Category Archives: Photography

The Kemah Triathlon (with my new camera)

I just got a new camera!   So I need some practice with it.  I took it out for a test run at the Kemah Triathlon Sunday morning.  My long-time buddy Scott was doing the race as a “tune-up” to further ensure that he’ll totally kick my ass next weekend when we both do the Half-Ironman on St. Croix (more on that later, I’m sure).  In the picture (above) where Scott is getting out of the water, you can see waaaay in the distance at the upper right is a boat on the horizon.  Scott did the Olympic distance tri, so that boat was where his swim started (about a mile out in the Bay).  The folks lined up to enter the water are about to start the shorter “sprint” distance tri.

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Nikon announced the D800 in February and it only took me a few hours to get my name onto the waiting list — but I still had to wait three months to get my new camera.  The resolution on this camera dwarfs virtually every camera on the market:  36 megapixels.  But that’s not the half of it.  The downside is that uber-high resolution doesn’t help much (and may hurt!) unless your lenses, your focus accuracy, and even camera-holding stability also step it up a notch.  Thus my need for practice.  I put the big Nikon 70-200 2.8 zoom on the D800; the wide angle shots are on my “old” D7000 with a 10-24mm.  Through no fault of the camera, my favorite shots from the day turned out to be mostly those wide shots.  Maybe the most amusing part of the D800 is that, as a 36 megapixel camera, each snap of the shutter (whether great or terrible) occupies about 32 MB of file space.  For perspective:  the laptop I took to law school had a then-impressive 20MB hard drive.

 

 Fortunately, we were careful to instruct Scott’s sons — Jack and Sam — not to act silly and mess up their Dad’s post-finish-line picture.

Cuba (Part 10) One Last Look

Here’s the last installment of pictures from my March trip to Cuba.  The series started here.  The trip offered lots of photographic variety — including dancing showgirls, boxers in training, school kids, cigar moguls, classic cars, Havana street life and more — so take a look at all the posts.  The trip was also fascinating and educational for me personally; I hope my eagerness to share what I learned didn’t get too long-winded.  Thanks for looking.

As I mentioned earlier, Havana has plenty of sights to see.   A prior post had my attempts at decent pictures from Revolution Square, the current center of federal government buildings.   The Capitolio (pictured in three shots below) is the former center of government.  It looks just like the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.  Built in the 1920s, it was originally the home of the Cuban legislature.  When Castro took over, he disbanded both their houses of Congress and did away with representative government — thus freeing the Capitolio up for other purposes!

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Our group had some nice opportunities to get on rooftops and other high places just at sunrise or sunset, which is a simple recipe for good pictures.  A few of the pictures you see are from a hotel on Park Central; one is from the tower of the original Bacardi building; a handful are from the lighthouse at “Morro Castle,” which is actually a 400-year-old fortress that guards the entrance to the port of Havana.

On the last night of my trip, we went to a rooftop party.  The event included the opportunity to watch a drums-and-dancing Santeria ritual.  Santeria is a form of religion that mixes Catholicism with African “animist” beliefs.  I cannot pretend to understand or explain it, but these dancing performances are fairly common and open to the public.  The dancers and the folks wearing white are part of that.  The finale of that evening was those pigeons.  (See the picture at the top of this post).  There was a pigeon coop (and a pigeon-keeper) on the roof, and just at sun set he let 30 or so of them out for their evening exercise.  They kept returning to the roof; he kept shooing them away to fly around some more, giving me several chances to try to get the “perfect” picture.  It was a nice, peaceful wind-down of a sometimes-overwhelming couple of weeks in Cuba.

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Finally, here (below) is one of the last pictures I took in Cuba.  I know it doesn’t look like much.  I took it with a tiny pocket camera in the cab on the way to the airport.  Normally, I had always tried to use one of the privately-owned taxis rather than the government-owned taxis, but in the scramble to get out of my hotel and out to the airport, I didn’t seem to have a choice.  My reflex was to be unhappy and uncomfortable in the government-run cab, but of course it wasn’t Castro at the wheel; it was just an ordinary Cuban guy doing his job.  The driver was a nice guy who found out I was headed for Miami and quickly told me he had family that had moved to America long ago.  He seemed to envy their fate, but Cubans are generally not allowed to travel freely, so he said that he’d never been allowed to go visit.  At about that point, I noticed his personal keychain — the stars and stripes of an American flag on a heart-shaped medallion.  That’s a “sneaked” picture of his keychain (and his knee and steering wheel) in the picture below, taken from my backseat vantage point.  Seeing his keychain — attached to the keys of his Communist-government taxicab — was a fitting finale to my Cuba experience and another reminder that I’m lucky to live where I do.

If you happen to get a chance to go to Cuba in the next few years, go.  You’ll need a sense of adventure and an open mind.  You’ll stumble into things you never expected and things you’d never encounter at home — some good; some bad.  The overlay of a Communist, socialist system in what’s otherwise a peaceful tropical world is fascinating and eye-opening.  Parts of it you’ll love, and the other parts will make you appreciate your own country.  As the Castros age, Cuba is changing fast.  Maybe I’ll get to go again and see some of that change take place.  Hasta la proxima!

Cuba (Part 8) Olympic Spirit

 Part of a series from my recent trip to Cuba.  Part 1 is here.

 

 

One quick stop on our Tour de Cuba was at a Havana boxing arena where some of Cuba’s Olympic boxers train.  Despite its tiny size, Cuba has won more boxing medals in the Olympics than any country other than ours.  The folks in these pictures, though, are just boxers-in-training, not Olympic champions.  Like so many places we saw in Cuba, the facilities were tattered, rusting, flaking and crumbling, but that didn’t seem to slow these guys down.  The guy seated ringside (below) was the coach.  I declined the suggestion to join them for some sparring practice.

 

Cuba (Part 7) Education and “Patriotism”

No. 7 in a series that started here

Basic education in Cuba is pretty good (at least by developing-world standards).  The school buildings aren’t great, but since labor is cheap and other opportunities are limited, there are plenty of teachers.

In some senses, education – specifically medical education – is now one of Cuba’s biggest exports.  A deal with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has sent about 30,000 Cuban doctors and healthcare workers to oil-rich Venezuela; in exchange, Cuba gets $3-4 billion worth of oil every year.  Cuba pays those doctors around $300 per year and Venezuela pays Cuba $100,000 or more each for their services.  It’s a big part of what’s keeping the Cuban government and economy afloat.  Unfortunately, Cubans can make more money peddling cokes or souvenirs to tourists in the streets than they can by becoming doctors, so it’s hard to imagine how this setup will survive.

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I got lots of pictures of school kids.  The big green doors are a Havana school.  The two boys sitting in a schoolhouse doorway are in Trinidad (notice the all-too-typical gaping hole in the building right at the entrance).  That little girl with no uniform is a preschooler, standing in front of a two-room rural schoolhouse (you can see the edge of it on the right side of the frame).  The close-up shots with pale blue backgrounds are on the porch of that school.

The uniforms are in fact “uniform” across the entire country.  Those “neckerchiefs” seemed to be a nice touch, but my inquiries about the significance of the different colors revealed that the scarves signified the kids’ enrollment and participation in the “Pioneers” group.  Their slogan (which the school kids have to chant as their “pledge of allegiance”) begins:  “Pioneers for Communism.”  Suddenly the neckerchiefs weren’t nearly as endearing.

 

 

Actually, the long form of that slogan is “Pioneers for Communism; we will be like Che.”  “Che” is Che Guevara, who was a key leader in the 1950s revolution that put the Castros and Communists in power.   Lots of propaganda and patriotic discourse in Cuba focus on “La Revolucion,”  which seems to frame Cubans’ political thinking as “Are you better off now than you were fifty-four years ago?”  Contrasting the Castro regime to the 1950s Cuba with an even-worse previous leader/dictator (Batista) yields far more favorable comparison than comparing the current regime against all the progress and possibilities of 21st-century capitalism and democracy.  That focus is reinforced with the ever-present iconic image of  Che Guevara.  That picture is everywhere.  Everywhere.

Other government slogans and billboards (often painted on the sides of buildings — even residential buildings) refer to “Defendiendo Socialismo” (defending socialism), or to the evils of capitalism.  The Castros apparently don’t see the irony in the fact that those signs mostly stand amid dilapidation and squalor brought about by 50 years in a system that saps all signs of initiative, effort, ambition or personal responsibility.

There are also a lot of signs about the neighborhood “CDRs” – Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which serve the happy purpose of monitoring every person on every block to ferret out any potential “counter-revolutionary” activity.

Another pervasive “patriotic” theme is the slogan:  “Patria o Muerte.”  See, for example, the billboard in the picture below.  “O Muerte” means “or death.”  Literally, “Patria” means “homeland” or “motherland,” but the term seems synonymous with patriotic loyalty.  Someone remarked that the phrase arguably paralleled American slogans like “Live free or die,” or “Give me liberty or give me death.”  But the Cuban version says nothing about freedom or liberty, and when the phrase is paired with images of a military-clad leader who ruled the country under a one-party Communist regime for 50 years, the message seems completely the opposite.

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(Yes, that’s me in front of the Patria o Muerte billboard, so No, I didn’t take that picture.   That last image — with Che Guevara’s face on the side of the building — is at Revolution Square, which is the area that’s the center of the federal government.  You’re not supposed to take pictures of government buildings, but this one is an exception.  In the process of trying to get some basic, touristy pictures of the big monument in the Square and of the big Che and Fidel portraits, though, I had three different police officers blow their whistles at me.  Apparently the rule (that day) was that I had to be standing across a street from whatever I was taking a picture of.  I wound up with only crappy pictures, but at least I’m not sleeping in a Cuban hoosegow.)

 

Cuba (Part 6) Trinidad Town

We spent a few days on the south coast of Cuba, near a town called Trinidad (not to be confused with the Caribbean island-country by the same name).  The town was founded just about 20 years after Christopher Columbus first visited the area, so it’s just shy of 500 years old, and one of the oldest colonial towns in the hemisphere.  Much of the town has cobblestone streets and, as with much of Cuba, there are classic cars and colorful buildings all over the place.

 

A handful of these pictures have birdcages.  Having little birds like that is apparently a big tradition in this town.  I suspect these are the cheapest pets you can have.  Every street is full of pleasant chirping.

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Below, you can see a couple of shots of small restaurants (each with a performing live band).  These are surprisingly-nice privately-owned restaurants, called “paladares” in Cuba.   It was a long-time (though illegal) tradition during the Soviet era that families would operate tiny restaurants in their homes.  More recently, the government started allowing and licensing them (and thus heavily taxing) them.  The outdoor courtyard restaurant had about four “hosts,” five waiters and waitresses, a five-piece band, four dancers and who-knows-how-many kitchen staff, all to enteratin about ten patrons.  The music group pictured up close later invited us to an after-hours “party,” in a nearby home.  It turned out to be a sort of mini-concert, with musicians from various places around town taking turns with their guitars entertaining one another (and us).  That’s what you see in the last picture with mostly-silhouetted musicians.  Quite an experience.

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Finally, here’s a picture of our hotel (near Trinidad) at sunset.  All hotels are owned by the government, and the Cuban government took away our original Trinidad hotel reservations because the Pope was in the country and there were apparently more-important folks who needed a place to stay.  So we wound up a few miles outside of town at a beach resort.  The place was full of German tourists.  Cuban resorts are “segregated,” in that Cubans are not allowed to go.  Because Americans are permitted in Cuba only for cultural missions (or to visit their own close family) and thus never for “tourist” purposes, staying at beach resorts is normally not allowed.  But since we were kicked out of our intended hotel and had no choice, we actually got the chance to visit the beach for a bit.

I called the place “Communism’s Last Resort.”  It looks okay pictured from a distance, but a close inspection would reveal stains on the towels and sheets, empty flower beds and fountains, broken windows, intermittent hot water, and cafeteria food that reminds you your chefs were Soviet-trained.  But the sunset was pretty.