Photo 101: FIVE-in-ONE 1. TREASURE & CLOSE-UP
I’ve said it before: everything is relative. What is garbage to you may be gold in someone else’s eyes. A chicken is a tasty supper to one person. To another, a loved and treasured pet. This rooster is a treasure to his owner (at this point in his life). Cock fighting is not exactly legal in Indonesia. And gambling is very illegal, but you still see cock fights, sometimes under the guise of a religious blood-letting ceremony, so police look the other way at those times. Sometimes, the fights are just illegal, and police will haul your fine ass off to jail. Most every time, sanctioned or not, it ends poorly for one of the cocks and usually gets pretty messy since the birds have razor-sharp blades (called taji) attached to one of their legs. Then one or both of them, depending on their wounds, may become dinner. Along any road in Bali, you may see cocks held under this type of basket, awaiting their destiny.
I’m not going to lie to you and try to make you believe I’m a man’s man—a guy who likes to hunt and fish and fix carburetors on old cars and scream for the Green Bay Packers (or Manchester United) every Monday night. I don’t kill animals. Pulling a huge hook out of a beautiful marlin or a 30-pound mahimahi is even worse. And football, sure I like watching it, but I have no favorite team, I just want to see someone who’s making 10 million dollars a year do what he’s paid that kind of money to do, whether it’s American football or rest-of-the-world football. So I don’t collect moose heads for my wall or sailfish over the mantel.
I am a collector, though. Usually, what I collect is something I find while traveling, so generally it is going to be lightweight. Right there—on my office wall—I have a woman’s sarong, which hangs from an artistically designed, hand-carved piece of teak. I don’t usually buy tourist trinkets. I don’t own a miniature of the Eiffel Tower. A few years ago, I was in Legian Beach on Bali, simply cruising the streets and alleys, not shopping. I stopped at this one shop because they had teak statues of Buddha displayed right next to a heap of teak bottle openers shaped like giant penises. How can you not stop and photograph something like that? The lady wanted to sell me something so bad, she would not stop offering me deals. I told her repeatedly I didn’t want a teak penis at any price. She continued her harangue. I did admire her sarong, which was unlike any other I had ever seen on Bali; it was very professionally done, a unique design of batik in shades of brown—my favorite color. I facetiously told her I would buy her sarong. She disappeared, came back in a different sarong, handed me hers, slightly damp from the humidity. Right, I told you—any guy who buys a sarong right off a woman’s hips and hangs it on his office wall is not a man’s man. My only excuse is this: it is very light weight, dude. And you have to admit, for a sarong, it is more masculine than most. And in Bali, men wear sarongs. But yeah, I hear what you’re thinking.
2. GLASS & SQUARED
I was not always like this. Years ago, when I began my wandering and traveling, a hotel room was the least important thing. I often spent less than $10 a night for a hotel room, less than $5 many times. We’re not talking the Ritz, we’re talking mosquito nets and hole-in-the-floor toilets down the hall. I spent very little time in my rooms, mostly only to sleep. I was traveling, 3 to 6 months at a time, to see what was in the country, not hang out in a hotel room. However, I would spend hours looking for a room. Even after I had a room, I would look at various other places searching for one that made the most sense. It was a “thing” for me…to look at rooms. I should have written for Lonely Planet. These days, when traveling, and visiting a foreign land for extended periods of time, I like to have more space than a hotel room, but more importantly—a refrigerator. In places like Bali, you can rent houses fairly inexpensively. I still have a “thing” for looking at potential places to stay. This house, an antique Javanese joglo, sits next to a forest of coconut palms right at the edge of a beautiful and vast rice field. It was not cheap. If you want to eat dinner, you better pray a monsoon doesn’t drift in. Obviously, that glass room and the stove were not part of the original home.
Yale University has been operating in New Haven, CT, since 1701 and is arguably one of the world’s finest, or at least highest-ranking, universities. The campus is a maze of classic buildings, but you may be surprised to hear that there is very little ivy growing on their walls as it once did profusely. Apparently ivy ruins buildings; the roots mess with the mortar, and the vines hold moisture in the rock, causing dampness and mold. So much for natural beauty adorning ivy league schools. Yale’s mascot is the bulldog. If you’re standing at a bus stop at the right time when a bus comes by, you might see something like this in the window if you’re lucky.
3. EDGE & ALIGNMENT
You can find many things in Amsterdam: cafés, hotels, trams, windmills, tulips, awesome architecture, funny tobacco, pubs with no Australians, cheese. There is one thing you won’t find too many of in Amsterdam: doors in need of paint. I remember when I was young, there was a paint made by a company called Dutch Boy Paint. Is Holland famous for paint? And why isn’t it called Holland anymore?
Besides the beauty of the canals in Amsterdam, one of the things that strikes me most is the beauty of the doors. Not just the way they are made. “Dutch doors” are really cool, but all doors there are not made that way, cut in half. It’s the way the doors are painted. There is something very…hmmm, what’s the word? Maybe it’s about “quality.” The paint has a luster. A gleam. A persona all its own. A weight, a dimension. As though it were 30 layers thick, and almost creamy.
What can we say about the beauty of a rice paddy that we haven’t all heard before? I’m showing this photo here because even though the top level of the field is not a razor-sharp edge, such as a door or a step, I thought it a good idea to “align” that top terrace. That’s my excuse for having this photo in the “edge” section. That, and because I love the uniqueness of this particular rice paddy, which lies half an hour by motorbike outside the village of Ubud, on Bali. You can photograph rice fields a number of ways. If you want a gleaming effect, as opposed to a flatter or duller effect, you have to get there when the sun shines behind it at a low angle. The “dull” effect is not a bad effect, just different. And of course, it’s always cool if someone is working the field when you arrive. Which happens often because it literally takes a village to raise a field of rice.
4. DOUBLE & ROTATION
Galungan and Kuningan are the two days that mark the beginning and end of a 10-day festival, one of the most important to the Balinese. Bamboo poles decorated with coconut palm fronds are erected outside homes and line the streets of the villages. The pole, called a penjor, rises straight up, bends from the weight, and then dangles these pieces at the end (bottom of photo is the bending top of another penjor). Celebrants wear their finest traditional attire to attend temple ceremonies with their families. They offer fruits to the temple and family shrines. Groups of kids play drums and gongs for others dressed in a barong costume. It seems to be a very festive occasion. My friend Made (mah-day), a traditional healer living in Ubud, told me that the spirits of their ancestors arrive on Galungan, the first day of the festival, and they leave again on Kuningan, the final day of festivities.
Say you find yourself holed up in your hotel room in the town of Puno, located on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca, and freezing your buns off because your hotel has no central heating, and one large fireplace in the lobby/restaurant area, and the space heaters in your room, though large, can’t keep up with the frigid air outside (with little insulation in the walls) at an elevation of something like a gazillion feet—where it’s so difficult to breath you can barely move, so you chew coca leaves to alleviate the problem (because it’s legal and you can). Say you enjoy the view of the lake and the snow-capped mountains of Brazil lying on the other side in the far distance. Say you like it here—the ambiance, the culture, the other-worldly nature. But say one day you think: “enough is enough.” You haul your frozen buns down to the Puno train station and book a first-class seat to Cuzco, with an elevation not much lower, but at this point, you’re thinking every inch might help, and in a larger city, maybe someone had a forethought about heat. Your train ride is worth every penny; they serve good food and pisco (local brew with a wallop); you hang in the big-windowed viewing car; a stunning canvas of mountain scenery unrolls outside.
5. TRIUMPH & CONTRAST
If you head out of the village of Ubud on Jalan Raya toward the Antonio Blanco Museum and cross the Sungai River bridge, you will begin to climb a long hill. A mile or so up, you will see a set of stone stairs leading up to the rice fields of Penestanan, where many foreigners have built homes in the fields. A shame really, because this area was once very unique and beautiful, a few houses with long views of rice fields. Now it is the burbs, Bali style. Still cool, and homes are unique, but instead of having a view of rice fields, you now have a view of your neighbor’s nice house, or his stone-wall fence. Sometimes, progress and making money ruins some things. Still, there are no roads into the area; people use former rice field paths, some cemented over for ease of walking. The only way to build in this area is for a human being to carry your materials—cement, bricks, rebar—up the many steep steps from below. There are so many steps, it is rather difficult to climb even without carrying a load on your back. You see gangs of women performing this kind of work, usually not men, and usually the women are not young. It’s a triumph every time you see them reach the top. Most Balinese like having their picture taken. These women, hauling lava rock to build a house foundation, could not understand why I wanted to pay them for taking their photograph.
If you’ve read Eat Pray Love, you know Bali can seem magical. I find it magical not because you might find your next lover there; nor because they’ve got world-class yoga courses running all day; nor because if you want to hear Australian spoken, all you need do is walk to the nearest pub; nor because Balinese food makes your taste buds climax and scream for more. I find Bali magical because you can walk out of Starbucks, hike off into the wild, climb a steep hill with the sun at your back and discover a spot like this where you see nothing before you but your shadow and lush land all the way to the horizon. Yay!
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what’s up with the title of this post: Sympathy for the Devil. Yeah, about that. I’m still ambivalent about power blogging. We’ve discovered that one thing power bloggers may do is to post a number of times in one day, many days. And last week, I felt a little embarrassed to have done exactly that, post twice in one day, because of time constraints. Why do I feel bad, and why do I simultaneously feel sympathy for power bloggers, especially those devils making 20,000 bucks a week? Why am I still ambivalent? Here’s the thing. I was frustrated because all the emails from sites I followed hindered my finding my actual email messages. One fixes that issue (I learned from a couple lovely followers) by utilizing the functions for fixing that issue in the “Blogs I Follow” cog. It’s really a cool function. You can select to get email from blogs “instantly” or “daily” or “weekly,” and you can choose the day they will arrive in your box. When they arrive, you get a scroll of all that blogger has posted in the week, or day. So bloggers you want to get immediately, you get immediately. Those you can wait to read, you get later. Voila! Mailbox fixed (uh, until the day they all arrive…but it’s one email, not each separate post).
But here’s the other thing: for some unknowable reason, the day after I posted twice last week, I got a message from WP stating that I had broken my previous record for receiving “likes in one day.” It was not all that many likes, really, compared to some sites I’ve seen who get hundreds of likes, but hell, it broke my personal best. And, I got more “likes” later in that week than any of my previous posts ever got. It went viral—OK, OK, the term viral is relative, also. It did not go viral viral, it went relative-to-my-history viral. What’s a blogger supposed to do with information like this is all I’m saying? I mean, I have an ego. I like to be liked. And…I don’t want to become a nuisance. Ergo: ambivalence. And worse—who knows if posting twice was the cause for all the likes…can’t really see how it was. Does anyone actually believe in coincidence?