Emily Jane Liddell Randolph. It became the home to them and their eleven children!

The mansion, which is the largest remaining antebellum in the South, has 53,000 square feet of space and originally sat on 400 acres of land and 620 acres of swamp.

Randolph started out with 20 slaves on the plantation but eventually he would reach 500 slaves between Nottoway and his other plantation, Forest Home.

I toured the grounds by myself and the mansion with a guide. She mentioned that the slaves probably did not have it too bad. They got a hog for Christmas…

In addition to the interesting information about the family, the plantation, how the mansion was saved etc., it was an experience by itself to listen to the real southern accent of the young lady that served as a guide.

It is impossible in writing to express how she could say “Nottowaaayyyy” in that slow southern style and hang on to the last syllable. Also, it seemed that every sentence contained a “y’all”. I found it very charming – as I love local accents, which unfortunately are fading away in most places.

So, go and see or stay at Nottowaaayyyy if y’all are in the area!

Obviously I used the Canon TS-E 24 mm II to avoid converging lines when photographing Nottoway Plantation.

 

I used the same lens for this photo. But due to the setting of the sun I had to do an HDR from this angle, so I took three photos and combined them in Photomatix. How do you like it?

 

Nottoway is located just outside the village of White Castle, which was named after Nottoway. Back in the day not only the exterior but also the interior of the mansion was white.Today only this room is white. You may notice yours truly and the flash in the mirror.

 

A section of a Randolph family portrait hanging in the mansion. It was obviously painted before the reaming nine children were born.

 

The dining room of Nottoway. The original china was pink, but as only a few pieces could be found, the curator decided to collect a similar set in blue, which apparently was easier to obtain.

 

This bell was used to inform the slaves when the working day began and ended.

 

August 24, 2011

Oak Alley Plantation UPDATED

Oak Alley Plantation UPDATED

I went by Oak Alley Plantation as I just had to snap that familiar image of the mansion at the end of the alley.

I also toured the building escorted by a lady dressed up in a gown from back in the day, when the mansion was in its heyday. On the guided tour you mostly get to hear about the family, the construction of the mansion, tragedy and dilapidation – and finally how the mansion was restored and saved for the future. The slaves that made it all possible are only mentioned briefly. But their names are known as they figure on the list of inventory (!) that made the quite accurate re-furnishing of the mansion possible. It was also mentioned that there is an effort to put up a recreated slave cabin on the grounds.

Photography is not allowed inside the mansion, but the alley and facade alone made my visit worthwhile.

By the way, Oak Alley has been used as a location for countless movies, “Interview with the Vampire” among them.

The mansion is nice as seen from this side...

 

...but the oak alley makes it great! The alley was planted much earlier than the present mansion was built.

 

The oak alley as seen from the second floor of the house. At the end of the alley the Mississippi levee system is visible.