Corleone is a town in central Sicily. Historically, many mafia bosses have come from Corleone. The anti-Mafia archive and museum is housed in Corleone (unfortunately not open when we visited).

In fiction, Corleone is the birthplace of Vito Corleone in the Godfather novel and movies. However, the scenes in the Godfather trilogy purportedly filmed in Corleone were actually filmed in other Sicilian locations.

Corleone © Harold Davis

Don Harold in Corleone (photo by Ann with my iPhone)

Posted in Italy

Patterns that are big, patterns that are small

Composition in photography is in large part about bringing an ordered visual experience to the chaotic reality of our world. This means finding, and emphasizing, patterns: patterns that are big, like the apartment buildings of outer Palermo from above, and patterns that are small, like the scraped-away layers of poster advertising on a wall in downtown Palermo.

Apartment Buildings, Palermo © Harold Davis

Wall, Palermo © Harold Davis

Posted in Italy, Photography

Accordion Player

Winding down the steep, narrow streets of the medieval Sicilian town of Cefalu towards the seaward ramparts, I could hear faintly some rather delicious accordion music. Getting closer, he sat high up on the seawall, playing with some virtuosity. I made my way up.

Accordion Player, Cefalu © Harold Davis

Surf lapped at the base of the old walls, clouds sailed overhead, and a strong wind blew as I listened to the minor-key harmonies of the accordion. I was reminded of the words of the sad and beautiful Joni Mitchell song For Free:

I slept last night in a good hotel 
I went shopping today for jewels 
The wind rushed around in the dirty town 
And the children let out from the schools 
I was standing on a noisy corner 
Waiting for the walking green 
Across the street he stood 
And he played real good
On his clarinet for free 

Not quite the same circumstances, but the same idea. I put a one Euro coin on the pavement next to him, and he smiled acknowledgment, and kept on playing. I wanted to give him the money before asking to take his photo, so he could say “no” to the photo if he wanted without worrying about monetary consequences. 

When I asked if I could take his photo, he said “sure,” and stopped playing for a moment. I showed him the image on the LCD. He said Grazie mille, and went back to his accordion and his sad, sweet tunes.

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

Domes in the Palermo Cathedral

I don’t get to use the word syncretic nearly as much as I’d like. Last appearing in this blog to describe the quasi-official mix of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, I am happy to trot out syncretic again in Palermo, Sicily.

Domes, Palermo Cathedral © Harold Davis

My definition of “syncretic” is that the word describes the situation when multiple belief systems that are manifestly, and on their face, contradictory live together in perfect harmony. Hence, Shintoism and Buddhism. In Sicily, particularly Palermo, syncretic well describes the historical and architectural heritage that is a blend of Islam, Byzantium, and the Norman strain of Catholicism.

I had a great time today on a self-guided photo walking tour of the syncretic neighborhoods of central Palermo; tired and footsore at the end I stopped at a student hangout joint for an inexpensive grilled steak with potatoes.

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani

Yesterday to get away from the madness at the hotel, I got up early, had a quick breakfast, made my way out the barricades, and drove to Trapani, an old port city on the western tip of Sicily.

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani © Harold Davis

In Trapani I parked, and walked through the oldest part of the city to the tower guarding the harbor, photographing along the way. I had lunch, a delicious stuffed calamari and insalata mixta. On my return walk to the car, I stopped to photograph the entrance to this historic Palazzo. Like most formal architecture around here, it is organized around an arcaded central courtyard. The Palazzo is now taken up with several pensiones (small B&B hotels), and probably some residential apartments as well.

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

A Memorable Arrival in Palermo

Leaving Malta long before sunrise—the taxi picked us up at the hotel at 3:45AM—under an overcast and misty sky I found myself looking forward to exploring Palermo, Sicily, a bit tense about the rental car drive from the Palermo airport to the hotel, and looking forward to my stay at a luxury hotel on the water near Palermo. It would nice to have a bit of quiet time for recuperation after some days leading a successful photography group in the Malta Archipelago.

The hotel—Grand Hotel Villa Igiea—self-describes in its sales materials as “memorable,” as in “Experience a Memorable Moment.” Generally, the reviews I had read agreed that it was a pretty special place. Indeed, my arrival was to be memorable, but probably not in the way that the pamphlets contemplated.

Room Curtains, Palermo © Harold Davis

Coming down through the dawn on Air Malta I was struck by how beautiful and intricate the coast of Sicily looked in the morning mist. Clearly, the road hugged the coastline, and I really didn’t anticipate too much trouble finding the hotel.

Utilizing the gentle guidance of the Google Maps directorate, I took the freeway towards Palermo, and actually got off the freeway and onto local roads at the right place. From there on, it was increasingly crowded and urban driving. I started to notice a substantial presence of gendarmerie at every intersection. What could this be about?

I was probably within a few blocks of the hotel when I was stopped by an impassable police blockade. All traffic was summarily being ordered to turn around by heavily armed police. First check! I obeyed the police orders, and decided to see if I could use the prowess of Google Maps to “cut across country.”

I really had no idea that the problem was the hotel itself, and figured that if I could only work my way around whatever the issue was, I’d be fine once I got to the hotel.

Before I knew it was driving through an impenetrable warren of tiny streets in a rough neighborhood in Palermo. This wasn’t getting me anywhere, second check! I backed up, turned around, and managed to trace my way back to the original blockade.

I stopped, and had a pretty good look at the map. It seemed like if I went back almost to where I had left the highway I could go round a mountain that hugged the sea, and reach the hotel by a completely different route, approaching from the seaward rather than the city side. So it took a while, but I tried it. I figured at least I was getting to know the area.

This time I got to within a couple of blocks of the hotel, and could actually see it, before I was stopped. I explained the situation to the police officer who stopped me and demanded my passport and proof of hotel reservation. A spirited discussion in Italian commenced within a group of uniformed police, and also some other tough looking men who were probably security agents of one sort or another.

What turned out was that the Italian government had convened a Libyan peace conference at the hotel. For obvious reasons, security was tight, and no cars were allowed within a substantial safety “red zone” buffer around the hotel. 

Eventually, and it was a pretty long eventually, I was able to call the hotel, and they promised to send someone out to help me find a place to park the car and bring my luggage in. This took a while as I waited between two police barricades. 

I won’t go into the security process of getting into the hotel, although it was extensive. The Libyan conference is going on today and tomorrow. I can’t wait for it to be done. Meanwhile, the hotel is plenty memorable (my room is nice, too, as you can see in the image of my room curtains, above) with diplomats and mirrored-sunglass thugs and folks with badges milling around. Lots of self-important people in suits and heels, each one with a briefcase, many of them smoking, almost all of them constantly yammering on their cell phones!

I have the feeling that if I put my camera on the tripod on my balcony—which overlooks not only the Bay of Palermo but also a podium where it looks like potentates are going to pontificate—that most likely I would get in a heap of trouble. 

Essentially, I am a prisoner in my very nice room. Going outside, I am stopped frequently for my papers. It isn’t really tenable. The restaurants and public rooms are closed to hotel guests except for the Libyan conference grandees. Running the gauntlet to get out and back in again is something to contemplate only after I good night’s sleep, since I’ve been up since 3AM.

When I complained to the manager, essentially he said, “We hate it too!” I pointed out that he could have let me know so I could have changed my hotel arrangements. It was all over the news he said. Well maybe, but Palermo is not the top of the news in California in this still surprisingly parochial world we live in (probably they don’t follow the California fires much in Palermo, for that matter). Anyhow, he agreed to comp me to a room service lunch/dinner (as there was no other way to get to eat), and having a full belly helps a bit.

Here’s to being memorable, and in the moment, but only in the right way!

Posted in Italy, Photography

Weston Gallery sells two prints of my work

I am very pleased that Weston Gallery has sold two prints of my work. The subject of each print is a California mountain landscape. One is a panorama, Panorama of the Sierra Crest, photographed from the Alabama Hills above Lone Pine at sunrise, and shown below.

Panorama of the Sierra Crest © Harold Davis

The other image is a monochromatic version of a rough, eroded landscape, taken near the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park.

Badlands © Harold Davis

Meanwhile, from the far side of the world, my group had a great time photographing the island of Gozo (famous as the supposed Ogygia of Calypso and Odysseus fame), and made it to the ferry back to the “mainland” of Malta just ahead of a blustering storm!

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Rotunda of Mosta

Here’s another fisheye lens view of the interior of the Rotunda of Mosta—where the bomb fell through during WWII without detonating, or harming the assembled congregation!

Rotunda of Mosta via Fisheye © Harold Davis

Posted in Malta

Mosta Dome

This is the interior of the dome in the church located in Mosta, Malta. I photographed it with a circular fisheye lens, specifically the Nikkor 8-15mm at the roundest and widest 8mm setting. This is a specialty lens I don’t use much, but the interior of this gigantic dome seemed an appropriate subject.

Mosta Dome © Harold Davis

More formally, the Mosta Dome, also known as the “Rotunda of Mosta,” is the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady, a Catholic parish church. It was built in the mid-1800s, and patterned after the Pantheon in Rome. It is certainly a large dome: According to the church pamphlet, “At one time, the dome was the third largest in the world.”

During World War II, the Luftwaffe dropped a large bomb on the top of Mosta Dome, which descended into the rotunda where three hundred congregants were waiting for an early mass. The bomb didn’t explode, it wan defused and dumped into the sea, and no one was hurt. Obviously, this was regarded as miraculous, perhaps with more reason than many putative miracles.

If large domes float your boat as much as they do mine, check out the Duomo di Pavia, designed in part by Leonardo!

Posted in Malta, Photography

Time Machine

I asked one of the participants in this year’s Malta workshop what he wanted to get out of the workshop, and after a thoughtful response he turned it around on me, and asked what I wanted to get. I mentally sat on this question a while, and then this morning realized that I wanted to make some interpretive images of the Maltese architecture. Last year, when I was here at the invitation of the Malta Photographic Society, I did fairly literal imagery of Valletta—and now it was time to make some images that used (and implied) the mood and history, past, present and future. So I went out with my camera and tripod to capture some off-beat Valletta moodiness.

Time Machine © Harold Davis

Both these images are single, in-camera long exposures, with both focus and focal-length (zoom) manipulated during exposure. The camera was, of course, on a tripod. Exposure duration was twenty seconds. To accomplish this during daylight hours, I used a #4 neutral density filter.

Deconstructing Valletta © Harold Davis

Posted in Abstractions, Malta, Photography

Wandering in Valletta

Today I wandered in Valletta, Malta. This is a wonderful and extraordinary place to wander with layer upon layer of things to look at and photograph. The whole capital city of Malta is built out on a fortified peninsula that goes up and down, and never stays at one height. Ancient, old, and new cohabitate in a delirious fashion, and the architecture presents fanciful details. Meanwhile, Republic Street, the central thoroughfare in Valletta, is closed to traffic and throngs come evening with peaceful partying like it is still 1999 and New Year’s Eve.

Saint Ursula Street, Old Valletta © Harold Davis

Wandering Valletta, I found the door knocker shown below on the entrance to a medical doctor’s consulting room. I don’t know about you, but if it were me this might make me think twice before entering for a consult with this physician.

Door Knocker © Harold Davis

Posted in Malta

Goodbye Paris

It is with some degree of melancholy that I say goodbye to Paris for this time, as I have “sailed” to warmer climes. The Maltese Islands are a different universe, and I write from my desk overlooking the ramparts of Valletta. But for now one last look over my shoulder at Paris Paris.

Paris Paris © Harold Davis

Posted in Paris

Last Day in Paris

This is my last day in Paris until the spring. I took the Metro into Concorde, walked over to the Orangerie, and sat for a while and marveled at the wonderful installation of Monet’s mammoth water lilies, abstractions created based on his ponds at Giverny

La Tour Eiffel © Harold Davis

Next, I wandered across the Tuileries to the Jeu de Paume. The most interesting exhibition there (at least to me) showed the work related to social injustice of Dorothea Lange. While not always the greatest photographer from a technical perspective (e.g. framing, composition, and exposure) she certainly had an eye for faces and telling details, and she cared. The caring may matter more than the technical considerations.

Manzanar diorama via iPhone capture © Harold Davis

What does a diorama of the World War II era Japanese-American internment camp at Manazar have to do with this? In a museum in Paris, looking at the contemporaneous photos of the camp by Lange, I was solipsistically struck with the thought that I had just been (a little more than a month ago) to the memorial museum on the site of Manazar in the arid Eastern Sierra. What a small world we live in, where one thing has consequences for other things, and there are no coincidences!

After I left the museum I wandered the banks of the Seine with my camera until it started to rain. Then I stopped into a restaurant for a late lunch, and made my way back to the hotel.

The car picks me up early tomorrow to get to Malta. I have enjoyed my relatively short visit to Paris, but I am also hoping for a bit warmer weather in the southern Mediterranean.

Posted in France, Paris, Photography

Rainy Day in Paris

Last night as a lay under my quilt in my garret room I heard the wind in a racing howl across Paris. I fell asleep to the rhythm of the rain playing percussion on the roof.

Rainy Day in Paris © Harold Davis

Sure enough, in the morning it was indeed a rainy day in Paris, and the water drops danced on the glass of my window facing the Eiffel Tower. Yet somehow the new day brought light and promise beyond the storm, which washed the city at least a bit cleaner.

By midday the storm had broken, although the wind was still strong. Everyone seemed fresher and fortified in the new light from beyond the rain, even in the depths of the Metro where the music was more original and less lip-synched to Piaf. It’s hard not to admire Paris, although I have no real clue about what accounts for the existential magic.

Posted in France, Paris, Water Drops

Abstracting Sacré-Cœur

High atop the hill of Montmartre sits the cathedral of Sacré-Cœur—which, as I’ve pointed out before, is emblematic (when constructed) of a hard-right quasi-fascism as encouraged by the Church. From a visual standpoint, it is kitsch and rococo, and just a bit weird.

Knocks against its politics of origin and the kitsch aesthetic aside, it is a hecka fun monument to photograph on the exterior (the interior not so much). The rear of the Sacré-Cœur exterior is shown here in an abstraction of wheels-within-wheels (arched arcades over arched arcades), and processed to look as much like a lithograph as a black and white photo.

Sacré-Cœur, exterior detail © Harold Davis

Posted in France, Monochrome, Paris