Update and apology…

I’m sorry. I’ve been very quiet for a while now (and TOT is almost on hiatus) for a couple of reasons, one of which I’m STILL not at liberty to discuss just now, and the other being the visit of a very ugly critter name of Hurricane Harvey – a seriously obnoxious guest who quite comprehensively wore out his welcome before he moved on.

But It’s not been a totally unmitigated disaster. Mostly, sure, but not totally.

First, the not-so-devastating news: I live in Sharpstown, which is a small suburb (I guess by now it’s probably considered “near town” or even urban) just about four miles outside Loop 610. As I told several people, there’s a small neighborhood in the middle of Southwest Houston that had less rain than almost anywhere else in the area and no flooding, and I live right smack in the middle of that neighborhood. The nearest major street to me is Fondren, and during TS Allison and Hurricane Ike, the last two major rain events to hit this part of Houston, Fondren flooded. Badly. As in waist-deep on me, so almost 3 feet in the center of the road and close to 4 feet at the edges. Damaged a bunch of houses and townhouses in the area and ruined dozens of cars, mostly because of people trying to drive through several feet of flowing water in vehicles equipped for, at best, a couple inches of the stuff. Just for clarity, this is a really bad idea and you shouldn’t even think about trying it yourselves. Trust me. If your vehicle doesn’t have a chapter in the manual about Fording a Stream in Your Vehicle, do NOT attempt to ford streams in your vehicle. It doesn’t end well.

Anyway, as a result of this, the city of Houston rebuilt Fondren, from below the ground up. In the process our storm drainage here went from two 32″ cylindrical culverts to three 6-foot square culverts. This time, although my street got a foot or so deep in spots, Fondren never closed and the water in my area never got further than the main sidewalk a few feet off the street. This is good for me and for my neighbors – none of our homes, none of our cars, nothing was flooded. The only water that got to Rommie was coming down, and she shrugs that off. She does want a bath now, but otherwise…

So I don’t think I get to complain about bad luck for my next two or three lives…

And for the last several days I’ve had something of an insider view into how a major news organization works, which if nothing else has taught me that I DO have the skills and the ability to play this game. (Yes, I know, most of you have told me that and told me that and TOLD me that, but it’s never so clear from the inside… until now. )

And now for the devastation part of this…

Several of my friends and friends of friends weren’t NEARLY as lucky as I was.

I’ve spent a couple days in the aftermath helping friends who live in that complex document losses for FEMA and insurance companies, and salvaging what few bits and pieces could be retrieved after most of a week under Buffalo Bayou, which at the worst of it was about three feet deep where I was standing to shoot this. (I was there days later when the water was back where it belonged; my bootsoles got wet but that was all.)

These folks, most of whom were retired or close to it, are almost entirely wiped out. One of my good friends, who lives under the tall windows at the left of the frame above, managed to salvage a few bags of clothes and a handful of knick-knacks, but lost all of her furniture (including family heirlooms and antiques), her appliances, her books, her electronics, and her car.. She’s a writer and a movie buff, and much of her personal history, and almost everything she owns, was drowned. About half of her neighbors are in the same situation, along with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of other Houstonians, and a much greater number of Texans and, now, Floridians as well. This hurricane season is beyond horrific; none of the words I know really reach on this. There are miles and miles of these scenes. Tens of thousands of people have popped up here from all over the continent to help us, and we are truly grateful (you have no idea), but the recovery will be massive and will take decades. For many it probably won’t happen at all.

There’s just not much to say. As I said, I’ve been doing my photodocumentarian and local “fixer” schtick for the last several days, so I haven’t had time to shoot a lot of images myself, and when everyplace looks either normal or totally devastated… well, there’s not a lot of motivation. It’s too big and there’s just no way to really get an emotional or visual handle on it. We’re devastated, we’re collectively shocked out of our minds – this complex and many other parts of Houston had never flooded before and got several feet of water this time… but, well… Like the guy who hung his flag here, we WILL be back. It may take a bit, though, and if we’re a bit self-obsessed just now, this is why. Bear with us.

(And thanks for the well-wishes and all that, but seriously, not to worry about me. I really WAS quite unconscionably lucky on this one. I’ll take it.)

One more for the end of the year..

Okay, this one’s been burning holes in the HD for almost a month now, so I guess it’s time to throw it up here.

Last post I mentioned that I was in the FW/D Metroplex for family reasons (a thing which will probably become more common for the next I-don’t-know-how-long). On the way back I swung east a bit to Mission Tejas State Historical Park. Mission Tejas has been on my “go see” list for a couple of years now, so I finally went to see it.

Mission Tejas is an homage to the early Spanish Missions of East Texas. The current log cabin structure was built by the CCC “boys” back in 1934-35 and dedicated, along with the park itself, in 1936. There’s some interesting history here; few Texans outside of serious history buffs are even aware that the Spanish attempted to create missions in the East Texas Piney Woods. They weren’t particularly successful, in part because they never found a way to make the Piney Woods missions self-sustaining the way the south Texas missions were, and in part because sending supplies or reinforcements to those missions required a long trek from Spanish Mexico to East Texas through hostile territory over bad or non-existent roads. And, too, the Spanish appear to have just had some abysmally bad luck into the bargain. In any case the missions failed, quickly. So it’s a largely unknown bit of history, which means I’m researching it with the intent of learning enough to make it an interesting tale just for you guys. Okay, it’s a lot of fun for me, too, but I was always weird like that.

Meantime we have these two shots, outside and inside …. because the day I was there I was the only person there, and it was cold, misty, and grey, which doesn’t encourage lots of landscape photography. But that said, it’s a nice little state park, and in addition to the mission “replica” there’s camping, some wildlife watching, nature hikes and fishing.

A section of El Camino Real, the original road from East Texas down to Spanish Mexico, wanders by about half a mile down the hill from where I stood to shoot these. (It’s now a National Historic Trail with its own nonprofit foundation, which means there’s actual maintenance and preservation being done. Yay!)

Come Spring I’m going to set up Home Sweet Nylon Taffeta Home in the park, lace up my boots, sling a camera bag, and my staff and I are going to trace a few of the 700 or so miles from here to San Antonio…

Of course this means that it will be necessary to post something, either here or over at The Other Texas. (Note: If you’d like to receive an email when I post the story, or any others, please go back to the front page, find the “send me email” link, and join the mailing list. It’s an automatic feature – you won’t be sold and you won’t be spammed. My word on that, because I HATE having that done to me…)

Happy Trails, in any case….

Getting there: The park is 21 miles northeast of Crockett on SH21, near Weches. You’ll need a car, or good boots and a walking staff, because there’s no public transport or bus lines this far out. The site offers, as said, camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and history. Plus flush toilets and hot showers – which matter more than you might think on cold winter mornings.

29.72202 N, 95.38975 W,

I’ve never been to Peru, but it’s only one line on the map away from Ecuador, where I may end up, so when the folks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science announced that Peru would be the focus of the February “World Trekkers” gathering, I decided “Eh, close enough!” and sprung for a ticket. So last Friday evening I hopped a bus to a train and then started walking…

A bit of background…

Every few months HMNS hosts “World Trekkers,” a sort of Cultural Night for Members (and Their Kids). It’s mostly for young families to bring their younger persons to the museum, where they get to “experience” a little of another part of the world, in the form of children’s crafts, edible goodies, and usually a folkdance or music group. And, with luck, they learn that there’s more to the museum than a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such.

Mind, a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such was always enough for me as a kid, but back in those days we didn’t have iPads or virtual reality – we only had fire after big storms, and nobody really trusted those “wheel” things anyway… But the world’s changed, mostly for the better, and getting kids to think of learning and having fun in the same sentence is always a good idea.

I digress. Frequently. (Old folks do that. Deal with it.)

As I expected, the event was mostly “kid stuff” – paper mask making, a “Help paint a blanket on the llama” booth, a “Make your own quipu” table, (which drew as many adults as younglings) and so on.

For adults, there was music to listen to, and kids to watch, and a display of incised gourds, hand carved and colored. This is an old Inka art form, now mostly sold to tourists. I stopped to admire.

These are about three inches across, which makes the carvings about as intricate and precise as you think they are. The tops of these are geometric patterns, but if you look down the sides you’ll see traditional scenes of rural life. Others had illustrations of animals, landscapes, and jungle scenes. Sure glad I don’t have to carve those, but I suppose patience is a cultivated skill.

And then, over the speakers – “dancers start in five minutes, right here in the main hall…” and I started looking for a spot.

The performance troupe, Raices del Peru, is local. They’ve been around for years.

This is Roberto Cubias and Beatriz Rozo performing La Marinera, the “National Dance of Peru.” It’s from the northern Highlands.

Most of the dancers in the Raices troupe are young, and the little Panasonics I had with me aren’t really good for fast action in low light, so that part didn’t work so well. The shots that weren’t blurred were out of focus, the shots that were in focus were blurred. I wasn’t getting anything, but couldn’t get to a spot where I could work within the cameras’ limitations without disturbing most of the audience, and I hate it when people do that… so in the end I put the cameras down and just enjoyed the dancing.

I did grab the “shoot the dancers in front of the backdrop” moment, though, because these clothes are so beautiful that I wanted to show them to you.
Textiles and tapestries are one of the major art forms in the Andes, and these are nice examples of the better work.

On the way out I stopped to meet the petting zoo… a squirrel monkey, a guinea pig (cuy), and a chinchilla, and over to the side a young vicuña. I gave some thought to photographing them but I would have had to use flash, and they were skittish already after two hours of being petted, poked, and pestered by a small horde of younglings, so I decided to leave them alone.

Next time for that, too.

Anyway. Reality calls. Time to get back to it.

32.76092N; 97.23616W

Running a little late here on the posting….

Back in early October I ran back up to Fort Worth to do Mom Stuff again. While I was there I got the chance to duck out and see a couple of things, including a convoy of Vintage Military Vehicles driving through Fort Worth, retracing the first coast-to-coast military convoy along the Bankhead Highway*.

I was hoping the convoy pix would become part of my larger Bankhead story-in-progress, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, the relevant authorities opted to bring the convoy in along the old DFW turnpike and avoid the Bankhead route entirely.

Buggeration.

But still… I like history, and I like old machines, and this was both, so I went out and found a good spot on the side of the road, where I could shoot as the convoy passed.

(Yup. That’s the front of the convoy. By now you should know that the rest of the convoy is behind it, right?)

After they’d gone by and some of the traffic had cleared, I jumped in the truck and followed the convoy over to Farrington Field for their rest-and-maintenance day. Learned some interesting stuff there… This trip was 3000+ miles at 30 mph, and on a haul like that the old machines require a fair bit of wrenching. Also, it turns out there are several thousand people involved in this particular flavor of historical preservation. The umbrella group is the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. They do long-haul convoys for public education and such about every year or so, they LOVE it when you ask questions, and yes, they DO take new members. If I needed a new hobby and had the money…. It’s probably lucky I’m ALREADY broke, since otherwise I’d go broke chasing all the interesting things I run into.

Later in the week I caught the train over to the State Fair. That post is coming soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures, and charge up the batteries because the weather’s cooling off and there are more things to shoot.


*You will probably hear more about the Bankhead, and other old Texas highways, if you sign up for the mailing list at The Other Texas. (Yes. That is a Hint. It’s also a link. You should click and sign up. Please. It’s safe; I’m probably the one person you know who hates spam and spammers more than you do.)

Fiestas Patrias

It seems sometimes that close to half the countries south of Texas celebrate their independence from one colonial power or another within a very few days. Some of this is history, some is coincidence, but what it means is there’s a really big party. In Texas and most of the United States it’s generally referred to as “Fiestas Patrias.” We throw parades.

And I generally try to shoot them… because, well, they’re parades. There are bands. There are dancers. There are floats. There are veterans and celebrities ON the floats. There are old cars, with politicians and celebrities in them or on them. There’s music. Lots of music. This year there were high school ROTC units practicing for Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. There are flag-wavers and vaqueros and vaqueras and… it’s just a big noisy crazy spectacle and a heck of a lot of fun.

Also, for photographers, it’s what we might call a “target-rich” environment.

As always, the gallery is behind the picture.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

As some of you know from Facebook mentions, during the last run down to Space Center, I discovered that my favorite walking-around camera, my little Panasonic GF1, wasn’t working. So I took a deep breath and bundled her up (I dunno, some of my cameras are hims and some are hers, and I don’t know what the difference is, but the PanaLeica* is definitely a her) and sent her off to the Panasonic Factory Service shop.

It was too late. Apparently when you sweat as much as I do in the Texas summer, with a camera hanging off your neck, some of the salt gets into the camera and corrodes the internals. So she’s gone to an honorable “remember when?” spot on the shelf above my desk with other bits of personal history – things I’ve run across and can’t bear to part with. When I die someone’s going to wonder “what did he save all this stuff for?” and junk the lot… but until then they’re memories and they stay.

Thing is, I’ve gotten VERY used to having a small inconspicuous close-work camera and my Canons, wonderful tools that they are, are noticeable from half-a-mile away. So the loss of the PanaLeica leaves a noteworthy gap in my working bag.

Enter the GX-7 – the latest update in Panasonic’s scaled-down Micro 4/3 line. It’s essentially a GF1 with several years’ worth of development and refinement. And as a friend/inspiration source dude comments, it’s not nearly as pretty as the GF1 but with the new features and changes, it’s worth it. The friends at The World’s Biggest Camera Store were able to hook me up without leaving the rent unpaid…

Yesterday about 4:00 a new UPS guy swooped across the porch and dropped off a box. (The old guy was a shooter himself, and would usually stick for a few seconds to see what was in the box with the interesting return address…. This one’s not nearly so much fun.)

It took a few minutes of figuring out where the controls went and what some of the new settings do, and an hour or so to spruce up the charge on the battery, and then I tucked the new kid into the camera seat and went out to work. After the pay gig, on the way out, there was a quick stop for this:

The new kid and I are going to be friends. (Yup, this is a “him.”)

*When Panasonic decided to get into the digital camera field, they realized fairly quickly that they had some of the finest electronics engineers known to man, but they didn’t know much about building cameras or lenses. So they turned to the finest camera and lens designers known to man, the guys at Leica. And at about that time Leica had realized they needed to get into digital cameras (thousands of fans banging on the door screaming “Go Digital, Dammit!” will do that for you…) so they were agreeable to several kinds of collaboration – and the results of that were magnificent digital Leicas for the nobility and pretty damn superb digital Panasonics for the peasantry. Digital Leicas carry Leica-based price tags… worth it if you’ve got it but unreachable if you don’t. Digital Panasonics lack the famous Leica Red Dot, but they make first-rate images and they’re priced for peasants. So, since I am at heart and in wallet a peasant …