Flying The Line

•March 18, 2008 • 1 Comment

This post will be short in words with the goal of bringing a few of you aviation junkies a quick fix of some shots from the line. One of the things I love about flying is the opportunity to see all kinds of airplanes, facilities, and equipment and all kinds of weather. I’ve got dozens (hundreds?) of photos stored up from my adventures around the world, however, in keeping with the theme of this blog I’d like to present a few recent shots from the Caribbean.

(A note about this photo: at first glance, it would appear that this photo and the one on my header above were taken on the same day using the same camera. In fact, the shot used in the header was taken last August with my point & shoot Canon A630. The photo in today’s post was taken in March, a few days ago, with my Nikon D300 in very similar conditions using the same settings that I applied to the A630. The D300 shot is much more crisp, and I really like the highlight on the wing in addition to the excellent tonal qualities. I have to say, though, that for $200 the Canon A630 takes some really nice shots!)

The aircraft I’m working in/on these days is the venerable ATR-72. The ATR-72 is a twin-turboprop short-haul regional airliner built in France and Italy by ATR. It seats up to 66 passengers in a single-class configuration and is operated by a crew of 4: two pilots and two flight attendants.

Passengers are boarded using the rear door (which is rare for a passenger plane); the front door is used to load cargo. As a note of interest, Finnair ordered their ATR-72s with a front passenger door so that they could use the jet bridges at Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

A tail stand must be installed when passengers are boarding or disembarking to prevent the nose from coming off the ground when aft cargo is loaded. Nothing but funny fun fun on the ATR-72… but we love them. Usually.

Here’s my girlfriend Mary at sunrise on Nevis. Remember Nevis? Wait a minute… remember Mary?

I couldn’t resist a tail shot. It just looks nice. In fact, let me see if I can find another example of some nice tail…

Here’s a shot of the ATR tail with an edgy finish applied. I kinda like it… not my usual sunny, happy photo style.

And now for something completely different.

Can you spot anything about the landing gear on this LC-130 that seems a little out of place? SKIS! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this unusual and somewhat rare plane touch down in front of us in San Juan. Luckily, I had my D300 in my hands and grabbed a quick shot.

The LC-130 Hercules with ski–wheels is used in Antarctica to supply inland stations and support field parties. By the early 1990s LC-130R machines, plus two of the older LC-130F, made up the USAP fleet of six ski–wheel transports. The aircraft are owned by NSF and were operated by the USN (VXE-6). The 109th TAG, NYANG, has four LC-130Hs of more recent vintage. Raytheon Systems Company had modified the Navy’s three remaining LC-130Rs to Air Force LC-130H standards.

The New York Air Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, Schenectady, NY provides logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is administered by the NSF. The 109th AW is the only organization in the world that flies the ski-equipped LC-130s, which are the only aircraft capable of landing at the South Pole at this time of year. There are only seven such aircraft in the world. The Air National Guard outfit has been flying people and supplies on its specially equipped planes to Arctic and Antarctic outposts since 1975.

The New York Air National Guard ski-equipped LC-130 unit inherited a historic responsibility in assuming the mission of airlift support for science in Antarctica when DoD and the National Science Foundation (NSF) signed a Memorandum of Agreement on March 26, 1998. The agreement, carrying signatures from senior representatives of the Department, the Air Force , the Navy , US Transportation Command, National Guard Bureau and the NSF, completed a three-year transition of program responsibility for LC-130 operations from the Navy to the 109th AW.

The agreement signing was the last in a series of events which complete the airlift transition. Ceremonies held at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Christchurch, New Zealand and Port Hueneme, Calif., symbolically brought closure to Navy oversight over logistic air support on the Antarctica continent which began with Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd’s Operation Deep Freeze in 1955.

The lack of commercial capability to provide the kind of ski-equipped, fixed-wing air support required by the US Antarctic Program provided no commercialization opportunities for this function. The Navy and National Science Foundation discussed this requirement with other government agencies. The Coast Guard considered taking on the mission as an extension of their current C-130 operations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a fleet of aircraft that support science, also considered the mission. The National Science Foundation encouraged a close look at the Air National Guard for potential “single-point management” of fixed wing logistic support for Antarctica. The Air National Guard had already been augmenting Navy operations in Antarctica since 1988 with use of their own aircraft, and they also have had a complementary role of LC-130 logistic support in the Arctic since 1975.

And that’s all I know about that. I sent a copy of this photo to the 109th, but they never wrote back to acknowledge receipt – they must be busier than I am.

No, this isn’t a vintage photo, although I couldn’t help converting it to black and white for effect. This is one of several Douglas DC-3 (C-47) aircraft operating from San Jan carrying cargo to the nearer islands. I love it every time they take off and land – sometimes our ramp slows to a crawl while everyone looks at these gorgeous planes from days gone by.

To round out this dose of aviation sweetness, here’s a shot of a Virgin Airbus A-340 taken with my 70-200mm f2.8 zoom. I did some research on the aircraft’s registration number (clearly visible in the full resolution photo), and if I am reading the info correctly this is the second A-340 ever made in production. There are relatively few photos of this ship posted online, as compared to some airplanes with hundreds of photos, so I was totally stoked to grab this shot.

IN my next post, we return to the island view of things. I do hope that those of you who enjoy aviation in particular found these pictures interesting – I’ll do another aviation post in the not-to-distant future.


The Wild Side of Nevis

•March 8, 2008 • 2 Comments

Nevis Palm Breeze

As many of you know, the island of Nevis is my very favorite place in all of the Caribbean. There is an energy about Nevis that you notice the moment you step off of the plane. This energy is difficult to describe, but whenever I arrive, no matter how long and trying the day has been, I feel peaceful and rejuvenated. Today we arrived just before sunset and I decided to take a walk in the foothills of the dormant volcano adjacent to our resort.

St. Kitts from Nevis at sunset

Some Nevis History

Nevis (pronounced NEE-vis) is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 220 miles (350 km) southeast of Puerto Rico and 50 miles (80 km) west of Antigua. The 36 square-mile (93 km²) island is part of the inner arc of the Leeward Islands chain of the West Indies. The capital of Nevis is Charlestown.

Nevis, along with Saint Kitts, forms the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The two islands are separated by a shallow 2-mile (3.22 km) channel, known as “The Narrows”. Nevis is conical in shape, with a volcanic peak, Nevis Peak (commonly referred to as Mount Nevis by the local population) at the center. The island is fringed on three sides by long sand beaches, and has a coastline intermittently protected by coral reefs. The most popular beach is the 4-mile (6.44 km) long Pinney’s Beach, on the western or Caribbean coast. The gently sloping coastal plain (0.6 miles/1 km wide) has natural fresh water springs, as well as non-potable volcanic hot springs, especially along the west coast.

The island was named Oualie (“Land of Beautiful Waters”) by the Caribs and Dulcina (“Sweet Island”) by the early British settlers. The name Nevis is derived from the Spanish Nuestra Señora de las Nieves or Our Lady of the Snows, and first appears on maps in the 16th century.

The majority of the approximately 12,000 citizens of Nevis are of primarily African descent. English is the official language, and the literacy rate, 98 percent, is one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. Of import to the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson as a young sea captain, was stationed, and where he met and married Frances Nisbet, a young plantation widow.

Cottle Arch

My first stop on this evening’s walk was the Cottle Church, an Anglican Church now in ruins on the northwest side of Nevis. It was built by Thomas Cottle, a Nevisian lawyer. Ground was broken in 1822 and the church was finally finished in 1824, after a severe economic depression. The Cottle Church was opened to the public on May 5, 1824. With the opening of the church, it became the first church on the whole island of Nevis to allow all people to come and worship; this included slaves. The first Reverend of the Cottle Church was Rev. Daniel Davis. After Thomas Cottle’s death in 1828, the church fell into disuse. It was then rebuilt by Governor Sir Graham Briggs in the late 19th century. But because of the population decline on the island, the Cottle Church again fell into ruins at the turn of the 20th century. Today it has been preserved and can be seen by the public.

Green Monkeys!

As I left the church grounds, I spotted a family of Green Vervet monkeys, which are medium-sized primates from the family of Old World monkeys. There are six species currently recognized, although some classify them all as a single species with six subspecies. Either way, they make up the entirety of the genus Chlorocebus.

These monkeys are native to sub-Saharan Africa; their range extends from Senegal and Ethiopia down to South Africa. A small population, which travelled with enslaved Africans as pets, are found in the Caribbean, on the islands of Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and a colony also exists in Broward County, Florida.

Why did they cross the road?

Green monkeys live in large groups, which can consist of some males, many females and their offspring, and can be as large as 80 animals. The group hierarchy plays an important role: dominant males and females are given priority in the search for food, and are groomed by subordinate members of the group. While young males must leave their group once they are fully mature, females remain and take on the role of their mothers. These monkeys are territorial animals, and a group can occupy an area of approximately 0.1 to 1 km². They use a wide variety of vocalizations. They can with warn off members of other groups from their territory, and they can also warn members of their own troop of dangers from predators, using different calls for different predators. Monkeys scream when they are disciplined by members of the troop. Facial expressions and body posturing serve as additional communication tools. Their social interactions are highly complex. Where alliances can be formed for benefit, deception is sometimes used. Physical affection is important between family members.

Vervet monkeys are omnivores. The majority of their diet, however, is grasses and fruits. Occasionally they also eat small vertebrates and insects. On the island of Saint Kitts, vervet monkeys will commonly steal brightly coloured alcoholic drinks left behind by tourists on the beach. Many tourists have also found out these monkeys will deliver a powerful bite if they are cornered or threatened. Care should be taken when approaching any vervet monkeys, although these monkeys will retreat from a confrontational situation if given an escape route. If at one point they were domesticated in centuries gone past, they are no longer. In Africa, the documented attacks by these monkeys are extremely rare as compared with dog attacks, in spite of living very closely with humans and often being threatened by humans and their dogs.

Falco Sparverius

My next creature encounter was a falcon which is common in North America, though I was surprised to see one here on Nevis. The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) was (and sometimes still is) colloquially known in North America as the “Sparrow Hawk”. This name is misleading because it implies a connection with the Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, which is unrelated – the latter is a accipiter hawk rather than a falcon; moreover, falcons and accipiters are only very distantly related among the diurnal raptors.

American Kestrels are widely distributed across the Americas. Their breeding range extends from central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout North America, into central Mexico, the Baja, and the Caribbean. They are local breeders in Central America and are widely distributed throughout South America.

Most of the birds breeding in Canada and the northern United States migrate south in the winter, although some males stay as year-round residents. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.

Mount Nevis Hotel & Resort Poolside

After exploring the wilds around Mount Nevis, I scoured the resort grounds for hummingbirds before returning to my suite. Hummingbirds go to bed early, so I was out of luck, but I promise to try for a shot on my next visit to the island. I did spot several along my walk, but they were in transit and moving too fast to shoot.

The Mount Nevis Hotel and Resort is where we stay on Nevis, and I recommend it not only for it’s pristine surroundings, but also for it’s excellent restaurant and wonderful staff. I’m not compensated in any way for my recommendations, by the way. Any views and representations are my own, and you can take them to the bank as a genuine insider’s view of the Caribbean from an airline crewmember who has been there and done that. My recommendations are few, as I am very picky, so when you spot one be sure to book mark the page for future vacation planning. This resort goes well above and beyond in my opinion, and it delivers a true ‘get away from it all’ experience.

Twiliht on my patio

A view across the channel towards St. Kitts twinkles at twilight. There’s nothing like a nice refreshing tropical rum drink after a walk in paradise. My favorite? Passion fruit juice with pineapple rum on the rocks. For more info about Nevis, feel free to drop me a line. Most pictures on this site are available for purchase – thank you to the folks who have supported me with encouragement, praise, and criticism. It is much appreciated!

Another Sunday in Washington

•March 2, 2008 • 3 Comments

Stock the fruit bin

This weekend finds me at home in Washington rather unexpectedly, and I decided to return to Eastern Market and snap some photos around the capitol area. My first stop in the market was the soap vendor mentioned in a previous post; I wanted her to have glossy prints of the photos I shot that day, and I needed more soap on orders from my girlfriend in Puerto Rico. The next stop was the fresh fruit and meat market, but it was super crowded and people were aggressively pushy so I hit the streets moving west.

I feel it necessary to apologize for the length of this post. I took 399 shots today, which I pared down to 35, 32 of which I decided to place here. The reason for this is that almost half of my readers are from the Caribbean and I have received a couple of emails asking about Washington DC. So for my Caribbean friends, here is a long post with lots of photos from the heart of Washington DC. Those of you expecting more posts about the Caribbean, I promise that there will be plenty of those forthcoming.


Out in the street, I decided to try some depth of field shots with a long lens – my 18-200mm – at the long end of the zoom. Here is one of the photos from that series, featuring dream catchers hanging in the sunlight.

Wagon wheels keep on turnin

Along the street, I was kind of surprised to see this wagon loaded up with copper wares. The textiles and garments for sale were colorful and well cut.

Keeping the copper clean

I was sorely tempted to make an addition to my kitchen stock. but I wasn’t convinced that these were meant to be functional pots and pans. They sure looked nice though.

Library of Congress

Moving west towards the US Capitol building, I passed the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the de facto national library of the United States and the research arm of the United States Congress. Located in Washington, D.C., it is the largest by shelf space and one of the most important libraries in the world. Its collections include more than 30 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 58 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America, including a Gutenberg Bible (one of only four perfect vellum copies known to exist); over 1 million US Government publications; 1 million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries; 33,000 bound newspaper volumes; 500,000 microfilm reels; over 6,000 comic books titles; the world’s largest collection of legal materials; films; 4.8 million maps; sheet music; 2.7 million sound recordings; the Betts Stradivarius; and the Cassavetti Stradivarius. The head of the Library is the Librarian of Congress. There are actually 2 buildings which house the collection, and this is one of the finest research libraries in the world. I have spent many hours inside and I strongly recommend giving it a look.

The US Capitol

I took loads of photos of the Capitol Building, and happily they were all clear, bright, and well balanced.

The United States Capitol is the capitol building that serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. Although not in the geographic center of the District of Columbia, the Capitol is the focus by which the quadrants of the district are divided. Curiously, the west face, which is often taken to be the “front” of the building, is actually its “back”; the true front is the east face.

The building was originally designed by William Thornton. This plan was subsequently modified by Stephen Hallet, Benjamin Latrobe and then Charles Bulfinch. The current dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, a German immigrant, and were completed under the supervision of Edward Clark.

The building is marked by its central dome above a rotunda and two wings, one for each chamber of Congress: the north wing is the Senate chamber and the south wing is the House of Representatives chamber. Above these chambers are galleries where visitors can watch the Senate and House of Representatives. It is an example of the Neoclassical architecture style. The statue on top of the dome is the Statue of Freedom.

Grant oversees the National Mall

Looking down the lawn from the US Capitol, this is the view of Grant’s statue and the national mall. There are so many awesome statues and sculptures in DC that I truly doubt that anyone could see them all. I’d like to come back in the pre-dawn and shoot a few of my favorites, though.

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial honors American Civil War General and President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant. It is located at the base of Capitol Hill (Union Square, the Mall, 1st Street, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Maryland Avenue), and like the United States Capitol at the top of the hill to the east, the monument’s statue faces west toward the Lincoln Memorial honoring Grant’s wartime president, Abraham Lincoln. Equidistant between the Grant and Lincoln memorials, which define the east and west boundaries of the National Mall, is the Washington Monument. The Grant Memorial includes the largest equestrian statue in the United States and the second largest in the world, after the monument to Italy’s King Victor Emanuel in Rome. James M. Goode in his authoritative The Grant Memorial in Washington D.C. says it “…constitutes one of the most important sculptures in Washington.” The Society of the Army of the Tennessee began the effort in the 1890’s which culminated in the memorial’s dedication decades later.

Lovely Bronze

This is one of my favorite sculptures at the Smithsonian’s sculpture garden. I just like it.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is on the National Mall and it was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft. The Sculpture Garden is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Its collection focuses on contemporary and modern art. Outside the museum is a sculpture garden, featuring works by artists including Auguste Rodin and Alexander Calder.

The building itself is as much of an attraction as anything inside, likened by many to a large spacecraft parked on the National Mall. The building is essentially an open cylinder elevated by four massive “legs”, with a large fountain occupying the central courtyard. The Smithsonian staff reportedly told Gordon Bunshaft, prior to designing the building, that if it did not provide a striking contrast to everything else in the city, then it would be unfit for housing a modern art collection.


This is another favorite of mine from the sculpture garden.

The Carousel

Just outside of the Smithsonian Castle is this carousel, which was installed in 1967. Myself, I find the horses to be kind of creepy looking and scary, but that’s just me. The kids really seemed to be enjoying themselves in the mild weather.

Joy and horsies

Happiness is sunshine and a horsie that goes around and around…

Serious blueness

I think this dragon is a more recent addition. I wonder who paints the horsies? Are there professional carousel painters on this earth?


Is it me, or are the horsies angry looking? They just seem so upset…

Self Portrait

While I was on the National Mall, I took this self-portrait. Yes, I know, it’s a shadow… but trust me, it’s better this way. The pole I’m leaning on is my mono-pod (for the camera.)

Castle 1

The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, begun in 1847 by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, also in Washington D.C. In August 1853, the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents declared that the work of the original architect, James Renwick, Jr., was done. Lieutenant Barton S. Alexander of the U.S. Army Topographic Engineers was asked to take up the architect’s responsibilities for the slowly progressing Smithsonian Building. Under his supervision, the building was finished in 1855.

Over the years, several reconstructions have taken place. The first followed a disastrous fire on January 24, 1865, which destroyed most of the upper story of the main segment and the north and south towers. In 1884, the east wing was fireproofed and enlarged to accommodate more offices. Remodeling from 1968 to 1969 restored the building to the Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of the era during which it was first inhabited.

This building served as a home for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, and his family and for many years housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including an exhibit hall from 1858 until the 1960s. In 1901, Washington’s first children’s room was installed in the Castle’s South Tower Room where the original decorated ceiling and wall stencils were restored in 1987. Located inside near the north entrance is the crypt of James Smithson, benefactor of the Institution, while outside on the Mall, a bronze statue of Joseph Henry, executed by William Wetmore Story, honors the scientist who was the Institution’s first Secretary. In 1996, as the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary, a bell was added. Although Renwick had intended for a bell in his original plan, there was not enough money to add it to the Castle. It now chimes hourly.

Castle 2

Here’s another view of the castle from a park bench on the other side of the mall. Today, the Smithsonian Castle acts as the ‘brain’ of the Smithsonian, in that it houses all the administrative offices and carries out all Smithsonian operations. In addition, the main Smithsonian visitor center is also located here, with interactive displays and maps. The computers electronically answer most common questions.

Base Camp

Next up, heading westward, was the Washington Monument. The Washington Monument is a large, tall white-colored obelisk at the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It is a United States Presidential Memorial constructed to commemorate George Washington.

The monument is among the world’s tallest masonry structures and is the world’s tallest obelisk, standing 555 feet 5.125 inches (169.29 m) in height and made of marble, granite, and sandstone. It was designed by Robert Mills, a prominent American architect of the 1840s. The actual construction of the monument began in 1848 but was not completed until 1884, almost 30 years after the architect’s death. This hiatus in construction was because of a lack of funds and the intervention of the American Civil War. A difference in shading of the marble, visible approximately 150 feet (45 m) up, clearly delineates the initial construction from its resumption in 1876.

Its cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848; the capstone was set on December 6, 1884, and the completed monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885. It officially opened October 9, 1888. Upon completion, it became the world’s tallest structure, a title it inherited from the Cologne Cathedral and held until 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was finished in Paris, France.

The Washington Monument reflection can be seen in the aptly named Reflecting Pool, a rectangular pool extending to the west towards the Lincoln Memorial.

For this next shot, I was on my belly in the grass. This earned me a couple of comments from passers-by who just don’t understand the artistic drive for that perfect shot. I’m not trying to show the world as it is… I’m attempting to show the world as I see it.

Tall 1

I smelled like grass and mud for the rest of the day. This made me happy.

La Summa

Ever wonder what the very top of the monument is like? Now you know…

And now for something you probably don’t know: the capstone, which sits at the very top, is actually made of aluminum. Solid aluminum. It was cast in 1884 by Tiffany and Co. and was, at the time, the largest aluminum casting in the world. In those days, aluminum was a somewhat exotic metal, fetching the same price as silver on commodity markets. The four sides of the capstone are inscribed, but I won’t spoil the surprise as to what they say.

Jefferson 2

I wandered a little south from the Mall in order to capture a few inages of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, one of the prettiest of the Presidential Memorials. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a presidential memorial in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father and the third president of the United States. The neoclassical building was designed by John Russell Pope. It was built by Philadelphia contractor John McShain and was completed in 1943. When completed, the memorial occupied one of the last significant sites left in the city.

Composed of circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome, the building is open to the elements. Pope made references to the Roman Pantheon and Jefferson’s own design for the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. It is situated in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Tidal Basin located directly north, form one of the main anchor points in the area of the of the Potomac River. The Washington Monument just east of the axis on the national Mall was intended to be located at the intersection of the White House and the site for the Jefferson Memorial to the south but soft swampy ground which defied nineteenth century engineering required it be sited to the east.

Jefferson 1

Here’s another photo in the series (I took about 60 here) with a bit more detail.

The cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1939 — two years after Pope’s death. Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers took over construction of the memorial. The memorial was constructed with Danby Imperial marble (Vermont) for the exterior walls and columns, Tennessee pink marble for the interior floor, Georgian white marble for the interior wall panels, and Missouri gray marble for the pedestal. Indiana limestone was used in construction of the ceiling. The cost of construction was slightly more than $3 million.

The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated on April 13, 1943 — the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday. One of the last American public monuments in the Beaux-Arts tradition, it was severely criticized even as it was being built, by those who adhered to the modernist argument that dressing 20th century buildings like Greek and Roman temples constituted a “tired architectural lie.” More than 60 years ago, Pope responded with silence to critics who dismissed him as part of an enervated architectural elite practicing “styles that are safely dead”. As a National Memorial it was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

Jefferson 3

The interior of the memorial has a 19 foot (5.8 m) tall, 10,000 pound (5 ton) bronze statue of Jefferson by sculptor Rudulph Evans which was added four years after the dedication, and the interior walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson’s writings. Most prominent are the words which are inscribed in a frieze below the dome: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” This sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush.


While I was shooting the Jefferson Memorial photos, this mallard was peacefully dozing at my feet in the Potomac Basin.

Lincoln 1

I returned back to the National Mall in order to end my photo shoot with some twilight views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. They are gorgeous at night and even though I didn’t bring the tripod, I wanted to try a few shots.

The Lincoln Memorial is a United States Presidential memorial built to honor 16th President Abraham Lincoln. The architect was Henry Bacon, the sculptor was Daniel Chester French, and the painter of the interior murals was Jules Guerin.

The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln. The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, including Martin Luther King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, during the rally at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Like the other monuments on the National Mall, including the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and National World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. The National Memorial has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966. It is open to the public 24 hours a day.

Lincoln 2

The Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated by the United States Congress in March 1867 to build a memorial to Lincoln. A site was not chosen until 1901, in an area that was then swampland. Congress formally authorized the memorial on February 9, 1911, and the first stone was put into place on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1914. The monument was dedicated by Chief Justice William Howard Taft on May 30, 1922, a ceremony attended by Lincoln’s only surviving child, Robert Todd Lincoln. The stone for the building is Indiana limestone and Yule marble, quarried at the town of Marble, Colorado. The Lincoln sculpture within is made of Georgian marble, quarried at the town of Tate, Georgia. In 1923, designer Henry Bacon received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, his profession’s highest honor, for the design of the memorial. Originally under the care of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks, it was transferred to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933.

Standing apart from the somewhat triumphal and Roman manner of most of Washington, the memorial takes the severe form of a Greek Doric temple. It is ‘peripteral,’ with 36 massive columns, each 37 feet (10 m) high, surrounding the cella of the building itself, which rises above the porticos. As an afterthought, the 36 columns required for the design were seen to represent the 36 U.S. states at the time of Lincoln’s death, and their names were inscribed in the entablature above each column. The names of the 48 states of the Union when the memorial was completed are carved on the exterior attic walls, and a later plaque commemorates the admission of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.

WM 1

From my vantage point at the foot of the reflecting pool, I had a great view of both monuments. Here is a late twilight shot of the obelisk.

Lincoln 3

As the sunlight continued to dissipate, the hues deepened and the lighted figure of Abraham Lincoln started to pop. The main influence on the style of the Lincoln Memorial was the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece. The focus of the memorial is Daniel Chester French’s sculpture of Lincoln, seated on a throne. French studied many of Mathew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln and depicted the President as worn and pensive, gazing eastwards down the Reflecting Pool toward the capital’s starkest emblem of the Union, the Washington Monument. Beneath his hands, the Roman fasces, symbols of the authority of the Republic, are sculpted in relief on the seat. The statue stands 19 feet 9 inches (6 m) tall and 19 feet (6 m) wide, and was carved from 28 blocks of white Georgia marble.

The central cella is flanked by two others. In one, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the south wall, and in the other, Lincoln’s second inaugural address is inscribed on the north wall.On the latter, the word Future was carved with an E instead of F and had to be filled in and can still be seen today. Above the texts are a series of murals by Jules Guerin that depict an angel (representing truth), the freeing of a slave (on the south wall, above the Gettysburg Address) and the unity of the American North and South (above the Second Inaugural Address). On the wall behind the statue, and over Abraham’s head is this dedication:






WM 2

Turning back around, night filled the eastern sky and provided a beautiful backdrop for Washington Monument.

Lincoln 4

There are a number of urban legends associated with the memorial. Some have claimed that Robert E. Lee’s face is carved onto the back of Lincoln’s statue. Another popular legend is that Lincoln is shown using sign language to represent his initials, with his left hand shaped to form an “A” and his right hand to form an “L”. The National Park Service denies both stories. However, historian Gerald Prokopowicz writes that, while it is not clear that sculptor Daniel Chester French intended Lincoln’s hands to be formed into sign language versions of his initials, it is possible that French did intend it, since he was familiar with American Sign Language, and he would have had a reason to do so, i.e., to pay tribute to Lincoln for having signed the federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf, the authority to grant college degrees.

This was my last shot of the monuments today, and I do hope that my friends who have not yet had a chance to visit Washington will enjoy the photographs in the interim. When you DO visit Washington, it is best to get around using the city’s rail system, called ‘The Metro’.

Metro 1

This is the Smithsonian station, which, like all Metro stations, is very clean and well-policed. This rail system is truly one of the hidden gems of Washington DC and it makes getting around easy, convenient, and affordable. It is often faster getting across the city via metro than by using the city cabs.

Metro 3

The train cars are all clean and relatively ad-free compared to some other cities I’ve visited. Graffiti? What graffiti?

Metro 2

At top speed, Metro trains reach 65 miles per hour, faster than the posted speed limits for highways in and out of DC.

Once again, I apologize for the length of this post, and I do hope that the download time was worth it in the end. Please feel free to leave comments, ideas, and hate mail. Everyone likes getting mail, right?

What About the Girl?

•February 29, 2008 • 2 Comments

It has been pointed out that I haven’t posted very many shots of my girlfriend, and some folks (*ahem* Josie *ahem*) think that I don’t want to show her pictures for some reason.

This is a false assumption.

As anyone who has been married for a while can tell you, there are (from time to time) fundamental differences in the way any two people see the world. And these differences can lead to spirited debates. Spirited, I say. A polite euphemism, to be sure.

Since everyone thinks that they are ugly in photographs (myself included), selecting which shots to print is a tricky business sometimes. So without further adieu, here are (respectively) Mary’s and my choices for best photo from a very quick shoot in bad lighting and not enough time for me to correct it (we did these in 5 minutes before heading off to someplace else.) So for those of you looking for photographic excellence, these shots ain’t it.

Mary’s Choice

I think Mary likes this one because it is polite, pleasant, and quaint. But I’m not entirely sure, and in a future post I’ll let her explain her whims and fancies in more detail. As previously explained, the light was way off and I am still learning the camera, so she is underexposed.

My Choice

Now THIS is my choice.

And not just because it was taken several shots later as I was starting to zero in on the right camera and flash settings. No, I like this one because its really the way Mary is a lot of the time when we’re together. I mean, given a choice, which woman would you want to spend more time with? I’ll take the second photo without fail.

And so, Josie, and dear readers, hopefully this will quell the grumbling about girlfriend shots for a while. In the meantime, I’ll study up on indoor lighting under pressure and see if I can’t make some decent images of Mary that everyone will be happy with.

Old San Juan At Night

•February 28, 2008 • 3 Comments

Avenida de Princesa

On this visit to Puerto Rico, I decided that it was time to revisit Old San Juan for some photos at night and I was rewarded with a clear, warm evening. Before I start in with my photos, here’s a short extract about Old San Juan from several sources:

Old San Juan (Spanish: Viejo San Juan) is the historic colonial district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the oldest settlement within the territory of the United States. It is one of the two barrios of San Juan as of 1951, before Río Piedras was added to the city (the other being Santurce), and is subdivided into seven sub-barrios:

  • Ballajá
  • Catedral
  • Marina
  • Mercado
  • Puerta de Tierra
  • San Cristóbal
  • San Francisco

The slum neighborhood of La Perla is on the rocky north coast, outside of the city limits, and belongs to sub-barrios Mercado and San Cristóbal. Old San Juan is located on a small island connected to the mainland of Puerto Rico by bridges and a causeway. The city is characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings which date back to the 16th and 17th century when Puerto Rico was a Spanish possession.The district is also characterized by numerous public plazas and churches including the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. It also houses the most ancient Catholic school for Elementary education in Puerto Rico, the Colegio de Párvulos, built in 1865. With its abundance of shops, historic places, museums, open air cafés, restaurants, gracious homes, tree-shaded “plazas”, and its old beauty and architectonical peculiarity, “Old San Juan” is a main spot for local and internal tourism. A free Tourist trolley serves the city.

The oldest parts of the district of Old San Juan remain partly enclosed by massive walls. Several defensive structures and notable forts, such as the emblematic Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristóbal, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza, acted as the primary defenses of the settlement which was subjected to numerous attacks. La Fortaleza continues to serve also as the executive mansion for the Governor of Puerto Rico. Many of the historic fortifications are part of San Juan National Historic Site.

In 1508, Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra (named after the province Caceres, Spain, birthplace of the then-governor of Spain’s Caribbean territories, Nicolas de Ovando). The ruins of Caparra are known as the Pueblo Viejo sector of Guaynabo, behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present San Juan metropolitan area. In 1509, the settlement was abandoned and moved to a site which was called at the time “Puerto Rico” (meaning “rich port” or “good port”), a name that evoked that of a similar geographical harbor in the island of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. In 1521, the name “San Juan” was added, and the newer settlement was given its formal name of “San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico”, following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honoring John the Baptist.

Old San Juan along with La Fortaleza were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1983.

Jewel of the Seas

For those of you who have been reading these posts regularly, you may remember seeing the cruise ship port from the air while we were on the approach to runway 08 last week. Here’s what it looks like close up at sunset with a large cruise ship getting ready to depart for the islands.

The “Port of San Juan” is the general name used to call various passenger and cargo facilities located in lands around the San Juan Bay (Bahía de San Juan). The port is composed of a total of sixteen piers, of which eight are used for passenger ships and eight for cargo ships. The port’s facilities, in addition to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and the “Lancha de Cataño” services, are property of the Port Authority of Puerto Rico.

The bay and its docks are located along San Antonio Creek, a narrow navigable section of San Juan Bay lying south of Old San Juan and San Juan island, and north and west of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District and Isla Grande Airport. The municipalities of Cataño, Guaynabo and San Juan compose the south side of the bay and port.

Poop Deck?

The Jewel of the Seas is immense. To give you a sense of the size of this ship, I shot the aft section with a zoom lens. For scale, try spotting the people walking around on the dock…

While the cargo ships dock on the south side of the bay, cruise ships arrive at one of the seven cruise piers located along San Antonio Creek. This arrangement allows tourists to walk to major attractions such as Old San Juan and the Puerto Rico Convention Center District. The short distance between the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and the cruise ship docks is 7 miles and makes the area a prime location for cruise companies. Cruise ship companies, such as Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean prefer this setting, and have made the San Juan one of their ports of call. Some of the most recognized ships to have docked at the Port of San Juan during the late 1970s and early 1980s, were the Carla C, and Cunard’s Countess and Princess ships.

Shimmering Waters

Along the Avenida Princesa there are several parks and an open air market which corresponds to when the cruise ships are making port call. The famed el Paseo la Princesa was a notorious and much-feared prison located in San Juan which is now occupied by the tourism board of Puerto Rico. The Avenida Princesa lies outside the walls of old San Juan, which were considered impregnable for centuries.

Princesa Fountain 1

At the west end of Avenida Princesa is the fountain Princesa. This is a very popular stop while walking in Old San juan, and you’ll find photographers, tourists, lovers, and artists here at all times of the night and day.

Princesa Fountain 2

Here’s a close-up of the fountain. It is just gorgeous at night, and I plan to return here with a tripod for some high quality shots in the near future. All of the photos taken tonight were shot freehand.

Getting the point

The city walls are really quite amazing, and this walkway contains plenty of little hidden treasures. One of them is this sculpture garden which is very nicely lit at night. Some folks passing by commented on the sculptures as being inappropriate for the area architecturally, but I disagree. I thought they looked fantastic.

Hard Rock SJU

As we headed back into the city itself, we happened to pass this icon of American pop culture. I didn’t bother to go in, but I snapped a quickie shot for those of you who love this place. If there was an equivalent place dedicated to merengue and salsa, I would have likely spent the night!

Governor’s Mansion

Here’s a shot down the narrow streets of the Governor’s Mansion. The full sized version of this photo is really neat – the couple on the corner add a lot of character.

The Bar

Old San Juan is filled with boutiques, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Maria’s is one of the better known watering holes for locals and tourists alike.

The Narrow Streets

No night shoot would be complete without a shot of shiny, lonely streets. I had a challenge shooting this one without a tripod… I think I’ll have to buy a cheapie and stash it down here somewhere.

Cobbles 1

I took shots toward the end of the night, after a couple glasses of sangria, playing around with the depth of field. Here, the chain and posts are in focus…

Cobbles 2

And here the cobblestones in the foreground are in clear focus. Which one do you guys like the best?

Dock from afar

Finally, a shot of the cruise ship’s pier from higher in Old San Juan. The Jewel of the Seas had already sailed by this time, but Carnival still had a ship in port.

Lasagna: El Camino Para Adorar

•February 23, 2008 • 1 Comment

Oh Yes, That’s What I’m Talking About!

OK, so I have to defend my honor. You see, while I was speaking with some friends a while back someone mentioned that they make the best lasagna in the known universe. This declaration was make loudly and publicly, and a gauntlet was thrown down. As it so happened, a bunch of us were eating lunch in between flights in San Juan when this declaration was made, and I was sharing my chicken enchiladas, arroz con gandules and fresh avocado. It seems that a few in the crowd could not believe that a ‘gringo’ was making some traditional foods from scratch (and doing them as well as their own family members.) This led to a couple of unsolicited offers of marriage, which, for those of you who know me well, is like music to my ears!

I really don’t know how lasagna figured into the discussion, but one person became very animated and insisted that her’s was the best. Better than mine, even.

Before I knew it, there was a party organized and everyone converged a couple of weeks later at the home of the lasagna chef. I was there, and I ate the lasagna with an open mind. It was, indeed, very, very good. Much better than most. Excellent, even. And I said so quite emphatically.

But alas, there is only room for one universally adored lasagna…

After a reprieve of a few weeks, this weekend we all get to sample my offering. My lasagna takes two days to make; it includes lamb sausage, fresh basil, four kinds of cheese, my own basil pesto, three varieties of sweet pepper, and my home-made marinara. Oh yes… this is the mother of all lasagnas and I have the blue ribbons to prove it! Anytime you gather friends and family around the kitchen with a glass of wine and the smells of home cooking rising from the oven, you’re in for a good time.

What if I lose, you ask? Well, I’ve already won, you see. You already know who the challenging chef is, from the title of this post. She makes our lasagna contest a winner no matter how you slice it 😉

An Exciting Birthday In Caguas

•February 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The Party

This evening I was treated to a very special occasion: the birthday party of my friend Jesus, thrown by his family and friends in the town of Caguas, Puerto Rico. Jesus has been a terrific friend to me, and I was deeply honored to take part in his family’s celebration.

Birthdays in Puerto Rico are a big deal, just as in the rest of the world, but I have to say that I have never seen a celebration as spirited and joyful as this one. The mood was warm, comfortable, and playful. Relatives who hadn’t seen each other in a while took great pleasure in catching up. This is a large and very close-knit family, and their respect and admiration for each other is quite evident. Interestingly, every six months the entire extended family packs up and goes on vacation together, which really sounds like fun. No one makes excuses; they all plan for these getaways and everyone attends.


Before things REALLY got swinging a few of the adults enjoyed some friendly dominoes matches. These were fun to watch, and I must admit that there is a combination of luck and strategy which I don’t fully understand yet. I’m learning, though!

Rocks, paper, scissors!

The kids really had a great time, too! Their play and games were encouraged by the adults, and their enjoyment of the celebration really added to the festivities. I’m not sure what was at stake in this game of rock, paper, scissors, but I’m sure it was something fun and exciting.

Jesus and his sister

Here is the birthday boy himself, Jesus, with one of his beautiful sisters. I was lucky to get this photo, as things were starting to rev up and the party reached full swing. For this family, it is traditional to have a DJ spinning tropical music such as merengue, salsa, and bachata. Another tradition is for the birthday boy/girl to dance with every member of the other gender, which kept Jesus busy for a large part of the night.

A glass of wine and a smile

Before taking to the dance floor, Jesus chatted with various friends and family. Here, he’s talking with his brother and that girl from the vegetable market.

Beautiful smiles!

Smiles were aplenty, and all generations took the time to share stories and laugh together. I have really got to improve my Spanish as quickly as possible, because I think I missed out on some great stories.

Jesus starts the salsa fun!

With the salsa blasting from the DJ’s booth, it was time to dance! Jesus opened things up with his sister, and then the ladies flocked to the dance floor.

No rest…

Here is Jesus with one of his cousins. Interestingly, she works for the US government and will be moving to Washington DC soon. I look forward to welcoming her to MY family in the US when she settles here!

… for the wicked!

Did I mention that for about three hours Jesus hardly left the dance floor? I don’t know how he kept it up – I was worn out after just 2 or 3 songs. Merengue and salsa are very hard work! And a good workout, too. I need to find a place to dance to latin music somewhere close to my home in Virginia. Talk about fun!

She looks SO familiar….

Hmmm… that woman from the Dominican market again! This is my girlfriend Mary having a blast with Jesus dancing merengue. I wish I had some similar photos of myself and Mary – she taught me to dance merengue – but no one wanted to touch my camera. Oh well, I’ll keep trying… both to get a photo of us and also to improve my merengue action. Merengue is pretty easy to learn on a basic level, but there is a world of nuance in the way one moves. Great fun!

Looking my way

I don’t know, I just like this photo. Mary’s face really captures the mood of the birthday party… relaxed, joyful, comfortable and warm.


Another tradition for this family is karaoke. Many of the singers had very beautiful voices and I enjoyed listening to them even though many of the words escaped me. I know they sang a lot of love songs, and the few verses that I could work out (or that others translated for me) were beautifully romantic.

Relatives discovered!

As we got around and socialized we met a few friends of Jesus’ family, including this couple. After a few minutes together, Mary realized that the young woman was related to her. A quick phone call to a grandmother confirmed that they were, in fact, cousins. They had never met or knew of each other before tonight, and we were all amazed. It is truly a small world that we live in.

Compleannos Feliz!

After three hours of intense dancing and singing, it was time to sing Jesus Happy Birthday. Like every other part of this celebration, the birthday song was sung with a Caribbean flavor – complete with hand clapping and shouts of well-wishes. I truly have no idea where Jesus found the stamina!

Cake for everyone

After singing to Jesus, we shed our pirate hats and enjoyed cake and ice cream. Baked goods, like cake and pastries, are made with particular care in Latin America. The cake was perfect! I have often grumbled that I have no patience for baking, and after tasting cake like this I stand by my conviction. I could never make anything this light and lovely.

Jesus takes a break for some birthday cake

As the night wound down, Jesus took a moment to enjoy some cake. As you can see, the sweat was just pouring off of him, poor guy. Celebrating your birthday in Puerto Rico is hard work!

I would like to thank Jesus and his entire family for their kind hospitality and friendship. I am very pleased to have gotten to know them, and I look forward to strengthening our friendship as we enjoy more time together. Thanks also to the entire family for their enthusiastic willingness to share their family celebration with the outside world through this journal. I am truly very blessed to have friends like these!

El Mercado Dominicana

•February 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Fresh as it gets…

This morning broke with tropical rains, which, of course, led to late sleeping. After a breakfast of queso blanco, toast, mountain coffee and orange juice, we decided to check out a Dominican open air market across town. As a reference, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, where Haiti occupies the western third of the island and the Dominican Republic has the other two-thirds. There is a vibrant Dominican population in Puerto Rico – there are pockets of Dominican culture everywhere and I have enjoyed meeting many Dominicans in the course of flying back and forth to the DR.

Our reason for going to the market was to score about a dozen eggplants. There were several fruit and vegetable stands in the market, but we liked this one the best. The goods were fresh and ripe, and I was in culinary heaven as we picked through the offerings on display.

An eggplant or two!

This very attractive young woman appears to be buying some eggplant from the Dominican vendor. She bears a striking resemblance to my girlfriend… in fact, I am reasonably sure that this is her because I recognize the purse. It has my cell phone inside.

Ripe Plantain

Ripe plantains and bananas hang above carrots and ginger. If you want to buy plantains the man hands you a small machete and you chop off the ones that you want. Its a fun way to shop – I wish we had machetes in our grocery stores back home.

Our Dominican Whole Foods Grocer

This is our Dominican friend, who was actually very happy that I was taking shots of his stand. My spanish is still very poor, so I wasn’t able to speak with him very much, but I was flattered when he thanked me and offered a few oranges in the trade.

More green plantains

Believe me, we were living large after we got home with our goods. This stuff was truly awesome.


Fresh sugarcane and a pile of fruit, some of which I’m unfamiliar with. We had an awesome time here, and I look forward to going back. Those oranges were really good, and I have a few photos to drop off to my produce man.