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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

Something Serious for a Change...

I just received an annonymous comment to my May, 2004 post entitled A Nice-Jewish-Boy Yankee In King Faisel's Court I thought I'd reproduce the comment in its entirety below, and then answer some of the points raised.

I am a Saudi who studied once in the States. Never once did I make fun of the country or the people, eventhough I met some who made fun of my country and my language. I know that some of the Americans hated colored people. Did I go to their places and take pictures with hidden signs of my religion and country? No, I was above that! As there were people who hated us there were people who were nice and hospitable. Jeddah does have beautiful historical sites. Forigners visit them daily. In addition there is Mada en Saleh the city built in the rocks with beatiful art work. The rocks on the ground are taken by some of the visitors and sent to Singapor to be made into diamonds. They are called Saudi Diamonds. There is also a dead volcano near Mecca which is also visited by tourists or forigners. Yemenis although many did the lowest work, many became among the richest families in Saudi Arabia. Just take a look at all the last names of the rich people and you'll get the picture! They started low but moved up to the top! Poverty yes we do have, but go a few blocks from the white house and check the poverty there. Are you not the richest country of the world? As for torrerisim, doesn't your country supply a country which kills children and pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land? Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall! Do not mix between giving money to suffering people to live, go to school and get health care and giving money to torrerists! From the way you spoke about and acted in our country, it seems you had preintentions and certainly not noble ones. You did not even mention meeting one Saudi family or eating at their place! We are generous and kind people just as there are geneous and kind people in States. As for non Muslims not allowed into Mecca is just as the case of some of your scared places where non Jews are not allowed to enter! You were issued the visa, how did you react to it is shameful.


Dear Annonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry you found this story so offensive.

I did not include in that old post that I acted in a very friendly and respectful way to every Saudi with whom I came in contact during those trips. As far as the Saudi people that I met, almost everyone was kind and hospitable towards me.

But that's not what the post was all about. It was about the policies and attitudes of the Saudi government.

I re-read my post, and I will have to let what I said stand. I've re-checked my memory and re-checked the facts, and don't find anything that I would change.

"Did I go to their places and take pictures with hidden signs of my religion and country? No, I was above that!"

Actually, in the United States, there is no reason to "take pictures with hidden signs..." As you know from living here, you can pretty much stand in any public space in this country and shout out whatever you want to say and display whatever signs you want to display without fear of government interference.

As you also know, the same was not possible in Saudi Arabia in 1977, nor is it possible even today. While you or I could walk around in Times Square wearing a t-shirt with verses from the Koran and Islamic religious symbols, when I traveled to Saudi Arabia, I had to hide the small gold chai I wore around my neck. My Christian colleagues had to hide or leave home any crosses or other Christian symbols they might ordinarily worn, without thinking, in our democracy. I had to leave my siddur (Jewish prayer book) at home, lest it be found in my luggage, and pray from memory while in Saudi Arabia.

In 1977, except if you were Henry Kissinger, it was almost unheard of for a Jew to be allowed into Saudi Arabia. In fact, I learned months later that, despite my straightforward and honest manner of filing my visa application, my visa (completely in Arabic and thus unbeknownst to me) had not identified me as a Jew, but rather as a Christian! This was done at the Saudi consulate in New York without my knowlege, and caused me all sorts of problems the next time I applied for a visa - a story for later.

So am I sorry I made some mild photographic fun of the policy of the government of Saudi Arabia of intolerance and disdain for other religions? No.

"Jeddah does have beautiful historical sites. Forigners visit them daily."

Sorry, I just didn't see any such thing during my visits 1977-1980. But of course, although I saw large parts of Jeddah, I didn't see it all. Also, I'm sure that by now, over 25 years later, much of what I saw "...as if it were in the process of being torn down or built up." has in fact been built up quite nicely.

"... Forigners visit them daily. In addition there is Mada en Saleh the city built in the rocks with beatiful art work. The rocks on the ground are taken by some of the visitors and sent to Singapor to be made into diamonds. They are called Saudi Diamonds. There is also a dead volcano near Mecca which is also visited by tourists or forigners."

Again, sorry, I didn't see these things. However, I wouldn't recommend that anyone hop on a plane to Saudi Arabia expecting to indulge in some fantastic tourism. May I quote from this United States Department of State Consular Information Sheet


Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries.


"Poverty yes we do have, but go a few blocks from the white house and check the poverty there. Are you not the richest country of the world?"

Yes, of course, you are absolutely right about that. And there are lots of people in this country who write about that very fact all the time. But my post was about what I saw on my visits to Saudi Arabia. And what I said about the living conditions of guest workers, especially the Yeminis, was true. And it was just as shameful for Saudi Arabia as the sight of a ragged beggar standing at the base of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue is shameful for us as Americans.

"As for non Muslims not allowed into Mecca is just as the case of some of your scared places where non Jews are not allowed to enter!"

I do not know of any place where non-Jews are prevented from entering Jewish holy places. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Israel.

But I don't have a problem with not allowing non-Moslems into Mecca. I didn't feel that this was any concern of mine. On the other hand, as I said in my post, "I was actually thrilled to be involved with this work, as the Mecca station was critical to the Kingdom's committment to the yearly Hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.... I felt that I was doing my small part of an endeavor that would enable millions of faithful Moslems fulfill the fifth of their Five Pillars of Faith, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime."

If you read my blog over a period of time, you will realize that I often write with an ironic, and I hope, humorous, tone. That was the point of the subheading, which read, "... How Come No Hebrew?", by the photo of the "No Entry for Non-Moslems" sign. Believe it or not, I still pray that some day, the sign will have an additional "No Entry for Non-Moslems" line, in Hebrew!


"As for torrerisim, doesn't your country supply a country which kills children and pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land? Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall! "

Please! You're swallowing too much of your own propaganda. As far as killing children, please see this report as to who is doing the killing of innocents.

"pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land"

Well, if you can find any documentation or photos of Israelis pulling people out of their houses to give them to others, please send it to me. Oh wait... that will be happening this summer when Israeli soldiers pull Jewish inhabitants out of their houses in Gaza to give that land to the Palestinian Authority.

"Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall!"

Yes, they pull down olive groves that were used by snipers and to launch mortars and rockets against innocent civilians.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, Mr. Annonymous!

Monday, June 20, 2005

 

Mom's Birthday Trip to NYC

Mom turned 75 last week, and for her birthday, I took her to New York City on Sunday. She had always wanted to see the Guggenheim Museum, so that's what we did first. The main exhibit was of art by Hilla Rebay, a talented woman who was involved in a very soap-opera way with Mr. Solomon Guggenheim, the founder of the museum. Mom and I found both the art and the soap opera very interesting.

After we had our fill of the Guggenheim (it's pretty small, as museums go,) I suggested we walk a few blocks south to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met, for those who have never been, is one of the top museums in the world; the breadth and depth of its holdings are amazing.

As luck would have it, the Met now has a special exhibition on Coco Chanel, which instantly appealed to Mom. Then Mom asked if there were impressionists, like Monet, in the museum. Well, it turns out there is almost a whole wing of 'em, so we spent almost an hour, with Mom happily viewing Monets, Manets, C├ęzannes, Pizzaros, Degas, and Rousseaus (Rousseaux?)

I never realized this before, but during the spring, summer, and fall, the Roof Garden of the museum is open. There's a bar and some interesting modern sculpture, but without a doubt, the biggest attraction here is the view of Central Park and the city beyond.


Looking South from Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Posted by Hello


After leaving the museum, we took a taxi to get lunch, then a subway to Lexington and 59th, for a short dash into Bloomingdales. From that point on, we walked for the rest of the afternoon, eventually coming to the pick-up point for our bus on 46th Street near Broadway.

Along the way, we walked down that great stretch of Fifth Avenue from 59th to Saint Patrick's. At one point, I turned to look back over my shoulder and saw this:


Trump Tower from 5th Avenue & 56th Street Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 18, 2005

 

Playing in Parole

On the way back home from seeing Ben at Starbucks, I stopped to take some photos at the now-defunct Parole Plaza Shopping Center.

This relic from the sixties (built in 1962) was a shopping center like the one I remember after we moved to Randallstown in 1958. It had already become quite seedy by the time we moved into the area in 1986. Parole Plaza had seen its customer base and many tenants drained away by much more modern and attractive Annapolis Mall, which opened in the early '80s.

The huge lot, which has been vacant for more than a decade now, will eventually become a mixed residential/commerical development. Meanwhile, the big, once-colorful, Kennedy-era "Parole" sign is the last remnant of what once was. I played around with taking some photos of it, and the one I liked best was this quarter note I made from the "A."



Quarter Note Posted by Hello


The northeast corner of the Parole Plaza is the site of Annapolis Federal Bank. The "sailboat bank", with its 70-foot high concreate "sails," is quite useful as a navigation landmark when giving directions to out-of-towners. This handsome building, which has been out-of-place at the edge of otherwise ugly Parole Plaza, was designed by Frank Gant of Gant Hart Burnett.

Nice job, Frank!

"Sailboat Bank" - Parole, Maryland Posted by Hello

 

My Son the Barista

Ben recently got a job at Starbucks in Parole (no, not on Parole! in Parole - it's adjacent to Annapolis.) So now he's a genuine barista, completely trained up in all that psuedo Italian that you have to know to concoct, or even order, a coffee shop item these days. I found myself in Annapolis this morning, and not having yet seen my son at work at his new job, decided to pop into Starbucks.

Here he is, putting the finishing touches on a Mega Grandissimaximo Giganto de Humongo-Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong decaf

Ben the Barista Posted by Hello

Sunday, June 05, 2005

 

Fishing for Photos

I had some consulting work in Columbia this morning, so I decided to head out a little early and revisit a site where I had almost found some decent photo-opportunities a year ago.

This place is a small dam that forms Wilde Lake, the eponymous body of water that lends its name to one of Columbia's many neighborhoods. I knew that some mornings, there were blue herons visiting the face of the dam, and I was hoping to catch one, photographically speaking, today.

No such luck, but there was a family fishing at the creek below Wilde Lake, and at one point, I saw this young man climbing onto the stepped face of the dam. With my 70-300mm zoom mounted, I started snapping, and out of the several photos, I thought this one wasn't bad.

Boy Fishing on Dam - Columbia, MD Posted by Hello

By the way, Wilde Lake holds a longtime family joke. Decades ago, I was driving my Mom and Dad to find a certain Chinese Restaurant that they had heard about in that neighborhood. I got a bit lost and stopped at a nearby gas station to ask for directions. Now, you have to realize that Columbia had what were at the time, um.... very unusual street names - you can spot a Columbia street name a mile away. For instance, Spotted Horse Lane and Rivulet Row. You definitely won't find a Main Street, Maple Lane or such.

Anyway, assuming that every place name in Columbia had an exotic origin, I asked the gas station attendant if he could direct me to "WIL-deh Lake." I assumed it was, maybe, of Afrikaans origin, and gave it a Yiddish-like pronounciation.

The gas station attendant looked at me as if I were a greenhorn and said, "do you mean Wild Lake?"

And so it turned out that the name, Wilde Lake was not as exotic as I thought it was - just standard land-developer's fancy-spelling.

But more than twenty-five years later, even those in our family who weren't born at the time still call it "WIL-deh Lake."

Friday, June 03, 2005

 

Light Reading

When I was a young guy in my first incarnation of being a photographer, I used to constantly read about photography. I remember when I lived in my first apartment in downtown Baltimore in the prehistoric, pre-Web days of the early '70's, I would often ride to BWI Airport to buy Modern Photography - that was the first place in the area where it would hit the newstands.

About three years ago, when I once again Saw The Light and rekindled my interest in photography, I once again did a lot of reading. In fact, a lot more reading than picture-taking.

It wasn't until late 2002, when I started shooting more than reading, that my photography started to improve. The point I'm trying to make, in the wisdom of my old age, is that it's more important to do than to read about doing.

That being said, it still pays to read about photography, provided that what you read is well-written and by those who know of what they speak.

Although I'm not particularly into landscape photography, I am particularly impressed by the content and level of writing at Michael Reichmann's Luminous Landscape. Michael is an amazing photographer and a gifted explainer. At this site, you'll find colorful travelogues, equipment reviews, and lots of articles that will help your understanding of photography - both film and digital.

One feature you can find at Luminous Landscape, as well as various other photo websites, is The Sunday Morning Photographer. This is a regular column of articles about photography by Mike Johnston. Mike is a well-known editor in the photo world as well as a talented photographer. While a lot of his columns are equipment-oriented, he also often writes about more touchy-feely, "zen" sort of aspects of photography - and I have to say, I like those articles best of all.

Another great reasource is Vivid Light Photography. The format is like an online monthly magazine, and back issues are viewable. Like a magazine, Vivid Light has a number of regular contributors, all very talented.

So if you haven't already, give some of these resources a try. Then go out and put into practice some of the things you find there. Just remember, it is more important to do than to read about doing!


SD400 Markers By Window Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 02, 2005

 

Stock Photos

Sometimes I joke that I really only have three or four photos in me. That's because I like certain design elements that I use over and over again in my compositions.

Strong diagonals and radial lines are two of the design elements I really love. Sometimes I use them without even realizing it. For example, here are two photos I took within less than an hour and less than a half-mile of each other. It took someone else to show me that they were very similar images!

Weems Creek Hibiscus Posted by Hello


Early Morning Jet Skier Posted by Hello

Can you see how similar they are? I was amazed when my Usefilm.com photo-pal from Tehran, Kamran Bakhtiari, pointed it out to me.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

 

QA Approved!

My colleague Sarrah J., a software test engineer with excellent taste in photos, just purchased another one of my Canon i9900 13x19 photos. This one is Red Century, which sounds like something from the old Soviet Union, but is in fact one of my "auto-art" series of images.

Sarrah J. and Red Century Posted by Hello

The photo is of a red Buick Century with part of our office building reflected in the body and rear windshield. I custom-matted it, and as you can see, Sarrah gives it her QA Seal of Approval.

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