Here in the southeast US, winter takes two forms. The first is “the leaves are gone and it’s cold,” and the second is “OH !@#$%.” This coming weekend appears to be “OH !@#$%” and it isn’t even officially winter yet! The forecast is calling for 8-12″ of snow and low temperatures in the 20s. We’ll see, but it looks like the confidence is pretty high. Yikes.
One of the things that Kathy & I have been talking about for this winter is what temperature to set the thermostat at. Now that we’re home every day we don’t want to leave it set at 65 degrees like we did when we worked. But we don’t want to keep it set too high, as we’d like to keep from blowing the gas bill out of the proverbial water. So ‘what to do’ has been the question.
Perhaps not coincidentally, I have found myself somewhat more sensitive to the cold this year (yes, I know that it hasn’t gotten cold yet!). While my philosophy has always been to make sure I am wearing adequate clothing before turning up the heat, I’ve been finding it necessary to resist turning it too high this year.
At one point I told Kathy – jokingly – that maybe we should think about moving to Arizona. But at some point yesterday we decided that even if the gas bill doubled – which it won’t – it would still be cheaper than moving to Arizona! Although I will admit to looking at cruises leaving this weekend to see if we could escape to the Caribbean! But we opted to tough it out here at home, and turn up the thermostat if we need to.
I’ve said previously that Kathy would make a very good photographer if she was willing to carry a camera and learn a few basic skills. I’m extremely fortunate that she is willing to tag along with me, and on occasion carry a camera and/or lens. Once in a while she points something out to me and says, “like this.” Here are a few of those “like this-es” that she has seen lately that I might (probably) have walked past. Not because they aren’t photo-worthy, but because she’s seen something I haven’t seen.
I was just corresponding with a friend about the recent flooding in Venice, Italy. There had been some flooding in the spring but of course it was gone before we got there. They had put up temporary elevated walkways in the spring but even those are under water now. Glad we didn’t need to deal with that then!
I’ve attached a photo I pulled from the news and combined it with one of mine. You can see the tops of the trash cans in the flood photo, but the tables and chairs are under water (assuming they didn’t take them in).
Kathy & I recently returned from a trip to Ohio to visit friends and family. One of the days that we were there, we visited Ohio’s “Amish Country” with our friends Bill & Cathy. There was an Amish area of western Pennsylvania when I was growing up, but I remember it as a place where my grandmother took her quilt tops to have quilted and to occasionally pick up a pie, some cookies or some cheese. It always involved stopping at someone’s farm or a small market and was always interesting because they seemed rather shy and didn’t socialize much. We did the business we came to do and then went on our way.
That was a long time ago, and I admit that the world has changed. But one of the things that struck me about this most recent visit to Amish Country was how commercialized it has become. While there are still genuine Amish farms, furniture builders and markets, they are almost overshadowed by these huge, I’ll call them “mega-markets” that support the throngs of tourists that visit each year. It is a far cry from the Amish country that I remember from when I was a kid.
As examples, what was once a small sales area of a local cheese plant is now a huge retail outlet, larger than the actual factory itself, selling something like 100 different flavors of cheese. A place that was once a general store is now a multi-level trinket outlet with countless items to take home and store in our closets along with plenty of gifts for the kids and grandkids. Kathy refers to all that stuff as the “mommy-can-I-gets.” A restaurant called “Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen” while possibly still owned by someone named Yoder, is essentially a huge dining hall with a kitchen and multiple buffet lines serving food that I wonder if the actual Amish would eat. Maybe I’m wrong but that was the impression I came away with. But the tourists love it!
While we were in Amish Country I picked up a local tourist magazine that essentially contained advertising for all the places the tourists are supposed to visit while they are there. I was struck by the number of ads for businesses that seemed to revolve around activities that weren’t actually Amish – fancy hotels, clothing stores, restaurants, music and play theaters, souvenir shops. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were actually owned by the Amish and how much of the profits actually stay in the communities. It would be interesting to know if you could actually figure it out.
This isn’t all about the Amish or Amish Country, however, and my observations aren’t limited to one area of rural Ohio. In many ways this commercialization is a reflection of the overall focus on commerce in our society, and applies to cities big and small, islands in the Caribbean and cruise ports around the world. No longer is it enough to just enjoy the scenery on a walk down the main street in a cute little town in the middle of nowhere, but now our visit won’t be complete unless we have an opportunity to buy stuff. If you manage to even find the town itself it is almost a miracle! We’ve got antiques and gifts and fudge and restaurants galore, but too often the retail/tourism side of things has managed to erase whatever it was that caused the town to be interesting in the first place.
When we were in Italy, one of the highlights for us was exploring the towns of Tuscany on our photo workshop with Jeff Curto. Most of the places we visited seemed to be close to the original, and the commercialization fell way short of what we see here in the states. But a lot of the towns there, just like here, have undergone what I heard referred to as the “Rick Steves Effect.” Places that were once quaint and charming suddenly become famous and are overrun with tourists. Almost immediately these places lose what made them famous and become just another stop on the bus tour. It’s a lot like cruise ship ports – every one looks the same after a while because they all contain the same shops. But I digress….
I often comment about how places have become “Disneyfied” in that what tourists see bears little or no resemblance to what the place is best known for. Multimillion-dollar developments replace straw markets and rum shacks in the Caribbean. Gift and jewelry store chains promoted by cruise lines and tour companies sell merchandise in glitzy shops. Merchandise that comes from parts of the world far removed from the place in which it is being sold. There’s obviously a market for that stuff, as these companies seem to be successful and growing. But it makes it hard to experience a place for what made it worth visiting in the first place.
I know this may sound really negative, but that wasn’t my intention. It’s just that all of these things have gotten me to think about how I want to experience the parts of the country and the world that we visit. Do we want to check off a bunch of “must-see” tourist spots and buy the appropriate souvenirs, or do we want to seek out the undiscovered places that have as much or perhaps even more of the charm that made the famous places famous? Do we buy our souvenirs, take our selfies and move on, or do we slow down, look around and try to find the places that are just off the beaten path? It is an interesting challenge, for sure!
I was looking at the National Hurricane Center website this morning and saw a tropical disturbance in the gulf referred to as a “gyre.” I’d not seen that term before so I had to look it up:
“In oceanography, a gyre is any large system of circulating ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Gyres are caused by the Coriolis effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, determine the circulation patterns from the wind stress curl.”
I don’t usually talk about gear any more, but the recent new camera announcements from Canon and Nikon, and more recently Fuji, Panasonic and Sigma have gotten me thinking about cameras. Not to buy a new one, I promise! Just thoughts on what cameras we buy and why we buy them.
When the so-called mirrorless cameras came out, the whole idea – at least in my mind – was the ability to have a high-quality camera in a size that was smaller and much lighter than all of the full-size gear we had been hauling around. Small and very capable cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji and others paved the way for a lot of folks to “downsize” to a camera and lenses that had excellent image quality without having to haul around a bag of bricks. For myself, unloading 30+ pounds of Canon gear and replacing it with the smaller and lighter Fuji gear was a welcome change. No longer did I have to carry my camera equipment in a suitcase that weighed more than my clothes! I specifically remember checking into a hotel one time and having the bellman pull my Think Tank Airport Monstrosity out of the trunk with a “what the heck is in this thing…library books?” question. Ah, not exactly!
Inevitably, some companies started working toward the idea of the “full frame mirrorless” cameras. After a slow start, Sony has become a major player in a field. I know a number of folks that have converted to Sony cameras, but it always interests me that those cameras and lenses are as big and heavy as the cameras they replaced! Canon and Nikon have recently introduced their own versions of these “full frame mirrorless” cameras, but they are nearly as large as my old 5D and lenses. What happened to smaller and lighter?
Ever since I traded in my medium format Mamiya 7 film camera for my first 5D, I hoped that some day there would be a digital equivalent of that Mamiya camera. Fuji just announced a camera that comes very close, but at $4500 for the body it is out of my price range, and it is huge! Nothing like the Mamiya 7, 3 lenses and a box of 5 rolls of film that I was able to put in a fanny pack. Airport Monstrosity 2.0 here we come!
I’m really happy with my decision to move to the smaller APS-C Fuji cameras and lenses. Right now my “ancient” X-T1 is still better than I am, and while I may eventually succumb to the siren song of a newer model, the stuff that I have suits my needs just fine. It is interesting to watch where all the technology is headed, but watching from the sidelines is a pretty comfortable place to be!
It’s not exactly an obsession, but one of the things I look for when we travel (other than lighthouses and covered bridges) is train stations. They are generally very easy to spot, as their architecture tends to be quite unique. They are usually, but not always, located next to railroad tracks. Sometimes they are still active passenger depots, but more often than not have been converted to offices, civic centers or meeting halls. I’ve seen some that are police stations, city halls and even restaurants. Most heartbreaking for me is when I see one in disrepair. It takes a lot of money to keep these places up, but they are an important part of history and I love to see them being used and maintained.