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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 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.

 

September 5, 2011

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

Having reached Jacksonville Beach I have accomplished my mission to travel across the States coast-to-coast from the Pacific to the Atlantic! :-)

I still have a couple of weeks left on my trip, though, before I must depart from New York, and I intend to make the most of the remaining time.

If you have followed the blog, you will know that I spent my birthday August 31st by myself in Destin, Florida. I loved the pearly white beaches and the emerald green waters there, but the nightlife was really not much to speak of. The season was ending, and there were not many people in town.

I could have stayed throughout the Labor Day holidays and hoped for more activity, but as a front approached, I headed east, which turned out to be a good choice.

The beaches of Jacksonville Beach (Jax Beach) are not pearly white. They are more grayish. But there is a nice fishing pier, volleyball nets, lots of restaurants, cafes and bars in a good layout as well as a very nice atmosphere. There were also more (local) people around. In addition quite a few came into town for Labor Day.

So, I enjoyed the gray beach, playing in the smashing waves and tried to make up for my mediocre birthday celebrations in Destin by exploring Jax Beach at night.

Rush Bar was the place to go, and it turned out to be quite amusing.

On the first night a girl came over and introduced herself. She informed me that she was celebrating her 21st birthday with a bunch of girlfriends. Yes, I could see that… She went on to explain that it was on her the to-do list to have a shot with a redhead – and I while I explained that my hair is “golden blond” – it was close enough.

I did not get a shot, but the other girls shot a bunch of documentation photos of us together for Facebook or whatever. Made me feel like my 15 seconds of fame as all the flashes went off. And hey, girls if you are reading this – where are the photos you promised to send me?

Next, one of the girls was kind to compliment my attire consisting of a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and sneakers. She knew what she was talking about, because she had just graduated as a fashion major. I, on the other hand, did not know what I was doing, because I was stupid enough to reveal that the shirt was a 10-year-old rag. Then she asked about my age – since she probably figured that I did not buy the shirt at the age of 10 or 11. So, I admitted that I just had my 33rd birthday, which turned out to be another mistake. She thought I was around 25. Doh!

When will I learn to be more dishonest, and play my cards better?

OK – I am just kidding here – about playing my cards. But in any case, somebody knew how to play his cards, because a while later the fashion major had retreated to the shadows of the corner with a dude – and her girlfriends fired away again to get a documentation shot for Facebook.

On my second night in Jax Beach while I was having a drink by myself – as usual – I could not help noticing three girls tearing up the dance floor doing a dance or something together. And I was not the only one watching their antics. A whole bunch of guys were lined up with their jaws dropped to the floor.

When the three girls finally took a break from the dance floor, one of them walked past me and complimented my glasses. She thought they were hot. Well, so was she.

We had a short chat about the glasses, this and that. Then before moving on she suddenly turned her back on me, bent slightly forwards and started grooving like an earthquaking, hipshaking, soulbreaking machine – to quote a song I heard on the radio the other day. What could I do but step up to the challenge and join the dance?!

Hey, that girl knew how to get down on a dance floor – as if I did not know already. It was great harmless fun. God bless America! ;-)

Before leaving Jax Beach the following day I went for a walk on the beach, while I attempted to catch a bit of the atmosphere with my camera.

As I did not have a big tele lens with me, I could not photograph the dolphins that was jumping off the coast but I hope that the photos below gives you a good idea of what Jax Beach is like on a cloudy day!

There is a lot of acivity around Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, but I managed to snap this shot of it in a quiet moment.

 

I headed out on the pier to see if the sport fishermen had luck.

 

I did not catch a fish this big. I was just happy to have completed my journey coast-to-coast.

 

It was also close but no cigar for Grandpa, if he had not brought the tobacco himself.

 

But this guy got lucky.

 

And this guy was even more lucky catching a nice trout.

 

A couple of younger fishermen agreed to pose for a picture.

 

In fact, this little dude could not get enough of being photographed - and he wanted to be just by himself in the picture!

 

Someone hooked a sea turtle. Crocodile Dundee to the right (with the knife between his teeth) was there immediately to handle the situation. He took the knife and - a break for drama here - set the turtle free (after unhooking it of course).

 

As the fish is also a Christian symbol it was not totally off that this group of friends studied their bible on the pier.

 

There was a need for prayers that day on the beach. Behind this rescue vehicle a mother was weeping, as she had lost track of her 4-year-old son. Fortunately, he was found sound and safe. If the tears were not already flowing, they poured as they were reunited.

 

So there was something to celebrate and nobody did it better than my new friends from Puerto Rico. What a beat!

 

As I walked back for a pizza and a sweet tea before hitting the road, I came across this classic and beautifully restored Volkswagen.

 

A girl was taking a nap inside. Probably she had also had a night on the town. Notice the reflection...

 

August 27, 2011

Rita and Bianca

Rita and Bianca

I was  attempting to do a little street photography on Bourbon Street before the sun set, and the creatures of the night would come out and make their sweet music – to paraphrase a classic line from “Dracula”.

If you have been to New Orleans, you will know how hot and humid it can get, and at this point I was starting to be pretty dehydrated. A waitress, Rita, standing in a doorway recognized my condition and kindly offered me a glass of water. How considerate! In return, I took a quick street portrait of Rita and promised to process and upload it.

As I headed back to my motel I also ran into the little trickster, Bianca, who did not offer me anything for free, but asked me to also take her photo. And so I did, because her tricks were not that bad, and she played them in a charming way.

I think both photos are pretty good street portraits without any processing. They also provide me with a good opportunity to show you what you can achieve with the Portrait Professional software. It is easy to use – and it really comes in handy, as you can see below.

Besides the features of applying a “digital make-up”, removing skin blemishes etc. the software also has a feature to re-sculpt facial features. I use this feature with restraint and care, as I think a portrait should remain authentic. But a little enhancement does not harm – because a photo usually does not show a person’s charisma, so a little extra has to be added visually to make up for that. Can you recognize any of the re-sculpting? I do not exactly remember if and what I did in that respect…

By the way, according to Wikipedia a trickster is someone who “plays tricks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior.” ;-)

PS: If you girls are reading this and would like a high resolution copy of the portraits, drop me a line, and I will send them to you (by e-mail) free of charge and tricks…

Before: a neutral version of my street portrait of Rita.

 

After: the portrait has been processed in a number of ways in Portrait Professional, some manual retouching has taken place and the photo has been cropped slightly. What do you think?

 

Before: a neutral version of my street portrait of the little trickster.

 

After: the portrait has been processed in a number of ways in Portrait Professional, some manual retouching has taken place and the photo has been cropped slightly. Well, the little trickster is not the only one who can do tricks. What do you think?

 

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

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 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 21, 2011

Elvis’ birthplace & museum

Elvis’ birthplace & museum

I had not really expected much, but the Elvis Presley birthplace & museum in Tupelo, MS is definitely worth a visit!

The museum is not that big and there is not a huge collection of artifacts, which belonged to Elvis or his family. There are some suits and other items though. But the museum does a superb job in conveying the circumstances under which Elvis was born and raised.

I knew that the Presley family was dirt-poor. But I did not really get it until I toured the museum and took in the exhibit complemented by film and audio presentations.

As it was sinking in to me how poor they really were, I thought about my encounter with Elvis jeweler, Mr. Lowell Hays in Memphis and his stories of Elvis’ spending habits and generosity as featured in the post “Bling for the King (video)“. I could not help thinking that perhaps Elvis was compensating for his very poor childhood. Who knows…

The birthplace itself has been restored and furnished with furniture from that time period. The one bulb in the bedroom was added after the family lost the house – when Elvis was only 2 years old.

His father, Vernon, had forged a §4 check issued by his employer for a hog. Vernon went to prison for that for 8 months, and his employer foreclosed on the small shack. Elvis and his mother Gladys would then move in with relatives.

Recently the original Tupelo church frequented by the Presleys have been moved to the grounds of the birthplace and restored. It is a very good idea, since it helps to convey the story of Elvis’ background and musical influences. And you do not just get to see an old church. There is a brilliant audiovisual presentation that takes you back in time like a time machine. Thus a reenactment of a typical service has been recorded and is projected on three large screens to the front, left and right. The sound is in surround, which makes it feel even more real.

You certainly get the impression how the young Elvis was influenced by the dynamic preachers moving around “on stage” and the Gospel music – in addition to the blues that he would hear around Tupelo.

If you are in Tupelo you should also stop by Tupelo Hardware Co., where Elvis got his first guitar for his 11th birthday. The store looks almost like it did back then in 1946 with the original counters and everything. It is a museum in itself.

Elvis went with his mother to the store to get a bicycle. Then a 22 rifle caught his eye and it seems that he threw a fit to get it. But he did not, as his mother was quite protective – having lost Elvis twin brother, who was stillborn. Then Mr. Bobo of Tupelo Hardware suggested a guitar. And the rest is history…

So, if you go to Graceland you will understand Elvis the star. If you want to understand his background, go to Tupelo – too!

 

PS: During my visit I could not help reflecting about the similarities and differences between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon since I have now visited their birthplaces and museums respectively.

I discussed it briefly with a tour guide, who did not see any similarities. But as I pointed out, they were both born under humble circumstances in small wooden houses built by their father – even though the Nixons obviously were not as poor as the Presleys.

Both later achieved the highest positions in their field respectively – as president and “King”. They even met in 1970, when Elvis presented Nixon with a gun (not a 22 rifle, though). In return Nixon presented Elvis with the badge he had requested as an agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs!

Elvis and Nixon were extraordinary men in each of their field, but I believe they would also both suffer the consequences of very ordinary human flaws, which they seemed to think they had under control.

Nixon lost his career – his political life. Elvis lost his real life – but his “career” has continued…

Elvis Presley was born in this "shotgun" schack in East Tupelo, MS. It was built by his father, Vernon, grandfather Jesse and uncle Vester. The latter would later staff the gates of Graceland. I met Vester at Graceland about 21 years ago. He has since passed away.

 

The furniture is not original - but the hat on the wall is. It worn by Elvis' father in the photo over the fireplace. This photo would later be used as the cover for the "Elvis Country" album released in 1970.This family certainly went from "Rags to Riches".

 

To my surprise the tour guide in the birthplace was none other than one of Elvis' second cousins, Mrs. Clark Presley. How more authentic can it get?

 

The local First Assembly of God church, were the Presley family would worship, has been moved to the grounds of the birthplace. Notice the old outhouse in the background. Also notice that new museum facilities are being built.

 

I added a little swing to this shot using the Canon 24mm TS-E II. My intention was to keep the walkway and entrance sharp.

 

I also used a bit of swing on this statue of Elvis with his first guitar that he got for his 11th birthday.

 

The guitar was purchased from the Tupelo Hardware Co., which looks almost like it did in 1946.

 

Mr. Bobo of Tupelo Hardware sold the guitar from this very counter.

 

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

Bling for the King (video)

Bling for the King (video)

While in Memphis I had the pleasure of meeting Elvis Presley’s personal friend and jeweler, Mr. Lowell Hays.

Maybe you have heard the slogan that “before anybody did anything, Elvis did everything”. That certainly applied to Elvis’ use of jewelry. He was the “king of bling” long before the rappers got into that fashion. And it was Mr. Hays who designed the bling for or with Elvis.

Elvis is of course well-known for his generosity, but did you know that he had his jeweler travel with him for leisure or on tour – just in case he needed to shower somebody with jewelry?

Watch the videos below for a candid story on that subject and the story of how Elvis got his signature TCB ring with an 11.5 carat diamond in it. You will also learn how Elvis showed his appreciation to Mr. Hays besides paying for the ring. By the way, the diamond alone in that ring was $35.000 back then!

Today Mr. Hays is offering high quality reproductions of some of the jewelry that he made for Elvis, made from the original molds. Most are made of white metal plated with 22 carat gold. The stones are Swarowski crystals or cubic zirconias. Mr. Hays also offer some rings in solid silver and gold with real diamonds. The price range varies accordingly. So there is really something for everybody, who needs bling as worn by the King.

Check out Mr. Hays website for further information about how to obtain reproductions of Elvis jewelry and more remarkable stories: www.elvisjeweler.com

Also, check out my other Elvis posts: “Elvis Week – Graceland“, “Elvis’ birthplace and museum” and “Sun Studio – my first recordings!

Elvis Presley's jeweler, Mr. Lowell Hays, is wearing the signature TCB necklace that Elvis gave to his singers, musicians and closest friends. Now you can enter that club by obtaining your own necklace directly from Mr. Hays.