Monday, May 31, 2010

A Fricking Sunflower

God has a sense of humor.

Aardvarks, for example. Or the fact that I keep winding up in places where the only logical attraction

We wound up in gardens on a day trip to Calgary and on the Kelby Photo Walk, we wound up in gardens again.

Whatcha gonna do? If you're me, you start off looking everywhere else for anything else.

Then you take pictures of that "anything" knowing full well that the images are going to be 100% crap...but you stay stubborn and shoot anyway.

It's not like I hate flower pictures. I'm just indifferent to most of them. I look and say "aha...a flower. Oooo."

Then, having saved face, you sigh and turn your attention back to the fricking flowers.

It was a wonderful day: perfect weather. Nice people (photographers of all sizes and experience levels) too.

This flower simply wouldn't cooperate. I wanted to make an HDR exposure and it kept moving in the wind.

"Let me hold that for you," said Lady Caroline (who is brand new to flickr. Her stuff is here: who bustled up, took the flower in a death grip and waited patiently for me to finish shooting.

We got to talking. Carolyn has just retired and she's getting serious about photography.

She has a bag full of gadgets that made Sheree go "oooo" and "ahhhh."

Carolyn also has a patient husband who follows her around carrying her tripod.

Why not pop by her site and welcome her to flickr? She's a nice person.

In the meantime here's another fricking flower. Tuh Dum.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Angel for Dave and His Better Half...

Our flickr friend Dave H. (who has some excellent images here: ) gave us the gift of showing us around London on our last day here.

Dave knows our fascination with graveyards and went out of his way to take us to Highgate, a very old cemetery.

Later on his wife Jenny joined us for a lovely supper.

Thank you very much for your time, Dave. And thank you for introducing us to your vastly better half.

This image is for both of you with our warmest thanks...and the certainty that we will see you again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Changing of the Guard

There have been a number of theories advanced as to what actually is going on during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Contrary to popular opinion, it has nothing to do with diapers...or 'nappies' as they are known on this side of the pond.

Here's what is REALLY going on: the guys in the funny hairy hats have lost a bet and so they have to wear them in front of everyone.

As a part of the "lost bet" they must also apply huge amounts of starch to their underwear, which explains the funny way they walk.

All the rifle guys are followed with one guy with a ensure they follow through on the bet. He is also a handy back-up in case an enemy army attacks and the troops run out of bullets.

The soldiers simply cannot get things right, so an old guy comes out and yells at them.

Now you know everything about the Changing of the Guard...quite unlike all the tourists I saw when we were there. They had no idea at all what they were lining up to see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Soft Kiss Goodbye to Africa

I don't want to go.

Sheree has been asking me what's bugging me today, since I am not my ordinarily sunshiny self. (You just shush.) It's because I know I am leaving Africa.

Tonight we fly to London which, under ordinary circumstances would be a good thing. But it means leaving South Africa and I don't know when I will be back...only that I WILL be back. Some day.


This shot was taken one perfect summer morning when some school children sang for us. It was hot and sweat was pouring off me. When we left, a little boy with impossible eyes asked for our water bottle. Sheree gave it to him and he scampered away and had it immediately taken away by bigger boys and bigger boys took it away from them...and so it went.

How do you say goodbye to nights so dark that the stars glitter in the sky with other-worldly brightness and it feels like you could reach out and thrust a handful of them into your pocket?

I stood and watched sheet lightning show that went all night. Not a whisper of thunder...but such brilliant light!

Cape Town is a place where the wind gets so strong that you actually need to hang onto you walk by beaches so perfect that they make your heart hurt.

There's something so exotic here, something that dances in the air like a capricious sprite you can only catch a glimpse of at the best of times...and then only when you're REALLY looking for it.

There's danger, of course...and the constant sense you are an outsider longing to join in..but there's magic here too.

I stood on top of a mountain and felt cool cloud against my skin. I have felt the hot sun on my face and I have been mere feet from majestic elephants.

Africa is magical. Wildly exotic. very lovely. Dark and dangerous...but perfect in its way.

It is as wild as a Mardi Gras and as stealthy as a stalking lion. It is as distant as a glittering star and as lovely as a child's smile.

I just never imagined I would like it this much...after all: I have sore muscles, a few bug bites (though no where near as many as poor Sheree)...and a thousand perfectly preserved memories.

Does it make sense to fly away from this? Does it ever make sense to leave a place that has touched your heart?

I am shrugging...but I didn't quite know how to convey how it all feels right now. As I was trying to pick a shot to go with this text, this one felt right.

Monday, May 17, 2010

At the End of Africa

We were at the southernmost point of the African Continent.

Most people posed at the tourist monument. This was a place where you could put one foot on either side of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I stand to be corrected, but it seemed to me that most people made a bee-line for the monument...and just didn't look around much. They just got into the line-up of tourists waiting for their turn at the monument.

This girl chose to go onto the rocks and sit, looking out at the ocean.

She was much closer to the most Southern part of Africa than the tourists were.

I really liked that.

There was the steady pounding of the ocean, the call of birds and scent of the sea in the air. It all happened under a perfect African sky on an equally perfect summer day.

It was a Perfect Moment.

I thought you might like to share it.

I am working on the final draft of my novel with the help of great readers and one particularly comely blue eyed editor (who is very likely rolling her eyes as she reads this), the company is busy (thank you, God!) and we're prepping for a little hop to Florida next month to visit Susan, Bill and Mickey.

Just sit quietly for a second (particularly if it's been a hectic day) and try to imagine the sound of the ocean waves washing up on the African coast, a cool breeze on your face and a wonderful moment of peace in your heart.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roger, Wilco

You start with a 25 year old guide.

You add 15 people, 14 of whom are over 50, four which are self - professed 'REALLY picky eaters' -- add 14 km hikes UP mountains and stops everywhere from spider infested 'hobbit holes' to beachfront resorts.

You make the old people carry sleeping bags into most of the venues and you send them on road trips that can be up to 11 hours long.

Back to the guide. This guy (remember he's like 25) has to be able to drive a huge truck over rutted roads, make impossible turns and do MOST of the cooking from the side of a truck.

If one of his aging brood is missing, say on a massively difficult trail (and wasn't me), this guide has to put down his lunch and go back over the trail until he finds, rescues him and brings him back to the fold...having remembered to set a plate of food aside in case he's hungry.

He also tackles hills and trails and slippery rocks with speed that would make Superman pee his pants...and he does it in flip flops. Then he smokes a cigarette. Or three. (**sigh** Who said 'Youth is wasted on the young?')

Amazing guy, this Wilco (pronounced "VIL-ko.) Here he is being asked questions by three people at a time before making six km hike along the beach and into the forest.

The only time he was left alone was when he was on one of those marathon drives across this vast country. Then he plugs in his ancient iPod and listens to Disney tunes as he navigates the roads and rutted paths with unerring precision.

He was offered a new iPod (no names of course) with Ozzy, AC/DC, Led Zep...and other music more befitting a 25 year old...but he politely declined. He likes the Disney tunes better.

He speaks with that smooth South African accent. He teaches us that "now now" means 'Yes, I heard you and I'll get to it...soon." He also teaches us that 'a little hike' CAN mean scrambling over rocks, in unreasonably high winds and along the side of a mountain for miles.

When I was 25, I considered myself a success if I remembered to pull up my fly...and responsible if I could remember where I parked my car.

So here's to you, Wilco. You did a splendid job. We enjoyed having our lives cross with yours. Stay well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Neil: Out of Africa

Our safari truck growls into a tiny South African town. It is one of the few stops I haven't been looking forward to much. Here we are offered one of two options: We can go to a micro brewery or we can take in some arts and crafts. This is most unlike the rest of the Drifter's tour. It's touristy...and we never like touristy.

Sheree and I exchange looks and decide not to do either. We will pack up our cameras and take a walk and meet people.

We wander into "The Village Inn Restaurant and Karoo Kitchen."

The Karoo is a vast beautiful place. The day is searingly hot with just enough of a breeze to keep certain Canadians from melting, leaving only cameras, sunglasses and garish colored shorts in haltng little bilingual puddles.

We step into a dark interior, twice as dark because the sun outside is so very bright.

The menu is hand printed on a fireplace. It offers items like ice cold ginger beer, lemonade and fresh scones.

I am struck by the idea that I have walked ito a hobbit hole because the rooms are crowded with lovingly placed bric-a-brac. Everything has a place.

No one's here. But there is someone humming a softly off-key tune in the distance.

We stand and chat with another tour-fleeing couple and poke around at the stuff on the shelves.

Eventually a voice that has seen a LOT of miles cheerily calls he's 'on his way.'

Shuffling feet that sound like they're encased in favorite slippers. Into the room walks an old guy who looks a lot like James Whitmore.

He's a friendly little fellow whose face lights up at the prospect of actual customers.

"Hello," he says. "I'm Neil."

It feels strange to be introducing ourselves at a restaurant, but we all do and shake his hand.

Sheree orders a coffee and I opt for ginger beer. He nods again, increasing my suspicion that I am with an affable hobbit and shuffles off into a back room.

He's gone a really long time. I mean a REALLY long time. I start to wonder if he has died. Eventually he shows up again, carrying a small kettle and a frosty glass of ginger beer.

After putting the drinks on the table, he settles into the table next to us, for a little chat.

He's very curious about Canada. Having farmed until recently in South Africa, he wants to know about how farming works here. Personally, I have no idea.

We chat about how proud he is that his wife is the official translator of plays for a South African playwright I have never heard of.

Sheree takes a sip and declares she's never had coffee this good. She's not making it up...she's really impressed.

I sip the ginger beer. It's really sweet.But it's cold and it's wet...and there's this wonderful bite to it.

Neil is impressed with our cameras and he asks about them. He doesn't seem to know much about photography but he's interested.

I am replying to his questions...but I am thinking, not unkindly that Neil has the bushiest eyebrows I've ever seen.

"We've got just under a thousand people here," he says. "A 40% unemployment rate and 23 restaurants."

"That seems like a lot," I observe shrewdly.

He nods again "It is. But tourism is increasing every day."

I am thinking of the rutted African goat trails we took to get here. Neil is, apparently, an optimist.

He tells us about some of the photographic opportunities in the area.

Sheree thrusts the kettle at me. "You have to try this COFFEE," she says.

We've been living with instant truck slop so long I have forgotten what coffee tastes like.

This stuff is dusky, buttery and rich. It is amazing. I want to order a pot of my own, but can't afford to wait the seven hours it will take to make...and our time is already running out.

If we are going to take any pictures, we have to go.

So we say goodbye to Neil and his charming restaurant and his classic coffee and walk out into the African sun.

I thought you would like to meet Neil. But then I think EVERYONE should meet at least one Neil in their lives.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not Just Another Pretty Face

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in doctor's offices. And nearly all of them had this hardcover with DO NOT REMOVE emblazoned across the cover.

But there were great Bible stories in there: and the kind of illustrations you only see in books from the 60's: lush colors, idyllic subjects. Everyone was smiling. Adam and Eve stood behind strategically located trees and palm fronds.

But the image that interested me the most was of Eden where a bunch of animals were displayed: lions and elephants, big birds and turtles. They just kind of lounged around together. No one ate anyone.

I loved that picture: and can still see it clearly in my mind.

And that shot is pretty much like what Kruger National Park in South Africa is like. The vegetation is so lush and green, and there are animals everywhere.

We were lucky because I've seen pictures of Kruger where the traffic is so thick it's a constant gridlock. We went several minutes without seeing another vehicle.

But SO many animals!

The herbivores travel together. Usually there's a giraffe in there somewhere because they have the longest necks and the sharpest eyes and when they start to freak out, the rest of the animals know there's a nasty something with teeth and claws lurking in the undergrowth.

This elephant sauntered out about twenty feet from our truck. It was like rounding a corner in Rome and seeing the Colosseum for the first time. It was magic. It was right there...HUGE...munching on a tree.

I was speechless, jaw open and very possibly a trail of drool working down my chin. It amazing I forgot to take a shot for the longest time. The whirring and clicking of cameras around me brought me to my senses...and I took some shots. But all the while I was so completely aware of the majesty of what was before me.

Elephants are cool.

So is Africa.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Take My Picture"

I don't know why it is that so many South Africans saw me with my camera and demanded "Take my picture."

It happened a number of times during our too brief 20 days there.

They didn't want money. They didn't want anything except to have their picture taken. When I showed it to them on the screen, they were unfailingly delighted.

This guy was by the beach on the Dolphin Coast. He was a big fella, lounging around by a fence. His eyes were fixed on me from a block away.

I kept walking, but kept everything close. When I got there, he put up his hand and said "Take my picture."

Big sorta scary dude talk? Me listen.

So I did take his picture. Here it is....and he liked it. Thank God.

I think a lot about Africa these days...and London...and a serious tug to be back on the road again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We are NOT GAY!

God has a sense of humor.

Every TINY African town we go into, Sheree goes rushing about looking for an Internet cafe. That woman can sniff out an internet connection in a mud hut...

I, on the other hand am not addicted to the internet and so I dawdle and take pictures and hang out. I also carry stuff, since I am male and this is my apparent function.

Right now Sheree is on a boat looking for whales. Since I vividly recall my last time on a boat "Five Hours of HELL" due to seasickness and very poor judgment, I wandered around the town which is (I think Knysna?) and I come across an Internet cafe all on my own.

So here I am, somewhere in Africa writing to you guys to say HELLO!

These two "no doubt about it MALE zebras" (which is apparently pronounced 'ZEB-ra') were in the midst of some very we rounded a corner in the world famous Kruger National Park.

Our tour guide, a mega-man type, actually blushed and insisted hotly that there was nothing at all going on and there are, in fact NO gay "ZEB-ras." Maybe they were just wrestling...

It looked pretty gay to me...and the one who was doing the...ummm...well...male very upset and gave us the ZEB-ra stinkeye and bared teeth at being interrupted.

I could wax on about the amazing sunsets and the fabulous people, the many razor wire fences and repeated warnings not to go out after dark. I could tell you about the most spectacular lightning displays I have ever seen, or sitting on a porch watching the astounding stars...because we've done all that.

But the un-gay zebras were among the most interesting things I've seen so far.

I thought you might get a bang out of it. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whisper of a Lioness

Here's what a safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park feels like.

You ride in an enormous truck with massive windows and all around you is tall grass, exotic flat topped trees and the steady hum of vibrant African wildlife. The sun is very hot on your skin and the stark scent of pure life crackles in the air.

The first time you see an impala, the whole bus goes bugshit and there is a frenzy of camera clicking. Before long you see hundreds of them. There are so many, so close to road that you simply yawn and shrug after a while.

There are long periods of relative quiet with people staring intently out the windows, each one trying to be the first to glimpse an animal that is not some form of deer.

Suddenly someone hollers (despite repeated warnings to keep our voices down) "LION! THERE'S A FRICKING LION OVER THERE!!!"

Everyone on the tram oooohs and ahhhhs...even the people who don't see a thing because no one wants to look like some loser who came all the way to Africa and missed the fricking lion.

I look hard into the bushes and at first I don't see a thing. Sheree is snapping and enthusing like crazy.

I look in the general direction of her lens and then I see something move in the bushes. It is the slightest movement and when my eyes finally make sense of what is before me, I see a lioness and two cubs, hidden, unmoving in the tall grass.

Cameras around me are clicking and people are whispering excitedly to each other that it's a 'lion' (which is, without doubt, most useful information).

To be honest, I realize I should be taking pictures. But something so profound is going on inside me that I can't raise my camera.

It is a M.T.M. (Magical Travel Moment) because I am mere feet away from a beautiful animal and I am seeing her in her own environment. She's not miserably pacing the confines of a cage in a circus, or looking out with trapped eyes at the hundreds of people examining her mysteries in a zoo. This is a lioness seen the way she is meant to be seen.

I loved that I really had to look for her. I loved that she started grooming one of her cubs and the moment seemed so tender and natural that some part of my spirit soared at seeing it.

I did take a picture, of course. But I think that for a flash of a second, I truly understood Africa. An instant later that understanding was burned away like morning mist and I was reduced again to being an outsider, looking with absolute wonder at what can only be described (at the risk of sounding a little trite) as a savage beauty that was far far beyond anything I could possibly comprehend.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Revenge of the Wetsuit...

Here’s the idea: you put on a wetsuit. One of the crew members tosses a decapitated tuna head into the water, affixed to a tow rope. Another crew guy spills a steady trickle of fish guts into the water. Since we are in South Africa's “Shark Alley” – the cunning plan is to draw as many sharks as possible so that when we get into the “shark cage” the sharks will come along, expecting to eat something.

“You should go in,” says Sheree…who is the only one who wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. It’s one of those adventures where I would look at a brochure; roll my eyes and wonder briefly what kind of moron would be stupid enough to pay money and actually go into shark infested waters ON PURPOSE.

“Me?” I ask, squeaking just a little. “I should go in?”

“Yup. I’m going to take pictures from here. Do something I’m not doing,” she says.

I decide not to point out that I do lots of things she doesn’t do: peeing standing up, for example. But I have already made up my mind to go into the cage. I am, after all, paying two hundred dollars so that I could get up a little past four, and finish my morning in the water with sharks. My mom didn’t raise any idiots. (Well she did…but I am not one of them.)

“All divers must pick up their wetsuits on the first deck,” says the captain, an affable craggy faced man who drops tourists into shark water for a living.

With one final thought of “What the HELL ARE YOU DOING???” I join the line up of brain dead prospective chum donors. Most of them are twenty-somethings from around the globe. There are several blond gym bunnies and their attending frat boy/muscle head/young-guys-who-can’t-seem-to-keep-their-pants-up companions.

The captain sizes me up and hands me a wet suit. It’s sopping wet and heavy and looks like it’s designed for someone of more conventional size. (I am a touch rotund.) I look at the rubber scrap.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

He nods and responds “Ja Ja” which is South African for “Yes Yes.”

I go to the head to put the wet suit on – having no desire to do what I am certain will wind up being a very undignified procedure in front of the gym bunnies.

As I stand locked in the tiny room with the outer space looking toilet in my underwear, the ship takes off. It seems to me they could give some warning…that someone could call out: “Hey Disgruntled Little Fat Guy In His Underwear In The Head: We Are Planning To Take Off With a REAL Joyful Spurt of Speed Now.”

I lurch to one side, banging my head on some mysterious pipe, begin cursing anyone and everyone as someone knocks on the door.

“In a minute,” I call.

The fricking wet suit is inside out. I pull at it, still as dubious as an elephant contemplating a napkin tutu…but the idea of bravely facing sharks in their own environment without peeing my pants sustains me.

I settle onto the tiny toilet seat and thrust one leg into the wet suit. No. That’s not the right word: I TRY to put my leg into the leg and am stopped by clammy rubber. It feels gross. But I, Great White Hunter, do not know the meaning of the word "gross." Ahem.

I try to work the rubber over my leg and it isn’t going.

Someone knocks again. The boat lurches to one side. I bang my head again. Shit.

“In a minute,” I call cheerily. Dork, I think. Did you SEE me come out of here since the last time you knocked?

I have the wet suit leg almost up to my knee now and am slowly working the rubber down my ankle.

Sheree forgot her sea bands somewhere. And I have taken seasick medication…so I gave mine to her. And the head is starting to smell bad. Diesel fumes? Poop? Sea? I stop my brain right there, resolving NOT to think about it. For the love of God: don’t go there. Nossir. Four fricking hours on the fricking water surrounded by gym bunnies…and me heaving my guts into the water? No way the Great White Hunter will be seen like that.

The leg finally kind of is on and I must now raise my other leg, while balancing one butt cheek on the toilet seat in the rocking boat while I try get my other foot in. (Like that’s gonna happen.)

The boat pitches again and my precarious balance is disrupted and I slide off the toilet and, with a fleeting thought “this is really gonna hurt,” slam onto the hard metal floor.

Knocking again. This time more insistent.

I ignore it.

I am pinned on the floor, one leg straight, the other bent at a vaguely unnatural angle because I can’t get it through the rubber. I try to think through the motions that will allow me to get up. I brace my hands on the toilet seat (don’t even think about it)…and the almost smooth wall and shove. It almost works, but the boat runs into another ice burg and it lurches and I thump to the floor.

Fury charges my muscles and, in the midst of a fifty-something tantrum I thrash and shove that fricking leg forward with all that is within me and am rewarded by the appearance of a big toe…nearly…at the bottom of the leg. The knee pad is still around my ankle…but I choose to celebrate the small things.

Seizing the moment, I struggle to my feet and try to thrust my arms through the microscopic arm holes. Does the head actually stink more than it did a minute ago? Are they piping the diesel fumes directly in here? Who the hell is smoking? Are they hitting waves on PURPOSE?

I am suddenly and without warning in the familiar position of being driven to the floor, only now I have one arm trapped under me.

Knocking again.

“Piss off,” I call out cheerily.

Arms are easier than legs and I get both of them into the wet suit finally and realize there’s no way I can stand up. The rubber traps me in a forward leaning position and I look like I should be ringing the bell at Notre Dame, not facing down sharks.

No way this suit is the right size.

I sigh…ignore the knocking…and work the suit off.

When I go up top Sheree shrewdly observes. “You’re not in a wet suit.”

I just look at her.

“How come?”

“They didn’t have my color.”

“Really…how come?”

I just look at her for a long moment. She shrugs and goes back to snapping pictures, enthusing about what wonderful shots she’s getting, completely indifferent to my recent suffering and obvious need for a touch of human comfort.

I shrug and decide I wanted to take pictures from the start.

This is one of them.