Just Press this Button and Be Amazed!

I’ve told you that I am enamored of digital photography. How could a person who loves taking pictures—but is too confused by the functions and uses of a ‘real’ camera, and far too lazy to do anything like the intensive study required to become skilled with said functions and uses, let alone learn how to process photos afterward—how could I not love digital cameras and photo processing?

One of the bonuses of the ability to revise and improve my photos digitally is the element of surprise that comes when I’ve taken very dark photos (at night or in poorly lit places), open up what looks like an entirely black image in one of my favorite editing programs, brighten it and change the contrast, and voila! there’s that thing I was looking at and had entirely forgotten by then. Sometimes the photo turns out to be something I had no idea I’d shot, too, but even those pictures can be interesting in their own ways.Photo: Gnats 1

Take this particular black rectangle from our recent time in Prague. I knew I’d taken photos on a couple of evenings when we were out and about with our compatriots, but couldn’t necessarily say exactly what the subject of them had been. A little tweaking brought the memory out of the dark.Photo: Element of Surprise 1

Gnats! There was a flurry of gnats flitting around a lamppost and making a tiny but lovely little display of sparkling fireworks, and when I took the photos I had no clue whether they would actually show anything at all, given the intensity of the surrounding darkness. But my hopes were rewarded, if not with a magnificent set of photos, at least with a welcome memory of that beautiful evening that even a clueless picture-taker like me could enjoy.Photo: Element of Surprise 2

Coming in for a Landing

Travel! When the opportunity arises, it’s such a joy. And one of the pleasures is that first glimpse of Destination from the plane as it’s approaching the airport. On the recent trip, that was Hungary. Well, Frankfurt first, for the layover and change of planes, because Budapest is, inconveniently, not a direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International by means of any airlines that wanted to haul 100 wonderful yet mildly wacky choristers and choir groupies like us over there.Photo: Wing Watching

But then there was the arrival in Hungarian airspace, the gradual coasting down below the thirty thousand foot level, the passing through a thick padding of cloud, and the gradual appearance, between shreds of the last clouds, of lovely farmland and countryside, soon followed by equally tantalizing sightings of increasingly suburban and urban zones. As the craft eases toward the runway, there’s that little tickle at the back of the brain that says, This is Finally Real! After weeks and months of planning and imagining and arranging the possibilities, thinking the adventure infinitely far away, suddenly one is looking out a plane window at trees and roads and buildings of a place-that-is-not-home, and it feels quite lovely, even if one is groggy from a long day or night (or more) of travel to get there.Photo: Aerial Patchwork

Returning home after travel can have something of the same effect, of course, since even when it’s awful to have the holiday or away-time end and worse, there are chores and jobs and catch-up of all sorts to attend as soon as the wheels touch the tarmac, there’s still that bit of gladness welling up at the sight of familiar yet unfamiliar land below, stuff not normally seen from such an elevated angle. And it also says that the known comforts of home are not far off after a long day or night (or more) of travel to return.Photo: Signs of the City

So I’ve now had both versions of the experience anew, more than once each as it happens, in a recent journey and, rather than dulling the pleasure, it reminds me afresh of what appeals and beckons about flying off to distant places. And about winging back to home turf, too. Flying from Dallas to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Budapest, riding in massive coaches with the choir from Budapest to Vienna to Prague; flying again from Prague to Stockholm, then Stockholm to Frankfurt to Dallas—and all the while, looking out windows for signs between the buildings, the trees, and the clouds to say that some new sort of excellence lies just ahead—this is a journey worth all of the weeks and months of labor and dreaming, plotting and packing, and one that only makes me hungry for more.Photo: Over Budapest

Foodie Tuesday: Some Useful Rules for Desserts

Our recent trip in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic served as a fine reminder that Europeans have some special talents when it comes to taking advantage of the fun factor of making and enjoying desserts. A cafe many of us from the choir tour group found on our stop just before crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border had a menu loaded not only with bright, shiny pictures but dessert items guaranteed to put any dedicated diner into a happy but instantaneous snacking coma.

Photo: Dessert Rules 1

You really have to admire any dessert that is not only as substantial as this but has booze or some effectively delicious substitute for it in the mix.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 2

Switch a few of the ingredients and keep the sugary deliciousness quotient (and possibly, the eaters) high, and the menu begins to expand. As do waistbands on both sides of the international border.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 3

Something with a typically European liquor flair keeps the menu distinctly local, perhaps. Even if your typography can’t keep up with your recipe tinkering, good taste will abound.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 4

Hot raspberry sauce = Heisse Liebe (Hot Love, a traditional romantic dish) when served over rich vanilla ice cream. A great dessert for honeymooners (I just happen to know), and another way to brighten up the sweetness of a giant sundae.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 5

No reason to limit the brightness of either color or flavor to raspberries and ice cream; why not add yogurt and kiwi fruit for some jazz?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 6

But really, if you’re going to get splashy with the colors and textures and flavors, why not get more elaborate yet?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 7

Or make some kid-crazy concoction that will invite the most stoic and stalwart child of any age to play with his food?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 8

Heck, why not just make the dessert as *big* as a kid. No point in being shy or subtle if you’re serious about making desserts that compel attention and ravenous attacks on the dish.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 9

Of course, if you’re planning to entice the larger, older variety of child to eat, you might consider making some semblance of slightly more grownup-sounding dishes. How about a nice spaghetti-style sundae?

Photo: Rules of Dessert 10

What, that wasn’t flashy enough for you? Try a Pizza sundae. Not surreal enough in the spaghetti imitation department? Make some rich, red strawberry sauce to pour over the ice cream spaghetti. Or for the more soigné palate, perhaps a Carbonara version.

Photo: Rules of Dessert 11

Still, I have to admit that perhaps my favorite from this elaborate collection was the skillet-with-eggs doppelgänger, which in its simple ingredients would likely be a very yummy, creamy dream of an apricot cooler for a hot afternoon and also take a good run at pretending to be much better for me than piles of whipped cream and sweetened fruit.

All of this enticement aside—and I did, however reluctantly, lay it all aside despite the strong temptations, having already eaten a pretty substantial and dairy-laden traditional European meal of ‘fried cheese’ (crisply crumb-coated slow-melt cheese served with a sweet tartar dipping sauce)—there are other dessert paths to my heart, even in the heart of dessert-magical Europe. So I waited a moderate amount of time for my digestion, stroll aided, to recover from lunch before I opted for a much smaller and less elaborate dessert. elsewhere. It was only a single scoop of Stracciatella gelato, but it was cold, creamy, rich and delectable all the same. I’m not made of stone, you know.

 

 

 

It Speaks to Me

What attracts us to certain artworks? Whether book or stage production, painting or photograph, dancing or theatre, singing or instrumental music, there has to be something with which we can connect for the work to have any meaning for us as individuals.Photo: Book of Languages

Some of those connections are obvious: an author with whose philosophy or politics I tend to agree is more likely to produce a book or script I enjoy than one whose beliefs are wildly different from mine; if I favor a specific style or period or medium, I’ll probably always find the works within them resonating in my heart more often than those from unfamiliar or less loved types.Photo: Familiar Passages

Other attractions might be more tenuous or less overt. I read a whole lot online nowadays, both factual and fictional, but I still enjoy reading magazines and books, and there is no digital substitute quite yet for the fine roughness of antique paper pages in my hands and the musty scent of old books.

Unbalanced

Love always makes us a little nutty, and that’s not a complaint.

Digital Illustration: A Little Off Kilter

After all, it’s the only explanation for how I’ve managed to be so loved all of my life!Digital Illustration from a Photo: Longing Ladies

One could do a whole lot worse than beginning and ending with love.

When You Come to a Fork in the Road…

…as the old joke goes, ‘take it!’ Silly and facetious, yes, but that’s about as close to decision-making as most of us can get when it comes to choosing between two or more equally excellent, terrible and/or unknown paths. We often dither so long before even reaching an intersection, just worrying about when and what it might be, that by the time we’re there we’re no closer to real and reasoned decisions and end up tripping all over ourselves while we fumble onto one branch of the road or another, sometimes even going so far as to get scared enough to back up to the fork and try another route instead. Which rarely tells us any more than utterly random movement what would’ve been the genuinely best choice. Just another of life’s unfair conundrums, after all.

Mixed media: So Many Forks in the Road, So Little Time

So Many Forks in the Road, So Little Time. Detail from a mixed media sculpted window valance in a vaguely neo-Baroque style. Fun, pointless, and well worth the making.

In art-making, thankfully, the results of such choices needn’t be either so clear-cut or so exclusive. Art is one of the environments most hospitable to a constantly changing mind or, barring the ability to decide at all, a good mash-up where the chosen option is ‘All of the Above.’ So I happily pot around making mixed media works, assemblages and a veritable multitude of artworks that are nothing in the least like what I thought I was planning to make when I started them. I love being allowed to not make up my mind, or sometimes to let my art make my mine up for me. This is undoubtedly a contributing factor in my perpetual inability to make anything remotely resembling a commercial success with any of my art, this indecisive character of mine. But it sure makes for fun playtime in the studio, and that at least is a sure distraction from any unpleasant paths life threatens to lead me down, so I guess I can’t really complain.