I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday reflections

More pictures from the 9/11 Memorial. The new World Trade Center buildings are being built around the original site, so here's a picture of one tower under construction reflecting another one.

Right, a closeup of one of the memorial pools.


Names at the 9/11 Memorial this morning.

My visit had nothing to do with the New Year; I made a reservation as soon as they started accepting them, and this was the first available slot during daylight hours. The wintry day, the brown trees, the intermittent sun were appropriate to the mood, but because the new World Trade Center buildings are rising up all around, the memorial is in the middle of a construction site and so still feels raw and unfinished.

There are two pools, in the footprints of the towers, and it was odd how small they seemed. Those towers were so huge! They loomed over everything in lower Manhattan, and maybe that distorted my sense of scale, but I used to take a shortcut through the lobby of the North Tower when I worked downtown and that lobby felt a mile wide when I was running late.

Now they're gone, reduced to perimeters engraved with the names of the dead, and the only enormity is their absence. All the absences, everything and everyone that was, and then suddenly, wasn't.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Grand Hyatt revisited

Happy New Year's Eve Eve, an appropriate day for looking back, so here's a photo I never posted of the always highly geometrical Grand Hyatt in all its lovely moodiness.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Even stoplights blink a bright red and green

In further honor of the holiday, here are some more sparkly red and gold objects: two taillights from my recent batch of downtown photographs.

Sunday bird blogging Christmas edition

And Merry Christmas from a lowly house sparrow, a male to partner the Reno female from a few weeks ago.

I got soup to go and ate in the park one day last week, mostly because there will be so few days in the next couple of months where that's even a possibility.  The accompanying roll was dry and crumbly and when I brushed the scraps from my lap I was suddenly mobbed by thirty or forty house sparrows (a gull and a starling showed up as well but they never had a chance.)

I got the field guides for my April trip to Africa this week, and I've been learning the birds of southern Africa, exotic new classes like sugarbirds and mousebirds and sunbirds.

Some of the names appear to reflect a real lack of commitment on the part of European settlers determined to make the birds in their new home fit into the established taxonomy: Sparrowlark! Cuckooshrike! (See American Robin.) Or else they were named by committee.

But many of them sound like made-up names from a Monty Python skit about bird-watchers. Sociable Weaver! Rattling Cisticola! Shaft-tailed Whydah! Spotted Thick-Knee! And my personal favorite, the Chestnut-Vented Tit-Babbler!

I must give a mention to the poor Lark-Like Bunting, which is apparently the house sparrow of South Africa. Not only did it get a name that points out what it isn't instead of what it is, the guidebook describes it as "a drab-looking bird that is difficult to identify." I will definitely be on the lookout for it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The return of daylight

The solstice past, daylight starts returning to us, day by day, a few minutes at a time. I reach for it without thinking, turning my face to the light like a sunflower.

With the leaves gone, the skeletons of winter trees (here in Battery Park) make it clear how their entire existence is that same reaching for the light.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another building that did not object to being photographed

Another downtown building, this one on Whitehall Street.

I love the way the reflection of the building opposite is perfectly framed by the white grid that seems to vanish into the air.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Night reflections

I'm taking a class downtown this week, so have new things to see but very little daylight to see them by, this darkest week of the year.

This is a little blurry, but for a picture taken on the run without the assistance of a tripod, not too bad.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

After yesterday's drama, here's a nice, safe finch, perched most alarmingly at the very tiptop of a tree.

I do love the way they do that.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

No automobiles were harmed in the making of this picture

I wish I could say the same for the photographer -- one of the taillight pictures that got me attacked earlier today. And I came home to find that my Gmail account had been phished, and everyone in my address book offered the opportunity to buy what I'm sure are very reputable nutritional supplements.

On the whole I've had better days.

Saturday reflections

The back of a parked car on West 48th Street.

I noticed some interesting windows on 48th Street on my way to work this past week, and went back this morning with my camera. Lately I'm fascinated by the headlights and taillights on cars -- geometries and reflections in one small package! -- and I stopped several times to look at some that caught my eye and to take this picture.

A man started screaming, and after a minute I realized he was screaming at me. I couldn't understand what he was saying and he was obviously more than a little crazy so I backed up, and tried to move around him. He punched me in the chest.

"I don't know what you're saying. I'm just going to leave now," I said, as calmly as I could, trying to back away. He followed me, still screaming, hitting me on the chest and shoulders. A man walking by got in between us and told the man to leave me alone or he'd call the police.

"Yes! Yes! Police! You call police!"

"If I call the police you'll be arrested for assaulting this nice lady."

The crazy man pointed to my camera, and screamed some more, and tried to hit me -- my good samaritan kept his blows from landing -- and I finally understood that he thought I had taken his picture. I denied it, but every time I tried to leave he lunged at me again.

I showed the pictures to my rescuer (and how embarrassing was that -- a dozen pictures of taillights) and he told the crazy man that there were no pictures of him in the camera. A few other people had stopped, and finally I was able to get away, the man still screaming at me as I half ran up the street.

The irony is that I'm probably one of the photographers least likely to have taken his picture. My friends even tease me about the lack of people in my pictures, and though I've tried to take more photos of faces I find interesting, it's usually at the safe distance of a telephoto lens, and I seldom get caught.

But after today, I think I'll stick to inanimate objects and wildlife.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

A pretty female house sparrow in Reno.

The shrubbery on my friends' front lawn was mobbed with house sparrows. They tend to travel in flocks but this was more like a convention.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geometry flashback

The shape of the scaffolding in the picture I posted last week reminded me of this picture from Hong Kong a couple of years ago, taken beneath the stairs leading up to an overpass.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

A raven in Half Moon Bay.

I'd never seen a raven in the wild before, and this one was lording it over some crows and blackbirds in a picnic area before flying up in this tree, and I was surprised once again by how huge they are.

I wouldn't say his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, but if he or one of his friends should happen to take residence on a pallid bust of Pallas just above your chamber door, you too might well be driven to write mad gothic poetry about the situation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I have no idea what this scaffolding, in lower Manhattan, is for. I was in a cab, stopped at a light, and happened to have a camera available. I love the roundness of it, which in New York just seems a little wrong.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Les Feuilles Mortes

Most people I know say autumn is their favorite season in New York. The air is crisp and clean but you can still get by with just a light coat, putting off the hats and gloves and scarves as long as possible. There are new plays, new movies, new books; the pace picks up after the long sluggishness of summer. The city is beautiful and walking is a pleasure.

But of course, what's brisk now will be downright freezing in a few weeks, the days are short and still getting shorter, and the leaves explode in those brilliant colors because they're dying. This is only an interlude before the dark and drear of winter, so there's a sadness underneath it all, a sense of loss, of looking back, and the occasional urge to wallow in something sentimental over a cup of tea.

This song is the best autumnal pleasure I know, and provides a terrific soundtrack for wallowing. Forget Autumn Leaves -- go back to the original Jacques Prévert lyrics and listen to Yves Montand sing Les Feuilles Mortes.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.
Roughly translated:
But life separates those who love each other
Softly, without a sound
And the sea erases from the sand
The footprints of the divided lovers.

Proving that rue and melancholy, like so much else, just sound better in French.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome to the working week

Here's a truck belonging to Independent Tires of Reno, Nevada, a business that I'm guessing involves tires.

And here's hoping that returning from a long weekend (at least here in the States) isn't as difficult as it usually is.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

Small brownish striped birds are second only to gulls in being difficult to identify -- there are always at least half a dozen possibilities to pick from, mostly endless variations on the theme of sparrow.

I could pretend that I told myself that this bird was the wrong shape for a sparrow, and the head was too plain, and the body too big, and the beak not quite right.

All of which is true, but since this bird was in the same yard in Albany with the trees full of finches, I had the luxury of identifying it as a female house finch first, and reasoning backwards from there to list all the reasons why only an idiot could mistake this for a sparrow.

And I do love the way she's perched, straddling the fork at the top of the tree.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday reflections

The autumn light in New York is dazzling. I love how the gold reflected light makes the pointy roof on the left look like a giant Christmas tree.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I never go to the Thanksgiving Day parade -- floats and marching bands aren't enough of an incentive to get up early on a non-working day and jockey for a decent spot in a big crowd -- but it is fun to catch odd glimpses of the balloons down side streets while you go about your holiday business.

But I don't need parades to make me grateful for this beautiful city, and all the others I encounter on my travels, plus architecture, reflections, birds, literature, good meals with good friends, and the tens of readers worldwide, in Finland and France, Syria and South Korea, Angola and Austria, who stumble on this blog, look at the pictures, and sometimes leave a kind comment. Thank you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

A house finch, in Albany.

There were so many birds in Paul and Elisa's back yard that even without my good telephoto lens I got enough pictures to keep Sunday bird blogging going well into the new year.

As long as you like finches. There were sparrows and towhees and chickadees, but mostly there were finches, dozens of them in the trees and hanging off the bird feeder next door, and unlike the chickadees, they stayed in one place long enough to be photographed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Everything Saturday

Reflections, geometries, patterns of light: Rockefeller Center in the light of late afternoon, and I must be back in New York.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

It's back to New York tomorrow, so here's my farewell, one native Californian to another -- a scrub jay in the backyard in Albany. He looks so perfectly posed on that branch I don't even mind that as usual there were thirty lousy shots before I finally got a good one. Sometimes (most of the time?) the lousy shots are all you get.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Imagine what this looks like after a lot of wine

An old tree at the winery obligingly provides another Photography 101 subject.


I've come down with a huge, drippy mess of a cold, so when Paul and Elisa suggested a drive to Sonoma to see the autumn countryside I wasn't as enthusiastic as I might otherwise have been.

But as the pictures (taken at the Benziger winery in Glen Ellen) show, it was a beautiful day and no digital enhancements were required to make the scenery picture-postcard perfect. At the tasting room, I limited myself to white wine, thinking red was bad for a cold, and I intended to have only a few sips. But somehow, after the first three wines it seemed silly not to try the last two, and by the time we left I was feeling remarkably healthier.

Healthy enough to make red wine with dinner seem like a spectacular idea, anyway. And so it proved.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Angel pancakes*

My dear friend and gracious hostess Elisa Kleven read her latest children's book The Friendship Wish at Books Inc in Berkeley this afternoon.

It was great fun to see how enthralled the children were -- Elisa had some major fans in the audience -- especially when she passed around some examples of her original collages. They were so solemn and so respectful as they carefully, carefully, touched the pictures with their tiny fingers.

*My favorite of the earlier possible titles for the book. Who wouldn't want angel pancakes?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you

Back in the Bay Area, in the home of Bella and her family in Albany.

Bella still believes that if she stares at a ball long enough, with sufficient intensity, someone is bound to pick it up and throw it for her. (Admittedly, experience has given her some basis for this belief.)

I've tried outstaring her, holding the ball and fixing it with my own version of the Time To Play Stare, but I blink first every time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I shot a bird in Reno just to watch him fly

Bonus bird blogging, because I had to use that title. Here's a goldfinch, probably a lesser goldfinch, enjoying the cold mountain air of Reno, before fleeing at the sound of my shutter.

The wild west

I'm staying with friends in northern Reno, near Peavine Mountain. This subdivision is maybe 15 years old, and from the street it looks typically suburban.

Follow the street around and behind the houses, though, and suddenly you're in the raw high desert, with snow-dusted scrubbrush, dirt roads and an old culvert. No wonder the jackrabbits and coyotes still feel so at home here.

Monday, November 7, 2011


The darkness, the hush, the blank faces parked in front of the slot machines -- you know you're back in Nevada. And that's just the airport.

Words to live by

It's farewell to beautiful Half Moon Bay this morning, and I am grateful for this last reminder of what's really important in life.

French fries. And birds. And dinner with good friends around the table.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday bird blogging

A red-tailed hawk surveys the coast from the treetops.

(Thanks to Dru for pointing it out -- I was so busy looking at the blackbirds and sparrows at our feet I never even saw the huge hawk up in the tree.)

Coast walk

Pictures from a walk this afternoon, along the bluffs above the state beach. It rained last night, and the air smelled of salt and eucalyptus.

I've lived in New York for thirty years this month, but there's something about the smell of eucalyptus after a rain, and the way the fog lies in layers above the coast that still says, I'm home!


This is a little Photography 101, but I love the texture of this tree stump near the beach and, hell, it's my blog, and I can be lame if I want to.

Sand painting

The patterns carved by the waves into the sand make a beautiful abstract.

Sunday morning

I'm staying with old friends in Half Moon Bay, California, just down the coast from San Francisco.

A five minute walk from their house takes you from a typical coastal suburban street on a Sunday morning to the view below:

The waffles and fresh berries afterwards were almost overkill.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Collection: Fire Escapes

Two fire escapes in the French Quarter in New Orleans, at the top, and one from the Lower East Side in New York, right.

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