A Guide To A Good Life

Learning English

This is the fifth video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well! In this one, I talk about how learning English well has shaped my experience as an immigrant to the United States, about how learning English is still very much of relevance in today’s world, and I also offer some comments on the state of immigration in the US and Europe.

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Places

Collingwood Picnic Area, Virginia

I hope I won’t spoil this little spot by telling you about it. On one of our visits to Mount Vernon, we decided to meander on down the road, following the Potomac, to see where we’d get.

We stopped at a place called Fort Hunt, which is across the river from Fort Washington (you can see a map of them here). I guess at some point these two forts were used to control water traffic toward the capital, but they weren’t in use anymore. They are now parks and they are open to the public.

As we continued driving south, a little place called out to us. From the road, it only looked like a little parking lot, and perhaps we were simply looking to stretch our legs once more — or something told us to stop. We did, and as you’ll see in the photographs, it was well worth it. The shoreline of the Potomac is special there. The river flows by quietly and you get these little ripples in the water that look wonderful in the light of the late afternoon. Round little pebbles of all colors are mixed with the yellow mud and brown sand on the shore, and when the light hits all of them just right, it makes for magical little vignettes that capture your imagination.

I didn’t have GPS with me at the time, so I had to guesstimate the location 10 years after having visited it, but after spending about half a day looking at maps and satellite imagery, I believe this spot is the Collingwood Picnic Area on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. Perhaps it’s changed since we visited it and these photos represent a certain moment in time when things simply came together. I don’t know. I’ll let you rediscover the place. Enjoy the photos!

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Places

The remains of the Seneca Stone-Cutting Mill

Should you find yourself hiking the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, you’ll find the remains of a red stone building somewhere near Riley’s Lock, between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. These ruins are what used to be the Seneca Stone-Cutting Mill, a quarry that operated on and off from 1837 to 1901. The quarry’s good years were from 1837 to 1876, particularly 1837 to 1848, according to this source. The tract of land on which the quarry was located was sold to the State of Maryland in 1972 and it became part of the Seneca Creek State Park.

The remains that can be seen now give little indication of what once was, or how the mill operated, but thankfully some of this information has been preserved on the site linked above. I’ll quote from it here:

A large rough piece of sandstone was place on a little car and brought into the mill. It was placed under the saw blade which was then lowered onto the stone. The blade went back and forth just like people sawing wood. When a piece of stone was sawed off, they took the remaining stone back outside the mill, turned it over, put it back on the car, and brought it back into the mill to saw that side off. If they wanted all sides sawed, they’d repeat the process until they sawed it square.
To polish the stone, they would place it on a big round wheel which turned underneath the stone. Water and sand were poured on the wheel to grind the sandstone smooth. It was called a planing wheel… [An] 1882 auction described the property as a large Stone Mill, with the necessary machinery for twenty gangs of saws: a Second Mill with the machinery for four gangs of saws. The saws cut thru the sandstone at the rate of about one inch an hour. Water was dripped onto the saws to lubricate the blades. Perhaps the trough also collected the water and channeled it outside the mill.

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Website

Ligia and I visited the remains of the mill in the spring of 2008. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at that time. Enjoy!

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Places

Carderock Wall

Back in the late winter – early spring of 2008, I went out over multiple days to photograph a spot called Carderock Wall, located in the Carderock Recreation Area in Maryland, USA. It’s a 100-acre park, part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The area is well known as a destination for its outdoor activities of rock climbing, hiking and biking. It is bounded by the Potomac River on the south and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the north, and it is accessed from Clara Barton Parkway from the same exit as Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. (I have published a photobook about the C&O Canal and Potomac River, by the way.)

The area has a long history of climbing and is notable for being the closest significant climbing area to Washington, D.C. As such, it has some of the most climbed cliffs in the eastern United States. The particular spot where the cliffs are located is known as Carderock Wall, although it’s made up of a series of cliffs, not a single wall.

I’m not a rock climber, so all I can say is the rock formations are interesting and you can find more details about them here. Some of the cliffs are just a few degrees off vertical, while others are more sloped. Some have deep crevices and protuberances, while others are sheer. The neat part is there are hikable ravines between them, so you can quickly jog to the top to secure a climbing rope, then get back down to start climbing the wall, although most people were climbing with partners who “belayed the rope” — that is, had it secured around their own waist and were controlling it with their hands and body weight, in case the person climbing lost their footing and fell down. It’s a good place to practice your climbing before you tackle big cliffs like those you’ll find in some of the national parks. I also saw a few people engaged in bouldering, the practice of climbing without a rope and without a safety. I guess another name for them would be adrenaline junkies. You certainly will get a rush of that stuff going through your body when you’re high up on a cliff with no safety and your hands start to go soft.

The photographs were supposed to be published in a local magazine, but they ended up not using them. It was a learning experience for me: the magazine asked me to do this as “spec work”, meaning I would only get paid if they used the photos. Being a somewhat fresh-faced photographer with my first magazine “job” seemingly close at hand, I accepted. I drove out there three times, got people to sign release forms, spent hours and hours taking and editing the photos, only to have the magazine not use them. To be fair, when the magazine told me it wouldn’t use the photos, they actually didn’t use them, so they were still mine. They didn’t try to weasel the copyright out of me. And I liked the place anyway, so I would have gone out there to shoot some photographs — maybe not three times, but I’d have done it. Still, the experience taught me not to take on any more spec work.

Here we are, 11 years and change later, and I thought it a nice time to publish these images. I went through them again, edited them again, and they’re good to go, this time on my own website, which will turn 19 later this year.

Enjoy the photographs, there are 74 of them!

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Places

A drive on A1A

I lived in South Florida for a number of years. I went to high school and graduate school there. I did a lot of driving up and down A1A over the years, since 1991 onward. During a stay in South Florida in 2010, we were returning home after a visit to Vizcaya, and we thought we’d drive up A1A from Miami Beach, to see how things had changed.

They had changed. Things have always been in constant change along the coast, at least to my knowledge. When I arrived in Florida and started going to the beach in Hollywood and Hallandale, there were a few multi-story apartment buildings here and there, with a few larger ones down the road toward North Miami, but the rest of A1A was quiet, with nice, Art Deco beach houses tucked away between large palm and mangrove trees and private beaches. Then, sometime in the mid 90s, larger apartment buildings began to rise. The invasion had begun. The traffic began. Whereas A1A had been a leisurely cruise down the coast, it eventually turned into one long traffic jam. People who’d lived in quiet little beach houses for years and years, saw to their dismay the rise of monstrously tall apartment buildings, right next door, obliterating their privacy. There must have been zoning law disputes and lawsuits, but eventually the large real estate developers won, because more and more apartment buildings rose on the beach.

I have to wonder how those things are anchored to the ground, because Florida has no bedrock. Underneath a fairly thin slice of topsoil, Florida is made of coral bed, which is porous and soft. The engineering knowhow required to build a proper foundation for a 40-50 story building right next to the beach, where it’s subject to high winds and hurricanes and the concrete is eaten away by salty water, must be fairly complicated and tremendously risky. But people want to live “the dream”, and for the people clamoring for a beachside apartment in South Florida, the real estate developers are happy to provide it.

The photos you’ll see here were taken from the car, as we drove up A1A toward Hallandale Beach. It was the spring of 2010. Side note: I do like the way they painted the Hallandale Beach Water Tower.

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Places

A visit to Villa Vizcaya

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, previously known as Villa Vizcaya, is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering, of the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune. It’s located on Biscayne Bay, in the present day Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. Deering used Vizcaya as his winter residence from 1916 until his death in 1925.

The estate property originally consisted of 180 acres of shoreline mangrove swamps and dense inland native tropical forests. The villa was built primarily between 1914 and 1922, at a cost of $15,000,000, while the construction of the extensive elaborate Italian Renaissance gardens and the village continued into 1923.

The estate’s name refers to the northern Spanish province Vizcaya (In English Biscay), in the Basque region along the east Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay, as ‘Vizcaya’ is on the west Atlantic’s Biscayne Bay. Records indicate Deering wished the name also to commemorate an early Spaniard named Vizcaya who he thought explored the area, although later he was corrected that the explorer’s name was Sebastián Vizcaíno. Deering used the Caravel, a type of ship style used during the ‘Age of Exploration’, as the symbol and emblem of Vizcaya. A representation of the mythical explorer “Bel Vizcaya” welcomes visitors at the entrance to the property.

Vizcaya is noteworthy for adapting historical European aesthetic traditions to South Florida’s subtropical ecoregion. For example; it combined imported French and Italian garden layouts and elements implemented in Cuban limestone stonework with Floridian coral architectural trim and planted with sub-tropic compatible and native plants that thrived in the habitat and climate. Palms and Philodendrons had not been represented in the emulated gardens of Tuscany or Île-de-France.

James Deering died in September 1925 on board the steamship “SS City of Paris” en route back to the United States. After his death Vizcaya was inherited by his two nieces, Marion Chauncey Deering McCormick and Ely Deering McCormick Danielson, and that’s where the tale turns even sadder, at least for me. I do wish heirs could hold on to these grand estates after they inherit them. Surely they also got some money as inheritance. Couldn’t they have become proper stewards of the place? History answers that question with a no. Over the decades, after hurricanes and increasing maintenance costs, they began selling the estate’s surrounding land parcels and outer gardens. In 1945 they sold significant portions of the Vizcaya property to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, to build Miami’s Mercy Hospital. 50 acres (200,000 m2) comprising the main house, the formal gardens, and the village were retained.

In 1952 Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and formal Italian gardens, needing significant restoration, for $1 million. Deering’s heirs donated the villa’s furnishings and antiquities to the County-Museum. Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum. The village and remaining property were acquired by the County during the mid-1950s. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark. In 1998, in conjunction with Vizcaya’s reaccreditation process by the American Alliance of Museums, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust was formed to be the museum’s governing body.

Visitors can now see the villa, estate and surrounding gardens at 3251 S Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33129, USA. You can get tickets and consult visiting hours at the official website.

I have prepared a gallery of 103 photographs we took there, and I hope you enjoy seeing them!

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Places

A visit to The Breakers in Palm Beach

Back when we visited the Flagler Museum, we also visited and stayed at The Breakers in Palm Beach, an historic hotel. I honestly thought I’d published these photos long ago but no, I forgot. I did publish a short video clip I filmed on the beach with a new camera I was reviewing at the time, the PEN E-P2.

So… eight years later, here are the photographs I’ve taken at The Breakers. In case you’re interested in the fleeting red light of the setting sun and how it can be used for portraits, there’s a wonderful spot right outside the hotel, on one of the walkways, where it filters through the palm trees and shines on a spot that’s right at face level. You’ll see it in the photos and yes, that is exactly the kind of red light it is, I did not make it redder in post-processing. If you want to catch it, you’ll have to be there watching, because it only lasts for about 10 minutes each evening. Good luck!

Enjoy the photographs!

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Back in 2010, Ligia and I had the privilege of seeing a unique collection of vintage and classic cars in South Florida. It was not open to the public, and although we were allowed to take photos and graciously shown around, we were asked not to mention the name of the collection. Instead, we needed to refer to it as “a private, exclusive South Florida organ and car collection”. I abided by those terms all these years, until now.

It is no longer necessary to do so, because in 2012, the Milhous brothers auctioned off the entire collection. Everything went. The entire collection was auctioned off in February 2012 for a total sale price of $38.3 million USD. Since the collection no longer exists and is now spread among various other collectors located who knows where, and it’s been more than three years since the sale and dissolution, the terms of our agreement no longer apply.

This means you are fortunate enough to see immaculately restored cars that few people have ever seen, cars so rare they sell for millions of dollars and for some models, fewer than five exist in the world altogether.

The car that sold for the most money at the auction was a 1912 Oldsmobile Limited Touring. But there is one car prominently featured in the gallery you see here, a car I fell in love with right away, a car I consider to be the most beautiful in the world, a car so special I had to stand at a distance from it and take it all in before I could approach it and touch it. That car is a butter-white 1934 V-16 Cadillac Fleetwood Roadster. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous example of streamline moderne design and it’s a car that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I truly hope you’ll enjoy these photos. You don’t get to see stuff like this every day.

Places

Cars from the Milhous Collection

Gallery

A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon; more precisely, a portion of its South Rim. It was winter, so the snow provided a nice color contrast to the golden-hued soil and rocks typically found there. I would have liked to spend more time there but our schedule allowed us only a few hours.

Here is a gallery of photographs from that trip. And there’s also video from the ride in the propeller plane that took us there.

Enjoy!

Places

At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Gallery

Mark Treon and I sat down for a conversation about Romania on 7/8/15, in my studio. Mark has been coming to Romania since 1991, has made over 30 trips to the country and has also adopted a child here, which has bound him even closer to the country. He is now renovating three Saxon homes in the village of Richis and plans to turn them into an inn.

This is the tenth episode of “Romania Through Their Eyes”, a show featuring interviews with foreigners living in Romania. The show’s purpose is to get their impressions about the country and to start a dialogue which will lead to a greater understanding of the issues facing Romanians and Romania.

Music: “Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52” by Frederic Chopin, performed by Frank Levy. Track is public domain, obtained from Musopen.org.

RTTE-010-EN-HD
Released 7/13/15