Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Painted Veil

My camera has been having a bit of a rest lately - which also means I've had nothing to say on the blog for nearly two weeks!
Well, on the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words I would have had to have written an awful lot of words to make up for the lack of pictures. In fact the two real reasons for not writing much lately are
1. I've had nothing to say (I know... it hasn't stopped me before)
2. I've been pretty busy doing some real work, including three funerals in a week. (It happens like this some times)
I did have some time on Monday, however, to watch a movie on DVD - "The Painted Veil."
I really enjoyed it and would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story well told. (It's the third film version of the story by W. Somerset Maugham.)
I enjoyed it mainly because of the sumptious cinematography that captures magnificently both beauty and ugliness, but also because of excellent performances from Naomi Watts and Edward Norton (pictured above.)
One of my favourite lines in the movie, however, is delivered by Diana Rigg, playing the part of a nun. She says: "When love and duty are one, then grace is within you."
In these days when plot and action and special effects seem to be the all important ingredients there are far too few films that take the time to show character development and even transformation. But this is one of the few.
If you haven't seen it yet - take a trip to the video library. It's worth a look.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Morning reflections

Well - no surprises last night then! Georgia 2 - Scotland 0.
I had a bad feeling about it. I kind of knew we would revert to type.
Still - all we have to do now is beat Italy....
Should be easy don't you think?
After all they are only the world champions.
Never mind - we couldn't lose out to a better country.
I'll console myself with this classic view of San Giorgio Maggiore...
Oh no - 'San Giorgio Maggiore' ...sounds like the Italian for "Isn't Georgia bigger and better?"
(OK - I know what it really means before you start correcting me.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The big question

The big question!!
No - not 'what is the meaning of life?' but 'Can Scotland do it tonight?'
Can we beat Georgia in the Euro qualifier?
One thing seems almost certain - if we don't make it to the finals it will only be because Scotland has an incredible knack of finding new ways to only just miss out or to fall at the last hurdle. But, maybe tonight... followed by a win or draw against Italy....

Monday, October 15, 2007


One of the things I like about Italy is the status of the Italian waiter. Serving others at table is an honourable profession, and not thought of as some menial task, or some sort of stop-gap employment to be done by out of work actors or students or immigrant workers who can't get any other kind of employment. As a consequence they take the job seriously and everything is done with a flourish.
I liked these two guys who work at 'Antico Capon' in Campo Santa Margharita. I remembered both of them from previous visits to Venice. Naturally, they were never going to remember me among the thousands of customers they serve.
I've forgotten their names already, but the one on the right is the one who actually waited on us at the table. The one on the left had a different job altogether and it was fun watching him do it. His job was to get people to decide to stop at 'Antico Capon' for a meal. When we came along he didn't have to work at all as we were already planning to eat there anyway but it was great fun just to watch him go about his business using every possible trick in the book to get folks' attention and draw them in. Enthusiastic, smiling, sometimes loud, there was never the slightest hint of embarrassment on his part, and he never got upset when any of his invitations were rejected. He was clearly trying to guess from a distance what nationality passers-by might be so that he could choose his language accordingly. If he didn't know, he just said 'hello' in every language he could think of.
He was trying to reel people in like an angler, and in fact he was able to 'land' most of those who paused even for a moment to take the initial bait, although one or two got away. We had great fun trying to predict who would and who would not take the bait.
As I watched him working the passing crowd, I wondered if this is this is the kind of thing that Jesus meant when he told Simon Peter he was going to make him a fisher of men?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wings to fly

In the so-called Piazetta of St. Mark's Square, Venice, near the water's edge stand two tall Byzantine granite pillars. On top of one you will see the figure of St. Theodore, the first patron saint of the city, proudly holding his shield and spear. On top of the other is the winged lion of St. Mark, which you find all over the city, and on the Venetian flag.
And on top of that...
... at least for a moment or two the other week...
there stood a proud gull.
I don't know how much thinking seagulls ever do, but I can imagine this one thinking.
As it first looked upwards to the golden winged angel on top of the campanile, then down at the winged lion on whose back it stood...
"Your wings may look more impressive than mine, but I can actually fly you know!"
Something to think about.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


If you want to see loads of Italian Renaissance Art, Venice is one of the places to go. The place is overflowing with it, or almost sinking under the weight of it, to vary the overstated metaphor.
Never mind the art galleries: every church has its Bellini, Titian or Tintoretto (usually several, in fact.) After a while it can get a bit much.
For some relief from all of this overwhelmingly religious imagery, you can call in at the late Peggy Guggenheim's house (just don't make the mistake of ordering anything in the tearoom/cafe there - it will cost you the price of a small painting, if and when it finally arrives, and it won't be worth eating anyway!! -You can see we had a bad experience there.)
It is, of course, a museum displaying some of Peggy Guggenheim's amazing collection of modern art - very different in style and subject matter from all of the Renaissance stuff...
you can find 'art' in the streets.
I'm not sure whether this object pictured above could really be considered as a work of art or simply as a political 'flyer.' It is certainly preaching an environmentalist message and it is a stark reminder to all the tourists and visitors like myself who arrive in Venice by air, that we may be leaving some rather large (size 12+) carbon footprints for the sake of a short break.
Well, it made me think.
But, will it make me change my behaviour?
Does any preaching do that?

One thing is certain: the crate above is not going to get off the ground any time soon. It is going nowhere. And that's the problem with the environmental issue too. We need to find new ways of fuelling transport because the long term answer cannot be for us all to stay in our own little corners.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Daft hands

Talking about creativity and original ideas, what about this for an original idea?
Bizarre, but genius all the same. (Thanks to my daughter for pointing me to this video.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Abstract reflections

I've said it before - there's a sense in which the camera always lies. That is - a photograph is not reality itself: it is merely a creative interpretation of one aspect of that reality, a freezing still of a moment in time. This is, in itself, a distortion of reality; for we do not experience life as separate, or even separable, static moments: it is a moving continuum, like a river.
However, distortion is not the same as deceit, for it is possible sometimes to capture just the right moment which expresses the essence of a place, or a time, or an event, or (and this is much harder to do) of a person. In this sense it is, like bending palm leaves into 'locusts,' an act of creative transformation.
Water provides the photographer with some of the best opportunities for doing this, precisely because it is usually something moving. You can vary the exposure time to make reflections in water look like molten metal or smudged paint. Depending on how far you take it you can even create almost totally abstract patterns. The picture above doesn't quite go that far, but it is almost there.
What people sometimes fail to realise is that words are often just as much distortions (or at least interpretations) of reality as pictures. When we do take this into account we are much less likely to be arrogantly dogmatic in believing we have grasped the whole truth of anything.

A play of locusts?

The creativity, inventiveness and sheer skill of human beings never cease to amaze me.
Where do people get their ideas from?

I once watched two young boys in a little Greek village take an old metal container and, with nothing more than a couple of large stones, transform it into a boat which they could float on the water and play with. A toy out of almost nothing.

The picture above was snapped hurriedly last week in Venice as we passed this group of Chinese people transforming palm leaves into 'locusts' with just a few deft and well-practised twists and folds. They looked to me as if they could have made these things with their eyes closed.

Reach for the moon

Another picture from Venice...
On the basis of the old saying - that's another thousand words...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Keeping in touch

I know... I haven't blogged anything for ages.
But I have a good excuse, or at least an explanation. I spent last week in one of my favourite places in all the world (outside Scotland that is) - namely Venice. It was a treat for my second youngest daughter who recently graduated and who had not, until then, ever seen Venice, or any other part of Italy.
I've blogged before about why I find this place so special, particularly when it comes to taking photographs. It is always good, however, to see even the most familiar of places through the eyes of someone who has never seen the place before. (It was also good for me that Ailsa, like myself, enjoys a good espresso!!)
One of the things I like most about Venice, and which, in many respects sets it apart from so many other cities of the world, is that on one level it never seems to change. Not many new buildings here.
And yet... it is always different. The shifting light reflecting on the water sees to that. And there is always some little back alley that you haven't been lost in before.
In addition, because in some ways the backdrop stays more or less the same, you can pay more attention to the little details.
If you look closely at the photo above you might just spot one of those details...
Take a closer look at the gondolier.
He is not just resting his chin on his hand: he is talking on his mobile phone. Nothing unusual about that these days, I suppose, but there is a certain incongruity between this ubiquitous 21st century accessory and the 18th century mode of transport, not to mention his outfit.
The only time I've seen something like this yet even more incongruous was in the Masai Mara when I spotted a Masia nomadic herdsman walking barefoot with his cattle in traditional Masia dress with a mobile phone clipped on to his belt. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the ready that time.
How did we ever manage in the old days without our mobile phones?