Archive for the ‘Today's Photo’ Category.

A Day to Celebrate

Conal, Ann, and I watched the inauguration this morning.  Never in my life have I seen anything like the throngs of celebrating citizens amassed to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office in the freezing temperatures of a Janurary day in Washington D.C.  And rarely before this past year have I felt cause to actually care about anything to do with politics and government.  Well, other than to be grouchy, sad, discouraged or just plain mad—or all that at the same time.  I know I’ve got lots of company, and I’m filled with optimism and hope for our country.

And mischief, as usual.

Make your own Obama poster here.  Be sure to check out the galleries, especially the top rated submissions.

Antwerp Dreaming

Following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to a friend in Seattle back on July 7th.

It is an overcast, on-and-off raining kind of day in Antwerp. My upstairs neighbor and I are going to have a coffee (tea for me) at the cafe across the street in a few minutes. Such a luxury to me! I’m enjoying the contrast in city living from our country mouse existence at home. There isn’t even a nice cafe in town, let alone across the street! At home, we don’t see anyone for days, unless we seek them out. Here, the sight and sound of humans are all around every minute. I think I like both ways of living, and notice that the experience of one deepens the appreciation of the other for me.

At the moment, a group of school kids are trooping by in two neat lines behind their teacher, their giggles and squeals echoing up and down the square and in through the open windows of the apartment. Cars are swishing past on the wet pavement. Occasionally, and unseen pair of high heels lightly clip-clop-clip-clops down on the sidewalk below the windows, a feminine sounding gait. I wonder if she’s pretty, or what she might be wearing, but instead of checking to see I let her go past and remain a mystery. There are no shortage of opportunities for people-watching here, so I don’t have to be greedy.

Last night, Conal and I had dinner at a lovely Greek restaurant a couple of blocks away. The waiter was charming and chatted with us about America and his first love, who was from New York. There is a huge variety of experience here with people in service positions, everything from haughty to spacey-uncomprehending to absolute charm and graciousness. Our gentlemanly waiter last night certainly fell into the last category. We decided we’d like to go back there, since the food was also excellent. They were out of their vegetarian mousaka, a great reason to go back.

I like remembering life in Antwerp, which is beginning to take on the flavor of a dream. Here is a picture of Oever Street, with our apartment balcony just visible to the left of Jacob Jordaens. Jespers, the little grocery in the white building, and just beyond it the cafe with the red awning, are on the right:

Oever Street looking south

It’s crazy quiet here at Murray Creek. The deers are cute and all, and I have my beloved Conal with me of course, but I guess I’m kind of missing the random company of strangers.

Why Murray Creek is Awesome

Sparkling dew in the trees + hushed forested hills + clear fall sunlight + deer, hawks and other critters + 80 degree weather in late October + Ann next door + my own bed + the smell of warm pine sap on the breeze + other sun-warmed forest scents + home cooked meals + slow satellite wifi (hey, it’s better than nothing!) + my sweetie Conal with me = Awesome.

The morning view from the front porch:

Haunting Melody

My wanderings amongst the twisting lanes and streets of Antwerp yesterday took me once again to the Hendrik Conscienceplein, one of the loveliest squares in Antwerp.  I find myself visiting this lovely spot again and again.  Surrounded entirely by charming facades, including the fabulously ornate Saint Carolus Borromeus Church, and ornamented by one large, lovely shade tree, the square is amazingly insulated from car traffic and the noise of the city.  I imagine the quiet and the startling acoustics, with sound powerfully enclosed in the stone confines of the square and magically free of echoes, thanks perhaps to the softening characteristics of the tree, are why I am so often delighted to find musicians performing there.

This picture is of the tree, which stands in the northwestern corner of the square.  Yesterday’s performer, a lone clarinet player, can be seen on the bench that surrounds its trunk.  He played slow, haunting melodies in rich tones, darkly creamy and sinfully smooth as the chocolate truffles sold nearby.  The collection of jazz ballads, some familiar and some not, suited the overcast day and my mood.  I’ll remember his “Stormy Weather” as one of the saddest and loveliest renditions I’ve ever heard.

Shortly after this photo was taken, three small children came  toddling into the square, darting about and chasing each other.  The two older kids can be seen in this larger photo.  They weren’t rowdy or noisy, just curiously checking out the statues and the fountain together.  It wasn’t long before the sound of the clarinet caught their full attention.  Drawn closer and closer to the player, their paths converged slowly towards him, as though they weren’t sure if it was okay to get near him but unable to resist the shrinking of their orbits, with him as the magnetic force in the center.  Eventually, they all stood a just few feet in front of him and froze there, rapt.  He played and played, swaying and twinkling his smiling eyes at them, encouraging their interest.  When at last the song came gently to an end, the children shook off the spell of their stillness and wiggled and jumped with delight.  Their father (I presumed) beckoned them over to him and gave them each a coin, instructing them to go back and place it in the basket at the player’s feet, which they did shyly before running away to resume their adventures.

I took it as my cue, as well, adding a few coins to the basket as I left to resume adventures of my own under the leaden sky, my ears still haunted by the beautiful, sad notes: “Stormy weather… it’s rainin’ all the time.”

Not Bronze

This photo shows a group of bronze 19th century statues at the base of the southern spire of The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp.  The sculpture celebrates the architects who were in charge of construction.  Or some of them, anyway.  The cathedral was built between 1352 and 1551, requiring herds of architects and workers.

Oops, but one of these guys is not like the others.  One of these guys is just not the same… One of these guys is not like the others—Sing it with me!  Okay, you don’t have to sing, but can you tell which statue is not actually made of bronze?

One of the figures is a performance artist with an uncanny costume and hilarious way of holding very still–almost.  Every inch of his clothing, skin, and hair is covered with paint to match the sculpture.  He waits until just the right moment to startle the poop out of someone with a small movement of head or tap with his hammer.  Doh!  There, I gave you a clue.

To view a larger version of this photo, click here.

Der Partybike Incident

Juices, Java, & Jazz CafeWednesday I visited the café across the street from our apartment (pictured here from our balcony) for the first time. Our landlord, Frank, invited me to join him and his two friends Jennifer and Sel for a drink. Jennifer is an art dealer from Toronto, and Sel (pronounced sort of like “sill” but more complicated than I’m prepared to explain here) is a local. Both live in Antwerp not far from us. We sat at the bistro tables on the sidewalk and enjoyed our drinks, watching people (which seems to be a well-favored international sport, here in Europe), and chatting. Sel and I each had a Masala Chai, which the server had assured us did not include sugar. Served in a tall glass, the tea was exotically spicy and as promised was not at all sugary, had a lovely layer of foam on top sprinkled with spices, and was absolutely delicious.

As we sat visiting at tables outside on the sidewalk, the noise of an approaching rowdy party began to build. Soon it was enough of a commotion to bring conversation at the café to a halt, with all heads turning to see what on earth was coming up the street. Around the corner came a vehicle that I have to say was completely unique to my experience, although I understand now that it is not an uncommon sight here. I was sorry I did not have my camera with me. I’ll attempt to paint a mental picture for you.

The contraption was about the size of a large van. It was constructed with a surprisingly open framework, so you could see through its gears to the other side. High in the center of the vehicle was a lengthwise bar, with a bartender standing in the middle serving beer to the other passengers, a small counter surrounding him completely, and taps at hand for serving his “customers.” I could see the metal beer kegs mounted at the, er, stern of the vehicle. The passengers alternately crawled all over thing, walked along side, or sat on the built-in bar stools. The stools faced inward, as if one were sitting at any non-mobile bar. Seated at the bar with your elbows resting on the counter whilst nursing your beverage, you’d be facing sideways to the direction of travel. A photo of a similar contraption is shown here, though this is not exactly like the one I saw.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see that each stool (I think there were six to a side on the one I saw also), is equipped with pedals. No engine whatsoever. The whole monstrous thing was pedal powered. Beer powered, one might say, as the group of partying young men looked to be well lubricated and feeling it. Glasses of beer sat on the bar’s counter in receptacles designed to keep them from tipping over as the rig went ambling down the bumpy streets on it’s car-like wheels and tires. An arched canvas canopy shaded the whole affair and added a generally festive look. Imagine a ridiculous vehicle straying from Terry Gilliam’s imagination into your neighborhood, and you’ve pretty much got it.

I stared in amazement at this spectacle while Frank shook his head with a bemused look on his face. Suddenly, just as the party came abreast of our sidewalk tables, one of the young revelers who had dismounted the Pedal Monster staggered into oncoming traffic. A car struck and flipped him in a cartwheel motion, and up and over he went like a rag doll. He landed on the pavement and lay there for a moment, while people screamed and rushed about. He had bent in ways humans should not bend. I stayed put in my seat, figuring I would only offer first aid assistance if no one else could. Amazingly, Rag Doll Man’s mates had him up on his feet, if rather unsteadily, in less than a minute.

The driver of the car had slammed on his brakes immediately but his options were few in that narrow street.  He was hemmed in on one side by parked cars and on the other by the Pedal Monster itself.  Short of vertical take off, I don’t know what else he could have done. To him, it must have looked like Rag Doll Man appeared out of nowhere.  He sure seemed to do his best to stop, tires screeching. I felt bad for him. He seemed shaken, and looked relieved to see the guy get up and walk around under his own steam.

The police were on the scene within five minutes.  They spoke to the driver briefly and let him go, I was glad to see. The revelers milled about for a bit longer, being interviewed in turn by the officers. Somebody gave Rag Doll Man a cloth to clean the cuts on his face. He continued to walk around a bit, smiling while looking dazed and rather gimpy. Eventually the police got the whole gang back aboard, instructing them to follow one of the police vehicles. At least, that’s what I inferred based on how the now subdued Pedal Monster subsequently followed the police van closely around the corner and out of sight like a meek pony on a lead. I’m only inferring, since I did not understand a single word of the speaking and shouting that went on during the entire incident.

We at the tables surmised that Rag Doll Man’s state of inebriation was probably a blessing for the moment, keeping him loose and not too keenly aware that he’d narrowly missed sharing his next beer with the Grim Reaper. He was probably in shock, as well. I said I’d be willing to bet he’d be feeling very, very badly the next day. Frank mentioned that the party bikes, as they’re called, will likely be banned from Belgian streets because of the dangers of drunk people ambling about in traffic.  I thought to myself, you’ve got to be kidding.  There’s more than one of these contraptions? Hosting a beer bash on an open vehicle moving through city rush hour does seem sort of risky to me. No wonder I have never seen or even dreamed of such a thing in the States—I can’t imagine any self-respecting government official allowing citizens to have so much fun endangering themselves and others on American roadways.

After the uproar from the incident died down and peace returned to the neighborhood, I spent a couple more hours visiting with my new friends and enjoying the mild sunshine. Time flies when you are sitting in the sun drinking yummy tea and enjoying some excellent people watching with new friends. And all across the street from your house, no less. Heh.

Sel and Jennifer are both interested in future museum visits and shopping with me, and I’m looking forward to getting together with them again soon.

Next time, hopefully, without pedestrian casualties.

Our European Romance - It’s for Reals

Antwerp city square & Cathedral of Our LadyIt’s official! After months of preparation (and a bit of nail-biting), Conal and I have our tickets to fly to Belgium next Thursday and stay for the summer. I have refrained from posting here about our trip, because… umm, well, honestly, out of superstition. I was afraid I’d jinx it!

But, no worries, things are at last falling into place and we’re actually going. For reals.

In case there is anyone whose ears I have not already worn off talking about this, Conal will be doing some consulting work with a tech start up based in Antwerp. The folks with the company have been gracious and delightful, to say the least, in assisting us with all the requirements and details. From the moment we first met Rudy, the CEO, and Peter, the head software architect, in San Francisco to discuss working together, we got along like old friends. Rudy’s wife, Natascha, is the COO of the organization, and has also been lovely and helpful. I’m looking forward to getting to know these wonderful people and their families and friends.

Antwerp apartment gardenWe will be living in a spacious apartment above an antique shop in a pleasant neighborhood. It is walking distance to the office, and is located in the old, central part of Antwerp, so there are lots of fun things to do and look at nearby. The owner of the apartment also owns the antique store below, and is even now completing its remodel and furnishing the place with all sorts of awesome wacky antiques. The building has a garden courtyard, where the tenants gather for dinners and parties. The photo at right, showing the view into the courtyard, was taken last week by Elina, another lovely company member. Elina, who is friends with the owner, passed along the idea that we might like to be invited to some of the courtyard shindigs. Sh’yeah!!

If the place is half as cool as the photos, it’ll be heaven. Our most excellent landlord is even installing a new king sized bed to accommodate Conal’s long legs, so we’ll be able to rest well. I cannot wait to meet these awesome people.

Belgium is centrally located in Europe and we’ll be spending our weekends and days off exploring whatever fairy tale places catch our fancy. The major cities of the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, etc., are just a train ride away. London, Paris, Amsterdam… Sigh. Antwerp itself is a major maritime city, being one of the world’s largest ports, and I’m excited for the added bonus of getting to hang around boats and big water again.

Stay tuned for photos and and stories from our European Romance!


Conal in the east office windowConal in the east office window bigger

Conal in the east office window biggest!

Conal in the east office window, Easter Sunday. Note the green hillside, which had been burned black by the fire in May 2007.  Yay Nature.

Happy Easter

Buttercups on the old stagecoach road

Buttercups on the old stagecoach road near Black Bart’s rock, Murray Creek, California. Photo by Holly.

Hummers are Back in Town *and* I Have A Camera!!

I’m having a lot of fun with our new Canon Powershot AS650 IS, the camera I’ve been lusting after for some time. We got it at Costco, bundled with a photo printer and extra 1G SD card.

One of my favorite subjects is hummingbirds. Here are a couple of the local rowdies.


D’awe, look at those teensie feetses! Don’t be fooled, however, by their diminutive uber-cuteness. Although neither of these birds is even as big as my thumb, they buzz around sporting some serious ‘tude. Hummers are very territorial, and they spend a lot of time and energy chasing each other and trying to be Big Bass Ass Hummer of the ‘Hood. The guy with iridescent head literally stands guard in a tree overlooking one of the feeders, attempting to chase off any interlopers by zooming straight at them and cussing them out in high-pitched, electronic sounding tones.

Another hummer!

Some of the birds scare off easily. Others just kind of look at him like, “Whatever, dude,” and go back to sipping their sugar water.