The Hanoi Hilton | Memories of Vietnam

The Hanoi Hilton Underbelly by Vic Briggs

Photo Challenge: Converge

It is a trick of the light. Or perhaps it is the geometry of it that makes you believe that you see deeper into the bowls of that corridor than is the case. Deeper still into memory – a memory that belongs to others, not you.  And yet its remnant cannot fail to detach itself from the shadows, creep along the length of the hairs that have taken an upstanding position on the back of your neck and now serve as rope ladders for the misery of those entombed in this fiery furnace. In their hundreds. Thousands. The stench of torture seeps into your pores doubled up with the heat and humidity of the day. You cannot hear their screams, but somewhere beneath your diaphragm the echoes vibrate still. Before long you are at one with the past – a part of it  – and there is nowhere to escape to.

About this image: This is a shot of one of the preserved hallways of Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, Vietnam (October, 2014). Built by the French it in late 19th century and originally referred to by the authorities as Maison Centrale, the prison’s better known nickname is The Hanoi Hilton, as coined by American POWs during the Vietnam War. Only a small part of the complex has been preserved for posterity and is now a museum. Incidentally, on the former grounds an actual Hilton Hotel has since been erected.

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The Impossible Weightlessness of Clouds

The Impossible Weightlessness of Clouds by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

Dunes of vapour streak the skies just above. Here and there I can glimpse the blue inverse depths of the beyond. I can’t hold that stare for too long, afraid that the sensation of a world up-sidedown will intensify and I will be overcome by an irrepressible desire to plummet feet-forward into the upper levels of the stratosphere.

There are many reasons why this would not be a great idea.

For a start, I happen to be inclosed with hundreds of others in a metal bus, travelling at high speeds towards a predetermined destination. I haven’t seen any signs indicating that a specific foot position must be maintained at all times, but I am certain that, should I attempt any position other than the ordinarily acceptable, they would have something to say about it. (“they” always do)

For another, should it even be possible for me to somehow find myself outside at this kind of altitude, I would be ill-equipped to deal with the sub-tempretures on offer. (There is a reason why I’m heading to warmer climes.)

You may think that the lack of wings and/or appropriate breathing equipment should be of greater concern, but I beg to differ; these are mere details. The absence of wings does not interfere with gravity, and falling is so close a sensation to flying that I would be unlikely to be able to tell the difference until it would be too late to worry about it. As for breathing: highly underrated in its capacity to slow down and come to a near halt when the adrenaline kicks in. Still…

There are times when whimsy ought to be indulged, when a creative mind requires a physical imbalance of an unpredictable type that may symbiotically transform a literal into a figurative “change of perspective”, but this is not one of those times.

This is one of the others: the ones where the adventures to come  have the advantage of being unknown and all the more exciting for it. So I will draw my eyes away from those lingering dunes and fix my gaze on the spun-sugar islands floating just beneath my feet instead, and dream… of the impossible weightlessness of clouds.

In the absence of sound

Silent Music by Vic Briggs

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” 

— Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

 

About this image: This is one sculpture amongst the many that have their home in the outdoor rooms of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. The memorial is a focus for those who work tirelessly to promote the welfare of disabled citizens. I thought that this sculpture captured beautifully both the idea of sound and its absence,

 

Spiralling out of Control | Exploring DC

Why walk in a straight line when there are so many hidden treasures off the beaten path?

There are many a person who goes on a city-break with a “tick list” in hand: a list of things they want to see and do. Of course, when time is of the essence this may very well be the quickest way to get acquainted with a new city. Personally, I prefer to get lost in a new place so that by the time I find my way again, I’ve also managed to make it my own.

Washington DC is no exception to my roundabout ways of exploring. The only thing I knew about my first outing in DC was that at some point I will reach Georgetown. There was no mistaking it once I got there, and here are some of the spirals, curves and zigzags that I discovered on my equally topsy-turvy journey.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Zigzag

The first thing that I absolutely had to stop and capture on film (well… its digital equivalent rather) was this stunning powder-blue staircase. Amazing curves and a colour to match. If you look carefully you will notice that the sign above the door is a steam locomotive! The romantic in me could not resist.

Blue Spirals by Vic Briggs, Georgetown: Washington DC

This second find made me grin ear to ear. How often do bikes go quite this pink? I loved how this oldie was refurbished into a flower pot, and although it is a little worse for wear, I would not have it look any other way. Did you spot the zigzags?

Pink Cycling by Vic Briggs, Georgetown: Washington DC

After zigzagging all around Georgetown, we took a well deserved by the Potomac and let our legs dangle off the curve of this water-side path, so that we may watch at leisure the rowers who were speeding through the heat of the day towards the nearby bridge.

Summer on the Potomac by Vic Briggs, Georgetown: Washington DC

I have to agree with Ben: “The quickest way between two points might be a straight line, but it’s rarely the most interesting one.”

Lobster Love | Blogniversary

I seldom write about food. In fact, bar one post that used food as a medium for humour, I have never delved into this particular aspect of writing. Nonetheless, I will make an exception for once, since it is a special occasion. What better way to celebrate Shards of Silence’s one year anniversary than by uncorking a good bottle of wine, slicing up a few juicy tomatoes and getting the pot on the stove for a little lobster love.

One of the things that I have come to love about DC are its farmer’s markets. The first stopover was the weekly market in Georgetown, which is rather small when compared to others I have visited in the city, but does not disappoint on the variety of organic and free range produce on offer.

The summers here are so generous in their heat that light meals are the best option. I feel that I have turned Greek all of a sudden, as the majority of dishes on our table tend to be determinately Mediterranean in flavour. This time around we skipped the Feta, but the basic ingredients for this salad are otherwise the same:

Heritage Tomatoes (red and gold)

Cucumber

(I favour what the Americans call a “pickling cucumber” rather than the long-bodied variety; they are much more flavoursome.)

Fresh Lettuce & Rocket Salad Leaves

(Any will do, but we got the Boston “Bibb” Lettuce that is sourced by a nearby Glen’s Garden Market from a local farm. The Rocket is called Arugula in the States and the pepperiness of the leaves adds just the right zing to the salad.)

Spring Onions

(Here again I had some difficulty with the local slang. Apparently they are “scallions” in the US. Once the language barrier was overcome, however, the friendly staff at Glen’s got us some from their chef’s pantry, as it is so popular that there was none left on the shelves.)

Add a sprinkle of Salt, a few spoonfuls of Olive Oil and a dash of Balsamic Vinegar and you have the perfect summer salad: the best accompaniment to any dish.

Summer Delights by Vic Briggs

It is so good that even the lobster could’t keep his antennae off the plate 😉

Lobster Love by Vic Briggs

This lobster – whom I was very tempted to name, but decided against for fear that it would make it that much more difficult to turn the crustacean into dinner – also came curtesy of the farmer’s market. He is a gorgeous Maine Lobster and was very much alive, if a little dopey only ten minutes before this picture was taken. (For the squeamish amongst you, I am reassured by the head chef – aka my significant other – that it was a quick and painless event for Robbie. Argh! Ok. So that no-naming thing didn’t quite work out for me. Moving on…)

How do you prepare a fresh lobster? It is simpler than one would have guessed. Fill a sufficiently large pot half-way with water and a table spoon of salt and bring to the boil. When the water is boiling, drop the lobster in  (if you want to make steamed lobster then the water should cover your lobster half way up). Steam for ten minutes and voila.

The tail of the lobster is where most of the lobster meat comes from so this is the one to be removed first. Be careful when you do this, as there will be hot liquid inside the head. Next are the claws that you either need a special implement to crack them with or – if like me you had no such professional devices handy – the back of a heavy butcher’s knife will do just as well. Finally, I know that many dismiss the tiny legs as worthless, but to me they are the juiciest part: quite fiddly to eat, but hey – who doesn’t like to play with their food once in a while.

The simplest way to serve lobster is with melted butter: it simply melts on your tongue.

And finally… the wine.

Maryland Wine by Vic Briggs Since this is a one year anniversary, the wine is a young 2013 Albariño from the cellars of the Old Westminster winery in Maryland.

I swirled the wine in my glass. The citrus notes came through first and I longed to identify the exact blossom that gave the wine its distinctive bouquet.  Lime peel… Who would’ve imagined? It was a perfect pairing with the lobster, its refreshingly acidic aftertaste complementing the sweetness of the meat well. The wine has a silky texture and its citric undertones work wonders on the pallet.

Add some hand-made french baguette to the mix and this is it: my blog’s anniversary dinner.

Thank you all for your congratulations and kind wishes. Here’s to another good year together!

Daily Prompt: Handmade Tales

Hidden Within

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

We all have our secret hiding places, where we can get away from the world and spend time with our own recollections. Yet there is no better hiding place than being in a crowd. And when we find ourselves in a new city, anonymity is bound to be ours for the taking.

My choice of container may be unusual at first glance. Yet there are more than people within. There is exhilaration at the prospect of new discoveries, a thirst for knowledge and a sense of adventure. There are memories in the making, history finding its way from the shadows of nearby buildings and unveiling their secrets to those within, whenever they dare step off for a half hour. There are hopes and there is laughter, curiosity and delight.

Feel free to add more to the list. What does your inquisitive self hope for when you first arrive in a city or another new place of your choosing?

Mind The Gap

Liquid Sunlight

Liquid Sunlight in DC by Vic Briggs

About this photo: There was something exquisite about the shape of those water-drops as they remained suspended mid-air for mere moments before propelling forward to  disintegrate into a liquid mass against the smouldering asphalt.

The heat of the day was such that no sane city dweller ought to have dared leave their air-conditioned homes, yet in the proximity of this fountain we found respite from it all.

Tempting… to allow oneself to step forth and be bathed in liquid sunlight.

Daily Prompt: Sudden Downpour