A Day with the Cubans

I accompanied a delegation from Southern Arkansas University – and the University of Artemisa in Cuba – to Little Rock today, where the presidents of the two universities signed an agreement for an academic exchange, then toured the Clinton Library and the Heifer International Center.

The signing ceremony was an official event well-covered by Little Rock media outlets. I had not had an opportunity to do any photography in our State Capitol, so I enjoyed grabbing a few images of the edifice itself before and after the ceremony. Our group then reconvened at the Clinton Library, a truly impressive structure made of “green” materials, glass and steel, overlooking the Arkansas River. We ate lunch in the 42 Cafe (named for the consecutive order of Bill Clinton’s presidency), a four-star restaurant where our university president introduced the visiting to Cubans to a former state attorney general and the former mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock. We then toured the museum, which was every bit as spectacular as I remembered it.

From there we journeyed the short distance to Heifer International, a major charitable concern that has based its $17-million building in LR within sight of the Clinton Library. A volunteer tour guide explained to us that the Heifer building is (like the Library) built of green materials, powered by solar thanks to its unique architectural “footprint.”

1

The State Capitol in Little Rock

5

Rotunda of the State Capitol

7

I took a selfie in the reflective glass behind which boxes filled with Bill Clinton’s presidential papers are displayed.

CLINTONLIBRARY2

The Clinton Presidential Center and Library. The building is designed to resemble a “bridge to the future” spanning the Arkansas River.

CLINTONLIBRARY4

The replica of the Oval Office inside the Clinton Presidential Center. No photography or video is allowed in the office, which exactly duplicates how Bill Clinton had the Oval Office arranged and decorated.

CLINTONLIBRARY6

Two floors of the Clinton Museum. That’s our group from SAU in the foreground, exploring exhibits of gifts that were given the Clintons during their tenure in the White House. The tall bookcases all contain Clinton’s presidential papers.

CLINTONLIBRARY13

This beautiful mosaic, gifted to the Clintons, is made entirely of small, hand-painted tiles, and is one of my favorite displays in the museum.

CLINTONLIBRARY20

The ground floor of the museum

BONO LETTER

Bono wrote and signed this personal letter to Bill Clinton. It has been displayed in the section on the “Irish Troubles” for at least the past 10 years.

CLINTONLIBRARY24

Glorious photojournalism is on permanent display in the Clinton Museum. In the main photo, Al Gore arrives at the Governor’s Mansion to accept Bill Clinton’s selection of him as his vice-presidential candidate. How I wish we could go back to those days in 1992.

heifer2

The Heifer International building, a unique architectural design

STAIRSBLOG

I liked this Photoshop treatment of a photo I made of stairs in the State Capitol.

heifer7

My boss, Aaron Street, pointed out this magnificent photo opportunity, taken from the third floor of the Heifer International building. The curvature of the structure allows for the windows to contain its own reflection. That’s the Clinton Library reflected in the foreground window.

Advertisements

Perdido Key, Family Vacation 2017

We are here on the lovely Gulf Coast for our annual family getaway, staying at Perdido Key, a white stretch of beach separating dry land, where I normally reside, from the Gulf of Mexico. This is not a complete trip report, obviously, but a quick post as I take a momentary break from the action (due in part to the pain of two sunburnt feet). We were here exactly two years ago (though not staying in the same condo) and are doing pretty much the same thing, which is, spending lots of time on the water’s edge. Today I practically dove into the chilly Gulf waters, bouncing and bobbing and generally getting swallowed up by waves. I’d forgotten how powerful those waves could be! There’s no feeling quite like getting swept along by a force beyond your control. I had also forgotten how incredibly awful seawater tastes, but got an unwelcome reminder. The ocean makes an eternal stereoscopic roar, and the wave pound incessantly, creating a never-ending playground for travelers like us who’ve enriched this place with our tourist dollars. We drove 14 straight hours to get here and most everybody else is like me: we’re going to soak up the sun and get our money (and hours’) worth. Here are a few photos.

NIkon Cow, our official trip mascot, hurtles east on an interstate in northern Louisiana, bound for Vicksburg, Miss., and the Gulf Coast beyond.

This has become one of my favorite destinations: the visitors center at Vicksburg, and this view of two bridges spanning the mighty Mississippi. I’m always inspired to go back and read Mark Twain after visiting this spot.

A different view of the twin spans.

This awesome barge was moving downstream, a reminder of the fact that commercial traffic does regularly use the Mississippi, the same as big trucks use the interstate system. This thing moved very fast and, from my vantage, silently.

My view coming into downtown Mobile, Ala., on I-10. To our right was Mobile Bay, and in the dock was a massive Carnival Cruise ship, easily 10 stories tall and God knows how long, visible for miles. It took us quite a few minutes for us to figure out we were looking at a ship and not some kind of massive wall rising up out of the bay.

The tunnel underneath Mobile Bay is a natural photo opportunity; I shot in continuous burst mode from one end to the other. Note the light at the end of the tunnel.

Just a lovely view of sea, sky and clouds.

Beach scene

 

11

That’s my nephew, Zachary, in the lower left hand corner of the frame holding the fishing rod. He’d just spotted a stingray in the water, and would later tell us he saw something that looked like a shark about four feet long.

 

10

I liked this view of the fence along the beach with sea oats and our condo in background. This scene has always reminded me of the movie “Jaws” and its opening sequence, with the fence line and vegetation along the shore. (Full disclosure: there are sharks in the water here, some as long as 10 feet!)

9

The view from our third-floor balcony. I enjoy how a public beach is laid out in strips: from the no-man’s-land of sea oats, to the part of the beach you walk on, to the part where sunbathers lay out beneath blue parasols, to the actual water’s edge. (Note: my camera lens was actually fogged over in the transition from our cold living room to the 85 degrees that greeted me on the balcony.)

15

Nikon Cow approaches the Mississippi River at Vicksburg.

14

Another view of our beach.

BEACH 6

The ever-changing sky over the Gulf was a constant source of beauty and inspiration. This was the view from our stretch of beach on the next-to-last afternoon of our stay.

BEACH 5

Christa poses on the shoreline on a day that was perfect for photos. The air was a soft blue, the skies cloudy, the Gulf choppy.

BEACH 4

Christa and me.

BEACH 3

Seething foam breaking on the shore.

BEACH 2

The beach at sunset. Everything was a soft pastel color the entire time we were there.

BEACH 1

Storm clouds brew over the Gulf. I took this photo from our balcony.

Well, we just got back from Beach Trip 2017. This  year’s trip wasn’t much for photos, though we tried. Two crises hit, neither of which could have been avoided or foreseen. (Well, maybe one, but who thinks to have their battery tested?)

On our second night in Perdido Key, my mother-in-law, Marilyn, came down with a mysterious stabbing pain in her abdomen. She’d been fine all night, enjoying a nice meal with all of us at Lambert’s Cafe, one of our dining destinations, but about 3 a.m., Christa and her dad had to rush her to the nearest emergency room, which was 25 miles from our condo. Turned out, she was suffering from a kidney stone, one that was too large for her to simply pass on her own. She required an outpatient procedure. However, the fact that the date was July 4 meant the procedure had to be delayed for a day. So, Marilyn spent three full days in the hospital – a devastating blow to her husband and kids.

Christa spent two nights by her mom’s hospital bad; I spent one of those nights with her. Brother-in-law Larry took care of their dad, who was, I think blaming himself and feeling overly responsible for everyone’s good time. There were some tense moments, and the whole situation was compounded by the unfortunate fact that Marilyn felt terribly ill and was in a lot of pain.

So, a good 24 hours of my trip was spent in hospital, or en route to the hospital, all while trying to have some semblance of a vacation. (This was true for everyone.) The kids did manage to have a good time, swimming and tanning and gathering shells and staying up late. Two of the grandkids did catch small sharks swimming in the Gulf. And we did the usual eating and shopping.

Sunburn is a constant concern on the beach, and I managed to burn the tops of both feet. Christa also received a nasty burn on her back. We don’t know what happened; we both soaked each other in sunscreen. One of those things. For much of the time, I was literally hobbled.

We enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks on the beach, though everyone’s good time was muted by Marilyn’s absence. We were able to see the fireworks display at Flora-Bam (a honky tonk straddling the state line, where Christa once got hit on by a woman), and farther west, at Gulf Shores. Both were spectacular, but too far for me to make photos.

I spent four or five hours total in the water. It’s wonderful swimming in the Gulf. I love the weightless sensation, the waves, the feel of warm sand underfoot. My nephew snagged a big fish that brought the attention of a guy on the beach who claimed that that fish would fetch at least $20 in a restaurant. I held it by the tail before we released it; it was slimy and unappealing. Zachary caught at least three other fish, wading out hip-deep in the swelling surf to cast his line. The dude is an excellent fisher. I was surprised to learn that mostly what you catch along the beach are catfish.

We visited Lulu’s, another favorite restaurant. It is owned by Lucy Buffett, sister of Jimmy. We heard that the CEO of Apple had visited the restaurant just the prior week. I bought Jimmy’s Tales from Margaritaville in the gift shop, and ate the cheeseburger in paradise, which was topped with a grilled pineapple slice, crispy bacon and, yes, creamy pimento cheese. The “French-fried potatoes” were amazing.

We also dined at a beach joint called The Hangout, which was too crowded for my taste. We had to wait three hours for a table, during which time we mostly just …. hung out. Fortunately, the house band rocked, ripping through a setlist ranging from Journey to Pearl Jam to Prince to, yep, Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Journey itself also played in concert that same night, but we missed getting tickets.)

Marilyn was released from the hospital on Thursday but was too weak to enjoy the beach, and her husband, of course, stayed right with her at all times. There was some talk of leaving a day early  which sparked some controversy. We took family photos on a beautiful afternoon on the beach – the sky was perfect and we had plenty of crashing waves, providing interesting backgrounds. Christa was happy with many of her images; I felt that my own photography was somewhat stagnant and predictable. I didn’t get to shoot many of the things I wanted to simply because, unavoidably, there wasn’t much time for it.

On our last night, we all piled into my and Christa’s Toyota Highlander to head out for Adventure Island, where we played putt-putt golf until midnight, and when I turned the ignition, the engine wouldn’t crank. It took four tries to start her up. Shit. It seemed like the battery. We managed to do all that we needed to do, but the car was clearly having problems – the last thing we needed to have happen.

Facing a 10 a.m. deadline the next morning – we had to vacate the condo exactly on time or get locked out and charged an extra day – I hustled another 45 miles up the road to the only Walmart Supercenter with an auto center. Sure enough, the battery died just as I parked at the garage. They managed to replace the battery within an hour, and I got back to the condo by 9:30. By 10 a.m., we were on the road again. About 11 hours later, we were back in Magnolia. And here I am.

 

Fun shooting

John Miller and I went out and about in my hometown of Prescott, Ark., today getting the hang of his new Nikon D500 DSLR, which is truly a remarkable camera and a big step above my D3200. This is a professional-grade camera with a lot more bells and whistles than either of us is used to (the manual is 400 pages), but I had a great time applying my basic knowledge of the settings and layout of my entry-level Nikon to his D500. I don’t think either of us would ever actually use 1/10th of the features available on this camera, but I can say that it was fun to use, surprisingly versatile in spite of the added weight of the extra battery compartment, and matched well with my 35mm and 10-24mm lenses. We shot in Prairie DeAnn Cemetery, where I have kin folk buried, and in downtown Prescott, primarily the burnt-down remains of … well, half a city block. Prescott is old, in disrepair, running out of viable businesses, and run by a government that seems incompetent at best, careless at worst. Still, burnt-down buildings can make for some great art, what with their rough textures, exposed wood, etc., and we felt we were able to capture some of the desolation and (John’s words) “I give up” attitude of the city fathers. I also took a quick tour of an interesting old alley.

prescott alley3use

alley3

alley2

alley4

alley5

alley6

fence

PRAIRIE DEANN

PRAIRIE DEANN3

PRAIRIE DEANN2

VACANT LOT6

VACANT LOT5

VACANT LOT4

Observation, and a clear night photo

TELESCOPE

This photo was taken LITERALLY in the dark of night (about 9:00 p.m.), in the Science Building parking lot at Southern Arkansas University, as members of the Engineering Department set up telescopes to observe Jupiter and its moons. We got to see the planet, and it was a sensational sight, but I was most pleased with this photo grab of mine. I used my 35mm f/1.8, wide open, with the ISO jacked up to 3600 and my exposure compensation dialed up to 1.0. A very nice result.

Beautiful girl

Today our granddaughter, AbbyAnn Grace Wade, was dedicated in an Easter morning service at Third Street Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. It was a beautiful little service and she (and her mom!) were as lovely as ever. I am very proud of and thankful for them. No. 1 Grandson Drake continues to be my best bud; he spent a good 10 minutes snuggling with me today prior to the service. It’s all about the grandkids!

abbyann+momma

abbyann2

FAMILY

I still haven’t found what I’m shopping for

usedbooks copy

I’m a collector – I love collecting hard copies of movies, books, albums, even pictures … it’s my background, my childhood. I was raised to buy the things that I loved. Note that I said things – not digital downloads. I might have moved into the 21st century along with everyone else, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still require the printed page or the physically recorded album in my hands. Sadly – tragically – it appears that all of that is going away.

Here’s a funny fact: chances are excellent that I can walk into any entertainment store (Books a Million, FYE, etc.) at random and find the music I want on vinyl, but NOT on CD or in any other format. Twenty years ago, the vinyl format was dead – and had been for a long, long time, so long that even then, I could not recall the last album I bought on vinyl.

Records – the kind you played on a turntable, that got scratched and skipped, that were packaged in BEAUTIFUL, ARTISTIC slipcases and paper envelopes – you know, actual music – were my delivery system of choice as a kid. I bought Star Wars soundtracks, Loony Tunes, and finally pop-music albums on vinyl and played the shit out of them. (Not to get too far afield in the realm of pop-culture “remember when,” but I also bought those book-and-record sets, which were printed stories accompanied by recorded words and music. Those were the best, Jerry, the best!)

Then one morning I awoke and you could no longer buy vinyl at my local Walmart. They had been replaced – in one fell stroke – with …. can you guess? … the cassette tape. (I won’t even mention eight-tracks.) Yes, all my vinyl had to be replaced with cassettes, which I will admit, were handier and somehow sounded better. (I don’t know that they actually did sound better; I never performed any scientific audio testing … maybe that was only wishful thinking on my part. Scratches, however, were gone, and tapes just sounded cleaner and more modern.) I doubt that I went around missing vinyl albums; I made the transition just fine. This was in the early-to-mid-80s; by 1990, formats changed again.

JT TAPE

I’ve always said that when a new device makes it into Walmart, it’s no longer a niche, experimental, “cool” concept, but a commodity with a ready audience – and the price for it drops dramatically. Compact discs certainly fit that description. In 1987, I remember reading with envy about Sting’s latest album on CD and the crystal-clear fidelity of the format. How I wanted a CD player! But how and where to buy one? I had no idea – only rich people owned CDs. Then I bought U2’s “Achtung Baby” on CD, and everything changed – I was no longer a tape man. All my cassettes went out the window; out with the old, in with the new!

All of that is preface to this: recently, I traveled to the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas, on a shopping excursion that was basically meant for our girls but into which I was able to squeeze one quick run for myself. This was to the ultimate shoppers’ paradise, Grapevine Mills, the largest indoor mall in North Texas. What was I in search of? Any and everything – no particular target purchase. I just wanted to “go look.”

VIRGIN

Grapevine Mills was once home to the biggest music, record and book store I’ve ever seen: Virgin Megastore. My first visit was in late 1999; the sheer size and scope of the place was mind-blowing to a small-town Arkansas boy like me. I found new copies of books I’d spent years searching for (Amazon was a resource back then but not as commonly used). And music, and movies on DVD? Fugeddaboudit! Virgin had everything! It was the coolest store I’d ever been in. (And so was the branch in Mockingbird Station in downtown Dallas, to which you could ride DART.)

Well, guess what, boys and girls? Virgin Megastore no longer exists. The economy and good-old-fashioned corporate incompetence (in a shifting market) killed it. That Valhalla-like store in Grapevine has been gone for at least a decade. I knew I would not be able to browse its shelves, but the Internet told me that a BAM and an FYW could still be found among its hundreds of shops. Good enough.

The BAM I found in Grapevine Mills was a thundering disappointment – small, cramped, rather sloppy, and filled with all the usual BAM products – the same, worn-out remaindered bins, the same, fire-sale titles, the same FIVE TONS of manga and Marvel and DC graphic novels. I have a nose for these things, and I knew in ten seconds that I would find NOTHING worth purchasing in this particular BAM. For this I traveled about 1,000 miles?

Further down the “street,” I found FYE, AKA, For Your Entertainment, with which I had passing familiarity. (There’s an outlet in nearby Hot Springs, Ark.) Wow! Talk about another letdown! This store was jam-packed with all kinds of CRAP ranging from more Batman/Superman/Giant Bleeding Asshole comic books, to action figures no one wants, to posters and plastic vomit and 25M marked-down DVDs I can find at Target for even LESS. There were few customers and the clerk looked bored. The lighting was terrible and the merchandise was jammed helter-skelter into the center of the floor. The walls were reserved for – get this – BOBBLE HEADS, yes, those annoying little “toys” that never seem to sell very well, representing all your “favorite characters” from your “favorite shows and movies.” Bobble heads have taken over America’s entertainment stores. Thing is, NO ONE IS BUYING THEM. I think that about 10 years ago, about a billion of them were manufactured, and they have been DUMPED into stores like FYE because, well, what are we gonna do with them?

RECORD

My intention had been to shop for some CDs, since you can hardly find CDs anymore, unless you use the nemesis of stores like Virgin and FYE, and that is Amazon. However, the CD selections at both BAM and FYE SUCKED. They each consisted of one pathetic bin in which handfuls of overpriced ($14.99-20.00) CDs jostled for attention against all kinds of other, unrelated crap. I browsed quickly but came away empty-handed. The simple truth is, I don’t have to pay those kinds of prices for music, which is exactly why the CD and DVD business is in its present condition – digital products have overwhelmed the hard copies from a price perspective. I can cherry-pick the songs I want, for $1.99 each, from iTunes.

I don’t mean to launch a diatribe against the digital music business. I’m still pissed, for example, that Garth Brooks has yet to release his music to iTunes, so that I can cherry-pick his songs (which is precisely the reason he hasn’t released to iTunes – he values the albums over the individual songs, though another reason is that he’s so rich he doesn’t need iTunes). But it makes me sad that a cool shopping experience has been raped by the bargain-bin industry, left to incompetently-managed stores that are depressing to walk into because there is such an overabundance of sheer junk.

galleria5

Walk through any high-end mall in America (or, OK, Dallas), and you’ll find any number of stores catering to clothes shoppers; those stores will be as beautiful and thoughtfully-arranged as any art museum in New York. Yet stores for book purchasers, music lovers, etc., have been pushed off to the shadows, down next to Great American Cookie Co. and across the way from Condom Sense. All because, well, that kind of product doesn’t move anymore. It’s no longer the American crack-cocaine it once was. People can buy that shit over their phone. But there are still consumers out there who want that browsing experience. Has the market for entertainment fallen so far, so fast, that you feel almost like you have to wear a raincoat and a ski mask to shop for it?

(By the way, those high-end clothiers aren’t doing any better financially – Macy’s and about a dozen other big-name companies are closing stores left and right. Why? Because people can buy the same clothes cheaper over the Internet, from mom-and-pop sellers! Talk about karma.)

Such a walk will reveal another fact: American corporate culture has completely devalued and de-emphasized the written word. You can’t find books anymore and no one reads anything that isn’t on a screen the size of an index card. We’re sold everything else – shoes, jewelry, baseball caps, exotic soaps, framed memes, ersatz artwork, and sugary junk – but not the written word. In the age of Trump, when anti-intellectualism and a distrust of reading has reached an all-time high, the distribution of books should be valued more highly than ever. (There’s a reason 1984 is once again a best-seller – where you can find it.)

So … as far as books and music, Grapevine Mills is out for me. Yes, it sells lots of clothes and shoes and tchotchkes, but I find those anywhere – especially online. Why go back? Why mix and mingle with the hordes when I can buy from home, in the comfort of my underwear? Why travel to a store, park, wrestle with the elements, and get exercise when I can find anything I’ve ever wanted on Amazon or iTunes? This the exact mindset that killed Virgin Megastore and will eventually kill Grapevine Mills; ironically, the mindset of bringing Virgin, etc., back from the dead, will be the only thing that stops malls from going the way of the pterodactyls.

I come back to the vinyl record. Extraordinarily, both BAM and FYE boasted more albums on vinyl than on CD. People, as it turns out, do like the hard copy – they like covers and liner notes. They will buy records as long as they think they’re cool. Think about that. The zombie that was “wax” is now back in a big way. What can that mean for the rest of analog entertainment? There’s an old saying that may prove true in retail: what once was old, is new again.

RECORDS

 

 

The Vacated Campus

It’s Spring Break!

There’s no one on the mall! …

No one in class. …

No one on the stairs. …

No one in the tower. …

No one at the pond. … except for these two guys sitting in a tree …

… who didn’t like me taking their picture …

There’s no traffic. …

… some cows …

… and no one on the field! Happy Spring Break!