Archives for category: Travel

In April, my husband and I honeymooned (thank you, Hollingsworth v. Perry) for two weeks in the south of England and Wales. We spent a few days in London on our own, based at St. Ermin’s Hotel just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, doing Tourist Things (theatre, the Tower, the British Museum, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, the fabulously old and author-frequented Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a gaslight tour of the neighborhood around Parliament et cetera, et cetera), but the bulk of our time was spent being ferried about by our private guide, Michael Osborne (operating as Unique British Tours).

The great thing about engaging Michael was that we saw a whole different England than we would have seen on our own. Oh sure he took us to Stonehenge and Bath and Oxford, but we also drove off-highway along winding country roads that took us through alarmingly lovely little villages, complete with thatched-roofed houses in which real people actually live. He arranged overnights for us in assorted Wolsey Lodges (unique “luxury” bed-and-breakfasts that were mostly repurposed olde manor homes–including a horse farm in the country, a village great house, and (by far the best one) a converted 12th century mill) and a modern four-star hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay. He showed us things we hadn’t expected to see, like Avebury, a World Heritage Site with aged and worn monoliths that–unlike the more popular Stonehenge–visitors can actually wander up to and touch. He hosted us for beer at local village pubs and for a fancy-pants (and delicious) afternoon tea at the stately Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe.

Hazeland Mill in Wiltshire

Hazeland Mill, Bremhill, Calne, Wiltshire–the best of the places we stayed!

Of course pictures were taken, and since that’s what this blog is supposed to be about, let’s get to it. I hope some of these come off as something somewhat north of vacation snaps (for all our sakes). So Let the Travel Photography Begin!

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

Big Ben at Night

Big Ben at Night

Tower Bridge viewed through a window

Tower Bridge viewed from the Tower of London

Gaslit street in Westminster, London

Gaslit street at night in Westminster, London

Gears in a mill in Wiltshire

Mill gears in a 12th-century mill in Wiltshire

Oxford Street

Street in Oxford

Avebury monoliths

Avebury monoliths

Close-up view of Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum

12th-century Lewis Chessmen, British Museum, London

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Ruins of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David's hotel

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David’s Hotel

Exeter College, Oxford

Exeter College, Oxford

Raven in the Tower of London

Raven in the Tower of London

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

 

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

Banners around the El Dorado Park Duck Pond in Long Beach, featuring my photography.

(DEPT. OF CONTINUING SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION) For the past nine months I’ve been working with the City of Long Beach on a project conceived by Councilwoman Gerri Schipske called “Winged Wonders.” The project was to post educational banners around the El Dorado Park Duckpond, a location frequented by a large number of bird species, and an even larger numbers of human beings intent on feeding the assorted birds. Schipske reasoned that if people were educated about the specific birds in the park, and about the dangers of overfeeding them, then people would be more likely to act as responsible stewards of the environment rather than active participants in its destruction.

Pelican banner

One of the banners, before being posted

First a little background. El Dorado Park is a wonderful feature of Long Beach. A 450-acre greenspace, it includes a 105-acre nature preserve, lighted basketball and volleyball courts, softball and soccer fields, a skate park, picnic sites, a disc golf course, a tennis center, an 18-hole (non-disc) golf course, archery range, community center, and, of course, the duck pond.

So Schipske, whose district includes El Dorado Park, was dismayed by the growth of algae and litter in the duck pond, the direct result of residents feeding vast quantities of inappropriate food to the ducks, herons, and geese. Folks have been seen feeding the birds the usual bread, but also hamburger, chicken nuggets, corn chips, donuts, and candy. The birds, being basically driven by a single-minded interest in constantly eating, have very little self-control when it comes to effortless, free food, and eat all the crap they’re offered, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate for their health. Not to go into too much detail, but when birds eat stuff other than the usual insects, waterplants, and small fish, they produce copious amounts of waste, which goes directly into the water and, in a closed system like a pond, encourages the rapid and rapacious growth of algae. The algae sucks nutrients out of the water, and the birds’ natural food sources disappear, and the birds die. Alternatively, the birds die sooner from eating too much, from poisoning, and from eating plastic bags. So soon, Schipske knew, the El Dorado Duckpond would be a big, dead pool of stagnant water.

20140425_070123

Banner

Banners, in situ

To avoid that, education seemed like the first solution, and the “5th District Lakes, Ponds, and Wetlands Taskforce” was created. Walling off the pond would be an unpleasant last resort. Initially, the plan was to commission local artists to produce images of the resident birds, which would be printed on large banners surrounding the pond. The results, while of fine artistic merit, failed to authentically look like the birds they depicted: rather, they were (as such things generally are) the artist’s impression of a duck, not any particularly identifiable species. While nice for a gallery, it was not the thing the duckpond project needed.

TV interview

Being interviewed for local TV with Gerri Schipske

So Schipske and her staff went to the Internet, as one does, looking for photos they could use. On the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology they found several photos not just of the birds they were looking for, but that had been actually taken at El Dorado Park by a local Long Beach photographer (ta da). (Cornell had posted my photos by permission, of course.) Schipske’s staff reached out to me, and a project was born. Over the course of the next few months, I worked closely with Schipske staffers Haley Mizushima, who coordinated the project, and Misha Houser, who designed the banners. We sorted through my existing portfolio, and I took some new photos of birds that either were missing from my archives or for which larger-size photo files were needed. (A few species, which the local Audubon Society insisted were in the pond–but which I’ve never seen in my years of photographing the site (they’re probably migratory, and I just missed their visits)–were represented by photos culled either from Wikicommons or Cornell.) The banners also include a number to call for more information about the bird depicted, including its call.

The banners were posted around the pond, and an “unveiling” held in late May. Because I’m a shameless self-promoter, you can read the press coverage by clicking here: Duck Pond Banner Project Takes Flight.

"Unveiling" the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

“Unveiling” the banners with Councilwoman Schipske

http://www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

I’m currently winding up a week-long business trip to New Brunswick, NJ, and I didn’t bring my camera this time. Thing is, I learned some time ago that this particular series of meetings involves being locked away in hotel ballrooms, which are generally not photogenic, and since New Jersey in November is not a welcoming climate for this thin-blooded, hothouse flower of a Southern Californian, there’s little allure to wandering the undoubtedly charming streets outside. Other business trips, however, have offered more photogenic opportunities both inside and out. I take my job very seriously, of course, but in any business trip there can usually be a little time to venture outside a bit to see what’s up within a block or two of the hotel. So today, some examples, in no particular order, of some of the photos I’ve taken wherever my work-related travels have taken me…

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing (meeting of conference organizers)

Interior of Aldred Building, Montreal

Interior of the Aldred Building, at 509 Place d’Armes, Montreal (board meeting series)

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia (board meeting series).

Chihuly, "Ikebana Boat" at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Chihuly, “Ikebana Boat” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (conference)

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana (conference)

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II (conference)

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts.

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts (board meeting series) Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan

Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan (conference)

Today’s low-tech randomizer brought me to a series of photos taken during a business trip to Fukuoka, Japan in March 2012. The three photos here really expressed a lot of “Japan-ness” for me. Let’s see what they are…

First, this is just somebody’s front porch. I was walking around sidestreets in the city and came across this home. With the paper lantern, bicycles, architecture, and umbrella, it dredged up fond (but now disturbingly distant) childhood memories of storybooks and National Geographic articles about Japan. Obviously, Japanese culture cannot be boiled down to a doorway somewhere in Japan’s sixth-largest city, but for me it was a strangely expressive moment.

doorway in Fukuoka Japan with bicycles, umbrellas, and a paper lantern

Next, a detailed view of Jotenji Temple, built in 1242:

Jotenji Temple roof

And finally, sticking with the temple theme, the Tochoji Buddha is the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan (10m, or about 33 feet high) . The title of this photo, “Big Buddha” is absolutely not disrespectful: there is a sign at the foot of the stairway leading to the statue that reads: “Big Buddha is Upstairs.” This photo is also contraband: I was asked (after taking the photo) to please not photograph the Buddha. Given the absence of signage prohibiting photography, and there having been no direct request to actually delete the photos I’d taken, and having made a generous donation to the temple restoration fund, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. (Hm, it appears we have met the Ugly American, and he’s closer to home than we’d care to discuss.)

Big Buddha

(All photos were taken with a Nikon D90)

My plan for this series in LensCaps at the start was twofold: First, to force myself to blog more regularly (I have found that like flossing and New Years’ Resolutions, it is extremely unlikely that I will commit to blog regularly after the initially burst of enthusiasm unless there’s some outside force compelling me: a pricey personal trainer makes me a much more constant gym membership user, and a public statement that I’m embarking on a numbered series of posts makes me feel guilty if I miss a day or two); and B, to feature older photographs that haven’t been featured lately (selected at random via an unscientific method of using the mouse wheel and random clicks in an index).

So what happens right after RPOTD #3? I go on a business trip to Oklahoma City, and posting to the blog becomes difficult, and it falls off the earth. Literally threes of devoted readers are if not mildly disappointed, at least somewhat aware of the break.

And then what do I do? I come back, and immediately violate the Highly Scientific Random Photo Algorithm. Today’s photos are from my recent trip, and I just thought it was cool that a couple of them were inadvertently sort of thematically linked, which is serendipitous, which is kinda like random, so I guess we’re OK.

This is the Devon Energy Center, at 52 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma City and tied for being the 39th tallest in the US. Architects were Pickard Chilton Architects Inc. The building itself is nice (if a little ridiculously out of scale with the rest of Oklahoma City (see the aerial view), but I really loved the morning sun peeking from behind it.

Devon Energy Building

The aforementioned aerial view:

Aerial view of Oklahoma City

The other “sunshine” photo is also an aerial, taken as I flew over California on my way back home (thank you, United, for the upgrade!), I was baffled by these three shiny objects on the ground below, and had to do a little webbly investigation to determine what it was that I’d been looking at. It is, in fact, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), near Nipton, southwest of Las Vegas. It’s the largest solar plant in the world, generating 377 megawatts by using mirrors to focus the sunlight on solar receivers on top of the central power towers (can we tell I think this is really cool?). The three plants together generate enough power to serve 140,000 homes during peak hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by over 400,000 tons annually. (Source: BrightSource)

Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar array

More non-random randomness. Well, to be specific: the selection of the initial photo is totally random; it just seems that sometimes a couple of photos around it, or that I know are related to it, come to mind and I just can’t help myself with making little photographic statements, because the synergies just amuse me. This little exercise is quickly evolving into something not entirely random, but that’s just me being a control freak. Anyway, let’s look at three kinds of China: ancient, recently modern, and contemporarily futuristic, all of which seem to live together happily in the People’s Republic in a big ol’ chunky melting pot of old and new.

First, the Great Wall. specifically the “Wild Wall” (Simatai-Jinshanling) section in the Shuiguan Mountains, about an hour outside Beijing. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Great Wall of China

Next on our itinerary, a vendor selling figs on the side of a road out in the countryside somewhere in the general vicinity of Beijing. The figs were excellent, but there’s a lot of serious history in that face and uniform. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Fig seller wearing People's Army uniform

And finally, because the whole point of this Random POTD thing is brevity in the name of maintaining consistency, the fabulous “Bird’s Nest”, formally known as the Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008). Day view from from Main Lake. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing

 

Chinese national flag and Bird's Nest stadium, viewed from the Convention Center

The Bird’s Nest viewed from the Beijing Convention Center

(This is Part Two in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

During my last business trip to Beijing, I stayed at The Beijing North Star Continental Grand Hotel, which is connected by a sort of maze-like afterthought of a hallway to the Beijing Convention Center. The hotel sits about two blocks from Olympic Park (Aolinpike Gongyuan – 奥林匹克公园), the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. To get there, one takes one’s life in one’s hands and scurries as quickly as ever so possible across Bei Chen Dong Lu, pausing on the traffic island under the entrance ramp to Ring Road 4, then ambles through a cluster of food vendors, takes the slightly wooded path around the public restroom building, and thence through the turnstiles to the main entrance to the Park. This, you’ll recall, is where the breathtakingly phenomenal Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held in the striking Bird’s Nest (formally “National”) stadium  (Niǎocháo – 鸟巢). You remember those: 2,008 drummers beating illuminated drums in perfect unison; a synchronized salute to movable type; the deflating sense, that grew as the evening unfolded, that the phrase “Opening Ceremonies” was being redefined right before your eyes, and that a dozen grinning children in traditional national costumes performing indigenous folk dances while rhythmic gymnasts twirled long ribbons and a pop singer sang something about this-is-the-moment were just not going to cut it anymore, opening-ceremonies-wise. This was where that happened.

Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008).

Sometimes a famous landmark fails to live up to one’s inflated expectations when seen in real life. I remember my first impression of the Coliseum in Rome being, “but it’s so small…”, my mental image of the ruin having been forged by movie sets and CGI models that made the Coliseum appear, well, vastly more colossal than it actually is. The Bird’s Nest, not so much. It really is quite a gorgeous piece of architecture, carefully placed in its surroundings with an eye to the Chinese fondness for feng shui.

Bird's Nest stadium reflected in Main Lake, Beijing

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), viewed across Main Lake.

“Feng shui” (風水) is an interesting, ancient concept that I shall proceed to butcher through simplification here. Basically, it’s a philosophy governing the mindful placement of structures and their components in a way that is both aligned with the natural elements of their surroundings and harmonious with more esoteric considerations. The result of successful feng shui design is the creation of auspicious conditions for the inhabitants and a generally more pleasing environment for everyone. The idea dates back, like practically everything else in China, it sometimes seems, to before 4000 BC. So it’s not a trendy new idea despite its current popularity with some interior designers. The phrase feng shui refers to wind and water—elements that naturally flow when unimpeded, or back up and create unpleasant pressures and inconvenient consequences when blocked. Feng shui attempts to enhance the free flow of elemental energies through and around structures.

You can see feng shui at work in the Olympic Park, where architectural and natural elements are intentionally placed to interact with one another. A winding, lily-lined, man-made lake (that’s designed to resemble the 2008 Olympic torch) reflects the Bird’s Nest in about as perfectly aesthetically balanced a way as one could want. The Bird’s Nest itself is an artificial concrete and steel object made to resemble a natural, nurturing one; an open structure that allows air and light to flow freely through its body, creating constantly changing patterns of light and shadow. (You can also see feng shui at work in the rhythmic flow of progressing through the Forbidden City (more on that later), and, as I wrote about here, in the way the Great Wall hugs the mountaintop terrain over which it winds.)

Beijing National Stadium, reflected in Main Lake at night,

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), reflected in Main Lake at night. There’s a convenient fence surrounding the lake that makes a serviceable tripod for long-exposure night photography.

Back at the Olympic Park, you can see feng shui at work in the Beijing National Aquatics Center (popularly referred to as the “Water Cube”), where Michael Phelps swam to multi-medalled glory. A building that physically embodies the “wind and water” of feng shui, it’s a high-tech construction of more than 4000 thin, inflated plastic bladders mounted on different sized frames surrounding a pool: literally a box of air containing water. Unlike the Bird’s Nest, the Aquatics Center’s ETFE walls have not aged particularly well in the punishing weather and pollution of Beijing, and now have the powdery dullness of a grocery bag snagged in a tree when viewed in the harsh light of day. At night, though, the Center glows with a blue iridescence.

National Aquatics Center, Beijing

National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”). Architects: PTW Architects (Australia) (2008).

Bird's Nest and Water Cube at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. and the National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”), at night. Note how the wall around the stadium resembles the Water Cube’s geometry.

Coming soon: Forbidden!

Detail of beaded crown

Ming Ritual Crown (detail), Changling Tomb, Yongle Emp. Zhudi (1360-1424)

(This is Part One in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

I like going to China. I like watching the constant chaos of Beijing, where affluent modernism and something akin to centuries-old village life are all jumbled up together; where impressively aggressive sidewalk salesmen insist that I must buy five designer knock-off wallets right now, steps away from Burberry and Versace and in sight of a big red banner that extols us all to “Respect Intellectual Property Rights; Be Law-abiding Vendors;” where there’s food everywhere, and most of it delicious. Where western consumer-capitalism, Mao’s little red book, and 5000 years of civilization are all stirred together into something that’s clearly…well, that’s clearly something happening, although it’s hard to tell what, exactly, it currently is or may turn out to be.

Of course there are inevitable downsides, in human and political terms, to being the engine that feeds the world market’s insatiable desire for inexpensive clothing and shiny new electronics. And the air in Beijing can sometimes be so thick and gray that tunneling tools are necessary (the government insists that it’s “fog,” but it’s “fog” that’s been subtly scented by the five million cars currently clogging Beijing’s highways, and the coal-fired factories that ring the city). We’ve seen all this before, of course, with equally appalling results, in 19th century Europe and America when they were becoming the centers of world industry.

Anyway, maybe it’s the social effect of having forty years of isolation lifted (in historical terms) overnight, or maybe it comes from living in an economic behemoth that owns much of the rest of the world, or the confidence that comes from having had a thriving civilization at the time when my ancestors painted themselves with mud and threw rocks at each other, but I’ve found the people to be unfailingly polite and friendly and welcoming. And that’s nice for a yi-traveler like myself.

(This is as good a place as any to note that “yi”  is  , a term for “non-Chinese easterner” or “non-Chinese” or “foreigner” that was unfortunately (and perhaps not entirely accurately) translated by English missionaries as “barbarian.” As a result, the word became a bone of much offended contention between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty. Eventually, its use was strictly banned by the British under Article 51 of the rather one-sided 1858 Sino-British Treaty of Tianjin. [John Keay, China: A History, 2009])

So I just got back from another business trip to China. While I was there, before the conference began, I had the good fortune to do some sightseeing, both on my own and with a personal guide named Jet.  (The Olympic Park was in the immediate area of my hotel, so there was that, too, which I’ll write about in a later post). Jet drove me out to the area north and northwest of Beijing to see sights outside the city: the Ming Tombs and what he assured me would be—and definitely was—a “non-touristy” part of the Great Wall. Photos happened. And thus, this blog.

So for part of the Great Wall to be “non-touristy” pretty much means it will be difficult to get to. Many of the “touristy” sections of the Wall, like Badaling and Mutianyu have cable cars to comfortably carry visitors up the mountainside to where the Wall sits nicely perched along the ridge, crowded with tourists and loud, flag-carrying guides. Not so where Jet took me, and I couldn’t be happier about that. We drove past the Ming Tombs (more on those later) into the countryside, stopping in the village of Heishanzhai (“Black Mountain Village”) where we accessed what could be optimistically referred to as a trailhead by passing through a farmer’s backyard and paying a small entry fee to the family. Then began a hike that was frequently up a 60° to 70° slope with a minimal path comprised of mud, big rocks, and brambles.

Dam in the village at the trailhead to the "Wild Wall"

Dam in Heishanzhai at the trailhead to the “Wild Wall” about an hour north of Beijing.

Doorway in Heishanzhai

Doorway in the small farmstead at the trailhead up to the “Wild Wall” in Heishanzhai, about an hour northwest of Beijing.

The climb to the Wall was not so much a climb as a scramble along a quasi-clearing in the underbrush that was, I suppose, a “path” in the broadest sense. Rocks were climbed over, and young trees were clung to, and bad words were possibly muttered by Your Humble Narrator from time to time. About a quarter of the way up I was chiding myself for failing to engage in more cardio work  at the gym. About halfway up the mountainside we encountered the family’s elderly grandmother, to whom we paid an additional small fee. It shamed me deeply, with my sweaty shirt and panting breath and pounding heart, that somebody’s grandma had trotted up here ahead of us, and I resolved to redouble my visits to 24-Hour Fitness in the future. (I should mention that at all points along this challenging climb, my guide was patient and considerate and did not point at me and laugh at any time, or make me feel like anything other than a seasoned mountaineer. I should also mention that I undertook this little adventure of my own free will.) At the base of the Wall, I was confronted with a near-vertical stone stairway, and that was deeply disappointing.

What was definitely not disappointing was the Wall itself. Once up the mountainside and up the stairs, panting and sweating in a most yi-like manner, everything was worth the effort. There, sprawling across the ridges, running horizon to horizon, sat the Great Wall. And this was no postcard-prettified, cosmetically-restored Wall, either: unreconstructed, marginally maintained, it’s sat there since the 15th century growing gracefully old. I loved that it was a little crumbly and worse for wear: that’s what a structure that’s 500 years old should look like, not the postcard-perfect version. Much as I’d cursed on the way up, I blessed my guide for getting me here. This “Wild Wall” was, in fact, pretty great. (It was Richard Nixon in 1972 who, during his historic visit to China, stood on the Wall at Badaling and announced, “This is indeed a great wall.” He later faced impeachment for obstruction of justice, but I think the phenomenal banality of that quote could have been sufficient on its own to justify removal from office.) I was even more impressed when Jet reminded me that people had carried each of the stone blocks up the mountainside to build the Wall’s 6,000 miles of fortification. “Many died during the work,” he said. “They are buried in the wall.” I stopped whining about climbing with a Nikon around my neck, silenced by the ghosts of an estimated 5 to 6 million builders.

China's Great Wall ("Wild Wall" area) near Heishanzhai

China’s Great Wall (“Wild Wall” area) near Heishanzhai

View from a watchtower on the Great Wall

View from a watchtower on the Great Wall

Watchtower on the Great Wall

Watchtower on the Great Wall

Our trip up to the Wall was bracketed by visits to two of the Ming Tombs (明十三陵; Míng shísān líng, “Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty”) . These are the last resting places of the Ming Dynasty Emperors: the Wanli Emperor Zhu Yizhun (1572-1620) at Dingling, and the Yongle Emperor Zhudi (1360-1424) at Changling. Architecturally, they look a lot like the Forbidden City, which was also built by the busy Mings, who if nothing else were aesthetically consistent. The Mings were intent on carrying their goodies with them into the next world, and so the tombs were crammed with the pottery, jewelry, decorations, and royal paraphernalia now on display in the Hall of Eminent Favor.  The Hall covers over 21,000 sq. ft, and  each of  its 32 huge pillars is made from a single tree trunk.

Ceiling and columns in the Hall of Eminent Favor, Changling

Ceiling and columns in the Hall of Eminent Favor

Empress's crown

Empress’ crown, unearthed from Dingling Tomb, displayed at Changling. The crown features blue bird feathers and over 3500 pearls.

jade tea kettle

Jade Kettle unearthed from Dingling Tomb, Wanli Emp. Zhu Yizhun (1572-1620) and displayed at Changling.

The Tombs are scattered over a pretty vast area, but there’s a common entrance that is suitably formal and serene, called the Sacred Way, or Divine Road. The willow-shaded road is lined with statues including a dozen large-than-life human figuress representing scholars, civil officials, and generals, along with  lions, camels, elephants, horses, and mythological xiezhi and qilin, each depicted in multiple standing and sitting poses. The archway at the entrance is the largest such structure in China. Needless to say, it was a photo opportunity.

Statues lining the Sacred Way, Ming Tombs

Statue representing a Civil Official, Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs (Changling Sacred Way)

Statue of a horse on the Sacred Way, Ming Tombs

Statue of a horse on the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs (Changling Sacred Way)

One final word about my guide. Jet was friendly and casual, knew his history (and his way up a mountainside), and was constantly thoughtful of my interests and comfort. He didn’t lead me on a rote tour, but lingered where I wanted to, passed by what he (usually rightly) suspected I didn’t really care about, and was unfailingly delightful to travel with. (He was also a very safe driver!) For me, traveling with a Chinese person was invaluable: he knew what restaurant to go to out in a rural village and what food to order; he knew how to negotiate with souvenir vendors and farmers by the roadside selling dates and chestnuts and persimmons; he wasn’t shy about leading me past (or through) the large group tours that clogged the Tombs—he was just generally terrific. If you’re planning a trip to China, and have time for a tour, I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about recommending him. You can get in touch with him here or by clicking anywhere on the photo below.

Jet at the Changling Ming Tomb

Jet patiently waiting while I take pictures of things at the Ming Tombs, Changling

Next time: Evan Goes to the Olympics

I am very bad person. I am a scofflaw, and a delinquent, and a wicked villain if ever there was one.  I am a troublemaker, a scoundrel, a reprobate, and a miscreant. I am the lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile, the most evil-doing of the evildoers. I am, in short, very bad indeed.

For while I am an otherwise obedient and dutiful citizen, and follow all the flight attendant’s instructions with regard to how to fasten my seatbelt, and keeping my seat in the upright position and my tray table latched away; while I am scrupulous in taking my laptop out of its bag and removing all metallic devices when going through security; while I am occasionally observant of the request not to take up valuable overhead compartment space with items that could,  conceivably fit under the seat in front of me; while I am in all these ways and more a most dutiful and obedient frequent flyer, I do fall short in one area:

I am frequently in flagrant and willful violation of both 14 C.F.R. § 91.21 and the flight attendant’s clear and meticulous instructions regarding the acceptable use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you: I often do not turn off my Nikon when told to do so on an airplane.

And not only do I blatantly violate federal and airline rules and regulations, I do so with malice aforethought: I frequently specifically request a window seat so I can engage freely in my perfidy.

The aforementioned regulation empowers the airlines to establish their own policies regarding electronic equipment. Most airlines adhere to policies like United’s :

Devices that may be used only when announced by the flight attendants and the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude:

       electronic games

       personal computers

       entertainment players

       recorders (audio and/or video, such as tape/CD/MiniDisc/MP3 players and camcorders)

       calculators

       shavers

       CAMERAS (emph. mine)

       aircraft power ports for laptops.

(Shavers? Really? I have felt many things on airplanes over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt an urgent need to shave, even during a long international flight. There’s usually plenty of time for self-grooming activities once I’m no longer hurtling through the air at 36,000 feet.)

Let’s be clear: There is No Evidence that any electronic device, much less a digital camera, poses any threat to airline systems. Neither the FAA nor the FCC has any sound basis for the prohibition, and neither seems able to point to any solid evidence whatsoever. The FCC states:

The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. Therefore, it decided at this time to make no changes in the rules prohibiting in-flight use of such devices.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. For this same reason the FAA also regulates the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as iPods and portable DVD players, during flight.

Now, I am second to none in my appreciation of everyone’s need to err on the side of keeping my butt from falling out of the sky. But until someone demonstrates that turning on a digital camera will cause a 767 to plummet from the sky, I’m likely to accept the risk on behalf of my fellow passengers and crew and, more importantly to me, myself. What studies there are (and there are few) have found no more than indistinguishable background radiation being emitted by digital cameras, with a barely-detectable electromagnetic transient when the shutter is activated. I do not have a GPS attachment for my D90, so it’s not talking to any satellites. I know that in addition to risking a violent and flaming demise, I am also risking hefty fines and even imprisonment for my felonious photography; but in this life risks must be taken, right? Plus, the likelihood of discovery is slim, since during the commission of my crimes the flight attendants are all snugly buckled in somewhere aft. And because my seatmates have also been, shall we say, liberal in their interpretations of when to boot up, turn on, lean back, or plug in, they are unlikely to narc on me. I’m not alone in my badness.

However, my surreptitious activities do not go unrewarded. Full compliance would have made the following images impossible, and that would be, in my view, something of a shame:

Rosemont, Illinois, on approach to Chicago O’Hare International Airport

LAX viewed during takeoff of a flight from Orange County Airport (SNA) to Seattle

Washington, DC on takeoff from National Airport

Red Bull Stadium and Newark, New Jersey, on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport

University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s football stadium, on approach to McCarran International Airport

Las Vegas Strip shortly after taking off from McCarran International Airport

Flying over the Space Needle on approach to Seattle-Tacoma

Boston skyline across Massachusetts Bay, immediately upon takeoff from Logan International Airport

Massachusetts Bay and the city of Boston, a few minutes after takeoff from Logan International Airport

Please visit EButterfield Photography and browse the galleries. Thanks!

(Now there’s a title. I could have called this “Look at the Pretty Sparkles!” but that would not have made me seem learned and scholarly and a big ol’ smartypants and stuff.)

At the Wynn Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the entry area from the main valet area outside features a large glass dome. Just past the dome is a foyer with tall glass doors that open from the domed space on one side and tall glass interior domed skylight at Wynn Hotel & Casinodoors opening into the casino lobby on the other. The casino lobby itself features a large skylight (also featured are enormous balls of dried flowers, but that’s neither here nor there), so the overall effect is to brightly illuminate the foyer through the doors. On either side of the foyer, perpendicular to the doors, are two tall niches, each featuring a bronze statue. Behind the statue (and yes, we’re finally getting to the point of this little architectural tour), the niches, or alcoves, are lined with tiny mirrors (remember, this is Las Vegas, where most surfaces (and many of the people as well) are gold-leafed, shiny, sparkling with sequins, or sprinkled with buglebeads). The mirrors are rectangles, each about a quarter inch by a half inch.

And it is here, boys and girls, that our story begins. Because Your Intrepid Narrator spent a great deal of time standing a few inches from those little niches, focusing and refocusing and trying various techniques to capture the lovely display of light and color and reflected illusion of depth that was created on the surface of the mirrors as mid-afternoon sunlight streamed directly through the dome into the foyer, and the doors around me opened and closed and people walked past. The play of light and shadow and color and reflection on the little mirrored tiles was, well, pretty astonishing. What’s more, because the niches were pretty much semi-circular concavities, they not only reflected the light and people passing by, but the grid of mirrored tiles reflected itself as well. The result was an illusion of layers and depth, and the creation of really interesting light effects in my Nikon.

Here, for instance, the angle of the light passing through the doors as they swung open (or closed, I wasn’t paying attention), plus the concavity of the niches, and whatever objects were passing by, created what I swear look like disco balls, which were not there at all. (You can also make out bits of a door handle on the lower right, and a clear reflection of the corner of a curved wall on the lower left.)

reflections

The same surface took on different coloration and character, depending on how the doors were swinging open or closed, whether the mirrors picked up glimpses of lobby foliage, or what outlandish costume someone was wearing as they staggered into or out of the Wynn. It was mid-day, so only about a third of the passers-by were staggering, of course.

So that’s all, really. I just thought they were really pretty pictures, which the sort of blurry, focusless mottling that I usually assume is achieved largely through over-indulgence in Photoshoppery. Here, though, these photos are pretty much fresh out of the Nikon, with only modest Photoshoppery for croppage and clean-up.

I think the title of this blog may, in fact, be longer than the blog itself. And for that, I apologize. I also apologize for permitting something that happened in Vegas to, in fact, leave Vegas. So here I am, feeling very bad about it all:

Me, reflecting on my wicked ways.

%d bloggers like this: