Sunday, November 10, 2013

Budapest to Krakow, part 3

Wabi Sabi

Shortly before leaving for Budapest, there was a first in a short series of Ideabooks in Houzz ( a internet shelter site) on Wabi-Sabi. It very much struck a chord as Japanese culture has been an major  influence for as long as I can remember. I contributed in the comments section to the first article and checked in on further comments as they came in on our down time. It was really cool to see such a good response to such an anti-bling concept.

I had been exposed to Wabi-Sabi not as a concept but as a way of life by family friends in Mexico who were very much of traditional Japanese culture. This family was one of my aunt and uncle’s closest friends. They were pretty much family as I called them aunt and uncle as well. We saw them just about every week and I worked intermittently in their pharmacy. I was very much drawn by their discipline and formality. Once when I was doing my homework at their home, I asked if we could listen to the radio; my aunt Emy’s reply was you can pay attention to the radio or to the homework. My honorary aunt knew instinctively what Clifford Nass researched and warned about, multitasking. I also now recognize their modesty- in the context of a small city in 1960’s Mexico, I later realized that they were affluent, but that was not readily apparent in their home.
In college, I continued to learn about Japanese culture and history and became a fan of Japanese films. As a woodworker, I was introduced to their tools by a friend who mentored me in this craft. Their chisels, saws and planes rapidly became my primary hand tools. They are just as indispensable as my power tools.
Prior to  medical training and practice, I had  done remodeling and construction work with utilitarian goals- fix it and rent it out.  Once I start working on my home, my need for the place to feel like home led me to the Arts and Crafts style where once again, the Japanese influence was felt. But during all this time, while I had absorbed Wabi-Sabi,  the Houzz articles put a name to what I felt a kinship with: a reverence for the well-worn, imperfect, asymmetric and modest in the context of a culture that could produce a beautiful, razor sharp, exquisitely finished sword in the middle ages.
One of the many pleasures of Eastern Europe was seeing so much of what I at this time perceive as Wabi-Sabi in their architecture and culture. I at times felt like a peasant when in London, Paris, Munich and other Western European cities. Despite the language barrier, there was a strong feeling of  kinship with the culture of Eastern Europe. I just really loved the character of the buildings and their more analog way of life.


We also encountered Wabi-Sabi in many of our interactions with Hungarians, Slovakians and Poles- a sense of modesty and down-to-earth that is very much a part of that aesthetic.

Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter, And no map for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble in the dark, this confusion of permissions. The without-end pursuit of a happiness of which someone let you forget the old things which made happiness possible.

David Foster Wallace  Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest was the other context that colored my experience of Eastern Europe. The USA is home and no other country is preferable. But for many people and in many aspects, the United States has diminished in the qualities that made it a great country. IJ portrays much of late 20th century American dysfunction. It seems that there has not been a major American institution- government, religious, education- that has not been diminished in public esteem in the past 40 years with that trend seemingly accelerating in the past 20 years. In contrast to the irony and cynicism pervasive in America, was the role of religion in these 3 countries, especially Poland.
I was struck by the prominent role of Catholicism in Poland. They believe. The Poles also have a hero-something lacking in the US- in Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II.

I cannot look past the child abuse that went on during his tenure.  I continue to practice Catholicism and admire JPII for his humanity, accomplishments and as a source of inspiration and because the Church is made of humans and thus subject to being less than exemplary at all times- as we all are.
I loved the notion of a bar named The Unexamined Life in IJ  and wish that I could believe as the Poles seem to believe. DFW in his much loved  This is Water graduation speech at Kenyon College (yes, I've become a Wallace-head)  noted that there is no such thing as atheism. We all believe in something.
The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Read more:
The speech goes on to give an alternative to the irony and cynicism prevalent in American culture or the blind belief that leads to atrocities  perpetrated in the name of God and Country. And Eastern Europe provided an alternative to the ostentation ( I swear not to buy anything described as stunning- I'm tired of that word), irony and cynicism I see so much of in my country.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Budapest to Krakow cont'd


Interestingly, literature was a major part of this bicycling trip. While we don't spend a whole lot of time reading once we reach our destination, long plane flights and waits at the airport are a great time to catch up on our reading. I have long been a fan of David Foster Wallace's non-fiction work, but his short story fiction work had not done much for me. Infinite Jest seemed to be required reading for any DFW fan, but I was frankly put off by the size of the undertaking. After nickel and dime-ing my long-suffering  wife with the concept of traveling light to the extent of leaving her camera battery charger behind (more on that later) what do I decide to take along with me?

Past vacations have been very much flavored by the book I took along, and Infinite Jest filtered much of how I absorbed this trip. While my exposure to Eastern Europe was short, I noticed that leisure time there is used differently than in the US. (IJ is about the role of entertainment and addiction in American culture) For good or bad, the region seemed to be from a different time, much less digital and more people-centered. Americans have become notorious for being screened-focused; although other nationalities seem just as afflicted by choosing to see the world through a phone or tablet screen.  I didn't see too many locals with a phone or laptop in front of them; they were hanging out with each other.

One highlight of this vacation was Litea, a bookstore in the Budapest Castle district. What attracted us were the large selection books and plentiful tables in a very large sunroom (catnip to Oregonians) together with coffee and other beverages. What made it special, though, was the generosity of one of the staff, who shared her love of her country's literature and art along with the sorrows of how the German occupation, communist rule, and the post-communist economy affected her country.

Hungary has great architecture, history and bicycling through the rural areas, but what we loved most about the country were the Hungarians- warm, generous and hospitable.

Freewheeling Adventures

As there were no other takers for our route and dates, Freewheeling Adventures gave us the opportunity for a refund or the discounted self-guided route along which included luggage transfers, hotel arrangements and 3 van transports through congested areas.  After deciding to commit to the self-guided option, we learned that we would be outsourced to another company that partners with them. 

Jan, a Slovakian gentleman, who resides in Banska Stiavnica, met us in Szentendre, where the Freewheeling directed portion of trip began. I mentioned earlier my decision to leave the Nikon's battery charger at home since we had two batteries and in past trips I had never needed to recharge my battery.  Well, I was focused on "traveling light".  Bad move- my dear wife is much more shutter-happy than I am and after just 3 days she had nearly used up the charge on one of the batteries. I asked Jan if he knew someone with a charger; he said he would ask around, but that off the top of his head he knew of no one with a Nikon DSLR. We would not meet him again until day 4 of our trip.

Luckily for us, in a low key way, Jan went out of his way to find said charger and charged our depleted battery for us. He then drove us to our next hotel, bade us farewell and informed us that one of his drivers would be taking over for him. We met Michal the following morning. Initially, he was somewhat reserved like Jan, but we quickly discovered that we had much in common- besides bicycling.  There was also carpentry, home-improvement on my part, music and teaching with Geri and quickly thanked our lucky stars for his company.  On our next to last day with Freewheeling, he pointed out Ovara Castle while driving us to our next hotel. He mentioned that was where Nosferatu had been filmed. I had seen the film many years ago. As a film buff and with one of the motivations for our trip having been a vampire-themed book, Ger and I rapidly regressed to kid flavored- Can we go there? Will that be an imposition on you?  Michal graciously and sincerely replied that he would be happy to take us there.  We arrived in the late afternoon, so our time there was shorter than optimal, but it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our next destination was Hotel Kasper Suski, in Sucha Beskidzka, Poland, a former castle converted into a hotel and restaurant.  He met us for dinner and his company made for a wonderful evening.

As Infinite Jest was on my mind, when the topic of food came up, I brought up Consider the Lobster as one of the issues around mindful eating. Michal's account of his wife's visceral reaction to how lobsters are prepared was a more powerful deterrent against lobster dinners than DFW's essay.

Saying our goodbyes the next day in Krakow, we felt as if were we leaving behind a true friend.  We were quite grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Jan and Michal.  We hope to meet again one day. 

not done yet...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Budapest to Krakow

This blog initially began as a repository for bike ride tales and photos. Then it turned into a home improvement diary for a while as our little ranch house needed some work.  After last summer's big project, we decided we did not want to spend another summer working on the house and that it was time for a bike vacation. There were many options for location; what I didn't want was cold and rain as much as we enjoyed Iceland and Ireland. We decided on Budapest to Krakow as neither of us had been to Hungary, Slovakia or Poland.  Further, the weather there is mild and fairly dry during July and August.  Finally, we had both read The Historian, which takes place in Hungary among other locales, and were much taken with how it portrayed Budapest.  Finally, Budapest to Krakow just has a ring to it.

It was a serendipitous choice as it nurtured many of our interests and was a thoroughly engaging and satisfying trip. We returned with more than 2200 photo files and negatives; a few to be included in this narrative and a link to Flickr once I get around to formatting them. As for thoughts about the trip, they will be organized by activity/interest.

Initially, it was disappointing that we would not be able to be part of a group ride as we have really enjoyed our fellow travelers in past group rides.  I was a little worried about having a route sheet and a GPS as navigation; Geri was even more worried as she is aware of my penchant for piling up "bonus miles" (randonneur-speak for wrong turns).  Further, the roads are centuries old, often not clearly marked and in languages that have nothing in common with the ones we know.  As reassurance, we were told we would have a cell phone and a contact in case there was trouble.
Well, we did take wrong turns, one of them being over a rather long and steep climb.

The route was indeed often obtuse. Not being part of a group and needing help gave us the opportunity to engage with Hungarians, Poles and Slovakians; while often there was a significant communication challenge, we were quite charmed and taken with their efforts to be helpful. This proved to be a great alternative to the comfort of being in a cultural bubble with our fellow North Americans as had been the case in previous trips.

Prior to the trip, Geri had been examining the route topography maps in great detail and was concerned about the amount of climbing involved, especially on 3 of the days. The other aspects of the trip were so appealing to her that she figured the worst that could happen was that she would have to do some walking. I also kept reminding her that the reward for a tough climb is very often a great view, which indeed was the case.

Most of the time we did not have to deal with traffic. We seldom felt uncomfortable when sharing the road with cars and other motorized vehicles.  Another benefit of being in mostly rural settings while bicycling was the clean air.

Geri did indeed have to walk (so did I for that matter) but she came back from the trip a different cyclist.  Last week was the Portland Tour de Lab; in the past she has done the "puppy" route- 20 miles, fairly flat.  This year she was able to do "the Big Dog" a quite hilly 42 mile ride that had many of the participants grumbling about climbs.

My initial introduction to Hungary was through the history of photography. Hungarians are   disproportionately prominent in the development of the medium, especially in the first half of the twentieth  century.  Budapest, as I visualized the city reading The Historian, promised to be a great place for a shutterbug.  I had similarly high hopes for Krakow, as well.  Both cities did turn out to be as photogenic as anyplace I've been to.  The cities lent themselves especially well to street photography, lyrically described by Colin Ford as the "music of what happens".

Bicycling lends itself very well to travel photography as you don't risk causing a wreck if you want to stop for a Kodak moment; when walking or bicycling you are more engaged with your surroundings as well.  The route was a great combination of picturesque towns

and a nice variety of terrain.

I was looking forward to having the setup that had served me well in the pre-digital era- 2 Leica bodies with 35mm and 50mm lenses.  In the past one body had color film, the other  B&W.  I used the 35mm most of the time with the 50mm serving as my telephoto lens. The updated version was one body for digital, the other for B&W film.  Leica did manage to throw a wrench in my plans.  I sent my 35 Summilux and Noctilux lenses for repair in April to ensure that they would focus properly on the M9 that I recently acquired.  I had them install 6 bit coding that provides digital information on the M9, as well.  Well, come mid July the lenses were still not ready.  I was thinking very dark thoughts about Leica as that left me with only a 50mm f2.8 available 2 weeks before departure.  They did put a rush (as they understand the term) on the repairs.  Two days before I left, I received the Noctilux; at that time, they were not yet able to properly align the Summilux and notified me that 6 bit coding was not possible on that lens (that was no big loss).  As a stop gap measure, I bought a used older version 28mm f2.8 Elmarit; thus going on a trip with a focal length I'm not familiar with and two f-stops slower than the Summilux.  It turned out to be a great purchase.  Yes, I would have preferred to save up for a 28mm Summicron, but it turned out well.  A 35mm is my preference by far if limited to one lens, but a 28 and 50 is a great combination for travel.  Also important, the whole kit fit easily in my handlebar bag.

Geri used a Nikon D800 with a 35mm f1.8, as I seldom use the camera after getting the M9.  We left our only zoom lens (80-300mm) behind as it was too bulky.  The D800 produces files sufficiently large enough that one can "crop" to serve as a telephoto equivalent and still make up to an 11"x 17" print.

When old guys wax lyrical about Leica, the standard reaction is- "Does it make a difference in your photography?"  The best response to that was that Geri, after looking at our files from this vacation, now wants a M9.  Women in general, and Geri in particular, are pretty immune to needing/wanting anything from a camera other than results. The M9 is now on her Christmas wish list.  To end the Leica-centric portion of the travelogue, we wound up staying 3 blocks away from the Krakow Leica store (did not know that in advance- honest). Here is Geri's reaction the prices of new Leica equipment:

...To be continued.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Buying a used camera may seem marginal subject matter for a post, but this camera has a lot of baggage to it, so be prepared for a long story.
I was at at Pro Photo Supply picking up a SD card for another camera where I was trying to figure out whether the problem was the camera or the card in preparation for a vacation. Looking at the used camera area I noted there was a Leica M9. The price was significantly lower than the going price for a typical used M9. It turned out it was a "buy as is- repair needed/no guarantee". The camera had a bent SD contact point that the owner did not want to repair. The price that Leica had quoted to correct the problem plus purchase price would still be less than the going price used. So- why hadn't  this pretty good condition camera otherwise not flown off the shelf? The sales guy- who is pretty Leica knowledgeable- offered that the asking price was more of a gamble that people were willing to take for a nonfunctioning camera(one can buy a brand new top of the line Canon/Nikon/Sony/name it for less than the then-asking price and the typical M9 owner doesn't need to gamble on price). His advise was that the seller would be receptive to a lower price as it had sat on the shelf for several weeks. I put in a lower offer and it was accepted. 6 weeks later, I received it after repair from Leica NJ and it was in good working order. My cost was 65 cents on the dollar for a good condition used M9.
The preceding is not to crow about a good buy, but to explain how someone who wanted to buy the camera as soon as it was announced in 2009 finally purchased it in 2013. Backtrack to 1985 for my first Leica- a M3 with a Noctilux lens.  At that time, most of my photos were indoors at night with available light and while I was having some success with Nikons and f1.4 lenses, I was still looking for "better".   I had read that rangefinder cameras were easier to focus in low light, were more usable with low shutter speeds (no mirror bounce) and the Noctilux was 1 stop faster than the lenses I had at that time. I used the camera for the first time and loved the colors, the rendition of tones

and the responsiveness.

I acquired a M4-2  and  90mm lens, then traded the M4-2 for an M6. I needed 2 camera bodies as I switched b/w B&W and color as well as low speed vs high speed films. That kit was my company for the next twenty years.

Just as some music becomes part of you as the "soundtrack to your life" my Leicas were the witness and company to travels and experiences with family and friends.

Around 1992, I expanded my lens collection to a 35mm Summilux, the pre-aspheric version. I was very taken with it's small size and it became my favorite lens despite the fact that as one guy put it, f 1.4 should have "only use in emergency" due to the lens being soft and flare-prone wide open (think deluxe Holga).

shutterbug that I am, I spent no small amount of time taking photos at my own wedding.

At the turn of the century (quaintness intentional) I started to use digital photography . One of digital's great attractions  from the start was that one body could serve for either B&W or color in a wide range of ISOs. Together with a 35mm or 50mm  lens this would suffice for 90% of the photos I take.
In the early 2000's, I continued to use film as the digicams touted as high quality (Nikon D70) produced unsatisfactory results in demanding settings (low light, people) although it did work pretty well for other purposes. It was not until 2007 that a I used a digital camera (Fuji S5) which had an acceptable combination of dynamic range, ISO range and pixel count for all-around use.

The S5 with a 30mm F1.4  was still much bigger, however, than the MP/35mm combo (the MP was a 50 year-old birthday gift from my dear wife), so I relied on my MP for many applications until 2008 when Nikon introduced the D700.

Oh- yes, the Leica M8 came out in 2008. For a camera that wasn't very good in low light, made a 35mm lens into a 50mm lens, was buggy (infrared issues, etc) it was really expensive. As one of my colleagues put it - "that's a lot of (baby) deliveries". When the M9 came out in 2009, many of those shortcomings had been addressed but the damn thing was even more expensive than the M8. In the meanwhile the Nikon DSLR's had evolved to being really good.  The digital output in color was better than  film by then.  I still preferred film for B&W, but used it seldom as I could do 90% of what I wanted with the D700 with a 35 or 40mm lens.

Back to the future. I can now use the MP for B&W and the M9  for color which was the set up that had served me so well for so many years. I can also easily keep it to one camera and still have a very good monochrome option.  As important, I returned to the rangefinder operating mode that is my photographic home.

An excellent site on all things Leica is

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Monster Cookie

        The official name is The Monster Cookie Metric Century; named for the cookie provided at the finish line. It's Salem's most popular bike ride event. Event bike rides are normally not thought of with affection; but the Monster Cookie (I don't know anyone who uses the official name) holds a soft spot for me. It's not a ride that takes itself seriously:

        But is has the feel of an event:

        You can enjoy it at 10mph or at 25mph. Thus there are those in full race club kit as well as decidedly less serious attire.

        One of the many reasons I like Salem is that even in town I don't feel crammed in aside cars and inhaling their fumes. It doesn't take long to be in quiet country roads. The roads leading to and around Champoeg State Park are particularly picturesque.

         It's a flat route, which is what makes it accessible to so many levels of riders, but the distance covered gives us participants a real sense of accomplishment. We all exert ourselves- just at different speeds.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Geri's Office Revisited

        This was the state of Geri's office as of July 2013.

        Last Summers' remodel did accomplish one of our objectives which was to decompress this room's shelves. Despite the addition of  95 linear feet of shelving, Geri's bookshelves are still densely populated.

       We also needed some storage for her painting supplies which up until the Fall were in the upstairs room along with her work desk. We had seen a repurposed metal filing cabinet which we considered. We tend to procrastinate with items that are either bulky or expensive; thus several months of considering our options went by. With the need for another bedroom to allow for my mom's extended visits, this turned out to be a good thing. Our bed alcove necessitated moving Geri's work table into her office. The daybed in turn became the bed for the guest bedroom.
       It had been our goal to have the upstairs as an area where we could both work on projects and "visit" while we work. The reality is that our free time to do non-work projects seldom coincides. So Ger's art worktable was better off in her office.  We were both happy with the new arrangement as her office seemed much more spacious.
       A new goal was to keep the floors as free of stuff as possible. Thus a cabinet was out for storage. Geri thought a drawer for the desk would be a better solution which gave me good reason to get back in my shop and kept us from shopping for storage. The new drawer has ample space for paint brushes, tubes etc.

       While admiring all that free floor space, it reminded me that I never did put in baseboards or finish the closet door trim.

       I get to put that off as we both agreed that the room really would look great with hardwood floors- another project, maybe this summer!

Sunday, March 3, 2013


        I came across this meme while looking at one of the many photography related e-mails that land on my mailbox. According to the author, the internet fad started in 2007. There's even a just published book on the topic that I'll hunt down the next time we're in Portland (not available in the only secular bookstore with a new book selection left in Salem).
        Well, the digital crowd may have discovered the concept in 2007, but my sister and I used the concept (we didn't give it a name) more than 30 years ago. It's one of my favorite family photos.

          Books, records and photos were my main household furnishings then and now. I've evolved (somewhat-my wife and family will qualify) as needed; a 300 sq. ft. single at that time to my more civilized dwelling now.  As it turns out, my wife was/is a big Cars fan. So we decided to do a 2013 sleeveface.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stand-up Desk

As befits a guy of a certain age, my back has been bothering me.  It happens more in the winter when I spend more time sitting on me butt looking at a screen (except in the summer, when I irritate it doing manual labor). I've long been aware of the health hazards of spending too much time sitting down and had been ideating on a standing work area for digital photography.
One of my favorite internet sites is The Online Photographer edited by Mike Johnston. Mike J. is a knowledgeable and entertaining writer on photography both digital and analog. He also will write on other subjects, many of which I also am interested in. One such "off-topic" post was a very useful article on stand-up desks where he outlined the ergonomic and sizing guidelines.
The area allocated to my digital darkroom is cozy- about 7x10ft. The wall opposite the printer was the obvious location for the new desk. The standing area had to be relatively shallow, otherwise it would feel cramped and cluttered. Over the years I learned that a good way to give the feeling of more space is to have the floors free. Luckily, I still had a pair of 12X13 steel squares that I used for the library shelves installed last Summer. There was plenty of 2X12's and 2x8's to use for the top and bottom. The bottom refers to a base support for a pair of Bisley 5 drawer cabinets. I have another pair elsewhere; they are great for storing printing paper, photos, etc.
The expenditures for this project came from shelling out for a new desktop computer. I had been using a Viao laptop  for digital photography  and  to run a Squeezebox Touch. The latter is a little music server that has great audio quality both as an internet radio source (it can access internet stations not available on iTunes), uncompressed CD files and Hi-Res downloads. It can be linked to either a NAS or a computer from either WiFi or ethernet which comes in handy as it's 30 feet away from my desktop. So, a computer that can serve as both a much speedier Photoshop machine and a music source made for a reasonable purchase. My better half is also happy as she needed a more up to date Windows machine.
Here is the new standing desk.

The new arrangement allows for a 4 foot space between the printer and the opposing desk. By placing the computer at the former desk area, I was able to use the existing cables (except for one Ethernet cable for which I'll need to buy an extension).

In addition to providing a standing area to work in, the new arrangement gives a lot more desktop area than the previous location where the desktop now sits.

Hopefully, my back will improve and I'll be more productive.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bed Alcove

      One of the many idiosyncrasies of our home is that for the past 10 years or so, we've effectively had a very large one bedroom house. One of the things we like about our house is the ability to easily accomodate overnight guests as our TV room has it's own exterior entry, bathroom and storage. But our TV room sofabed is comfortable only for a few nights which makes my mom's extended stays with us a problem. Further, mom likes to watch TV past our bedtime.
      Part of the solution was to dedicate our bedroom as her pied a terre. Having a place to keep clothing, shoes, etc simplifies travel. A place for her photos, etc helps her feel at home. We'll eventually have a sewing machine in the room.
      The upstair area was the best area for an additional sleeping place. There is an alcove area by the gallery wall area where the bed could readily fit.

Geri's work table would take the place of the daybed in her office. That daybed now serves as the platform for my mom's mattress.
Now the upstairs was used by past owners as a master suite; we wanted to think of it as a studio/crafts area. The problem was how to keep that use while adding a bed. Also was the need for privacy while avoiding window treatments. The solution came while looking for storage solutions for Geri's office (subject matter for future post). We saw some leaded/stained glass panels at Bloomsbury, a Portland architectural salvage store, that had the frames in good condition and at a very reasonable price. I bought the vertical beams from Barnwood Natural here in Salem and the rest were from my stock of materials.

      The new space feels cozy without being claustrophobic. It's a very comfortable place to read. It also provides the needed privacy. The gallery area had turned out to be the most commented on part of our Houzz tour and I was concerned that the change could adversely affect that part of the room. The partition actually improves it as it serves as a framing device.

     The room still has an open feel to it and from most locations looks like a crafts area.