Weekly photo challenge: Symmetry

I found this photo of the Grand Hotel in my father’s war album, from his time in Egypt in 1941/42 with the AIF.  The hotel in central Cairo is part of the Gamalian complex built in 1939, designed by Kamal Ismail.  At street level are the hotel foyer and shops, above them is a mezzanine level of offices, and then eight floors of apartments.  The complex is an excellent example of stark modernist architecture with its streamlined, symmetrical arrangement of facade details, repetition of balconies, rounded corners, simple balustrades and lack of ornamentation.

On the right and left of the photo where it is out of focus there are small corner balconies on separate buildings, between which there are three pedestrian walkways leading to a central rotunda.  The walkways these days are blocked with shops and stalls, but they were designed to allow natural ventilation and illumination between the three parts of the complex, as you can see in the layout plan below the photo.

Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941

Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941

Layout plan Gamalian Complex and Grand Hotel Cairo

I found the plan at archnet.org in a very interesting article, “Gamalian:  a rediscovery”, about the design and innovations in the complex.  The author laments the deterioration of the buildings since their construction in 1939.

Thanks to the Daily Post for this photo challenge.

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A moment in time

Today there’s a prompt to show and tell:  show the last photo I’ve taken, and tell the story behind that moment in time.

Yesterday I was passing the Civic library where I’ve worked casually as a tutor for a couple of years.  There’s something in there that I’ve often wanted to photograph, but when I’m working I’m too busy for such an indulgence, though I sit gazing up at it while my student is busy with his writing exercises.  Yesterday it wasn’t a work day, I had my camera, and I had time.

Here it is, my last photo.  It’s of an artwork suspended from the library ceiling, a stripped down Vietnamese boat.  The oars are long golden arms and hands pushing through the air, while a pair of eyes on the prow watches where the boat is going.  The artist, Nerine Martini of Sydney, created the work during an artist residency in Vietnam in 2006 and has exhibited it in Vietnam on a lake (on a stand in the water) and at outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.  The design of the Civic library is ideal for hanging a long object in the high-ceilinged space above the ground floor, up there at the mezzanine level where we can lean over the railing and look into the boat.  The golden hands, each with a different gesture, reach out to the viewer;  it was tempting to reach my own hand out to touch one.  I didn’t.

Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini

Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini

It was an odd moment finally seeing the boat up close, as pleasurable as I expected it to be.  But up on the mezzanine level where I took an earlier photo (see my header), as I leaned over the rail I was aware of a tutor at a table behind me teaching four students.  I knew her.  She was enjoying the interaction with her group, so I studied the boat for some moments and then I turned to her and quietly said “Hi, Jenny”.  Although I have known her for five years, she looked at me blankly.  I most uncomfortably interrupted her class to explain our connection as tutors.  “Your face looks vaguely familiar,” she said.

I left the library feeling fulfilled but forgettable.   Not so the rugged beauty of the Lifeboat.

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New Year’s Day in Australia

We escaped to the beach on New Year’s Day (yesterday).  I’ve spent every New Year of my life in Australia, and take the summer holiday mood for granted.  But since I’ve been blogging I’ve seen countless photos of New Years from the other side of the world where it’s snowing and the trees are bare and people are indoors in front of a warming device.

As I sat on the beach watching holidaymakers do what relaxes them, I was struck by the difference in the world’s seasons.

Beach cricket

Beach cricket

On most New Year’s Days, good-weather days in the fullness of an Australian summer, there’ll be families and friends playing beach cricket (or football or volleyball…).  Rubbish bins are the wickets, the bat and ball are bright plastic, easy to see against a sandy background.

Hot dog

Hot dog

Dogs on this beach are allowed off-leash.  There were three running free, in and out of the water and in and out of the cricket game.  The one standing in the shallow surf here, a hyperactive apricot poodle, tore up and down the beach and even ran right across the back of my legs as I lay peacefully reading Chekhov on the sand.

Kayak carriers

Kayak carriers

A few people messed about in kayaks, rowing out to the deeper water and back again, then putting them away beneath the trees.

Love letter in the sand

But not everyone was having a good holiday.  Someone on this beach had a disappointing Christmas-New Year and wrote about it in a five-page letter, stabbed it onto a sharp broken branch from where it worked its way loose and drifted down to the urine-soaked sand beneath this rocky overhang at the far end of the beach.  I read the five pages, recognised the pain of unrequited love, and scattered them again beneath the tree.  Together, he said, they had come this far, but she had kept moving and left him behind.

Would she one day (before the next high tide) stroll past this overhang, see his writing, and change her mind?

View from Blank Canvas, Batemans Bay

When we were weary of the beach, when we’d walked far across the rocks, far from cricketers and mad dogs, examined every rock pool and cooled our ankles in the clear water of several two-metre wide beaches formed between rocky outcrops, we went hunting for food.  Long lines emerged from the popular fish and chip shops.  But there was another choice;  a longer walk brought us to a small restaurant, Blank Canvas, where for a couple of hours we sat at a table, enjoying fish and chips and this view between two gnarly trees.

A good start to the year.

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August Endell: in praise of bark

I recently read a quotation by August Endell (1871 – 1925), a German self-taught architect who designed in the era of Jugendstil, or, in English and French, Art Nouveau.  Here’s what he said in Berliner Architekturwelt, volume 4, 1902:

“I believe it is not generally known that, in the bark of our own native trees, we possess the most rapturous symphonies of colour that a painter could ever dream of.  After rain, for example, when the colours are luminous and fresh, the richest and most wonderful motifs are to be found there.  You need to go right up to the trunk and look hard at small areas the size of your palm.  Strong colours alternate one with another.  Velvety violet,Young plum tree

fiery yellowy-red,yellow-red bark

grey with a blue shimmer,Willow-leaf Hakea barkbright green,

Maple bark

- the widest possible range of colour nuances are found in a rich spectrum in the boldest contrasts.  Only when you have studied the colours of bark close up can you appreciate why tree trunks have such luminous colours from afar.

Eucalypt forest, Jervis Bay

The individual colours are garish and unbroken, but because they lie so close together in such small blotches, they tone each other down without losing their effect.”

August Endell’s first commission was for the Hof-Atelier Elvira, a photography studio in Munich, built and decorated in 1896-97.  The interior decor was highly individual, even bizarre, but partly reflected Endell’s belief that ‘the most wonderful motifs’ are to be found on tree bark.  Look, for example, at the studio staircase, to see how the organic pattern resembles the cracks in bark:

You can guess from the age of the staircase photo that the building no longer exists.  It was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944.  Hooray for photos!

In 1896, in an article about his theory of art, Endell said:

“Someone who has never been sent into raptures by the exquisite swaying of a blade of grass, the wondrous implacability of a thistle leaf, the austere youthfulness of burgeoning leaf buds, who has never been seized and touched to the core of his being by the massive shape of a tree root, the imperturbable strength of split bark, the slender suppleness of the trunk of a birch, the profound peacefulness of an expanse of leaves, knows nothing of the beauty of forms.”

(Cited in Art Nouveau, Gabriele Fahr-Becker)

The year 2014 is all but over;  I want to finish it on a beautiful note.  In an antique shop at Jervis Bay, in a holiday mood, I found Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau still sealed in protective plastic yet offered for a small price.  I took it back to the beach house, peeled away its covering and flicked through the large glossy pages.  At around the middle of the book, 232 pages in, the Endell quotation on bark brought me to a halt.  I didn’t turn the page, but closed the book.  I didn’t want to forget his urging to ‘go right up to the trunk’ of trees, and look hard.  I urge you to do it, too.

Happy New Year!

I wish you wonderful days in 2015.

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One trip EVERY month: December

It’s early days in December, but I’ve already taken a trip!  Jervis Bay was the destination.

A friend who has a beach house there (and who loves the bay for its small population) says it’s a really awful place;  she tells everyone not to go there.  Of course, no one takes her advice.  Jervis Bay has a number of isolated beaches, clean and white, with turquoise waters and plenty of fun water activities.  It’s not awful, it’s awesome!  See if you agree.

Huskisson, Jervis Bay

Huskisson, Jervis Bay NSW

Huskisson is at about the centre of the bay shore and is the central shopping area, though there’s not a lot except cafés and restaurants, swimwear and souvenir shops.  Across the street from the shops is this green landscaped park that slopes down to the water.  I sat in the shade of the trees, staring out to sea, wishing it was my back yard.

Hole in the Wall, Jervis Bay, Boodooree National Park

Hole in the Wall, Jervis Bay, Booderee National Park

Hole in the Wall is the name of this spot in the National Park at Jervis Bay.  The rock is composed of sand grains solidly stuck together.  As I sat in the gap rubbing at the sand walls I had a sense of reshaping nature, brushing the grains off the rock as easily as I brush them from my toes.  Yet it’s strong enough to climb on, which my son did, declaring himself champion of the wall.

Cudmirrah Beach, Sussex Inlet

The water in the bay is calm with small waves, but down around the southern peninsula, on the ocean side at Sussex Inlet, the waves are surfable.  If you look closely you’ll see my son waiting for a wave.

Boom net behind Port Venture

Boom net behind Port Venture boat

He enjoyed a number of water activities, especially lying in the boom net as it was dragged behind the tour boat.

Kayaking, Jervis Bay

Kayaking, Jervis Bay

…and the more peaceful pleasure of kayaking with his dad.

Dolphins, Jervis Bay

Dolphins, Jervis Bay

In the tour boat we were on dolphin watch, and we saw plenty, swimming around and under the boat and even riding the wash.  The dolphins are free to swim wherever they like and easily cover the whole bay, which I’ve read is 124 square kilometres in size.  Huge.  Many times larger than Sydney Harbour.  The dolphins are never fed by humans or made to entertain us in any way, unlike dolphins in marine theme parks.  The captain announced his firm belief that dolphins should not be kept in captivity, and I can see why he’s so passionate about it.  He frequently stopped the boat so we could watch them swimming and leaping out of the water for a synchronised breath.

Cliffs, Beecroft Peninsula, Jervis Bay

At the mouth of the bay, cliffs rise from a turquoise sea, their vertical faces and horizontal layers tempting the captain to pull in closer so we can marvel at the geology.  At the base of the cliffs are large cavernous tunnels, magnets for divers.  Here’s one where you can swim in one doorway and out another.

Keep clear 5NM - live firing Honeymoon Bay NSW

Keep clear 5NM – live firing, Honeymoon Bay NSW

If you don’t like deep water diving you could try a shore dive at Honeymoon Bay (a bay within the bay), but not when this red sign has been planted in the sand:  ‘Range is active.  Live firing.  Do not land’ …  Much of the Beecroft Peninsula is occupied by the Royal Australian Navy and is regularly (but not during school holidays) used for weapons training.  Of course, the kangaroos can’t read, so they’re oblivious to the danger as they lie back on the beach.  Zoom in and you’ll see one taking it easy on the soft sand.

I was amused by things that women do on Jervis Bay beaches;  I saw things I haven’t seen on beaches further south.  One, a bikinied Italian, hatted her head and wrapped her shoulders with her shirt, obviously wanting to keep the sun off the top but not the bottom!  She laid out her towel in front of me on the sand, bending over from the waist.  I didn’t want to see that.  There was another, a bikinied Spaniard, who was also exposing a round bump.  It’s rare to see an advanced naked pregnancy on our beaches.  Probably no coincidence that both women were Mediterranean.  And then, just when I was thinking, well at least Australians are predictable if reserved, I stumbled across eight boxing-gloved women punching each other beside the calm waters of the bay.

I often wonder as I’m people-watching, snapping photos, whether anyone ever catches me doing something unusual, a bit crazy, and … click!  Pffft.  Not likely.

Thanks Marianne for the prompt to take a trip EVERY month.  I’ve done it, twelve months in a row.  And thanks to all of you who’ve read my trippy posts this year.

Jervis Bay.  Let’s make it the capital.

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Weekly photo challenge: Angular

The word ‘angular’ makes me think ‘Art Deco’, the popular visual arts style of the 1920s and 30s that embraced the hard edges of industry, machines and man-made structures rather than the soft, curving, natural lines of the previously popular ‘Art Nouveau’ style.  Art Deco buildings are recognisable by their geometric, often symmetrical, forms and decorations:  repeated lines, zigzags, steps, and ziggurat shapes.  Here’s a photo from Dad’s WWII collection from 1941/42, showing the covered market in Nairobi, built in 1932.  It’s now called the City Market.

City Market Nairobi

Covered market, Nairobi, c1942

The City Market building in central Nairobi has the classic features of Art Deco architecture:  symmetrically stepped walls and straight lines at every turn – even the clock is octagonal.  Well, that was in the 1940s;  the clock is no longer there, as you can see in the photo below, taken in 2011.

6202713873_247f1cd912_b

City Market, Nairobi, Kenya, 2011. Photo courtesy Richard Portsmouth, Flickr, http://www.kanyawegi-uk.org/index.aspx

How quiet it was in the 1940s, with a neatly hedged roundabout and only a few cars parallel-parked beside the building.  Images online of the City Market now, including the one above, show a lot of people and traffic, and angle parking to fit more in.  Photos online of the interior are full of colour and activity, showing local people buying fresh food, particularly meat and fish, fresh flowers, handcrafts and souvenirs for the tourists.

Inside, it’s an open space where the windowed walls step inwards, with unadorned concrete arches supporting the vaulted ceiling.  Pivoting windows on both sides allow air movement and cross ventilation (see an enlarged view of them in the header above), and the vertical strips of louvres allow hot air to escape through the higher openings and cooler air to enter at the bottom.  It was ‘green’ architecture long before sustainability became so important.  There’s an interesting site here with more photos, as well as plans and information about the energy-efficient design that keeps the building cool.  It’s very interesting reading.

I have to admit that while I have a few items of Art Deco style inherited from my parents, it’s not my first choice of decoration or architecture.  Give me instead the organic forms of Art Nouveau, the stylised vines whipping asymmetrically around doors and windows and up and down balustrades.  Give me environmentally sustainable curves any day.

Thanks Daily Post photo challenge for the angular prompt.

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Weekly photo challenge: Achievement

I visited a neighbour one day in October to wish him a Happy 97th Birthday.  That’s a pretty good achievement, surviving life’s vacillations for 97 years.  He’s Dutch, born in Amsterdam he says, during the war (the first one).  His greatest achievement, he says, was becoming a  submarine navigator during the war (the second one).  But what about his long long long life?  He says everyone wants to grow old, no one wants to be old.

Before we sat down together on his birthday, he took a cooked sausage from the lunch delivered by Meals on Wheels, cut it up into small pieces, put them into a small decorative plate and stuck a toothpick into each one.  He poured himself a glass of red wine and invited me to join him in his birthday celebration.

Aart 97 today

He is the eldest of 12 children and has no idea if the others are alive or dead. They all stayed in Holland while he moved to Australia, and now he only remembers the names of 5 of them.  But he remembers his childhood, and often sings a Dutch song that his mother sang when he was small, a song of thankfulness for being saved from a shipwreck, ‘Als g’in nood gezeten’.  He wrote it out in Dutch, and then translated it into English for me:

Aart writing Als g'in nood gezeten

He has sung the song for me many times.  For a while, he forgot some of the verses, so we turned on his computer and found, to his surprise and mine, that he still has an Internet connection.  We looked up the verses, then he sat and sang it from start to finish.  At the end he was so pleased with himself that he turned to me with this delightful smile.  I snapped him.

Aart singing

Aart was a seaman and says he has seen more of the sea than most people, spending much of his life on it and under it.  He now lives up the street from me, that is, several hours’ drive inland, so I asked if he’d like to come for a drive to the coast to see the sea.  But he has no desire to see it again, and prefers his memory of it.  He rarely leaves his house, and likes it that way.  He wants to die there.  If he gets what he wants in the end, without doctors and carers insisting he goes into an aged care home, then that will also be a great achievement.

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Thanks WordPress for the photo prompt.  It was good to reflect on achievement.

One trip EVERY month: November

This month I spent a weekend at Barlings Beach on the south coast of New South Wales, named after the Barling family who have been in the area since 1852.  That’s a long time in Australia’s books.

On the way I saw an ex-church which has been here almost as long;  the sign high above the door says 1855.  The church now appears to be inhabited by free spirits.  I was bold and brave and took photos of it, though I’m not sure I would have knocked on the door to ask for directions.Ex-church front

I don’t know if anyone was inside peering out, but as I wandered down the street and looked in the left hand window, something was looking back at me.

ex-church window

At Barlings Beach the air was dry and hot, and it felt good to be hotter than I’ve been since last summer.  But this was no paradise, the sky overcast with dark blue clouds, the water green and waveless.  Strange, but last time I was at this beach there was surf.   And here and there, a few dead birds lay half-buried in the sand.  I’ve read that they are short-tailed shearwaters, a type of muttonbird, that fly thousands of kilometres from the Arctic to arrive on the east coast of Australia at the start of summer.  The long trek is too much for many of them.

Barlings storm approaching

Only one man was swimming.  My husband.  (No photo.)  Another man was fishing, wetting his line really, while the women, who had been fishing from their esky seats, declared it a waste of time and settled down for a chat.

women on eskies

Another woman seemed to be wondering why the water was so flat.  Was there something in the green murk that she couldn’t see?  Only a few days before, a surfer had been bitten by a shark in waist-deep water at another beach up the coast.  Knee-deep was a safe depth.

what's under the water?

The rainless windstorm came and the temperature plummeted by 15 degrees.  The wind blew itself out and the waves rolled in again.  Later in the afternoon as I walked on the shore, I couldn’t believe it was the same beach as a few hours before.

Barlings after the storm

Next morning, paradise had returned, and I walked to the rock platform that goes out to Barlings Island.  When the tide’s low it’s possible to walk over to it on the rocks.  The island is a significant Aboriginal heritage area associated with traditional laws and customs.  It’s excellent for snorkelling, to see fish swimming through a giant underwater kelp forest.

Barlings Island

On the way home, at a small beach called Mosquito Bay, I was standing on the boat ramp wondering how boats would survive a launching over the rocky bottom, when something moved around and over the ramp base.  See the black part above the water?

Smooth Ray on boat ramp

It was a stingray, a Smooth Ray, according to the notice at the top of the ramp warning us not to harm them.  I frequently walk in the edge-water, sometimes up to my knees, but this time I’d stayed on dry land.  Wasn’t I happy about that!  The blown-up photo in the header of this post shows the ray’s long sting, almost as scary as a flying celluloid doll in a church window.

Smooth Ray Mosquito Bay

It was another good trip away, another weekend of nature-watching.  And, even better, people-watching.

Thanks again Marianne for the suggestion to take one trip EVERY month.  Only one 2014 month to go, one 2014 trip to take.

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Weekly photo challenge: Descent

Descent:  a downwards movement, bad for a fragile object falling or a fragile person tripping.  A good thing if you descend from an airless mountaintop or from worthy ancestors.  It’s especially useful if you need an inexpensive system of water delivery, for even in the desert there’s the free pressure of gravity.  The photo here is taken in a desert during World War Two, one of the many photos my father brought back from the Middle East.  It’s captioned simply “Gravity Tank”, taken in North Africa, probably Egypt, in about 1941.

Gravity tank, North Africa, c1941

Gravity tank, North Africa, c1941

Prompted by the WordPress photo challenge.