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by Karen Fayeth

Sweet Gentle Prague

It was just a week ago yesterday that I found myself in the world class city of Prague with a personal day on my hands.

The work part of the trip had been both busy and exhausting. My coworkers all left for home that morning but I had a tourist Friday ahead of me. The challenge: To see as many of the must-see Prague sights as possible in one day.

Now just eight days later, it seems almost like a dream.

A week ago it was very real. So real I had a fair bit of anxiety and no idea what lay ahead. The Good Man managed to talk me down from nine timezones away and with a deep breath, I screwed up my courage and headed out of the hotel room.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a Metro station right under the hotel.

So this is where my journey began:



A simple suburban Metro station that would take me *everywhere*

The hotel where I stayed is in the suburbs of Prague, but the Metro is so damn good it was a less than fifteen minute ride and I emerged at the bottom of Wenceslaus Square.

I had done some reading before arriving in Prague and I knew a bit about Wenceslaus Square.

Well, I knew three things:

Thing 1) The square is dominated by a statue of King Wenceslaus. As in “Good King Weceslaus blah blah, on the feast Stephen, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, deep and crisp and even…”

What the hell is that song even about, anyway? Wait, let’s hold that question for another time.

On that day, I knew that Saint Wenceslaus is considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

So I walked uphill and gawked at the shops and restaurants and soon found myself in the shadow of the Good King and his steed.



That there is a gooood king

Thing 2) Wenceslaus Square is incredibly historic, considered the very heart of the city of Prague, and it is a World Heritage Site because it was on that very square in 1989 that the Velvet Revolution happened.

What is the Velvet Revolution, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

The Velvet Revolution is when the then Czechoslovakia decided it had had just about enough (MORE than enough) and threw off Communist rule. They then became their own self-managed country with a parliament.

This is a very, very big deal. It utterly changed the course of the Czech people. For the better.

I have a coworker who grew up in Prague. She left as a teenager in 1984. She said, “We had to leave. We had so much despair. We believed it would never change.”

It would eventually change, but it would take a few more years.

So I stood on this square, a lost little girl from New Mexico, and thought about how much happened right where my feet stood. How these people took back their own destiny.



See where all those tourists are? History happened there.

Thing 3) At the top of Wenceslaus Square, behind the statue and in front of the museum something particularly sad and historic happened.

In 1968, a student named Jan Palach protested the invasion and eventual fall of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union during what was called the Prague Spring. He did so by committing suicide by self-immolation.

“…Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the ‘demoralization’ of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.” – from a doctor who treated Palach (wiki)

I think that sense of demoralization and despair runs strong through the history of the Czech people. In my experience, they are a very laid back and easy going people, but there is that sadness underneath. Well, maybe not sadness, just…world weary.

I wanted to find the small marker of Palach’s history that is embedded in the brickwork in front of the museum. I have to say I was greatly moved. There were flowers at the site, meaning people still remember and still care about what he did.



This is a simple but powerful marker

Well, that was a bit of a dark start to my day of exploration, but it also really touched me.

From there, I hopped back on the Metro and made my way to Old Town Square. The mood and attitude in the Old Town area could not have been more different.

The Old Town Square is beautiful, but incredibly overrun by tourists. Okay, sure, I was also a tourist, but you get what I mean.

Along with tourists there were an awful lot of flim-flam men (and women), grifters and pickpockets. At one point I stopped to look at maps on my phone to see if I was heading the right direction, and saw no less than three people make a move toward me.

San Francisco is a tourist town and I’m fairly used to this sort of untoward behavior, so each person got my patented City Stink Eye. The one that lets people know I am not to be trifled with.

They soon backed up, but that kind of predatory behavior was pretty rampant in the Old Town area. I was waving off sellers, beggars and all around questionable sorts left and right. I also kept a firm grip on my bag as I heard from several places that the pickpocketing is quite bad.

The main reason to be in Old Town, apart from admiring the amazing architecture, was to see the Astronomical Clock located at the Old Town Hall building.



Of course my favorite part was the skeleton

This clock was installed in 1410. Um, what? 14 freaking 10? Wow.

As luck would have it, I was there at about twenty minutes to the top of the hour, so I waited with all of the many tourists, in the rain I might add, to watch the clock’s mechanics at the top of the hour. A skeleton rings a bell, the animated figures come to life, and above the clock statues of the twelve apostles zip by and look out the windows.

It was very quaint and lovely, and I’m glad I saw it. Not much more to say than that. More than a Clark Griswald shrug, less than rapturous delight.

After taking some photos of the beautiful buildings on the square, I then made my way onward to the Charles Bridge.

The most famous of the bridges across the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge began construction in 1357.

You know how sometimes Europeans give Americans a wry smile when we talk about our deep history? Yeah, this is why. In 1357 they were building bridges that would safely transport my tired little toes across the same river some 659 years later. America wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Columbus in 1357.

The stroll across the bridge was certainly lively. Lots of people, lots of selfie sticks (ugh), quite a few pickpockets and an awful lot of Catholic statues. Like, a LOT of Catholic statues.

Felt like I needed to go to confession when I got to the other side, ba-dum, tish!

It was hard to pick just one photo from my walk across the river, but let’s go with this one:



The walk across the bridge was quite pleasing especially since the rain had moved on and a bright blue Czech sky emerged. Quite lovely.

The part of Prague on the other side of the bridge is known as Lesser Quarter, which I find quite a rude name. There was nothing lesser about this side of the bridge in my opinion. It is much quieter, calmer and less busy. It suited me just fine.

At this point, my legs, feet and bladder asked nicely if we could stop, so I landed at a coffee shop.

Over a lovely icy coffee, I tweeted exactly how I felt in that moment on that day.



As my legs relaxed, I listened to a group of four Czech students argue and debate and I watched life happen outside the glass door. I felt enormously contented. It’s those moments I will remember long after I’ve come back to my regular life. It’s those moments I wait for on each international trip I take. It’s what makes all of those long and ugly plane miles worth it.

Yeah. Seriously, may I never forget how good I felt in that moment.

Now fortified, I moved on to my last stop of the day, St Nicholas Church.

The guidebook I pondered over coffee told me that it was a beautiful example of a baroque church. I do like to see some of the old and over the top churches in Europe, so I was game.

The guidebook also mentioned the bell tower at the church. How it had been used by the communists to keep an eye on the American Embassy nearby, and that it offered some of the best views in all of Prague.

Impulse overtook me and I smacked down 90 koruna for a ticket and began climbing the stairs.

What in the utter hell was I thinking? One, my legs were already tired, two I’m in okay shape but stair climbing is tough, and three my asthma was like “hey, what’s up?”

But I kept climbing the spiral stairs and narrow ladders until it got more and more exhausting and claustrophobia inducing (and I don’t often struggle with claustrophobia).

At more than one point I had to remind myself that I managed to get myself into this situation and had to figure out how to get myself out.

My bullish determination kicked in and I made a promise I would make it all the way to the top.

Along the way I found the watchmen’s quarters, a sparse room with a small bed, rough wood table and open brickwork fireplace.

When there were windows, I looked out then kept climbing. Finally, I could smell the fresh air of outside and found myself at a narrow deck that encircled the tower. There was a guide there and she told me to go outside (I didn’t understand what the signs meant and had hesitated).

Wow. Truly. Wow. I was stunned at seeing all of Prague laid out before me.



The sky stippled with clouds and the sun began its slow descent toward the end of the day and there I stood taking it all in.

And hey, I wasn’t even at the top of the tower yet. After taking quite a few photos with both of my cameras, I kept climbing. The very, very top of the tower, at the end of 215 steps, was less interesting. It was low ceilinged, cramped, stuffy and the windows were small.

So I went back down to the narrow deck and took another spin.

With that, I declared myself done for the day. Ready to head back to the hotel.

I came down all 215 steps a lot faster than I went up and made myself dizzy. Wobbly on my pins, I chose instead to stop for some dinner and I’m glad I did. I found a funny little restaurant where they treated me nice and I ate something they called Slovak gnocchi, which a short Google search later assured me is actually a thing.

A very delicious thing.

I wanted to have a nice Czech beer alongside, but worried a beer would drop me right to the ground so I opted for something milder.

After eating my fill, I set out back across the Charles Bridge. The mood on the bridge had changed. I crossed east to west at about 2:45pm and came back west to east at close to 6:00pm. There were more people out and the Friday revelry had begun. It was funny how quickly the mood had shifted.

On the way back, I made sure I touched the two lucky spots on the bridge, once with my left hand for my husband, the southpaw, once with my right hand for me.



One of the two lucky spots, though a bit grim. So this priest was thrown in the water…

A nice twilight stroll and I soon found myself back at a Metro station waiting to head back to the hotel and the end of my stay in Prague.



There are quite a few more things I wish I could have found time to see while in Prague. The Apple Museum, the castle, and the art gallery, to name but a few, but I was grateful to have one full free day to see the best of what Prague had to offer.

Prague is a gorgeous, easy and fun city. I loved every minute of my time there and wonder if someday I will ever find my way back.

I suppose I can dream.

Meanwhile, at a week later I think my legs have finally recovered. Seriously, 215 stairs? C’mon!

And to the good people of Prague, I say děkuji for treating me so very well.






All photos ©Copyright 2016, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with either a Canon G10 or an iPhone6.





What? No. Thinking Businessey Things.

My employer is weird. This is known. And one of the weird things they like is to have portraits done of all of us minions every couple years.

The employer has a professional, award-winning photographer on staff and in addition to his amazing photos of amazing science, the poor guy also has to sit in a conference room while a parade of geeks, nerds, scientists, engineers, and dorks like me clomp through.

Last time I had a work photo taken, it was two years ago. It was a humid day. I had to walk up a steep hill to get to the place where the photos were being done. I was running late because I couldn’t find a parking spot.

I’d sweated my makeup off and my hair frizzed to cotton candy status. Then I sat down and had my photo taken. It’s awful. And it’s published on my department’s website for all to see.

We’re encouraged to use that photo as our email avatar. Nope.

Today is the day when new company photos are being taken. Argh. I have been, to put it mildly, obsessed about this. I want my new professional work photo to be something I am willing to look at.

Yesterday I carefully examined all of the photos of my coworkers in the photo archive to assess what works and what doesn’t. This morning I curled my hair. I put on makeup. I fussed.

At about twenty minutes before my appointment time, I sat at my desk fretting. I decided to open Photobooth on my Mac to get a real look at how things were working and what needed fixing.

I gazed into my laptop camera and took a couple shots. I evaluated the smile, the hair, the lipstick then I went back in to try again.

I was staring the camera dead on, trying to smize when in my peripheral vision I see one of the auditors come walking down the aisle. The very serious big 4 outside auditors here doing serious stuff like auditing financials. And here I am, a manager, supposed professional, at my desk selfie’ing.

So I tried to play it off real quick. I looked away and was acting all like “no, no selfies here.” And “Yeah it’s cool, ain’t no thing.”

And then the Photobooth “flash” popped (it flashes a blank white screen). Busted.

Yeah. Um.

Anyhow, I took that photo of my shame, cropped it, sent it through an Instagram filter and now it’s arty. Thoughtful. Meditative.

Nah, it’s just me trying to look cool and failing miserably. Welcome to Dorkville, population me.

I sure hope my professional photo turns out a lot better.




Thinking so hard right now.







Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons in the right column of this page. Please don’t use this photo elsewere. I’m asking nice. Photo made with Photobooth, Instagram and my special brand of genetic dorkiness.




Beginning at the End

When I have had a big event, a big adventure or just something interesting happen in my life, I almost always have to spend a little time processing it, usually out loud and on these pages.

Having just returned from a weeklong trip to Ireland, I’m pretty sure that readers here will be treated to (tormented by?) several posts about my days in Dublin. I had such a wonderful time and I want to get all the stories out and onto the page.

The question is, where to begin? Some would say start at the beginning. Some would say start somewhere in the middle when things begin to get good. Others still say to start wherever you want.

The thing is, I usually don’t get a say in where to begin telling a story. The Muse has a mind of her own and she tends to open one sliding door in my mind to show me what she’s interested in, while keeping the other doors firmly closed until she’s good and ready.

What I mean today is that there is one story, one experience, that keeps replaying in my mind. It is the sum of my entire view of Ireland and probably belongs at the end of the entire tale.

But why cave to the convention of putting the end of the story at the end? This is what I want to write, so this is what will be written. For today, at least.

Here we go…

The hotel where I stayed was in a rather upscale suburb of Dublin named Donnybrook. Back in the day, Donnybrook used to be the scene of an event called the Donnybrook Fair. And by “back in the day”, I mean like the 1200’s through the 1800s.

Evidently that event turned from a nice twelve-day fair, fun for the whole family, to a drunken brawling event. In fact the very word donnybrook has come to mean a brawl or fracas.

The Catholic Church took a dim view of this debauchery (as they are wont to do) and ultimately lobbied for the fair to shut down, mainly by building a church right at the event site.

This is a great story, I love it, but it’s kind of tangential. Let me get back on track. In this wonderful Donnybrook neighborhood, there are quite a few shops, restaurants and a couple pubs.

One of the pubs, named McCloskey’s, was about a half a block away from where I was staying. I could see it from the window in my hotel room.




Image found here.


I had walked past the place quite a few times but was never brave enough to go in. Something about genuine pubs kind of intimidates me. It’s a mix of the expected amount of hesitation being a woman going into a bar alone, and my propensity to overworry that I’ll somehow say or do something that breaks the unwritten protocol of the pub.

I also never am sure how Americans are perceived so it’s always a little tentative for me. Which is silly because of the pubs I’ve encountered in the UK and now Ireland, it’s always been a lovely experience.

On Thursday after what had been a busy and intense workweek, I decided to go inside McCloskey’s. I was hungry, I love pub food, and I was in desperate need of a pint.

With a deep breath, I opened the door and went in. I walked the length of the place to give it a look-see and decided to stay, taking up a corner seat at the bar.

The bartender was a fireplug of a man, in his early fifties, with a pugilistic look about him and a vibe that was clear he knew how to run a pub. He could and would toss your ass out without hesitation and with force.

He came over and slid a napkin on the bar like skipping a rock and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“A pint of Guinness,” I replied with confidence. He nodded with a grunt and poured the beer. In hindsight, I should have just said “A Guinness,” the pint is understood.

What a lovely pint it was. A perfect pour, the perfect temperature, perfect creamy foam on top. Oh yes. I wanted to take a picture of it so I could always remember that beautiful moment, but thought better of it. It felt like the bartender may take a dim view of selfies and Instagram in his pub.

As he set the pint down I asked, “Can I order some food?”

“Er, yeah, we have a stew, the fish and something else I can’t remember” he said.

“I’ll have the fish,” I said.

“Fish and chips, you know?”

“Yep!”

He grunted again and went off to the kitchen to place the order. I sat there feeling tense and sipping my beer. There were really only about four people in the pub, all quietly drinking and keeping to themselves. 1970’s disco played from a small boom box to fill the atmosphere.

Next to me was a stack of local newspapers so I picked one up and read it, giving me something to do as I sat alone and tried to act normal.

After a bit my food came and it was so delicious. Light and crispy cod, perfect chips and slices of tomato. I ate it joyfully and drank my Guinness and suddenly everything was really right with the world.

During this time, the bartender mostly ignored me. He was friendly but distant. Gruff but fair, I suppose, and that was fine.

While I ate, a group of people came in. They were obviously all family, and they took up chairs and seats around several tables. Then more and more kept arriving. There were probably twenty or more people and one older gentleman with graying hair was buying all the drinks.

These folks were all in a good mood and talking excitedly. At one point someone teased the older man about “never being around” and he tipped his pint glass to them and said, “now that’s one thing you can never say about my term! My opponent can’t say the same.”

It was then I sussed out that this might be a local politician. I heard someone call him by his first name and as I was texting the play by play to The Good Man, he did a quick Google search and we discovered I was in the pub with the local councilman. Elections were due to be held the next day. My guess is he was out celebrating the end of his campaign run with friends and family.

As the crowd grew, it became such a convivial atmosphere. I sat next to one of his daughters and we chatted and laughed. Her son, who looked to be about five, ordered a cranberry juice and wanted it served in a Guinness pint glass. Everyone bought and ate small cans of Pringles.

As ever more people kept piling in, I kind of felt like I needed to get out of there. I’m sure I could have stayed and been fine, but I started to feel like an outsider.

So I hopped up from my barstool and went over the cash register where the bartender stood. He turned to me and I said, “I’d like to tab out, please.”

“Oh sure,” he replied and began ringing me up.

“That will be twelve euros fifty,” he said. I handed him a twenty euro bill.

He took it and looked me, touched my hand and said, “You doing okay, darlin’? Was everything all right?” with genuine concern in his eyes.

I replied, “Yes, it was great. I’m…I’m just a little jet lagged and very low energy.”

He had a sparkle in his eye when he smiled, then tapped my hand again and said, “That’s okay, darlin’, you still look gorgeous!” He laughed like a schoolboy while he got my change.

He put the bills and coins in my palm and said, “now you have a good night, eh?”

I left the pub with a smile on my face. Now that, the whole story and everything in it, that’s Ireland to me.

It is a wonderful, charming and friendly place. I loved every minute of the time I spent in the city of Dublin and the district of Donnybrook.




A view from my hotel room. Lovely! Copyright © Karen Fayeth, 2014




Who Dat Looking Back At Me?

As has been mentioned before, these days I work in an open office plan, meaning pretty much everyone from big bosses to little minions all sit and work in open cubicles.

It’s supposed to make us more collaborative, or something.

Because everything is so open and airy fresh, as I walk through the building I quite frequently get a glimpse of other people’s computer screens. Honestly, most people are working away, boring. Snore.

Occasionally people are shopping or watching YouTube, but whatever, that’s between them and their IT rep.

There is one trend I’m noticing recently that has me a bit confused. There are several people, like five I can count off the top of my head and probably a few more I am missing, who have a photo of themselves set as their computer’s wallpaper background.

Now, I don’t mean it’s a photo of them and someone else, like a nice happy couple, or dad and son or something. No, I mean a photograph of only them, and most often the photo is looking right out of the screen. Most are selfies, some are a photo someone else has taken. Some are full body shots but most are close in, framed from the neck up.

What this means is, as they work, they are looking out at themselves while looking in at themselves.

Um. What?

Look, I like myself a lot. I’m a cool chick. I like hanging out with me. I even don’t mind looking in the mirror now and again.

In fact, to quote former 49ers football player Terrell Owens, “I love me some me“.

But I don’t “love me some me” so much that I want to look at me all the live long day.

At first I thought this was only the younger employees, the kids in their twenties who are supposedly really self-obsessed. No. It runs the age gamut.

I just…can’t. I don’t understand. Did I miss a memo or something?

(See what I did there? Miss a memo. How cute, granny.)







Image found here.




Hey, Not Too Bad!

Yesterday, as I blathered on and wrote a blog post and then decided I wanted to nab a selfie that

1) didn’t make me look like an old hag

and

2) showed off a rare day when my hair was rockin’ (sadly, it was a one day only event) I found myself contorting, head tilting, and generally being weird.

And that was before I had the camera turned upon myself.

At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with the selfie that I captured yesterday. Respectable enough. It took a lot of work to get that one decent photo, however.

In snapping my own self, I remembered a tutorial I put together a few years back. I still use all of these tips and tricks. Even when The Good Man grumbles at me while self photographing. (he’s not a fan of the selfie)

So hey, I figured I would share again. Here it is, for your fabulous selfie-know-how edumacation.

Enjoy.

______________________________

Your Mobile Phone Camera And You
Originally posted December 21, 2011

Ok, look. Facebook finally got me. Like a hungry, persistent mountain lion, it pounced on me, grabbed me by the throat and took me down.

Anyhow.

As I’ve been spending more time in the cavernous Facebook labyrinth, and seeing a lot of pages and a lot of faces, I’m starting to notice a trend.

Remember the infamous MySpace pose? That’s the self-photo taken with the camera above you, eyes looking up but chin down. Sometimes called the Princess Diana pose. Yeah, I think we’ve all seen plenty of that pose.

But that’s so over now.

The pose I’m seeing a lot of these days is the in-the-car self-photo.

Yup. Hold the phone way out to one side and snap a shot of yourself in the driver’s seat.

Post it.

Magic.

Look, I fully understand the need to look good in our Facebook profile. An old boyfriend or girlfriend from college might show up or something. None of us wants to look all haggity.

Believe me, I get it.

So what’s with the in-the-car profile photo and how can we make it better?

I will now dig into my deep and (not so) closely held secrets of the art of photography and perform a public service.

Ya wanna know why you like that photo of yourself in the car?

Two words: Natural light.

We ALL look better in natural light. When you are in your car, good ol’ fashioned sun comes pouring in through all the windows. Real sunlight makes you look hot.

I’m not kidding.

So assuming you want to have a nice photo of yourself on your Facebook page without your steering wheel in the background, and assuming you are all alone or too shy to ask for help, and assuming you want or need some advice on self portraiture…..


Here’s Karen Fayeth’s tips for a smoking hot profile self-photo:


Either get outside or if you have a nice sunny spot in your house filled with natural light, go there.

Next, what would be a nice background? How about a wall with a fun pattern or a wood fence with character? Sit down and lean back against it. Sit up straight! No slouchy here because we’ll all see it.

Make sure the sun isn’t shining directly in your face. That will make you squinty. Then make sure the sun isn’t directly behind you. That will make you halo-y and a dark shadow. It works best if it’s a sunny day but you are in shadow, or the sun isn’t directly on you. An overcast day is even better. That diffused light is majorly hot.

Hold your phone camera out at about eye level and a little off center. If you hold it above your eyes, you’ll get that eyes-up MySpace look. If you hold it below, now you are looking down and no one likes a double chin in their photo.

Seriously, no one.

Keep your chin up but not too high. Keep it at normal level as if you are looking straight forward.

Keep your elbow slightly bent. Don’t straight arm it or you will see your arm in the photo. Here’s an example.

Relax your face. Don’t force the smile. Try thinking about something that makes you laugh or smile naturally. Think about that time your buddy slipped and cartwheeled on the ice. Or think about how much your love your kid/spouse/dog/whatever. Something that tickles your funnybone and makes your eyes twinkle.

Look into the lens. Don’t look at the screen. Don’t look off to the side. Don’t look up. Don’t look down. Locate the actual camera lens on your phone and then look that lens square in its little lens eye and snap the shot.

And then another. And another and another and another and another.

Don’t be shy about taking A LOT of photos. You are looking for one good one among the many that make you go “uh, no”. It’s every photographer’s little secret. Take lots of shots.

Wait! Don’t just upload that one photo you like right from your mobile phone to your Facebook page!!!

Pause.

Look at it on a bigger screen. Download it or email it to yourself and look on a regular monitor.

Check out the photo and crop it down if you want. Look in the background ALL AROUND you in the photo to be sure there isn’t something weird going on back there. (be especially alert for dogs pooping, kids barfing, etc. Check out This is Photobomb for a sense of what I’m putting down here. That site is totally not safe for work.)

Then, if you are happy with the photo, go ahead and make it your profile photo.

And wait for the compliments to roll in.

Oh, and one last piece of advise: Fer chrissakes, no duckface!

No photos in the mirror either.



Sooo many things wrong with this technique. Good light though!




Image found all over the web. If it’s yours I’ll gladly take it down or give credit, at your request. Thanks! I found it here.