Category - personal

A Year of Living

Last Friday – my 63rd birthday – I re-posted (with some minor edits) the short essay I wrote on the occasion of my 62nd birthday.  It was about turning 62 – the age at which my brother had died in 2011 – and the quest to outlive him numerically by turning 63.

That post ends with:

There is much more to that challenge than simply lasting the year.

I’ve got some living to do.

Seeing that line again for the first time in a year caught me up short.  It made me wonder: Had I lived up to my own challenge over the past 12 months?

Or had I just gone on with my desultory day to day existence, squeezing nothing more out of my continued presence here on earth than the consumption of natural resources and the production of bodily wastes?

And then I remembered this photo:

Melrose Abbey - Scotland

That’s me, seated on a bench before the south elevation of Melrose Abbey in the borders region of Scotland.

For so many reasons, that photo answers the question.

I may not have lived entirely up to whatever potential I have had languishing here for the past several years (like, since Book Two went off the rails), but I think I can say that I certainly made some effort, and have some results to show for it.

I mean, I’m pretty pleased with the whole “Portals of Stone” collection that came out of that trip to England and Scotland last spring.  I had my first “art show” this fall, and now the whole collection is hanging in an actual art gallery in East Nashville.  And I got a check in the mail for one of the pieces last week.  Eat your heart out, Van Gogh…

Probably more important than any of that is just the fact that I made the effort.  That I saw an opportunity and I grabbed it, and the result was as satisfying and meaningful a two-weeks as I can recall in my life.

I still can’t quite put my finger on what draws me to these medieval ruins, although I can say that the unexpected result – the Portals of Stone – that came out of that trip is maybe the most creative expression I’ve had since… well, maybe since I finished/published Book One – and that’s going back to 2002.  Certainly the most creative visual expression in like… ever.  I mean, hey, I was 62 years old and for the first time in my life I came up with something that somebody else – actually a couple of somebody elses who have authority in such things  – considered “art.”

So, yeah. That happened.

And now the same gauntlet is thrown for Year 64.

Cue the Beatles:

Beatles – When I’m Sixty-Four by hushhush112

It’s Time to Root for The Dodgers

Roy Campanella (left) and Jackie Robinson

Roy Campanella (left) and Jackie Robinson

Nobody ever remembers who came second.

Take flight, for example.

The Wright Brothers were the first to fly a heavier-than-air craft.  Can you name whoever was the second?

Alan Shephard was the first American in space.  Can you name the second?

John Glenn was the first in orbit.  Can you name the second?

Neil and Buzz were the first two men to land on the moon with Apollo 11.  Can you name the lunar module crew of Apollo 12?

You get my point.

But the subject today is baseball.

Every body knows the name of the first black major league ball player: Number 42,  Jackie Robinson.  His number was retired from all of baseball in 1997 – the 50th anniversary of his debut with the Dodgers in Brooklyn – and that number now hangs in every major and minor league ball park in the country as an eternal reminder of the courageous man who integrated what was at the time regarded as “the national pastime.”

But can you name the second black major leaguer – who also wore Dodger Blue?

His name was Roy Campanella.

Roy Campanella was a catcher who joined the Dodgers in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson.  He was widely regarded as one of the best all-around players in the game until his career was tragically cut short after he was paralyzed in an auto accident in the winter of 1958.

I know all this because I read It’s Good To Be Alive, Roy Campanella’s autobiography, probably when I was in the 4th grade.

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, in the shadow of New York City;  My brother taught me to root for the Yankees. I grew up with Mantle and Maris and Yogi and Moose.  I was a lefty so I wanted to be Whitey Ford.   The first major league game I ever went to was at Yankee Stadium, probably about 1960; Curiously, it was a pre-season exhibition game between the Yankees and the Dodgers – a home coming of sorts for the Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles two years earlier.

Which was perfect for me, because by then, in addition to being a Yankee fan as proscribed by my brother, I was also ‘closet Dodgers fan’ – because of that Roy Campanella autobiography.

Because that’s where I learned about Branch Rickey, and what he did to baseball – and America – with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Not from the Jackie Robinson story… from the Roy Campanella story.

That’s where I discovered the dark undercurrent beneath all the bromides they were force-feeding us in elementary school about the land of the free and the home of the brave and one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

That’s when my eyes were opened to an entirely different reality, and I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the Dodgers ever since.

And after reading about Roy Campanella and Branch Rickey and, yes, Jackie Robinson… well, I became the quiet Dodgers fan in our house.  After that, there was nothing more glorious than the occasional Yankees/Dodgers World Series (Reggie Jackson!).  And the two times I lived in Los Angeles, in the late 70s and early 90s, I felt like I had my own special affinity for Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine.

So last night, I was rather ambivalent about the outcome of the first round of the National League playoffs, with the Dodgers playing the other National League team I root for, the Atlanta Braves.

That story starts when I lived in Hawaii in the 1980s, when live television by satellite was still expensive and something of a novelty.  Even timely/topical network broadcasts like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson were flown to the islands on 2-inch videotape – and broadcast a full week after their original airing on the mainland (…oh yeah, that was funny… last week!). Ted Turner’s WTBS was the only “live” television we had;  Turner owned the Atlanta Braves and put all their games on his network.  I had’t been living on Maui long before I started watching the Braves regularly and became a Braves fan.

Unfortunately, the 80’s were a valley of despair for the Braves; they finished last in their division every year despite a powerhouse lineup that included Dale Murphy and Bob Horner – who joined a very short list when he hit four home runs in a single game in 1986.

Fortunately, I was well rewarded for a decade of patience through the “Chuck Tanner Years.” In October 1991 I was already planning a trip a fall-foliage tour to the north Georgia area when the Braves went from worst-to-first and won a berth in the World Series.  At that point I was not going to let mere money leave me at the entrance, and I shelled out $400 for two seats in Atlanta-Fulton Country stadium for Game 3 of the 1991 World Series – the first World Series game ever played south of the Mason Dixon line (yup – look it up).  Braves won.   Best time I ever had at a baseball game.

So it was with some ambivalence that I watched all of last night’s 4th game of the National League Division Series between the Braves and the Dodgers.  The Dodgers already had two victories in the best-of-five-series, which left the Braves one game from elimination.  Last night was do-or-die for the Braves, and when Jose Uribe clobbered a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put the Dodgers up 4-2, the Braves were 3 outs from die.  Which they did about 15 minutes later.

When it was over (at midnight – sheesh, no wonder baseball is losing its luster: 2 hours of excitement packed into nearly four hours!), the Dodgers had advanced to the National League Championship Series, the winner of which goes to the World Series.

So, with the Braves out of the picture, I am now officially rooting for the Dodgers to make it to the World Series and win the whole enchilada.

Because of Roy Campanella.

Because, in this case, in my case, the guy who came in second had a much more lasting impact than the guy who came in first.




Capsule Review of “Gravity”

…and The Evolution of Cinema*  In My Lifetime:

This is what was going through my mind as I stumbled (literally weak-in-the-knees!) out of the IMAX theater yesterday after seeing “Gravity” in 3D:

GRAVITYThe first movie I ever saw was “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.  The year was 1956, so I would have been all of 5 years old.  When Yul Brynner came on the the screen for the first time – he was playing Pharoah – I asked my father, “Is that God?”  It’s one of the few actual conversations I can recall having with my father...

I’ve seen “Citizen Kane” – regarded by some authorities as the greatest movie of all time – on the big screen (it doesn’t hold up as well on a television).  I saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” when it was released in 1968.  I marveled at all the original “Star Wars” movies.  I’ve always thought that “Casablanca” was a story-telling tour-de-force.  I’ve seen “Lawrence of Arabia” on a big screen twice.  “Dances with Wolves” is still possibly my all-time favorite movie.

I’m grateful for having lived long enough to see the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and ALL of the “Harry Potter” series.   I enjoyed “Titanic” even though I knew how it was going to end, and “Avatar” in IMAX 3D was sufficiently immersive that it held up over three screenings in about as many weeks.

But “Gravity” is simply the most stunning movie I have ever seen.

– – – – – – – –

*(I have to use the pretentious word “cinema” because I’m pretty sure there was no actual “film” involved…)





Rosslyn at Dawn


I’ve been in Scotland for a week.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time sorting and editing as I have shooting, but some of what I’ve got to show for my presence you can see here.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Rosslyn Chapel at Dawn

Rosslyn Chapel at Dawn

Photographers live for about four hours every day: the two hours on either side of sunrise and sunset.  That’s the best natural light of the day.  The rest of the day is for location scouting (or so I’ve been told).

Somebody asked me once, “which do you prefer, sunrise or sunset?”  To which I replied, “well, I’m usually awake by sunset…”

And that has been the case so far on this expedition.  Despite my best intentions, I’ve slept through every sunrise.  That might have something to do with fact that the sun sets at this latitude at about 9:30 PM, and the twilight lingers until nearly 11.  And  I’ve been out every evening photographing something at sunset, though the actual sun has been mostly obscured by clouds.

After that, you get back to your room, download the memory card, sort the photos and edit a few, and by the time you start nodding out it’s 1:30 AM.  Not exactly conducive to starting again at 3:30 (since the sunrises at about 4:30…).

Tweed River Valley btw Melrose and Rosslyn

Tweed River Valley btw Melrose and Rosslyn

Yesterday I made the short – and lovely – drive from Melrose to Rosslyn, which is my whole reason for being here in the first place.  And last night I went out again at sunset and looked for something to shoot at the end of the first completely sunny day I’ve had all week.  After that, same drill… fell asleep at the keyboard about 1AM…

But this morning something very different happened: I woke up and saw the moon setting in a perfectly clear sky outside my window.  I looked at the time on my iPhone: 4:24.  Like an idiot I tried to go back to sleep.

But whatever higher power brought me here intervened.

Despite my best efforts to go back to sleep, that was not gonna happen.

In the absence of sleep I opened Google Earth on my iPad (there was just enough signal to get a view) and entered the coordinates for Rosslyn Chapel, which is about 2-1/2 miles from the b&b where I’m staying.  From the map I could see there is a road that goes past the chapel to the edge of a field on the eastern side.  From paintings and photos I’ve seen from that angle, I knew there was some kind of meadow on that side of the chapel.

I threw on some clothes and was there by 5:30, just as the sun was peaking over the hills.

Medieval churches, chapels, and abbeys were typically laid out so that the altar – and the grand windows above it – face east, so that the rising sun can remind worshipers of the Resurrection (note to fundamentalist Christians: you do know that Muslims face east for their prayers, too, right?).

The  combination clear sky and the rising sun meant that the best natural light I’ve seen all week was shining down on the nearly 600-year-old of east facade of the Rosslyn Chapel just as I was getting my tripod set up.

Left to my own devices, I might have slept right through it.  But I swear, some power better than myself hauled me out of bed, threw clothes on me, and steered my rent-a-car through the pre-dawn light to get these photos.

Now, behold the majesty of 15th Century architecture:

Rosslyn Chapel at Dawn

Rosslyn Chapel at Dawn


I’ve had good moments and bad moments on this trip.  The good ones are usually after I’ve been shooting for several hours, and I’ve taken the time to marvel at the fact that I am even here, doing this extraordinary thing.  The bad ones are after I’ve sat at the computer with the results from the day and thought “oh crap, I missed that… shoulda framed that differently… oh, look at THAT… that I didn’t quite get in the frame…”  etc. etc.  All common photographers’ laments.

But today, I can take some solace in the knowledge that however else the rest of the day goes, I got this part right:

Detail of the East Facade of the Rosslyn Chapel

Detail of the East Facade of the Rosslyn Chapel


But only because that Higher Power would not leave me to my own devices and let me sleep through the dawn.

I wish I could remember now who was it who said, “you do the work… and the inspiration takes care of itself…”


T-Minus 1 – How The Return
To Scotland Came About

This is the third installment of a series on how my trip to Scotland / England came about.  The first installment is here, the second installment (a bit of a sidebar) is here.

Listen to John Doan’s harp guitar while reading this post:

Now, where was I? Oh yeah….

One of the most stunning places we visited in Scotland last October is a small church several miles outside of Edinburgh called the Rosslyn Chapel.


Rosslyn Chapel, scaffolded for restoration during our visit in October, 2012

If you’ve read “The DaVinci Code” or seen the movie, you might recognize the name.  Dan Brown wrote the last scene of that story at the Rosslyn Chapel. The bones of Mary Magdalen – the real “Holy Grail” as portrayed in the novel – supposedly having been hidden there, in a a secret crypt concealed under the foundation of the chapel when it was built during 15th century.

We almost didn’t go to Rosslyn.  When it was first suggested to us, I looked it up on the web and the first thing I noticed on the website was

Please note that there is no photography or video allowed inside Rosslyn Chapel.

And when I read that I thought to myself, “well, that’s a deal breaker….”

But I talked it over with Ann and we agreed that it would be worth seeing even we couldn’t take pictures inside.  We figured it in to the itinerary for the last full day of our  trip, when we would be back in Edinburgh for two nights and still have the rental car at our disposal.

So on morning of the last day of our tour of Scotland, we ventured out of Edinburgh about 7 miles south to the village of Rosslyn.

And yes, the interior of Rosslyn Chapel is truly extraordinary.  Nearly every surface is adorned with detailed masonry carvings depicting the history of the area, the chapel’s founders and builders, or a passage from the Bible, all rendered by the most skilled stone masons of the 15th century.

Entrance to the Rosslyn Chapel – ©2012

In the centuries since its construction, the tiny Chapel as been through all kinds of depredations, from serving as stable for Cromwell’s cavalry in the 17th century to an ill conceived conservation effort in the mid-20th century that coated all the  carvings with an impermeable layer of magnesium fluoride that trapped moisture inside the stone.   Just about the time that The DaVinci Code was released, the Sinclair family that owns the chapel and surrounding estate embarked on a more enlightened course of preservation, and now, in the wake of the novel and the movie, the Rosslyn Chapel is among the most popular tourist destinations in all of Great Britain.

Ann and I spent most of the morning of our last full day in Scotland there.   We made a lot of photographs of the exterior, and spent enough time inside to come out pretty well awed at what we’d seen.  But, per the rules, no photos of the interior.

– – – – – – – –

John Doan

John Doan

Fast forward now to  January 28th, when I received an e-mail from a musician named  John Doan.  John is is primarily a harp guitarist; his home base is Salem, Oregon.

If you’re not familiar with it, the harp guitar is an instrument that starts as a guitar, but is embellished with an extension of the body of the guitar  that supports some number of open, unfretted strings, usually bass notes, that are plucked separately in the same manner that the strings of a harp are plucked.   John Doan typically plays a variation of the harp guitar that includes a further set of “super treble” notes that are strung musically above (physically below) the 6 guitar strings.

I can’t recall now when I first discovered John Doan’s recordings, most of which I purchased via iTunes during the period when I was still paying for downloads (which I rarely do now, with the advent of streaming subscription services like Spotify).  But since I first discovered him I have been an avid fan of his Celtic-infused, sonically rich recordings that evoke the spirit of the islands with which I am so enamored.  I met John briefly once, at an annual event called “The Harp Guitar Gathering” when it was held in Indianapolis in the fall of 2010.  That’s probably when I put myself on his mailing list.

So I get this e-mail from John Doan in late January.  And after the usual “this is what I’m up to…” stuff, I scanned his tour itinerary at the bottom of the message.  And that’s where I saw:

May 26: Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland

Whoa.  Did I read that right? A concert inside the Rosslyn Chapel??

I quickly fired an e-mail back to John.

Can you use a roadie/photographer on these gigs?

I need an excuse to go back to Britain this spring…

Where “back to Britain” was a link to the site were I was gathering and displaying our photos from the trip in October.

John’s reply to that was pretty non-committal, but the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became about the proposition, so I sent another message:

Please forgive the quick “need a roadie?” message that I sent earlier

This time… I think I’m serious….

..after which wheels started turning…

Long story short: I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon, and will meet up with John and his entourage of wandering minstrels a week from today at Rosslyn.  And I will have permission to photograph his concert inside the Rosslyn Chapel.

Two weeks ago Ann and I encountered a Scottish photographer a the TACA Arts & Crafts fair here in Nashville.  We got to talking, and I told him that I would be going to Scotland soon, and that I’d be photographing inside the Rosslyn Chapel.

“That’s forbidden!” he said.

Yes, it is. But I’ve got special dispensation.

And that’s why I’m going back to Scotland tomorrow.

Rosslyn Chapel – a Victorian-era carving over the North Entrance ©

T-Minus 2 Days and Still Counting


(This is the second of two installments. Part 1 is here, Part 3 is here.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

I’m still working on another post (or two) about how my trip to Britain next week came about, and will perhaps get the story finished before I leave on Sunday. For now, I want to get something else out there.

It begins with a passage that came to mind in the midst of some breath work with my therapist on Wednesday:

The heart seeks
and only the heart can find
that which we do not know
that we know

Now, as much as I am loathe to even mention the name – much as Harry Potter referred to Voldemort as “he who cannot be named” – the thought above is a corollary to something Donald Rumsfeld famously (infamously?) said during one of his Pentagon press conferences when he was trying to explain whathefuck had gone wrong in Iraq:

There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.

I’ve always thought that Rumsfeld’s assessment of the realms of knowledge and ignorance stops just short of what might be the most import insight of all, that…

There are things that we do not know… that we know.

Basic, fundamental, truths of existence that live on a subsurface, spiritual level that where we do not spend nearly enough time.

Perhaps I am going to the ancient ruins of Britain to spend time in places where long ago mystics and monks did just that.

As good a reason as any…

And, now that I think about it, I realize that right after I had the “breath work revelation” I’ve shared above, I may have had a clear illustration of the principal – and an affirmation of why I have to go on this trip alone.

After I saw Kenneth on Wednesday,  I went downtown to the Shelby Street bridge to photograph the Nashville skyline and see what sort of results I would get shooting for HDR with my new Nikon D600.

The results at sunset were pretty satisfactory if uninspiring, except perhaps for this one shot where I got  everything to line up:  the sun hitting the tops of the building, the f/16 aperture that produces the cool star effect:

Sunset over the Nashville Skyline - May 15, 2013

Sunset over the Nashville Skyline – May 15, 2013

But after I got that shot I stood around and waited for over an hour for the sky to darken and the lights of the city to come on.  And about 8:30PM I got this shot, which I think is downright spectacular:

Twilight Over The City

Twilight Over The City

… because I WAITED FOR IT (and trust me on this, the small rendering here doesn’t do the image justice; click here to see the whole frame a bit larger).

And that, sadly, is what I can’t seem to do when I’m with Ann.  At least, not that day we stopped at the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle near Edinburgh. And I’ll say again, I think Ann got better photos in less time than I did.  But I wasn’t done yet…

That’s why I drove away thinking, “I have to come back here by myself.”

And now, it appears, I am doing just that.

In two days.

Because when the heart is patient.. only then.. can it find what it does not know that it knows.

– – – – – – – – –

And now, the rest of the story...


Scotland 2013: T-Minus 10


So titled because in ten days I will be returning to Scotland.  I hope I will have adequate time and motivation to write consistently about the trip.  I am starting now.

This is the first of three installments.  Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here.

– – – – – – – –

It seems the intervals between my visits to the United Kingdom… Great Britain… the British Isles — whatever you want to call that archipelago with the common language and complicated history —  are getting  shorter.  From 24 years to 6 years to… 6 months.

My first trip to England was in the spring of 1976.  My then future ex-wife and I went to England for a total of five weeks.  We both worked in the TeeVee industry in Hollywood and could take that much time off because it was during the “hiatus” season when all the shows we were working on were shut down, between production seasons.   We had plenty of time – and enough money – so off we went, across the continent and across “the pond.”  Five weeks was enough time to tour almost the entire country, from the Channel Islands to Cornwall to the Lake District and Wales, and with a brief, abortive foray into Scotland (another story for another time).

St. Mawes from Pendennis - one of the few photos from that 1976 trip that I still have in my catalog.

St. Mawes from Pendennis – one of the few photos from that 1976 trip that I still have in my catalog.

There’s another whole long story here about how we went to England to get married. Georja carried her custom silk-and-lace wedding dress all over the country with us, but we couldn’t quite pull it off because of a two-week residency requirement before a foreigner could get married.  We could have established residency in one place and returned two weeks later, but we had no set itinerary and didn’t want to be obligated to be anywhere at any particular time.  We were also informed that it would not be possible to stage a ceremony as we’d imagined — on the ramparts of an ancient castle ruin.  Somebody told us we’d have to be married in the office of a justice of the peace, or a chapel or something.   Not exactly what we’d flown halfway around the world for.

So we just wandered around the country, pulling the dress out from time to time and shooting photos in romantic locales, and then packing up and moving to the next destination.  We even rented the honeymoon suite at Ruthin Castle in Wales.  There are photos somewhere of Georja dancing about the honeymoon suite in her flowing white gown.   Dunno if I’ll be able to find them, they are probably rotting in a closet in Hawaii, where we moved to and finally got married in 1980 (we divorced in 1994 after I moved – alone – to Nashville).

I didn’t get back to that part of the world for two-and-a-half decades.  Moving to Hawaii for 14 years might have had something to do with that….

Fast forward to my second marriage.  After our wedding in Nashville, Ann and I spent a week in England and a week in Bavaria.   The England portion included 4 days in the Cotwsolds, near the town of Oswestry in Shropshire at a small hotel that stood literally across a stream from Wales.  The stately ruin of Ludlow Castle was nearby, and Harlech Castle was the midpoint of day’s drive through Wales.

The view from our room at the Jaegerhaus in Hohenschangau, Bavaria.

We spent three days in London and then flew off to Munich — and more castles.  We spent two or three nights in the village of Hohenschwangau, a village that had served the royal seat of Bavaria when it was its own little kingdom.  From the bed in our room at a B&B near the center of the village we could look out the window directly up at the ramparts and spires of Neuschwanstein, the fairy-tale castle built in the 19th century by Ludwig II, the Mad King of Bavaria who squandered the nation’s treasure building the sort of edifice that Walt Disney would use as the model for his theme parks a century later.

Notice the recurring theme yet?  I’ll give you a clue: it starts with “castles.”

A better look at Neuschwanstein, the "fairy tale" castle that inspired Walt Disney.

A better look at Neuschwanstein, the “fairy tale” castle that inspired Walt Disney.

It was only six years before Ann and I returned to that part of the world, only this time we went to Ireland.  As alluded to earlier, it’s difficult to know how exactly to include Ireland in a discussion of “that part of the world,” because, while Ireland may be, geographically one of the “British Isles,” if there is one thing the Irish struggled mightily for seven centuries NOT to be, it was “British.” Ireland and England may have shared a common language, but the English domination of Ireland was hardly a welcome reality for the entirety of its duration.  The Irish still consider the English culpable for the famine that ravaged their island 150 years ago.  Some grudges die hard.

We spent two fabulous weeks in Ireland, during which time I was reminded again of this odd affinity that I have for Great Stone Structures – particularly if they lie in some state of ruin.

Burrishoole Friary in County Mayo Ireland - October, 2006

Burrishoole Friary in County Mayo Ireland – October, 2006

I will state for the record here and now that I do not fully grasp the source of this attraction. I know only that it is a strong, recurring presence in my life.  And, it would appear, providence is finally acting in such a way as to explore it.

Nevertheless, it was another six years before we returned to that part of the world.  I tried a couple of times.  I have several musician friends who conduct tours of Ireland every summer.  I signed us up for one of those several years ago, but for whatever reason the prospect fell through.

Then, last summer, Ann and I started making plans for a trip the following fall (2012).  I’d suggested at first a return to Ireland, to visit some of the counties like northern Donegal and Sligo that we didn’t quite get to the last time, when we managed to go through only six of the island’s thirty-two counties.  Perhaps we’d go to Northern Ireland – the part of the island that the British refused to let go of, the part that still belongs to “The United Kingdom” and is thus separated politically from the Republic that comprises the rest of the island.  Perhaps we’d get to see the amazing natural formation called “The Giants Causeway” that somebody told us about the first night that we were there in 2006.  “It’s the one thing in Ireland you must see,” he said, but I knew at the time we were not going to make it there on that trip.  So we started to think about including that in the itinerary if we went back…

But somewhere in the midst of ruminating about a trip in the fall of 2012, the destination changed.  As much as we both wanted to return to Ireland, Ann wanted to go someplace where she’d never been.  I think she really wanted to go to Greece, and we may yet make it there someday.  It seems a bit odd in retrospect, but we somehow compromised on Scotland.

I have already documented our trip and posted the best of the more than 10,000 photo/files we shot with the nifty little cameras that we took with us.  As a friend predicted, amid the other vagaries of life it took almost six months to make it through all those files.

And now I’m going back for more.  My flight leaves on Sunday May 19, arriving in Edinburgh in the afternoon of Monday, May 20.  I will be there for 2-1/2 weeks.

T-minus 10 days and counting…

– – – – – – –

The seed for this upcoming trip was planted during the last one.  It was late in the day on October 6, the day we drove from Inverness as far as we would go into the rugged outer reaches the Scottish Highlands known as Wester Ross (not to be confused with Westeros, the fictional world where “Game of Thrones” transpires, but maybe that’s where he got the name…?).

The day before we ventured into Wester Ross, we’d stopped into a bookstore in the town of Nairn, near Inverness, where we spent three nights at an elegant estate called Castle Stuart (seeing the theme yet?).  I’d browsed through a book of photos of a peninsula near Inverness called “The Black Isle,” and seen some photos of a ruined abbey there called Beauly Priory.  I made a mental note.  And when it looked like we had time in the late afternoon after the Wester Ross tour to make it to Beauly before dinner at the castle, I steered the car in that direction.

As time and fate would have it, we reached the village of Beauly about thirty minutes before sunset — “Golden Time,” as the cinematographers in Hollywood like to call it.  We found the priory ruins.  I pulled out my camera, my cherished 12mm ultra-wide angle lens (the 35mm equivalent of 24mm, which is what I really cherish…) and tripod and started shooting “multi-frame “HDR” photos.  Ann put the telephoto lens on her camera and shot close ups of the features.


Beauly Priory at Sunset October 6, 2012. Ann’s photo, with the telephoto lens.

Looking back at the photos, I’m still inclined to think that Ann got better shots than I did.  Maybe we all look at other peoples’ photos that way?  In any event, Ann satisfied her inclinations toward the site in fairly short order, while I was still wandering around looking for the definitive angle and moment.

And then there was… this moment (Ann will probably kill me when she reads this – but, then, I think she’s heard this already. If not I’m screwed…).  The sun had not entirely set, I was looking for one more set-up for my camera and tripod.  And I may be paraphrasing, or my memory may not be precise, but what I recall now was Ann saying something along the lines of, “Are you done yet?  Can we go now?”

And whether or not that is exactly what Ann said, I do remember exactly the unspoken reply that went through my head at the time: “I’ve waited six years to get to this spot… and I can’t have 15 minutes??”

And this is what you get when you see it through an “ultra wide angle” lens.

In that moment,  amid the sun setting behind the ruins of the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands, the seed for this impending trip was planted. I remember thinking as we drove away… “I need to come back here by myself…”

It seemed like an idle thought at the time.  But submerged within that thought there was this undeniable…. longing.

Idle thought or not, that seed took root a few months later when I received an e-mail from another musician friend.  At the bottom of the email, his calendar listed a concert at a very special venue near Edinburgh in May.  I sent an email back.

I’ll tell the rest of that story next week.

Happy Birthday #Django Reinhardt

574px-Django_Reinhardt_(Gottlieb_07301)I have no idea why Quentin Tarantino used the “Django” for the title character of his new slave-revenge western.

But today is Django Rheinhart‘s birthday so let’s take a moment to honor one of the most innovative and memorable guitarists of the 20th century.

You can start with the Pearl Django-triggered station I listen to quite frequently on Pandora:Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 8.39.19 AM(Yeah, I know, I was just ragging on Pandora for its limited playlists yesterday, but this one is pretty good, especially if you’re not all too familiar with this type of music.  And I hope the link above works for you, Pandora is apparently pretty touchy about how sharing its links works. The link seems to be working in Safari, not so much in Firefox.)

I am suddenly recalling the first time I ever heard the name “Django Rheinhardt.”  It was in the fall of… oh, 1966 or ’67 would be a good guess.  My step-father was a Yalie, and every year he took us to the Yale-Princeton football game.  He also made us wear a jacket and tie to the game.  Things were different in those days…

Whatever year it was, that year I was driven to the game by the son of one of my step-father’s college roommates (from the class of 1930-something).  I remember the driver’s name was Raymond Londa,   and, despite being a lawyer and a Yalie himself, Raymond Londa was kinda cool: he drove us to New Haven in something that was rather novel for its day – a VW Camper.

VWCamperRaymond somehow knew that I’d just started playing guitar (I still have my first chord book, dated April, 1966).  And he asked me if I’d knew about Django Rheinhardt.  Nope, not a clue.  And since my taste at the time leaned more toward the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane, I don’t think I was all that interested.  Gypsy Jazz?  Not a clue.

All of which I’m recalling now because lately I’ve been hearing a lot of Django and Django-influenced music, and I wished I’d paid closer attention when I first heard the name.  I’m paying closer attention now, and will be listening to Django and his descendants as much as I can today.

Postscript: I’ve just been advised that the name “Django” has a long history of use in “spaghetti westerns.”

Scotland, Day 6:

OK, back to Scotland – to the Highlands around Inverness and Loch Ness.

Day 6 - Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

Our chariot

We spent three nights at Castle Stuart near Inverness, with two full days in between.  The first day, we had arranged to be picked up on a three-passenger, three-wheeled motorcycle (a “trike”) for an extended tour down the coast of Loch Ness, which – apart from its renown as the haunt of a certain “monster” – is also the second largest inland body of water in Scotland.

The highlight of the tour was the hour-plus we spent exploring the ruins of Urquhart (they pronounce it “ur-kit” Castle, a massive 15th/16th century edifice that was destroyed by its own defenders rather than let it fall into the hands of  English occupiers.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

sticky = good

After the trike tour, we returned to the Castle Stuart, and then ventured out on our own to the village of Nairn, a few miles to the east, where we found ourselves a lovely little bistro that served what may have been the best sticky toffee pudding we had on the whole trip.  And we had a lot of ’em. Like… one every day.

Here’s a video slide show of the day. Find the individual photos here.

View the other video slideshows from our trip to Scotland here and the individual photo galleries here.