Melancholy

Baseket weaver in Cuba by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

About this image: An aged basket weaver in Trinidad, Cuba. A country on the threshold of a new age?

Trinidad is what I imagined Cuba to be before I crossed its border. Music and art, gorgeous architecture weathered by time and generous people. Yet there is something melancholy about Cuba. The past is ever present, while new generations are seeking change at an economic if not political level.

Whatever one’s politics, there are certain aspects of Cuban life that are deserving of being preserved, such as their universal access to a high standard of education and healthcare for example, as well as its flourishing art scene. There is too the matter of Cuba’s extremely low crime levels, especially when compared to the rest of its Caribbean neighbours. The old regime is unlikely to survive its leaders’ demise – or so at least has been reported in the media for a while now – yet I can’t help wonder what would “change” constitute?

PS: Apologies for the finger-invasion: they were a little too enthusiastic for their own good and I couldn’t keep them out of the frame.

Undercover Blues

Street Artist by Vic Briggs

About this image: A street artist in York, taking his puppy for a ride around town on a rather windy day (or so he would have you believe).

Life can be that way at times: pedalling along at full speed, only to realise you’re standing still. See, I did promise you some blues, but I hope you take away the cheery purples instead.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

Venetian Waterways

The Sinking City by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

Venice is on the move and its street life takes a watery turn. The City of Water tilts eastwards, sinking beneath its lifeline. And although it is by a mere 2mm or so every year, the prospect of becoming the new Atlantis is for Venetians a real possibility.

The plethora of nicknames that Venice has amassed over the years may well have to be submitted for amendment. Already the Sinking City may well fit her better than the Floating City, and should it turn into a divers’ paradise, we’ll be referring to a practical necessity rather than theatrical disguise when we call her “the City of Masks”.

Until the operatic endeavours of the gondolieri becomes a memory of erstwhile days, Venice’ 117 islands connected by as many canals and over 400 bridges will remain one of the most important tourist destinations in the world. Its exquisite art and architecture already attracts over 50,000 visitors daily. Come to think of it, perhaps that may be part of the problem.

Shadow Selfie

NY Selfie by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

I like breaking the rules, especially when it comes to photography. That is easier said than done and it took me a while to find the perfect image for this particular challenge, hence the delay.

The urban dictionary defines a “selfie” as a picture taken of yourself (tick) to be uploaded on any social networking site (almost tick) and where you can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera, proof that the poor fellow is quite friendless and therefore has no one else to take their picture (this one made me laugh out loud). I wonder… is our modern world of ultra-connectivity populated by lonesome multitudes?

About this image: My shadow self in Central Park, New York. Curtesy of smartphone reliability, it aims to be a representation of how much we hide in our digital self-portraits. Selfies are seldom candid.

Platform 9 ¾

King's Cross Station, London by Vic Briggs

Since JK Rowling’s famous Harry Potter has magicked his way into the hearts of children and adults all over the world, a visit to King’s Cross in search of Platform 9¾ was added as a matter of urgency to all London visitors’ itineraries. The train station has recently received a facelift, or should I say face-off, as the monstrous 70s addition was removed to reveal the original facade.

The station is part of a broader project as King’s Cross is set to become the largest area of urban redevelopment in Europe, with the addition of the largest new street in London since Kingsway in 1904 and the largest public square since Trafalgar Square in 1845.

Inside King's Cross by Vic Briggs

An architectural and engineering feat, the domed roof of the new western concourse at King’s Cross station will turn gargantuan-umbrella for all commuters and tourists seeking refuge from “inclement weather” and there are  new shops and cafés to keep all wanderers happy.

Still searching for the Hogwarts Express? Well… unless it’s the 1st of September, you are out of luck. But it you want to inspect the entrance to Platform 9¾ anyway, this is the place to be. Take a peek at the image above: follow the curve of the concourse straight ahead, and as you turn the corner to your right…

Platform 9 ¾ by Vic BriggsYou are bound to run into a group fellow wanna-be Gryffindors inspecting a trolley. It got stuck half-way through the wall when the gate closed at the start of the school year and no amount of Muggle power was going to remove it.  A nearby shop will provide you with your choice of scarf, depending on the house you favour. Hufflepuff sales are up; there are many a Cedric Diggory fan out there I hear. Depending on when you visit, you may even be surprised to find ready-made school trunks and even an owl cage waiting for you.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Abandoned | Uyuni Train Cemetery

Uyuni Train Cemetery by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

You may know Bolivia for having the highest capital in the world: La Paz at 3,650 m or 11,975 ft above sea level. Or perhaps you remember it as one of two countries bordering Titicaca, the largest and highest navigable lake in South America. Indeed, the lake is home to Bolivia’s fleet (Don’t laugh. They do have one, and what’s a country to do once it looses its sea access to a bellicose neighbour?).

There are many wonders about this country that I could impart with you, but the one I want to share today is the story of its salt planes: Salar de Uyuni. You’ve guessed it. At 10,582 square kilometres or 4,086 square miles, they are the largest salt flats in the world.

The Salar is a desert of salt, virtually devoid of wildlife and vegetation. Only the giant cacti survive in its inauspicious planes amongst a few sturdier shrubs. First impressions can be deceptive however, and it may surprise you to know is that this seemingly desolate place is – for the length of a month at least – the home of several species of pink flamingos. Their bright plumage is believed to derive its colour from that of the algae they feed on, rich in carotene. I would’ve never suspected flamingoes of being fond of carrots, but it would seem they have found the next best thing.

When the Bolivian mining industry collapsed in the 1940s, the Salar became the retreat to a more unusual group of residents. Located only a mile or so outside Uyuni, is a collection of antique trains. They look rather desolate against the backdrop of yellowing salt, abandoned… once upon a time their wagons filled with mineral treasures journeying to some distant seaport. For British engineering and train enthusiasts however, the place has a charm of its own.

About this image: Set apart from its locomotive fellows, this specimen caught my attention. I set my camera at an angle to create the elusion of motion. Using film rather than digital photography had the added advantage of giving the image an “antique feel” in keeping with the age of its subject.

Some Like It Hot

Shadows at Hotel del Coronado, San Diego by Vic Briggs

Just across from San Diego Bay, on the white sanded beaches of Coronado, rise the magnificent towers of Hotel del Coronado, otherwise known as simply The Del: one of the last surviving wooden Victorian beach resort hotels in America. When it first opened in 1888 it was the largest of its kind in the world.

The Del was home to many firsts in its time: it was the first ever hotel with electric lighting and the first to have an electrically-lighted outdoor Christmas tree, overseen by none other than Thomas Edison.

Legend has it that Edward The Prince of Wales had met Wallis Simpson – the American divorcee whose love would lead to a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom and the Dominions and would ultimately result in his abdication from the British throne as King Edward VIII in December 1936 – at a grand banquet in the Crown Room of the hotel given in his honour when he visited Coronado in April 1920. Although this was established to be untrue, the royal seal of approval certainly made The Del the “in place” to stay.

The 1920s saw it become the Hollywood’s darling, with Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable amongst others making it their weekend party home during the Prohibition.

The Great Depression had wrecked havoc on the hotel’s brilliant history and for a while there was talk of demolishing it altogether. For those who had seen it at its height, it may have come as a surprise to find out that Billy Wilder, the director of Some Like It Hot starring Marilyn Monroe (1959) chose The Del as the setting for the fictitious “Seminole Ritz” for his comedy’s Florida segment in great part because it was very cheap to rent.

This timely addition of Hollywood glamour had the desirable side-effect of changing The Del’s fortunes and today, while maintaining its Victorian look, the hotel is as luxurious as any visitor may desire – although it is unlikely to ever regain its spot as one of the “Top 10 Resorts In The World” which it had boasted at its inception some one and a half centuries ago.

About this image: Shadows on Sand on the shores of Hotel del Coronado. Keepsake of a beautiful day spent with old friends and new under the California winter sun.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure