Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy Graduation

African Hope Learning Center Graduation, June 17, 2008, Cairo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Last Halloween

Random, right? I know. From last Halloween, back in Virginia, smoke-break outside of the office. That's Steve. I've been sitting here running photoshop actions, trying to update the photos section on the AUDS website, but I seemed to have forgotten the password and login. I know I have it at home somewhere, but I still have an hour and a half left before the library closes, plus a red-eye in me I just drank, so I find myself cruising through my harddrive, finding little surprises, random drifters from strips of film and floating folders. I think this is a walmart film scan at its finest - grainy with a wacky color cast and small enough file-size to not be able to do anything about it. All's well though - it's raining outside, but it's a bayou-party in my head thanks to Clifton Chenier and Bogalusa Boogie. Watching Buddy Guy the other night and posting the picture below, I almost made the statement that Junior Wells' album Hoodoo Man Blues was the greatest album of all-time - a bold statement, I know, but I decided against it. Now I think I want to give that declaration to Bogalusa Boogie - this album was recorded in the studio, but LIVE in the studio - this is what these guys SOUNDED LIKE on STAGE playing dances. That's sort of mind-boggling to me, that they sounded this good. Everyone should get it and listen to it, for no other reason even than to listen to Clifton's brother Cleveland play the rubboard - it's freaking amazing. Get some headphones.

Bicycle Shop

I'm in the middle of editing a whole load of photos from Egypt, trying to get caught up and do some work that I owe the AUDS guys back in Cairo. Right now I sit in the reference section of the Everett Public Library, listening to Bill Evans play with Stan Getz on my headphones, and just generally let memories flood back into place from long walks through the "real" Cairo with Zee last month. The photo above is a quick portrait I snapped of a family who saw me walking by one day with Zee. The father and son were outside working on a couple bikes, and they asked me to take a picture, so we gathered the family and made just two frames. I had Zee translate for me and tell them I'd bring them a print in a couple days - imagine their surprise when I actually did! It definitely earned me a friendly "Salaam" whenever I walked by from then on. It's funny how in these digital days how seldom I give prints to folks - I'm trying to change that habit as much as possible - sort of a mid-year's resolution. Anyway, back to the editing board.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Buddy Guy

I'll be trying to steadily get rolling with some updates over the next few days. This was sort of a no-brainer for me to get going with - Buddy Guy. Tonight.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

July 4th Weekend

A bit of a preface to what comes below: I am writing this all down mainly to try and remember everything I saw. I was lucky enough to take one of the most scenic routes across the American West possible as I journeyed up to Everett, Washington to start an internship tomorrow. Unfortunately, time was an issue, so I had to make the trip without much time for stopping to enjoy the countless mountains, towns, rivers, forests and deserts filling the space from horizon to horizon along the highways and interstates I sped along (by speed I mean either 55 or 62 mph which are the speeds that maximize my gas mileage ... over 4 bucks a gallon! you'd drive slow too!) Anyway, I talk about smells a lot as my car's A/C is effectively broken, so the windows were open a lot. I wish I had had the energy to write down my thoughts each night, but after 15, 17 and 13 hour days driving, I wasn't exactly feeling like doing anything other than passing out. OK, so why all the words and no pictures? Well, they're all on film right now. No digital camera equals no immediate gratification. So writing will have to do ... I don't know if this will be worse for me or you :)

What more fitting way to celebrate the birth of one's country than to spend three days driving across its awesome frontier. From Austin, TX to Everett, Washington, well over 2,000 miles through the West I rolled alone, crossing paths with Lewis and Clark, following the Oregon Trail, and passing through countless Native American tribal lands. All ironic thought essentially melted away though with the deepening sunburn on my left arm, as I was confronted by the sheer magnitude of the land and its myriad forms along the way.

The smell of 4th of July BBQ invaded my windows from the west Texas towns along 183 that afternoon of my first day. Dotted with scrub brush and Dairy Queens, towns like Goldthwaite and Rising Star mark where the hill country gently gives way to the prairie of the Great Plains of the Texas Panhandle where the horizon somehow stretched even further than the oblivion of my restless mind, wrapped as it was in the throes of those countless miles between Abilene and Amarillo. As the sun casts its last, long shadows across cotton and cattle fields, a smell so wholly opposite but also so intertwined with the earlier aroma of BBQ makes it almost easy to say goodbye to Texas that night as 87 takes me through Texline and into New Mexico.

What blessed relief met my tired mind as a new smell filled my nose upon driving into Cimarron, New Mexico, a smell invoking the memories of my teenage years spent traipsing through its source - the Carson National Forest. I truly feel at home as I pull into my parent's driveway in Angel Fire that night/early morning. That feeling is only strengthened as I cross the Rio Grande the next morning and continue through more of the 1.5 million acres of protected land. The gentle valleys and meadows are truly unparalleled in beauty along the stretch of 64 between the Enchanted Circle (Taos, Angel Fire and Red River) and Colorado. The land becomes less gentle as 160 twists through the alpine wilderness of Pagosa Springs, Durango and then Cortez where the land gives way to something entirely new.

I had been to Utah before, but never to the Canyonlands that surround 191 up through Moab. This unbelievable desert with its tall, sandy red rock mountains jutting forth impossibly all around you is an area that I will someday have to return to with more time on my hands. It was at this point in the trip where it started to sink-in just what a difference our national and state parks system makes in preserving the rugged, expansive beauty of this country. The profound difference between traveling through protected wilderness and private land was so tangible on this trip. The chance to experience this earth unspoiled is truly a freedom and right we must demand and respect.

From Moab it was on to Salt Lake City where I watched the sunset over the lake and mountains while driving north from the city. I don't think I will ever forget the intense, burning red of the sun's orb outlining the mountains in such intense flame. It seemed to hover in this halfway-set state forever, one third of it just peeking over the silhouette of the mountains, throwing its rays over and into the sky while the vastness of the lake reflected and magnified the entire display. The intensity of that orange, so deep, so vibrant, so impossibly intense and immediate, is permanently burned into my mind (figuratively ... although I was staring). And then how it just as quickly was over. The sun hidden, the flames of orange gone, replaced with a pink gentle against the clouds as it the sky faded away towards black. A black accompanied 5 more hours on the road that night.

Tumbleweeds accompanied my drive early that next morning only to break through the flatlands once again and onto the route of the Oregon Trail along Interstate 84. There mountains broke way into lush valleys full of rolling farm land, all verdant and green, light splashing through sifting clouds, the clouds whose shadows I'd been bobbing in and out of for three days. Oscillating between flatlands and then mountains, through passes to more farmland only to see more mountains in the distance, only to have the cycle play through again.

But suddenly the impossible happened. I found myself at a rest stop in the Snoqualmie Pass along Interstate 90 where the local volunteer fire department handed me a much needed free coffee. With that kindly cup I found myself a mere 90 miles from Seattle and squarely in what pictures and postcards had told me was the pacific northwest: Steep, tree-filled mountains towered above me on all sides as rain poured gently on the lakes lapping up against the highway. I could imagine the hearty loggers and trappers that filled my history and story books. They suddenly inhabited a concrete world, one of wet, rugged beauty.

Thus baptized I emerged out of the mountains and into the setting sun across Seattle. This city, which I glimpsed for the first time yesterday, could not be more opposite the city of my birth, Houston, TX. Growing up in a world flat and spread out, how jarring and charming to see this city built straight up and everywhere with its tunnels and bridges, twists and turns, and water. Water! Boats and water somehow everywhere. Amazing.

Everett is equally foreign and wonderful right now. I walked to the beach today. Folks let their dogs run free and a couple dug for fresh clams. It's July and I'm wearing a sweater. The newspaper office looks out over the port. Exactly one week ago I was still in Cairo. This is definitely not a desert. The possibilities seem endless right now.