The only photo I remember from my primary school history book is this:
I’m sure you’ve all seen it before: St Paul’s dome standing intact above the ruins, surrounded by smoke and flames, seemingly indestructible, converting into a symbol. Iconic doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was taken on 29 December 1940, the 114th night of the Blitz, by Herbert Mason, a Daily Mail photographer, from on top of the Daily Mail building in Fleet Street. I take my hat off to Mr Mason – quite apart from any other considerations, just for having the guts to stand on an exposed London rooftop during a German bombing raid, taking pictures.
The first challenge of Dogwood2016 was a self-portrait, using the camera’s self-timer. Well, finding out how to do that was easy (I read the manual).
But the rest…!
If there’s anything I hate more than being seen with a camera in my hand, it’s being in front of the camera. I was only sure of one thing: the resulting self-portrait should not really show much of me. If you say that can’t be a self-portrait, yes, it can.
One of the greatest impediments to me becoming a better photographer is that I wouldn’t want to be seen dead with a camera in my hand.
Quick on the Trigger like John Wayne
In a city like London not wanting to be seen taking a picture does rather pose a problem. Even if you use a phone, even if you had an invisible camera, you would be still seen acting like a photographer.
What I’d like instead is to take great photos without behaving like a photographer.
To pull out the camera and shoot from the hip, as it were, in one quick movement, non-chalantly, seemingly without aiming but hitting the target for the first time, all the time. Yeah! Like John Wayne.
Recently I went on a visit to Hungary to spend time with family and catch up with old friends… and to introduce Young Friend of the Elephants (who caught the photography bug from me) to some of the more prestigious buildings of Budapest. In the course of which we took a copious amount of pictures, most of which proved to be a blurry failure when downloaded to the computer – but of that, more in another post…
Because today I’m contenting myself with nominating some dazzling doors from the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest (the few that came out sharp!) to Norm’s weekly Doors challenge.
There’s an Argentinian cartoon from the late 1960s-early 70s, about a little girl called Mafalda, whose exclamation, ¡Paren el mundo, que me quiero bajar! (Stop the world, I want to get off!) became an internationally known phrase. As we all have moments in which we want to get off (I did, yesterday afternoon), perhaps it might be a good idea if you keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at hand?
As the title suggests, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the only – electronic – book you’ll ever need if you should actually succeed in getting off by hitching a ride on a passing UFO. It will also provide you with light relief while you’re waiting by the roadside, as it were, with your thumb stuck in empty air as those heartless aliens are driving by without stopping.
I just came home from home. The experience was slightly unnerving in both directions (as usual). To begin with, there was the inevitable confusion of languages: while at home, I tended to do it all wrong. I spoke Hungarian to Young Friend of the Elephants and English to my father, not to mention when I creatively mixed the two languages to the changing room attendant in the thermal baths. To end with, back home there was the immigration officer at Heathrow who asked cunning questions to find out if I was trafficking my child into the country to be some sort of a domestic slave. (She’s washing up after dinner right now but don’t tell that to the border police.)
The other day, reading a history of Spain by Juan Eslava Galán, I came across the following paragraph:
Spain had become the defender of the honour of God. Theologians and thinkers (not so many of these latter) became convinced that Spain and God were united in a pact. God promoted Spain to the rank of the chosen people, protected her and granted her riches and power (the Americas) in exchange for which Spain acted as his armed arm on Earth, champion of the true faith against the error of the Protestants and the Turks.
España se había erigido en defensora del honor de Dios. Teólogos y pensadores (de estos hubo menos) llegaron al convencimiento de que España y Dios estaban unidos por un pacto. Dios la había promocionado al rango de pueblo elegido, la protegía y le otorgaba riquezas y poder (las Américas) a cambio de que ella ejerciese como su brazo armado en la Tierra, paladín de la fe verdadera contra el error de protestantes y turcos.
This notion of the pact with God and the chosen people put me strongly in mind of the Hun-Hungarian legends which I read as a child.
I first heard this evocative phrase in a history class at university many years ago but in certain countries (the English and the Spanish can raise their hands here) it’s pretty well-known. And I don’t know about you but it makes me think of ships ploughing the oceans, armies marching and merchants haggling over exotic goods. I think of kings whose word was law over diverse lands, of gold and glory and of a confusion of languages to equal that of Babel. In fact, in my mind I can see the big globe in the library of the Escorial, turning slowly….
He oído esta frase evocador en una clase de historia en la universidad hace muchos años pero en ciertas países (los españoles y los ingleses pueden levantar las manos aquí) es bastante bien conocida. No sé nada de ti, pero me hace pensar en barcos cruzando el mar, ejercitos en marcha y comerciantes regateando mercancías exóticos. Pienso en reyes cuyos palabras eran la ley en tierras distintas, en oro y gloria, y además en una confusión de idiomas igual que la de Babel. De hecho, mentalmente veo el gran globo en la biblioteca de El Escorial, girando despacio…
In the early 19th century, several English poets, among them Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ and the poet laureate Robert Southey, were inspired by old Spanish historical ballads. Someday I will explore this topic in more detail but today, I’m merely sharing an excerpt from a ballad known as The Defeat of King Roderick.
A principios del siglo XIX, varios poetas ingleses, entre ellos Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ y Robert Southey, eran inspirados por viejas baladas históricas españolas. Algún día voy a explorar este tema con más detalle pero hoy sólo estoy compartiendo un extracto de una balada conocida como La Derrota de Don Rodrigo (Los huestes de don Rodrigo).
Today I’m going to depart a little from the usual topics to share instead some photos of the Queen’s House in Greenwich – built by one of England’s greatest architects, Inigo Jones. If you wonder why we’re looking at an English building on Mediterranean Monday, it’s because:
The Queen’s House is the first pure, classical, Italianate building in England – which to English eyes at the time must have looked shockingly foreign
Inigo Jones was heavily influenced by the classical architecture he saw in Italy in 1613-14, and in particular by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio
The Queen’s House in Greenwich is one of those buildings that I walked past dozens of times each year and never once entered, despite being a member in the Maritime Museum and despite the entry being free in any case. There is so much to see in Greenwich that the Queen’s House always ended up bypassed. I finally went in two weeks ago – to see the so-called Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I that the museum had recently acquired and which was about to disappear into a conservator’s workshop for the near future. The building is so stunning I can’t believe I ignored it for years – don’t miss it if you ever visit Greenwich!