Regatta

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You can actually feel it in the air: the chill has gone and warm weather is coming. And for a few weeks life will be really good, with moderate temperatures and the sun not yet burning everything to a sienna tone.

I sat on our balcony today, sipping a juice, half reading a book, half watching what was happening out in the marina.

Regatta!

Actually just a bunch of tourist boats drifting around the inner harbour of Docklands, but clearly a sign that the season has started. Or is about to.

Everybody pipes in, including some minister mumbling to the lord about grace and saviours and whatever. It was a bit strange, with a local MP (read: sociopath wanting to be elected) droning on about historical facts, a “Scottish” pipe band (yup, including that strange whirling of the drumsticks) and a local choir (ladies who still believe in all magnificence).

But good in an overall way. And the fire brigade had their own field day.

I mean, summer is coming and we go sailing. That’s a boat, good company, lovely weather and – as it is always 5PM somewhere – a dram. Or a beer.

So I’m a happy man, with all this happening right around me. And I’ll be the last one complaining about some guy with a cloak (white, with a burgundy cross!) wishing all sailors well.

Tall ships

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Having sailed on one of the, if not the, most beautiful clippers of current date, my eye will always lock on yards. I mean, modern sailing is all about sailing close to the wind. But there is something about yards and square sails. About finding the passat winds and sailing around the world without any of the tools we perceive as “normal” nowadays.

Of course it is also because of the link back to my grandfather. And that painting of “Passat”, a four mast barque. My history. Stories over cigarette smoke and a dram of brandy.

But is also because of the beauty of man conquering the seas, traveling way beyond the horizons. Returning with stories about beautiful coasts, adventure, meeting with strange folk.

So I was pretty content seeing this replica sailing right by our balcony. Even though it was a bit of a fake, mostly operated for tourists. But I have the memories of long ocean swells, winds picking up to levels beyond belief and the whole ship creaking from stress. The speed. Magnificent.

So, well done, little square rigger. Good memories brought back to the front.

Hue

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Temperatures far above any comfort level, humidity so that anything even remotely colder is dripping with water and a scenery that is shimmering in historical light.

Hue, Vietnam. City of the Perfume river.

And a battle between US marines and North Vietnamese troops. Destroying the place that was once even the capital. The place of emperical gardens and a citadel of unbelievable beauty.

So there I was, in a hotel on the south bank of the Perfume river that would not pass any hygienic inspection anywhere in Europe. Bland, dull and barely clean. Reminiscent of East German DDR architecture. Forbidding. Ugly.

Only when I saw a couple of geckos crossing the ceiling like there was no gravity did I understand that this place could be cleaner than I thought. And more special.

Geckos hunt mosquitos and other creepy crawlers. And when you marry, folks present you and your new wife with a pair of geckos for your new house. Bringing good luck.

The Perfume river right below my balcony … suddenly I felt overwhelmed with the historical impact of this place.

Fog closed in and the world turned opaque. I was fiddling with my camera and had the feeling I could capture just that one shot … 

There! The river playing it’s magic tricks. 

Poffertjes

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Sunday morning in Docklands. Most people tell me that this suburb is too quiet, without a soul.

Well, I beg to differ. Perhaps during winter, but with Spring right around the corner, things are quite lively.

As Melbourne goes, food is available everywhere. And this being a very international multi cultural city, you can of course get poffertjes …

Wait. WHAT? The small Dutch pancakes, with butter and sugar?

Christine tried to make some Aussies to pronounce it correctly. I walked over and found out that the two ladies had no clue either.

It must be the “tjes” bit.

Rain

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I was visiting an airshow, quite surprised it was right around the corner. I’d been to Duxford (UK) and Oshkosh (USA) and never realized that just one city further along the track was another – quite good – exhibition.

It made for some nice captures, albeit that the rain – common factor in the Netherlands – interfered.

Now think “airfield” and it will probably not enter your mind that that also means “open fields”. Like “no cover”. Until it starts raining. Hard.

Everybody ran away to whatever roof over their heads they could find, most not succeeding and getting thouroughly wet. Some ending up under the one wing that was close by and still getting wet, wings being kind of … aerodynamic and so prone to letting air kind of flow around it. Including the water.

Right in front of me were a mother and daughter under an umbrella. I just stepped forward and told them that I was “family” for the duration of the downpour. They accepted, not totally sure what to do with almost two meters of grinning looney.

“Keep your hands to yourself, sonny!”

Ah, just five meters away were father and son. Luckily they were grinning also.

And I got to take a photo in some comfort.

Rome

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There are a few cities that really touched me. Like a home coming. Rome is one of them.

The beauty of historical buildings, some going back some two milenia, being used in daily life is something that took my breath away. You actually touch history, while walking around, sipping a drink fresh water from one of the many springs – some of those still being fed by aqueducts –  or drinking a coffee on a terrace. 

And throughout its history, architects and artists added layer upon layer of new beauty.

Rome is also very photogenic. It is impossible to not see compositions, perspectives and colours that beg for being captured. Of course the most obvious places have been shot a zillion times, mostly by snap shooting tourists. And buy any calendar, look at any website or pick up a book and you will Rome as you know it. The Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel and of course the Vatican.

But walking through the smaller streets on your way to one of those hotspots, you can see anoither Rome, no less beautiful and certainly more original when captured.

I am sure I will revisit Rome.

Passat

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My grandfather’s room was quite large and had a big round table sitting in front of his oak desk. The walls were paneled with dark wood and the overall atmosphere was male. Cigarette smoke of dozens of years added to the brownish tonality of his world. 

He had positioned the old desk, made of a huge chest with a gnarled lid with a glass plate for writing on, in the left corner next to the door to the hallway. Looking up and over the table, he could see the garden through lace curtains, not disturbing his thoughts, but providing depth for his gaze.

Positioning the desk was smart, very smart. Even when my grandmother came into the room, he was still at an advantage. Not that he didn’t allow her to see what he was doing or that he was rude. On the contrary: without any effort he could keep his concentration by looking ahead. She knew better than to disturb him, but only came in to bring him a coffee or tea. I’m not sure if there was much love left, but they were very comfortable together. Or at least very used to each other.

Behind him was a book case, filled with books about astronomy, ships and the like. On the right most corner, just in his vision, was a bronze statue of a sailor, wearing a southwester and casting a line. On the left was a painting. Quite a big one. Of a ship. A tall ship. 

“Passat”.

When I see my grandfather, I see him sitting behind that desk, the painting behind him. He was always writing, sometimes on loose sheets of paper, sometimes on cards. Next to his pen, there were pencils. Black, red, green and blue. A bunch of rulers and a protractor completed the picture. And when looking closer, my recollection now vivid, I see him doing complex calculations, with angles and vectors, tangents meticulously scribbled in the sideline. Trigonometry, projected on a sphere. By hand, with calculations neatly worked out in pencil on a small paper on the side.

He was still setting a course and shooting stars, calculating his position somewhere on the ocean.

Every time I visited him – and I did so often – he would always put down his pen or pencil and talk about the things he had encountered during a rich lifetime. And while telling stories, he somehow always was able to put himself in a role that made him almost a casual observer. But when I listened carefully, I could only conclude that he had seen some strange sights. And that he must have been much more in the center of things, being a key person in the story, perhaps even the main character. 

Together we sailed, with a ship twisting and rolling, stars shining like so many lights and the wind whistling, sometimes roaring in our ears. Until we hit the doldrums. Worse, we even lost our bearings sometimes. Once or twice we lost the chronometer and so were unable to calculate our position. And somehow there was always a coast nearby, hidden in haze above the horizon. What to do? We didn’t know where we were and we were running into the rocks or on the sands if we didn’t take action!

It took me a while to catch on to the fact that the more exciting stories were always reflecting some deep logic. And that, oh wonder, there was always a connection to something that I was wrestling with. Sailor’s wisdom hidden in an adventure, instead of instructions to a boy. Seemingly simple truths, that still guide my life when I need think about where I want to go. Never blocking my own thoughts, always providing me with an anchor to keep me in a temporary stable position, enabling me to find my own course. 

He did that right up to the day he died. I was a lieutenant in the army then and my platoon was used to hearing the same simple wisdoms when things went pear shaped.

“I remember we were sailing close to the American coast and fog rolled in. We couldn’t see more than a ship’s length in front of us and were unsure of how far away the rocks still were. Now this is in a time when we had no radar or electronic beacons, so it was an interesting position to find ourselves in, to say the least. I talked with the captain about which action was best and we found our way to the harbor in good time.”

“You know, when you are sailing in the blind, there are actually only two courses that make real sense. Slow ahead or slow astern.”

The genius. I mean, how do you make someone find the wise solutions in life by himself, without playing teacher? Having had a perfect example, I could do the same with my troops, by starting a story how I remembered my grandfather telling me a story. 

So in way I managed to put myself even more in an observer role.

Trundling

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I love open fields, far horizons and empty beaches. It is like the space provides me with extra breath and energy. Of course there must be something to attract my attention. Little focus points that make my eyes skip from one to another.

Sometimes you find a real treasure, an addition to the landscape that lifts the spaciousness far above normal levels. A feature that leads your eyes and so your mind from here to that far horizon. And the realization that it is temporary – wind and water already nibbling at the edges – adds to the overall experience. 

I wonder if the driver ever looked back at what he created. Or that anyone else was lucky enough to stumble over the tracks and have a camera at hand.

Experiment

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I think that following “the rules” and “the processes” is OK for day to day life, but if you want to get somewhere, you will have to step outside off the boundaries sometimes. Not that you have to do that each and every time, but you should be aware that there is more than what is “commonly accepted”. But perhaps I am the funny card in the deck: I am a lone wolf mostly and tend to walk a different path anyway.

 So here was this magnificent photo exhibition in Naarden, the Netherlands. Really well set up, with photos outside on the old bastion walls, in the main church and in the casemates. And of course some of the photos are really beautiful.

Photography is about seeing and about light. So when I saw this photo of the New York blackout  and the church windows mirrored in the shiny surface, with me standing through it all, I just had to take the shot.

Light: check

Story: check

Colours: check

Take the picture!

click …

Eureka

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Melbourne CBD somehow feels like a village. That’s odd, as most of the buildings are taller than any building I’ve seen in the Netherlands. And the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere stands right next to CBD across the Yarra river: the Eureka tower. It doesn’t really show as being the highest building, as the other buildings are easily reaching 200 plus meters.

Of course we went to the top level and did the thing with the sliding room. A bit touristic, but kind of fun to be standing on a glass floor at almost 300 meters.

And it makes for some nice photogenic opportunities.

Off road

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I never thought I would say “Let’s go for a ride”, but after flying and sailing four wheel driving  is really something that provides a little adventure time after time. In our Toyota Landcruiser Prado, “the truck” for short.

Like flying, four wheel driving expands your world: you can go places normal cars can’t. Although I see quite some idiots trying their luck with the family car. I guess that’s Darwin at work.

Of course I take it step by step. There is a lot to learn and Australia is absolutely unforgiving to people who make stupid mistakes. Like being ignorant of where you are and not having some idea of a recovery plan, even for a simple “Sunday drive”. So I read a lot, listen to people, plan ahead, have back up maps (the GPS will quit at the wring moment) and have started equipping the truck with basic recovery and survival stuff. And will join a few 4WD courses. Better safe than sorry.

But it’s lots of fun and the landscapes are stunning. And when you do meet people, they are always friendly and inquisitive.