I Don’t Subscribe To This Point of View

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Do you remember the Sting song “Russians” from way back in 1985? An overly somber commentary on the state of the Cold War, Sting implored “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

I have had occasion to listen to this song a few times over the past months. It keeps coming up in my consciousness. I do readily admit that in 2016 the song sounds almost quaint and old fashioned. I remember the first time I heard it in 1985 it felt deadly serious.

As a GenXer, the Cold War is certainly a part of my formative years. Growing up in New Mexico, I was acutely aware that “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” was largely created in Los Alamos. My dad was employed by Sandia Labs and he worked on nuclear weapons. Hell, my dad was one of those guys in the 1950’s out on some Pacific island in the middle of nowhere setting off nuclear explosions just to see what would happen.

So the Cold War was a little more real to me than perhaps many of my classmates. I remember on the playground talking with some friends about this list that apparently the Soviets had. A list of the first places they would hit if the war began. We all agreed Los Alamos would be on the list and debated if Sandia was there too.

I remember saying to a friend that I’d rather be nearby if a nuke was dropped. I’d rather be vaporized than have to live with radiation poisoning. I was just a kid but I had worked out how I would get as close as possible to Kirtland Air Force Base to control my own destiny.

That was some heavy stuff for a little kid, but it was the reality of the world back then.

So when I learned in April of this year that I would be traveling to the Czech Republic, I was incredibly excited. I love international travel and Czech Republic is a really old and quite historic city. The Good Man calls it “deep Europe” and it sounded so dark and mysterious.

But I also pulled up short. Hesitatingly, I asked The Good Man, “Didn’t…uh…Czechoslovakia used to be Communist?”

Then I took a look on Google, I searched “Iron Curtain” and found this map. There it is, Czech Republic behind that heavy line.



Map found here

I had a startling realization that I was preparing to travel to a communist country. This brought up an amazing amount of fear and almost guilt. Like I was betraying my country. Like I was letting down my father and all of those people he worked with back in the day. Or that I would surely find myself taken prisoner and subjected to intense KGB scrutiny simply for being an American in the wrong place.

Of course, all of that is patently ridiculous. The Czech people had taken back their country in 1989 and Americans visit Prague all the time. One of my coworkers had just been there and she loved it.

My weirdness was not helped when the guy who heads up the property team at work dropped a letter on my desk and told me to keep it with my laptop when I traveled. The letter assured that my employer owned the machine and that I was authorized to carry it.

I said, “This is my fourth international trip for our employer. I should admit I’ve never had a letter like this before.”

He quickly replied, “That’s because you’ve never traveled to a former Communist country before.”

Oh.

Back in the day, I loved that movie “White Nights.” What more could a movie do to pander to GenXer fears around the Cold War? Plus, I had enormous teenage tingly feelings for Gregory Hines (I can confess I actually got to meet him once and he was even more handsome in person, and also a true gentleman). Mikhail Baryshnikov was not exactly hard to look at either. But I’m wandering off topic…

That scene where Baryshnikov’s character, a defector from Russia, realizes the airplane is going to make a crash landing in Siberia had a big impact on me. As he’s tearing up his passport and flushing it down the toilet, I was terrified. When the inevitable straight out of central casting KGB agents arrived to harass our hero, I just knew that was EXACTLY how it really was. This was more documentary than fiction, right? <*smirk*>

It was with all of these thoughts and fears that I boarded a plane headed for the Czech Republic. Of course what I found when I landed was a beautiful country and very kind people.

My first foray into the center of the city of Prague was to attend a formal dinner at the historic Rudolfinum. One of my coworkers who knew her way around suggested we get off the Metro a couple stops early and walk about half a mile to the venue. Well of course, I was excited at this very idea. My first real exposure to the heart and soul of Prague.

I was immediately enchanted by the lumpy cobblestone streets and the very old buildings. We soon came across an odd building with four statues over the entrance depicting what appeared to be, to my eye anyway, communist era workers. The kind of thick neck and heavy features you’d find in a Diego Rivera painting.



A very bad screen grab from Google maps because I didn’t take a photo while there

I had kind of a “holy shit, look at that” moment and kept walking. There was a remnant of Soviet era Prague right there. Right there!

As we kept walking my eyes landed on souvenir shops with colorful marionettes, crystal shops, many pubs, restaurants and even a big ol’ Burger King, and I knew that it was okay. I was not somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t need to rip up my passport and toss it into the murky blue waters of an airplane toilet.

No, rather, I was exactly where I needed to be. Instead of fear I felt proud that my ten New Mexico bred toes felt the pulse and music and life of one of deep Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Now, in hindsight, of course I was being ridiculous. I mean, my brother has traveled right into the heart of Moscow, Americans are free to visit Cuba, and Dennis Rodman gets to visit his bestie in North Korea. It’s a different world and a different view.

At the end of the day, it turned out that the Russians did (and do) love their children too.





El Frijol

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A couple days ago I mentioned that I had been in Chicago for a writer’s conference at the end of March.

I’ve been to Chicago many times (as in passing through on my way elsewhere) but I’ve never really been to Chicago. When a couple ladies from my class said they wanted to go into downtown for dinner I was totally on board.

We hopped on the L and headed from Rosemont into downtown and walked around.

The ladies were intent on seeing Cloud Gate, colloquially known as “The Bean” and I was onboard.

It just so happened that the March theme for my photography club was night photography, so I took along a camera just in case I saw something good.

The Bean is like any touristy object, it’s been photographed thousands of times. I had no idea what I could do to improve on what’s already been done, so I just had fun with this shiny reflective piece of art.

Here’s what I got:




Image Copyright © 2015 Karen Fayeth


I think the Chicago skyline is so beautiful and a bit iconic as well. I love that at certain angles, the polished surface of the Cloud Gate just disappears into the sky like liquid silver. It’s really cool!

My favorite part of the whole night was when my fellow travelers and I had found our way to Millennium Park and were a bit lost trying to find The Bean inside the park.

At one point, a bunch of kids came running and flowed around me like a stream while they pointed and shouted “El Frijol! Mira! Mira! El Frijol!” I smiled because I knew I was near. And I laughed because of course it’s called El Frijol. My New Mexican pride stool tall as I found that big shiny bean.

I love the shot, but I wasn’t sure anyone else would. Turns out this photo took second place in the voting for my photography club’s monthly challenge, and that makes me happy (missed first place by one vote!).

After The Bean, we found our way to Giordanos because hello Chicago style pizza! Can you believe I forgot to take a photo of that delicious deep dish? Oh well.

This photo of Cloud Gate brings me good memories of downtown Chicago. I look at this beautiful bean photo and I smile.

Chicago is such a great city. Really top notch. I can’t wait to go back.




Metaphors. What Are They Good For?

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The other day at the ol’ place of employment, I had an early meeting at another site and then came back to my particular office building, which meant parking on the top level of the parking garage. Ugh.

Early on with this parking garage, I made myself promise that no matter where I parked, I would take the stairs to get to my car. No elevators. Just a little extra exercise in the day. So when I get here early, I have one flight of stairs. When I get here late, I have five. That’s how the ol’ cookie crumbles.

So after starting really early in the day at an off site meeting and then running like my hair was on fire in the office all day long (gigantic project brewing with very hard deadlines and a press conference to announce it coming up too!) I was pretty dead tired at the end of the day.

I stood at the bottom up the steps looking up mournfully. Five flights? After the day I had? I was determined to keep my promise to myself and I lifted heavy legs up and up and up the stairs.

Around the fourth floor I started feeling gassed. Each step felt harder than the last. It felt like gravity was actively defying me with every lift of my knees. Finally, exhausted and sucking oxygen I made it to the top floor, stumbled to my car and flopped inside.

That last flight really got to me. As I stepped, I had the kind of pondering thoughts that my brain often makes to keep me entertained. Were those last steps so difficult because my leg muscles were wearing out over the sum total of steps? Or does it become harder to slip the surly bonds of gravity with each flight? Or some combination of both?

And that struggle, that last mile difficulty, well, it started to feel like a metaphor. For my job. I am (to use yet another metaphor) rounding third base on this gigantic project and certainly headed for home plate, but this last leg of the journey is proving to be the most difficult.

Here’s another metaphor. I can see the summit of this mountain, but the last 1,000 steps are straight uphill with no room or time to rest. Each day feels a little harder. Each moment is fraught with worry.

In about two weeks I will summit this sumnabitch and I will be glad I did. In a few months I will look back and it won’t seem all that bad. But right now, looking up, knowing I am so close but knowing all that I have to endure to get to the other side, it feels daunting.

It feels like gravity actively puling me down, down, further toward the ground. Yeah, climbing five flights of steps feels like a metaphor, and not a bad metaphor at that.

But what good is the metaphor? I still have to climb the steps. I still have to complete the journey. And I have not get so focused on the pain and agony and effort of each step that I forget to remember home and the loving arms of The Good Man wait on the other side.

It’s worth climbing those steps if only because it means I’m one step closer to him. What is a difficult journey without a meaningful destination?





Image found here.




It’s Such a Small World

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Over past few years of my life I have been fortunate enough to engage in some international travel. I have truly visited some of the great cities of the world.

Traveling outside of the borders of the United States has made me a better person in many ways, not the least of which is that I have come to appreciate my own country more by not being in it for a few days at a time.

I recall spending Fourth of July in England, gazing over the Thames while pondering that the Fourth of July is about so much more than hot dogs and sparklers. It really made the summer holiday mean something to me.

The other thing that international travel has done is give me a front row seat on gaining perspective of just how large this big blue marble really is. Gigantic. And how people are different and yet people are the same.

One aspect that I have experienced on each of my overseas trips has been a small moment of humanity, a connection, finding a shared place with another person even as I feel the dislocation of being in another country.

It happened in Dublin, and is such a fond memory. It also happened in Amsterdam, and I guess it’s taken a little while for the beauty of the interaction to sink in.

Let me tell the tale:

I arrived in Amsterdam on Sunday at about 7:30am. Schiphol airport was quiet and calm in the early morning hours.

My fellow passengers and I came off our flight from Newark and walked into the airport, quickly cleared customs and stood by the baggage return waiting.

And waiting.

You see, in Europe, things don’t always move on the timescale that Americans are used to. It’s just how it is.

I hadn’t slept in something like eighteen hours and I was wobbly on my pins, but resolved. Finally after the eternity of a half hour, the bags started rolling through the baggage return. Hooray!

People scurried to get their luggage and wandered off into the Amsterdam day. I kept watching bags go by that were not mine.

Finally the flow of luggage slowed to a trickle and I knew, I just knew. My bag didn’t make it.

I had a very tight transfer time in Newark, less than an hour, and I had flat out ran to get between gates and onto the plane, so I was just certain my bag didn’t make it as fast as I had.

Shoot. That was the word foremost in my mind. Only not the word with the two o’s in the middle. The other word. I just kept saying that word over and over and over.

I looked around and saw I wasn’t alone. There were about eight of us standing there with no luggage.

We all looked at each other, shrugged and walked in unison over to the United Baggage customer service desk.

I was toward the back of the line so I struck up a conversation with a dude standing in line with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

He told me that he and his wife had come from Cleveland and that they were in Amsterdam to see their son, who is in a band, play a show. They were going to follow him on a couple tour stops.

Then he pointed to his guitar and said, “I’m going to try to do a little busking while I am here. The quality of the people I’ve seen busking in Amsterdam is pretty low, so I know I can do better than that.”

I spent too many years in the company of musicians to do anything other than laugh and agree. And I said, “That’s cool. When I get some Euros, if I see you playing, I will throw some your way.” He laughed and said thanks.

About that time the United customer service person said that the baggage handlers had failed to look in the “basement” of the plane, and our bags should be along directly. Lo and behold, my stuff showed up. I whipped it off the baggage return and stumbled my way out into the beautiful Amsterdam morning.

And then I settled into my little Amsterdam life, walking the canals, eating stroopwafels, visiting the Van Gogh museum, and work. Oh yeah, this was not a vacation but a work trip, and the work meetings were two full days (day and night) and massively intense.

On Tuesday evening, I stumbled out of the offices with my brain dead and my body exhausted. We had been through an intense day and were on a short one-hour break before meeting back at the offices to go to dinner.

I strolled along the Singel, which is the center of Amsterdam. I was so tired and concentrating on not turning my ankles on the cobblestones near the flower market. My hotel was only a few blocks from there.

As I walked, feeling out of my mind and brain dead, I heard someone playing guitar and singing. I remembered the guy I had met at the airport and wondered what had become of him.

As I rounded a curve, I saw a man in shorts and a porkpie hat busking at the end of an alleyway and in front of a closed store. He was putting a lot of gusto into the song, “Santeria” and had his backed turned to me.

I walked past and looked. Sure enough, it was my fellow passenger.

I pulled out my wallet and looked to see what I had to give. I found a five Euro bill, then walked up and said, “I promised I’d give you some Euros” and dropped the bill into his guitar case.

He looked puzzled and said, “Thanks. Are you an American?”

He didn’t recognize me, so I said, “We’ve met. Remember at baggage claim in Sunday?”

His eyes went wide, “Heeey! How cool is this?” He pointed out his wife who was shopping one of the stores a bit down the path. He told me he had seen his son play the night before and that he and his wife were off to Brussels in the morning for his son’s next show.

We chatted for a few moments, then I said, “I just had to stop and I’m so sorry for interrupting your song, that is rude of me.”

“No, no! Here, let me give you something! Here, take one of our CDs.”

So I did, and I thanked him and headed off with a smile on my face and a little more bounce in my step.

I get that Amsterdam is a small city and that the flower market is a popular place to be, but that one moment of humanity made this great big gigantic overwhelming world seem just a little bit smaller.

That felt pretty good to a little tired American girl wandering the canals of Amsterdam.

With a cheers from San Francisco to the fine city of Cleveland.

Here’s the band if you are inclined to check them out:

Cats on Holiday




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth

I took this photo later that same night with a couple of Dutch beers under my belt and a song in my heart. I call this one “Amsterdam Moon” for the The Mavericks song of the same name.







Photo Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. Post processed with Snapseed.




Winning Is Like…Better Than Losing

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Now that I have been a member of the photography club at my place of employment for just over a year, and have been attending meetings and listening hard, I think I maybe kind of sort of have earned a teeny tiny bit of respect.

Because this month, both of my submissions for the monthly photo contest made the cut. BOTH!

The rules each month are that you get to submit two photos. We review and critique all the photos in our monthly meetings and then there is an anonymous voting app we use. When votes are tallied, the top four vote getters are published internally at the company.

So yeah baby! I have had one of my photos make the cut before, but never both. It is a little unprecedented. Woo hoo!

The theme this month was double exposure and my two prize winning photos are below for your perusal.

The first one feels really special to me. I took both of the photos in the image while I was in Dublin. It was at the end of my one lone day of tourist time after an intense week of work, and I had walked for miles. I was exhausted and it was raining like it only can in Ireland.

Tired and soaked to the bone, I was bound and determined to find this sculpture of Oscar Wilde. This was after I had stood in a very long line (in the pouring rain, a nice lady shared her umbrella) at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. That exhibit was exhausting in itself. Way too many people jostling around.

The park where Oscar resides is about half a mile from Trinity college and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was driving rain and windy and I was so tired that a nice warm cab looked like a good idea. I stopped to rest twice on the short journey, but forced myself to keep going and once I arrived at the park I was glad I did.

The small, lush, green Merrion Square park was silent as I stood there getting drenched looking at this remarkable statue of Oscar Wilde. A small tour group came by and the tour guide said the artist sourced these incredible and colorful stones from all around the world. It is a beautiful statue and so unique as it reclines on a rock.

When it came time to figure out something to use for double exposure, I thought of this statue and of the very old books I had seen at the Trinity College library (I had watched a video about the method used to bound the tomes and was endlessly fascinated).

Using some tools I had learned in a recent photography class about overlay for textures, I fiddled around in Photoshop and came up with this:

Title: Author


Photograph Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth



I was unsure if the photographers in the club would find the image too discordant. It’s almost jarring, but I love it. It’s hard to photograph a statue and have it be anything more interesting than a photograph of a statue. This to me brings depth and texture to the photo and I am so happy with the results.

The other photo I submitted was something I had been visualizing for quite some time.

As I continue to hear all of the news reports about the drought here in California, I was pleasantly surprised that the lack of rain didn’t halt the springtime explosion of California wildflowers. I am mildly obsessed with California Poppies (the state flower) and I love the yellows, reds and purples of other flowers growing in medians, between sidewalk cracks and at the edges of yards.

I picked several of the flowers and shot them using a technique I learned from photography master Harold Davis. Then I took a free stock image of textural dry and cracked ground and combined it with my flower photo. When I look at it, I think of many things I could (and should) go back and tweak, but so far this photo is garnering nice attention.

Title: Drought


Photograph Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth


When submitting both of these photos, I wasn’t sure how my surly team of scientists would respond. Both of these photos are kind of arty, but they also show I have some Photoshop chops, and I think they liked that. They had a lot of questions for me on technique since I used a different approach for each photo.

Also, I think the club as a whole struggled with the idea of double exposure. It’s too messy for their orderly minds. I had a film camera in high school that I liked for making double exposures. It can either look weird or really cool. Doing a double exposure in Photoshop gives me more control over how the two photos overlap and how the double exposure looks, and I like it.

Anyhow, thought I’d share my winning photos with you.

Next up, travel to Amsterdam. Wonder what treasures I can find to photograph there?






Both images, Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth. Shot with a Canon G10 and combined in Photoshop. Stock image of dry ground from Free Stock Textures.