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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 9, 2011

President Obama (video) UPDATED

President Obama (video) UPDATED

Wohoo – I had the unexpected pleasure of attending a speech by president Barack Obama – live in person. Here is how it came about…

I just happened to be in Richmond. I had just (barely) woken up, checked out from my motel and was now sitting in my Jeep in front of “7 Eleven”. As I was having my modest breakfast consisting of a banana and trying to wake up, I flipped on the radio. It was mentioned right then that president Barack Obama would be appearing at Richmond University one and a half hour later to give a speech on the Jobs Act that he had just announced in his speech to congress a couple of days earlier.

Suddenly I was completely awake. Hey, I was in Richmond and the president was on his way here!

Maybe I would have a chance of catching a glimpse of the president or even take a snapshot at his arrival, if I was lucky?

Quickly swallowing the last bites of the banana I pondered whether it on the other hand would really be worth it to head towards the university, knowing that the security would be tight and I might just get caught up in traffic congestion and the security hassle without even seeing as much as the motorcade. It might not be worth it.

Well, what the heck – I took the chance, punched “Richmond University” into the GPS and went on my way.

Going down the highway, I noticed the increased police presence with a patrol car parked in the median every few miles, and as I turned off the highway and proceeded towards the university the security became really tight.

The first couple of rows of every parking lot next to the road were fenced off, and there would be a police car in the driveway of every single private property for the last few miles towards the university. Police and security forces were everywhere, on the streets, in the surrounding woods and not least in the air by helicopter.

As I arrived at the first gate to the university, I wondered if this was the place, where the president would arrive. The GPS suggested me to continue for several miles. But the presence of security forces, fire trucks and ambulances hinted that this was probably the right place.

There was a small parking lot in the woods just opposite the gate, and I managed to squeeze the Jeep in on an unauthorized spot between the trees. I hoped it would not be hauled off…

Considering the security situation, I decided to leave my photo backpack in the car and took just my camera with me. On my way towards the university buildings I met a nice young couple, who informed me that this was indeed the right place, and the auditorium, where Obama would give his speech, was just beyond the ballpark in front of us.

They also informed me that in order to attend the event I needed a preordered ticket.  What a bummer… Well, I might still have a chance to see the president arrive, so I went along with my new friends towards the auditorium.

As we passed a police officer I overheard instructions on the police radio: “Do not let any pedestrians pass by!” I quickly picked up my pace, while the officer luckily just responded: “I just did…”

At the auditorium people were standing in long lines around the building. My new friends quickly lined up.

Left by myself I tried to assess the situation. I noticed an elderly couple sitting on some stairs and I struck up a conversation with them. It turned out that they had given up standing in line, and I could have their tickets.

Wohoo – it seemed to be my lucky day. I thanked them and headed towards the lines, where my friends from earlier had advanced quite a bit in the meantime. So I sort of joined them not to far from the entrance.

Obviously there was a security procedure at the entrance. It was similar to that of an airport. But I did not even have to show any ID, and I was allowed to bring my camera after a security officer had checked it out.

Wohoo – I was starting to get excited!

All the best seats were obviously taken in the auditorium, but there seemed to be a few seats with a front view of the president in the corner far up behind. But I would have a better view if I could stay right on the platform in front of the entrance. A few disabled people had been assigned space there in their wheelchairs and on regular chairs.

So, I borrowed an extra chair from a security guard, and while this was certainly not the best seat in the house it was not that bad either as I would have a clear view of the president.

Wohoo – I was ready for the experience and getting more and more excited as the crowd cheered, made waves and acted as if we were about to experience a rock concert or a football match.

The energy kept building up in the crowd and I for one could not help being affected by it.

Then suddenly president Obama was introduced and came into to hall. As he entered the hall it was like the electricity that had charged in the air finally was released and struck all of us like a lightning bolt. The crowd let out a huge roar and gave the president an enthusiastic applause. It seemed like the roof might blow off!

The president was obviously among supporters. Several members of the crowd would interrupt the beginning of his speech by yelling: “I love you!” and the president would reply “I love you too!” to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Then the president went into his serious speech about the Jobs Act that according to president contained measures that democrats and republicans should be able to agree on. The president outlined that everything in his proposal would be paid for, that it would create much needed jobs and that congress should pass this bill right now!

The crowd went wild, and so did I!

Even though my camera (or rather the 24-105mm lens) has an image stabilizer I had to support it against a railing because with all the excitement my hands were literally trembling.

Unfortunately I was a bit too far from the president to get a tight shot, as I had only a 24-105mm lens on a full frame camera. How I wished I had the 100-400mm that I rented for Yellowstone. Well, the only thing I could do was to try to get closer. So after charming a secret service agent a little bit, she let me go down the stairs to the front row and take a few shots and a bit of video before she ordered me back on the platform. I was still not really happy with my photos though.

The president wound up his speech to another huge roar, and the national anthem came on as the president slowly made his way towards the exit shaking hands with crowd members on his way out. As the audience broke up I saw the chance to move closer to where the president had entered and would surely exit the auditorium.

As you can see below, I did manage to snap a few shots more up-close. They are not perfect, but I find them decent under the quite difficult circumstances of the available light, the excitement, the security hassle and not least a nutty lady next to me who started punching at my camera because I had taken enough photos, in her opinion…

Wohoo – it was one of the most exciting events I have ever experienced!

It took me quite a while to wind down in the parking lot afterwards. While I was waiting for the traffic congestion to dissolve, I reflected about the whole experience. I had finally come to witness and understand how a charismatic leader can affect a crowd.

Fortunately, Obama is one of the good guys and I hope that his balanced policies will prevail to the benefit of the American people and the world.

In between trying to capture a decent photograph of the president, I managed to capture excerpts of the speech on video with my (photo) camera. Again, I wish i was able to get closer, that I had my directional microphone with me etc. But hey this was a spur of the moment thing recorded under difficult circumstances. I think it holds up – do check it out!

The president in a thoughtful moment during his speech. This photo is heavily cropped as I was too far from the president to frame him tightly with my 24-105mm lens.

 

President Obama took his time to greet members of the crowd before leaving the building.

 

Hopefully this photo gives a sense of the excitement and the affection between the audience and the president.

 

In my opinion president Obama has genuinely reached out - if only congress would come together and "pass this bill!"

 

Here I happened to catch the president with a bit of a funny look on his face. I cropped this shot a bit and blurred the background in Photoshop in order to isolate him from distractive elements in the background.

 

Here I also blurred the fore- and background in Photoshop but a bit less than in the previous shot.

 

President Obama is leaving Richmond University.

 

August 26, 2011

Birthday in Destin, Florida

I will celebrate my  birthday this year in Destin, Florida.

I shall be happy to offer all of my family members and friends a main course of Florida lobster, which is only $9.95 a pound. It is time for a change of my diet anyway – after having lived from oysters and ale for a week in New Orleans.

So why not lobsters, shrimp and champagne for a change?

Tomorrow I might go fishing and have some restaurant cook it up for me afterwords. I have dealt with a lot of sharks in my career, but I have never caught one from a boat . It might be a good birthday activity…

 

August 18, 2011

Sun Studio – my first recordings!

Sun Studio – my first recordings!

In Memphis I became inspired to do a major career move in a more creative direction. I recorded my first two songs at the legendary Sun Studio!

Sun Studio is a must if you are in Memphis, since it is the birthplace of Rock & Roll.

Sam Philips, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions – including in his own home years ago, started out back in the day recording anything like speeches and birthday parties to make a living. Then he moved on to actually have a recording studio, where he would record black R&B acts like B.B King and Ike Turner. The latter and his band cut the 12-bar R&B song “Rocket 88″ at Sun, which by many is regarded as the first Rock & Roll tune.

Others may regard Elvis’ first record from 1954, “That’s Alright Mamma”, as the beginning of the Rock & Roll era. For sure Elvis kicked in the door, and a bunch of others walked through, among them: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbinson and the “killer”, Jerry Lee Lewis. All cut their first records at Sun and became stars.

What inspired me during my visit in addition to the vibe was a quote by Jerry Lee Lewis that I suddenly remembered: “…if Sam Philips could make Elvis Presley a star, he could surely make me a star…” And I thought, why not have a go at it myself and follow in the footsteps of all these legendary artists? You can record your voice to a prerecorded track karaoke style for just $35 or rent the entire Sun Studio for a reasonable $100 an hour.

So I took the opportunity to record my first two songs right there at Sun. I know you are dying to hear my recordings of: “I’m Putting You On” and “Pulling Your Leg”.

By the way, check out my other Elvis posts: “Elvis Week – Graceland“, “Bling for the King (video)” and “Elvis’ birthplace and museum“.

I shot three bracketed photos at dusk for this HDR image of Sun Studio. This particular effect should not be overdone or used to often in my opinion. You get tired of it, but I had to try it out.

 

The front office of Sun Studio. On the wall there is a photo of Sam's secretary, Marion Keisker, who handled Elvis' first private recording, "My Happiness", and later suggested Sam to have a listen.

 

The studio is in very original condition. Interestingly, B.B. King revived his career when he came back to the studio in '88 and recorded "When Love Comes to Town" with a bunch of fans a.k.a U2 for the "Rattle and Hum" album. It seems that 88 is a lucky number for Sun Studio. By the way, Elvis' number in numerology, which he was into for a while, is 8. He was also born January 8th.

 

I thought it would create a nice effect with the original ribbon mikes in front of this photo of Elvis on the wall at Sun. The mikes almost blend into the original photo, don't you think?

 

Here I am grabbing the original Elvis mike, the Shure Unidyne 55S.

 

And here I am laying down the piano track at an entirely different location - the famous RCA Studio B in Nashville. This is the original Steinway played by Elvis himselvis and many other recording stars.

 

August 16, 2011

Elvis Week – Graceland UPDATED

Elvis Week – Graceland UPDATED

Memphis and Elvis Presley’s Graceland was originally not on my schedule for this trip.

I had been there and done that more than 20 years ago. But a good friend convinced me to go, and since I had the opportunity to visit coinciding with the events of “Elvis Week”, why not?

From a personal point of view, my visit to Memphis gave me the unexpected opportunity to reunite with a dear friend that I have known for 23 years, but with whom I had lost contact. Incidentally, as I drove towards Memphis I heard on the radio that Mr. Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires – who backed Elvis from 1956-1970 – would appear at a charity dinner at the Peabody Hotel. I went straight there for a ticket to a reunion!

Our meeting has certainly been a highlight on my trip. I respect Gordon Stoker so much for all of his amazing accomplishments in the field of music, but most of all I respect him and treasure our friendship because he is a great human being!

Among the official events, I enjoyed the concert with Elvis appearing on a large video screen and backed by a real live band. It rocked and brought down the house. Go see “Elvis in Concert” if it comes near you – or go travel to see it. There will be a tour in Europe, March 2012.

At other events, people who had worked with Elvis appeared and shared some really great stories. There were also other concerts, including morning gospel with the “Imperials”.

Also the forthcoming box set: “Elvis – the young man with the big beat” containing all of Elvis masters and newly discovered live recordings from the crucial year of 1956 was presented. It will be released September 23rd.

But let me just get back to the whole Elvis phenomenon, because it is not really as portrayed in the general media that always focuses on a few nerds dressed up in jumpsuits.

But hey, nerds like that only represent perhaps 1 percent of the fans. In fact, the diversity among fans does not seize to amaze me. Fans come from all walks of life, spanning across generations, races, nationalities and other barriers.

Neither did I see a lot of fans crying at the candlelight vigil, where fans defile past the grave to show their respect. In fact, out of the several thousand people at the vigil I noticed only one lady shedding a tear. More probably did so, but the event is by no means a mass hysteria as it is often portrayed in the media. It is just a very cool social event – with a certain reverence to it – where a diverse crowd of people from all over the world come together over their common interest: Elvis and his music.

The real interesting story that the media is missing out on is really why Elvis Presley and his music continues to stay so popular attracting new legions of fans from all over the world?

I mean; during the Elvis Week the re-release of “The Great Performances” on DVD went straight to number 1 on Billboard. Elvis has 4.5 million friends on Facebook. Not bad for a guy that has been gone for 34 years…

Sure he was a handsome guy, he had a great voice, he had the moves, he revolutionized the music scene, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood and he had lot of other talents and accomplishments on his CV. He also had human flaws that contributed to the end and the whole myth around him.

But there is more to it and it transcends all that. Somehow Elvis just touched people in a genuine way through his music and performances. And his legacy continues to do so. And what is wrong with that?

Do not hesitate to leave a comment or message on the Elvis phenomenon or your experience, if you took part in Elvis Week 2011. I always appreciate the feedback.

Thank-you-very-much, ladies-and-gentlemen!


PS: If you are an Elvis fan, be sure also to check out the following posts: “Bling for the King” which features exclusive videos clips with Elvis’ jeweler, Mr. Lowell Hays, who tells a couple of candid stories about Elvis, a cocktail waitress, jewelry and more; “Elvis’ birthplace & museum” about the interesting things I learned in Tupelo and “Sun Studio – my first recordings!

While in Memphis I had the unexpected opportunity to meet my good friend, Mr. Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires. Here Gordon Stoker is surrounded by his wonderful wife, Jean, and his sons Brent and Alan (left to right).

 

Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis, TN. Thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for access.

 

The living room and the music room at Graceland.

 

Visitors admire a few of the costumes and awards on display at Graceland.

 

Fans leave flowers and some tacky stuff on the grave. In the early morning of August 16th when the candlelight vigil ended, the grave slab was covered with a huge heap of flowers. Elvis name was barely readable.

 

"The pride of Elvis Presley Airways" - the Lisa Marie jet - named after his daughter. It is a four engine Convair 880. There is also a smaller Jetstar on display. You may also want to see the car museum...

 

Photographer Alfred Wertheimer, who took the iconic photo in the background, talks to Tom Brown of Turner Classic Movies about how the photograph came about. The girl in the photo only identified herself this year and told the story from her perspective.

 

George Klein was a longtime friend of Elvis and wrote the book "Elvis: My Best Man". George hosts the annual "Memphis Mafia Reunion" at Alfred's on Beale Street. Here he is posing with a couple of Australian fans.

 

I "caught" these very young Elvis fans writing graffiti on the Graceland wall - but it is allowed! I found it so cute that the girl left the following message to the King on the wall: "Even though I did not get to see you, I still love you, Dannesha."

 

This sweet lady did get to meet Elvis and I am sure she also loves him still.

 

Young fans from Mexico visited with their parents. Yes, teenage girls sport Elvis sunglasses and it is cool!

 

Another cool young Elvis fan at the candlelight vigil.

 

And here's a whole bunch of young fans who declared that they were "hot". I will leave that undisputed.

 

Three generations of Elvis fans: grandmother, daughter and a grandchild. If you wonder about grandma's expression, I asked her to imagine, that I was Elvis...

 

The diversity among Elvis fans at the candlelight vigil is amazing. Elvis transcends all the usual boundaries. That is what makes the candlelight vigil so cool - people from all walks of life and from all over the world come together over Elvis and his music.

 

Graceland at the night of the candlelight vigil. Thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for access.

 

August 3, 2011

The Highway Patrol #3: roadkill accident

The Highway Patrol #3: roadkill accident

I am alright and nobody was injured – except the mule deer that I unfortunately hit as it jumped out in front of my Jeep.

I was on my way from Yellowstone to Thermopolis when the accident happened at dusk just 18 miles before entering the great western town of Cody (founded by William Frederick Cody also known as “Buffalo Bill”).

There was a car right in front of me, and I believe we were both doing around 60 mph where the speed limit was 65 mph. As we passed a steep slope, the deer suddenly jumped from out of nowhere between the two cars. I guess it must have been standing on the slope. There was a fence on the slope, so the deer could only jump to one side. I slammed the brakes, but there was nothing I could do…

The quite large deer lay in the ditch injured. It was calm but tried to drag itself a couple of times on its front legs. The people in the car in front of me stopped, as they saw the deer came flying though the air. They had not seen it before that either. I inquired which authority to call to put the poor animal out of its misery. They in turn inquired if I had a firearm to do it. Obviously, I do not pack a gun as a tourist traveling the States. And I have to admit that my bare hands and/or small pocket knife was not fit for the job either. Then there was nothing I could do, they advised me and sort of implied that I should just leave it at that. Then they left.

I decided to look for assistance elsewhere; at one of the nearby ranches.

I bet they had firearms at the first ranch I passed, but since there was a sign saying “No Trespassing”, I was not going to find out… At the next place I met Amy and her husband, who advised me to call 911. I asked Amy to do it as she could probably better give directions, and I was a bit rattled anyway.

This led to my third encounter with the Highway Patrol on this trip, as a young, super professional and very pleasant state trooper arrived within half an hour. He took a report and reassured me that there was nothing I could have done. It happens all the time in the area. And it was a good thing that I had not hit a bock with huge antlers that could have come through the windscreen or perhaps a grizzly bear that obviously would have gone bezerk if injured. In fact such an accident had just occurred recently, state trooper Miears explained. Most importantly, no humans were injured.

As there was nothing more I could do, I thanked Amy and the state trooper and headed towards Cody to look for a room. I really did not feel like going on another 100 miles or so to Thermopolis. But there were no available rooms, so I had to move on.

It was not that pleasant a drive on the long and lonely highway from Cody to Thermopolis. I think I passed only 4-5 other vehicles for the next hour and a half. And my eyes seemed to play tricks on me seeing wildlife everywhere. And just as I started to relax, another deer appeared on the road, but I easily avoided it. Five minutes later a bobcat jumped out in front of me and I slammed the brakes again to avoid more roadkill on my conscience that night.

Finally, I have arrived in Thermopolis – home of the biggest thermal spring in the world and a grand museum of dinosaurs. I trust they remain in their exhibits…

Many thanks to Amy and state trooper Miears for their kindness and assistance!

Tomorrow I will see Hertz to file an incident report and get a replacement vehicle.

 

The damage to the Jeep was minimal despite the size of the animal. The hood was dented, the grill broken (right side) and the license plate bent. There may be some scratches on the bumper as well. Fur from the deer can be seen stuck between the hood and the grill.

 

 

State trooper Miears was a young man, but not this young. However, he kindly let Amy's son, Jasper, sit in the police car and have his picture taken, which was a pretty cool thing, I think.

 

July 27, 2011

The Highway Patrol – again

The Highway Patrol – again

As I drove through the great western state of Wyoming, I enjoyed the fresh smell of the pine trees and the hay on the fields. There was also something for the visual sense, and I let the beautiful scenery catch my eyes to the left and right.

Suddenly something in my rear view mirror also caught my eyes: red and blue lights. Oh no, the Highway Patrol again!

I pulled over and waited for the officer to approach me. Nothing happened.

So, I decided to get out of the car and approach the police car, but I was immediately commanded to “get back in the vehicle!”

OK – will do, and I’ll put my hands, where you can see them.

After a while conferring over the radio, the officer finally got out of his car and approached me with his hands in a quick draw position like some old western movie.

I kept my hands on the wheel until I had to produce my license for the officer. I found it appropriate to inform him that I was going to reach for it from my pocket. No reason to create a misunderstanding there…

It turned out that I had missed a 30mph sign as I was taking in the smells and views of Wyoming. I got off with another warning and a reprimand to pay attention!

Yes, officer – I sure will!

 

This is another image of the Arizona police interceptor. In my judgment the Wyoming incident was not an appropriate photo opportunity.

 

July 26, 2011

Salt Lake City – the Mormon capital

Salt Lake City – the Mormon capital

I knew that the state of Utah was founded and still inhabited mainly by Mormons, but I learned a great deal more about the Mormon way of life while staying in Utah and the state capital, Salt Lake City.

My visit was a bit of a weird rollercoaster ride. Read on how it turned out.

In the morning on the first day I went to McDonald’s for breakfast. I was surprised to see people arriving on bicycles. There was even a bicycle rack at McDonald’s. Great!

The Nordic features of many of the locals made me feel even more at home. It turned out that a lot of them actually were of Danish descent and were able to say short sentences like “tak for mad” (thanks for the meal).  How nice!

I remembered that the Mormon movement had recruited a lot of followers in Denmark over a hundred years ago, and that they had immigrated to Utah.

Hmm…

As I left Mc Donald’s I had sort of forgotten where I came from (the location of my motel). A woman walking down the street seemed to recognize that I was bewildered. She stopped and offered me advice. Great – thanks for the courtesy! But then she proceeded to ask, if I wanted to hire her?

“Hire you for what”, I asked naively. She threw her head back and giggled with an intonation of a true sales woman: “Selling tickets, selling tickets!”

I instantly realized that she was not selling tickets to the Kate Perry concert that night, and that there was a reason why she knew where the motel was located.

What the… I was being solicited at 10:00 am just off Temple Street in Salt Lake City!

Hmm…

I politely declined the offer and went about my way and so did she. Then a van passed me by driven by a full-fledged clown. Yes, I guy with white make-up, red nose and hair!

What kind of place was this? Was I going mad, was there a circus in town or was he on his way to a bank heist?

It turned out that it was “Pioneer Day” – or “Pie-and-beer-day” as some humorous non-believers call it – a state holiday commemorating the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to the valley in 1847.

Thus there was a parade on a main street. I could hear the music, so I proceeded in that direction.

On my way there I noticed how order rules in Salt Lake City. The front lawns look like velvet, and there are absolutely no weeds in the beautiful flowerbeds. I did not see any graffiti either. Well, perhaps there had been some – but it had quickly been painted over.

I arrived to the parade just as it had finished. But then I got to see another spectacle. A small army of workers quickly moved in and started to blow every bit of trash or bubble gum paper out onto the street where it was collected by machines. No mess here – don’t even think about it!

I love a tight ship and good order, but for some reason the discipline it seemed a little too tight. And I like people to act think for themselves too…

Hmm…

At the parade there were a lot of “elders”; 18-year-old boys who were on or about to go on their mission somewhere in the world to spread the word of the Mormon faith. You have probably met some of them wherever you are in the world. The “elders” always wear black slacks, a white short-sleeved shirt and a black name tag.

As I came to the temple square, the ship was even tighter. Lots of “uniformed” devotees of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) defiled in and out of the LDS Office Building. They were just as well groomed as the front lawns.

At the square I also realized that I was not the only one being naive in Salt Lake. I recognized a lot of sculptures of happy people as what I would determine as naive art.

Hmm…

By the way, the LDS Office Building is huge. It is probably the biggest building in Salt Lake and the State of Utah. And I guess it does require some office space, when you have about 15 million followers around the globe. And I guess it is not a problem to finance such a building when each follower is paying tithes.

Overseeing it all from somewhere in that building is the “president, prophet, seer and revelator” – the leader of the LDS. According to the Mormon beliefs he receives revelations from God directly, as I understood it.

Hmm…

I proceeded to the temple, which is quite a big structure but tiny compared to the office building. Tourists cannot enter, but there is a visitor center. Also there is a center of genealogy with birth records from all over the world. So it is a good place to start, if you are searching for your roots. And as Mormons can speak for their ancestors and enter them into the church, you may even discover that your ancestors have become Mormons after their death.

Hmm…

I did not make it as far as the visitor center, because already in front of it I was met by two “sisters” who solicited me in a quite different way than I experienced earlier in the day. I do not mean to compare the two incidents except for the fact that both made me feel awkward.

The sisters did not give up quite so easily as the woman earlier in the day, even though they were very courteous and subtle about their intentions.

One of them was Danish, and my mind started to spin, am I under surveillance here?

Of course not, but it was a bit weird how the Danish girl stared at me with fiery eyes without blinking. If I had not known that she was merely on her mission to convert me, I would have been nervous of her intentions.

After exchanging a couple of courtesies, I decided to bid them a quick farewell. I was about to meet with one of their other sisters, I informed them. The Danish girl’s eyes opened even wider than I thought possible and the stare became intense. “Is it someone with a name tag”, she wanted to know.

I had to disappoint her, she kind of deflated and the fire in her eyes died out, as I retreated from the scene.

Hmm…

All in all the Salt Lake City experience so far had been a bit much for me. But things would fortunately turn around in a more positive direction.

If you have read my post about my Colorado River Adventure, you will remember that I met three nice girls from Salt Lake City and that one of them, Katelin, had graciously offered to show me a bit around.

As it turned out, Katelin, invited me to meet with her and her friends in the evening to watch the fireworks.

Hmm…

The fireworks were fine, but I have to say that I appreciated the open talks with Katelin and her friends a great deal more than the show.

They were totally open and we exchanged viewpoints about faith, ways of life and personal stuff as if we had known each other for years. It was a very reassuring to engage in straight talk with this group of cool youngsters. We really had a great discussion going there.

Some were obedient Mormons. Some were less than obedient. Some did not really believe religiously but believed the cultural values such as keeping healthy, the importance of your family etc.

I asked about the biggest challenge in their way of life, and they seemed to agree that it was the expectations of them to live a life of sexual abstinence (of any kind) before marriage. Some told me that they had decided not to obey this particular commandment but to go about it in a responsible way. Well, good for them, I think.

I was also told that others (outside this group) took this commandment so seriously that they would cover their eyes if they went to the cinema and a bedroom scene would appear in an ordinary comedy. It had even happened that some took the sinfulness of sexual relations so seriously that they could not make this part of their life work, when they eventually got married. Not good for them!

Hmm…

I personally think such rules go against human nature. And it all seems a bit weird to me considering the behavior of the early LDS leaders. According to Wikipedia the founder of the LDS, Joseph Smith, took on 33 wives down to the age of 14! And his successor, Brigham young, took on 55 wives!

With all due respect it seems more like harems to me.

Hmmmmmmmmmm…

We also discussed that faith is exactly just that: faith. While some of the youngsters agreed that it was highly unlikely that Smith had received the Book of Mormon from an angel and translated it with his “seer stones”, you could basically say the same thing about Moses and the Ten Commandments. Sure.

I respect people’s beliefs and I do not wish to bash anyone – not the Mormons or anyone else. I have met many very kind, compassionate and great people among the Mormons in Utah.

But in general organized religion concerns me, especially if someone is leading an organization claiming to be directly connected to God and asking for your money in addition to your blind obedience. Maybe the money is spent on churches, education, charity work etc. But I find reason for concern when the books remain closed.

I also believe that it is good to have moral values and something to believe in. For some it is perhaps an advantage to have very strong values/rules to lean on, while others prefer making the difficult moral choices themselves.

Live the way you want to live, as Chuck Berry once said. But please do not be prejudice about others, whether they believe the same as you or not. Respect people for who they are.

And that is why my stay in Salt Lake City ended so pleasantly, because I met the youngsters with open minds, who were just themselves. We did not want anything from each other, try to convince each other of anything – but just exchanged our views in a respectful manner and enjoyed each others company.

Once again I conclude that the way a visit to a place turns out totally depends on your own behavior and the people you meet. I ended up meeting the very best in Salt Lake City, and I treasure the experience.

 

PS: You may have heard, seen or read in the news that Warren Jeffs – the leader of a Mormon sect – has just been convicted in August 2011 for sexual assaults on a 15-year-old as well as aggravated sexual assault on a 12-year-old. For the record, Warren Jeffs is not affiliated with the LDS. He is or was the leader of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS broke off from the LDS about a hundred years ago, when the LDS stopped the practice of polygamy. Read more about the terrible case on Wikipedia or elsewhere.

In this photo of the Utah State Capitol I obviously used lot of tilt and some shift to have the lettering in focus. I fixed up a bit of converging lines in Photoshop using the PT Lens plug-in. You guessed it: I used the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 II.

 

In this photo of the official seat of power in Utah - the State Capitol - I only used a bit of shift to avoid converging lines.

 

Locals told me that The LDS Office Building (Mormon HQ) is the real seat of power in Utah. The building is so huge that I could not even get it all in with the TS-E 24mm without converging lines, from the square in front of it.

 

Workers constantly keep everything in an immaculate state on LDS property.

 

Typical sculpture in front of the LDS world HQ.

 

I had to go up a hill to get the LDS Office Building in the picture without converging lines. From this angle one also gets a good impression of its size relative to the temple.

 

The Mormon temple close-up in front of the reflection pool. Here it was easy to avoid converging lines using a bit of shift.

 

Statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS. Before he claimed to have received the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni, he had a career as a treasure hunter using "seer stones". He was eventually killed by a mob while awaiting trial.

 

July 23, 2011

Colorado River rafting UPDATED

Colorado River rafting UPDATED

If you are looking for some action while staying in Moab, the Moab Adventure Center is the place to go.

So, I went there and met Anastasia of Russia, who was in an exchange program working in the center. With her charming Russian accent she quickly sweet-talked me into a full day of rafting.

I did not regret it. The rafting part was fun, and the social part was even better.

I was on a raft with the Solomon family from Arizona. They were great people and besides sharing the rafting experience, we discussed a whole range of subjects.

We discussed politics and cultural differences as I informed them about the Danish way of life and they informed about their faith and values as Mormons.

We probably did not agree on all issues and details, but we certainly agreed on a lot – not least a lot of values. Agreeing on all details was not the point anyway. The point was to exchange views and get a better understanding of one another. In addition we had a great time sharing the rafting adventure including a great lunch.

There were not too many rapids, but it was good fun anyway.

The guides were pretty good at instigating more fun by suggesting us to jump off the raft for a swim in the cool Colorado River. It was even more fun to get into water splashing battles with other rafts or to raid them, but we behaved ourselves on our vessel – for a while.

Then a raft came by with a bunch of cool guys and three girls that appeared to me as Charlie’s Angels. One of them, Courtney, was definitely the spitting image of Cameron Diaz, and the other two, Jen and Katelin, were equally pretty.

Somehow my Viking instincts got triggered and I felt an urge to raid that raft.

I jumped in and swam towards the “enemy” from one side while my buddy Brigg – a capable wrestler to say the least – approached it from the other in a classic pincer movement.

Before long the cool guys got cooler as Brigg and I pulled them into the river one after the other.

Charlie’s Angels seemed to freak out completely, screaming and holding on to held on to each other in the middle of the raft. Meanwhile, “Charlie” – the captain of their raft – defended them well as a rooster watching over his hens.

Finally, Brigg and I gave up – or perhaps we just showed mercy, as we were not entirely sure whether the girls nooooooooo’s were actually nays or ayes. Eventually the Angels jumped in the river voluntarily, but better safe than sorry on our part.

Later that evening I happened to run into the Angels again on the main street in Moab. They seemed a little freaked for a second. But I managed to repair my image somehow – even though Jen remained a bit suspicious, I think.

Nevertheless, Katelin kindly offered to show me around Salt Lake City, if I would be there on Tuesday.

I was not sure, but it turned out that I would…

We approach the rapids.

 

We are going under!

 

No, we made it - woohoo!

 

Charlie's Angels: Courtney, Jen and Katelin. This photo was taken using an iPhone.

 

July 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Michael (video)

Happy Birthday Michael (video)

I am going to stick to the theme(s) of this blog – except when there is a good reason to deviate. And this is such an occasion.

My good old friend Michael is turning 40 today, July 23rd.

As he has fled to Italy and I am on my road trip in the States, I am sending him the virtual greeting below.

Other viewers than Michael may be interested in the breathtaking view. I am right on the edge. Be careful if you go there!

This is my first attempt to shoot video with the Canon 5D MkII and to upload it, so it may not be not perfect. There were some strong wind gusts, which can be heard on occasion. I could not do anything about. By the way, you may find it funny how I am trying to loose my “German” accent in this clip. It is simply because, everywhere I go people think that I am German based on my (Danish!) accent. So I am working on that. Bare with me folks…