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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spain- Burying the Dead

How do you bury the dead if your village is located on a mountain of solid granite?
The stunning and very bohemian village of Gaucin, 600 feet above sea level in the Sierra Blanco range, has a cemetery that uses a very common Spanish approach to recognizing the dead.

Digging holes into solid rock is not a practical option. Instead, many of the mountainous villages on the coast use vaults as a way of remembering the dead. Space on the narrow mountaintops is an issue so the vaults are small in size and uniform in look.

Each vault is decorated differently- from elaborate Christian imagery etched on marble, to simple crosses next to a photograph of the deceased. Some had as little as a single flower. A moving experience.

The village of Gaucin is one of the most unique villages I've explored. It is part of the White Villages of the coast. On this link Rick Steves writes about his visit to Arcos De La Fontera- another incredible village. De La Fontera means the front line. The villages were built as part of a military fort system by the Catholics
near the Moorish Muslim enclaves. There are about a dozen of these white clusters of villages nestled into the sides of mountains.

In Gaucin, narrow alleys, a handful of unique art galleries, amazing views, and tapas bars make this a place worth visiting.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spain- Alone on a Beach

I love black and white photography. I really love beaches. So why not combine them...
The beaches of southern Spain have trees growing on them! Not just little whimpy ones, but great big palm trees and oak looking types. It's really amazing.

On this particular evening, a storm was slowly brewing off the coast. Great big nasty looking clouds were slowly rolling in behind a blustery gale. All you could hear was the smashing of the palm fords and the crashing of waves. Really awesome.

I thought the combination of the individual trees and the darkening skies on the empty beaches would be an interesting subject. I like composing images dealing with isolation themes- hence the result.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spain- Be Afriad of the Dark.

Why are we afraid of the dark? What is about it that scares us.
Our brains, so used to the seeing everything in light, can't decipher the strange shapes the shadows create on objects. Our minds push our senses further into the dark corners, nightmares, created by the blackness after the sun sets. We crave light because it makes us feel safe- we can see. And we fear the approaching shadows.

It's also one of the most exciting times to take pictures. Not only are the images pretty cool, but the technical aspects are demanding. The challenges of working in low light are immense. You need to balance a slow enough shutter with the right aperture. If you don't balance you will either blur everything or blowout the whites. Most photographers cannot hold a camera steady enough with a shutter speed of less than 1/20th. My trick if I don't have a tripod (which is pretty much always) is to breathe. If you hold your breath, you will increase the shakes. So I breathe gently through the process.

But the results of nightime imagery can be dramatic.
San Pedor is a lively little city by the Med. During the day it is a busy with shoppers, families, cars and motorcycles- loads of coffee shops and restaurants, with an exciting energy to the city. It is one of my favorite cities on the coast because it is still very Spanish in style. It caters to vacationing Spanish families.

But the place takes on a different look at night. Last night after dinner at Alfredos I walked around the town taking pictures.
I used my 50 mm f 1.8. What a lens! Less than a $100. I highly recommend one for any Canon body owner.
I shot all these without a tripod, and set the camera to BW with a slightly higher contrast setting in the Canon 5D. I was really impressed with the results. The only editing was in Lightroom where I added some vignetting or in some cases I increased the "dark" range on the curves.

The results contrast this lovely city. Suddenly, San Pedro feels like a run down dodgy place. The shadows from the single streets lamps really added to the effect as they feathered their lights over the walls and windows.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Spain- The Death Zone

So the death zone is typically around 8000 feet. Nothing lives at that altitude and only nut jobs hike into that region.
My own climb today took me to about 200 feet above sea level- high enough for a nutter like me. There is a very cool Moorish castle, in ruins, perched on a lovely hill overlooking 4 valleys. It's a tricky climb up the last 50 feet, but the view is amazing. Course, unlike the death Zone, there are plenty of plants and flowers flourishing along the route- even the occasional lizard and bird.
Macro imagery is not something I do a lot of- not really sure why as I love what other macro photogs do. For these shots, I kept the 24-70 at around 3.2f- mostly to blur out the background. It's still early in the summer for the color to be strong enough to not wash out the images. A month from now everything is dusty and dry. Not ideal conditions.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spain- Dive an Alley...

In some places, you should never do down alleys- places like, let's see... hmmm, East St. Louis.
But in the villages of southern Spain, you must go down the narrow, at times dodgy, and in many cases totally amazing side streets. It is down these paths that the real fun begins. It’s here real travelers earn their stripes. It’s called alley diving- the headlong pursuit of adventure.

Have courage and go.
Or in the words of former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, my least favorite Def. Secretary, (I do have a favorite), lean forward!My most memorable memories have come from walking randomly through towns- picking alleys (the ify-ier the better) and seeing what comes up.
Over the years I’ve bumped into a former opera singer- then 90 + years old- sitting with an old dog outside his door singing at the top of his lungs, or the family butchering a screaming hog while his kids watched wide eyed, or the sweet old chatty lady who shared some nasty home made booze, or the former CIA agent ( hmmm really) and his assassination stories, or the most educated drug dealer I’ve ever met ( 5 languages!), or the…
Cheers to the people I’ve met down these alleys.
Traveling is not always about the monuments, the food, the exchange rates- it’s about the people you meet, the people you share a moment in time with, and then leave.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spain- My Sexy Beast...

Bloody Hell.
I'm Sweatin' here.
Bakin'. Swelterin'.
It's like a sauna.A furnace
.You could fry an egg on my stomach.
Ohh...Ooh, now that is hot.
It's ridiculous.
These lines open the totally amazing film, Sexy Beast, filmed in the sweltering hills of
Southern Spain. Don Logan, played by Ben Kingsley, is the nastiest, most vicious character I have ever
watched. I love how the main character, Gal, describes the insane heat of Costa Del
Sol in the summer. It's Fan-dabby-dozy-tastic.
What do I love about a bloody hot beach? It's the muffled sounds- of the waves, seagulls,
kids screeching, adults talking- but always muffled. It's the compression of everything-
the weight of the heat, the sun, the massive sky- all bearing down with intensity on
your body. It's the massiveness of everything- never ending beaches, and the terrifying
size and depth of the sea- a real Leviathan within reach.
But above all its the tremendous, roasting, ridiculous heat!
Bloody amazing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Spain- Fish and more Fish...

If you love eating fish, then Costa Del Sol, the Sun Coast of Spain, is a fantastic place to visit. I'm very fortunate to have parents who have retired here- in a wonderful village local at the foot of the Benahavis community.
I've been coming here for about 5 years, and each time, we eat at some wonderful little places. This time I thought I'd share my eating experiences (one of my passions) with my other passion (photography).
Restaurante El Abreuadero, is very typical of the beach bars along the south coast in terms of setup and food. This one is located on the wonderful promenade in San Pedro, a typical Spanish town unlike the glam and glitz of Marbella. The restaurant is right by the beach and there are tons of room for the kids to run around safely.
The food is pretty standard in terms of items you get at beach bars- much like toasted Ravioli in St Louis. Starters for us consisted of 2 salads- a veggie lettuce number with beets, corn, onions, olives, and peppers doused in olive oil and lemon juice. Everything was fresh, crisp and loaded with flavor. No need to drown it in Ranch dressing. The second was a stewed red pepper salad in olive oil. Olive are the main cash crop in Andalucia so everything is cooked or presented in olive oil. Spanish olive oil is amazing- flavorful and light unlike Greek oil which has a very strong after taste.The main meal consisted of mostly fish- all local and all fresh. By fresh I mean caught within 24 hours off the coast of where we were eating. Again, the items are pretty typical of most places. It should be noted this is not tapas type items. That is a whole different set up. For this meal we had chicken grilled on skewers seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil (LJOO). LJOO is the standard seasoning and it works so well- a clean crisp flavor. The Rasado fish is a chunkier meatier fish caught in the Med and fried in this case. This is my personal favorite.
Another favorite is fried baby Anchoives or Boquerones. They are a delightful crunchy fish with a zesty flavor. Bones are not an issue. This is a classic Analucia coast dish.
The final set involved Calamares which was tasty. The chewiness factor was just right. We also had a very salty grilled Sardines. These are not my favorite. You have to work too hard to get the bones off the meat and the saltiness overpowers the fish taste.
To end there is the usual ice cream or creme caramel items. But the real treat is always the strong Cafe Con Leche- strong coffee with warm milk. Good stuff at anytime of day.
I am looking forward to trying some new dishes this summer as I explore the real Andalucia dishes.
All these images were taken with my 85mm 1.8, Canon 5D. This is one of my favorite lenses mostly because of the speed. When shooting at dusk, the larger aperture really helps. I also wanted to get the dishes as they were being handed around- so getting hands in the shot was an important. I thought it would give the images a more realistic feel as opposed to the staged shot you see in Sauce magazine.