Capturing Urban Texture

I love taking photographs and have been looking at ones that I have taken in different parts of the world that capture what I call urban texture. That is, the colours, textures, lighting, brickwork and contrast that my photographs captured within urban landscapes.

I have run these through filters available on Instragram to try to exaggerate the textures to increase their impact and then compiled them in a section that I have created within Flickr.

The images compiled so far cover places such as my home town of Wakefield, Siena, New York, Portofino, Paris, Warsaw, Provins, Beverley, Rome, York, Bridlington, Verona, Zurich, Copenhagen, Sorrento, Venice, Leeds, Pisa, Cefalu, Luca, Berlin, London and Jerusalem.

The following is my progress on this small project that I have achieved so far (click the image below to see the collection):

A) Urban Texture

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Interesting Facts: The Japanese Occupation of the United States During World War II

Kiska-1942

Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska after landing on 6 June 1942.

Today I discovered something about World War II that I previously did not know. I did not realise that portion of what is now one of America’s 50 states was actually occupied by the Japanese.

I am, of course, stretching things with the title since the state in question, Alaska, was a Territory at the time and only joined the Union in 1959.  Nevertheless, it was, like the British Channel Islands, occupied by one of the Axis powers.

The Japanese occupation of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Islands began on 6 June 1942 (1).  There was only a very minimal US presence at the time of this successful attack on US territory:

 “When the Japanese attacked Kiska, the only people on the island were members of the U.S. Aerological Detail who ran but were caught in just a matter of days.  Senior Petty Officer William C. House avoided the Japanese for 50 days, surviving on plants and worms alone but eventually, when he weighed just 80 pounds, he made a decision to either give up or die from lack of food; he chose to give up. ” (2)

The invasion to liberate Kiska from the Japanese yoke took place on 15 August 1943, but the Japanese had already left at the end of July. (2)

He following is an American documentary about the Aleution Campaign:

Notes:

(1) Japanese occupation of Kiska  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_Kiska

(2) Japanese Occupation Site at Kiska Island. https://www.theclio.com/web/entry?id=16114

Harriet Tubman – A Fine Choice For The $20 Bill

Harriet_Tubman_Civil_War_Woodcut-300px-wideI must admit, until this week I had never heard of Harriet Tubman. I am not an American so have a bit of an excuse about not previously knowing anything about the first African American women to appear on a US bank note.

She was born into slavery but after escaping, perhaps motivated by her strong Christian faith, devoted her life to helping others escape and build meaningful lives for themselves. She was later involved in the campaign for women’s sufferage.

I think she is a worthy choice for commemoration on the $20 bill. It is not because she is a woman or that she is an African American, it is because what she did was right. She stood up to tyranny, took personal risks for the sake of others and was unwavering in her cause. Her place on the banknote was earned on pure merit. She is an inspiration to all those who stand up to current vested interests who use their power oppress others.

As a campaigner for women’s suffrgage she is very relevant to the present day where democracy is gradually being subverted under the pressures of globalisation. In America and in countries around the world large corporations can buy politicians via the lobbying process and manipulate opinion via their control of the media. We live in a world of backroom deals and legislation by treaty, a world where the simple vote has become a debased currency. It is a world where currency itself is debased due to the hidden machinations of our system of central banks which often amount to organised officially sanctioned theft (her presence on the $20 bill in this sense is rather ironic).

We live in a world where cherished freedoms are being eroded, the kind of basic freedoms that were hard won by people like Harriet Tubman. Her presence on the $20 bill will be an ever present reminder of the idea that the only antidote to tyranny is eternal vigilance.

Harriet Tubman provides a lesson on how a person from humble origins and limited, or even non-existent means, can achieve great things. She also reminds us that freedom isn’t free and that to be free often requires real effort and sometimes even personal sacrifice.

Touristic Wanderings in the Judaean Wilderness

View from Masada
Above: View from Masada looking back towards the oaisis of Ein Gedi (dark patch on top right) which can be made out in the distance. The Qumran Caves are to be found in the steep cliffs.

Ever since I saw the TV miniseries  staring Peter O’Toole I have been interested in the ancient fortress of Masada. This is the location where Jewish freedom fighters fought bravely though unsuccessfully to reestablish an independent state of Israel.

Their attempt for renewed statehood, well documented by the historian Josephus, was always going to be a Quixotic quest – after all they were going up against a Roman Empire at the peak of its power. The dreams of the Jewish people were of course eventually realised only when another empire, that of the British, finally withdrew from the region.

It was therefore to Masada that my eyes turned when given the opportunity to travel round this ancient and fascinating country during my trip to Jerusalem in December 2008. When the question arose as to where to visit first the answer was clear – Masada. I opted for a trip that took in Masada while also allowing a dip in the Dead Sea.

The Judaean Desert

It was to the harsh crucible of the Judaean wilderness that Christ turned as his destination for meditation and contemplation before he embarked on the final and most critical mission of his life. It was here where he successfully resisted the temptations of the Devil!

This environment was not hostile to me, but it was hauntingly beautiful. After all, I was travelling through this challenging environment in the luxury of an air conditioned coach. If having a great time was to be tempted then I failed the Biblical test! My wanderings in this wilderness were a comfortable and highly enjoyable experience.

You can actually see the unique topography of the Judaean desert from Jerusalem itself as shown at the upper left in the photo below.

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Above: Jerusalem with the Judaean Desert in the background

Our journey took us across the Kidron Valley, out of Jerusalem and into the Judaean Hills. From here you began your descent below sea level to the lowest land point on earth – the Dead Sea Plain. As you watch the landscape go by your mind takes you back to Biblical times.

Before dropping to the lowest level our journey stopped for a comfort break at a factory shop for Dead Sea products. Christmas was a couple of weeks later so it was an opportunity to get some Christmas presents.

Our route, parallel to the Dead Sea, took us past the Oasis of Ein Gedi. It would have been great to have stopped there to explore but it was not on the itinerary. I would have preferred to have missed the factory shop and used the time at Ein Gedi but it was not to be.

The cliffs above Ein Gedi were where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the
Qumran Caves. These gave us new insights into Jewish history in the Israel of Biblical times.

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Above: A glimpse of Ein Gedi

Masada – Redoubt of The Ancient Jewish State

This was where Roman General Lucius Flavius Silva faced off against Elazar Ben-Yair who was leading a Jewish war of independence against the Roman occupation. As the bus turned left to approach Masada you can imagine what was going through the general’s mind in AD 73 as he contemplated what was, to all intents and purposes, an impossible task.

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Above: Approaching Masada

To get to the top you either walk or you take the cable car – we took the cable car! When you reach the flat summit you turn right from the cable car to enter the remains of the fortified royal palace built between 37-31 BC by the great builder King Herod the Great. It had all the mod cons of the age as the remains of the hypocaust attests.

Masada Ruins
Above: Remains of the Herodian palace (left) and hypocaust (right)

The views out across the Dead Sea are spectacular. You can also see the square outlines of the Roman forts that were used to enforce their siege.

Views from Masada
Above: View towards the Dead Sea (left) and Roman Remains (right)

The impressive ramp created by the Romans to bring up their siege engines and troops is also still visible. You have to take your hat off to the genius of the Roman engineers. It was this ramp that made the impossible possible and finally brought the stand off to a victorious conclusion for Rome.

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Above: The Ramp That Was Built by Roman Military Engineers During the Siege of Masada

Above: A Documentary About Masada

The Dead Sea – Rest and Recuperation (and wallowing in a mud pit!)

On our return back up the coastal road we made a right turn into a resort on the Dead Sea. Here everyone had the opportunity to do the floating trick and soak up the health enhancing properties of the water. There was also the attraction of the Dead Sea mud.

I don’t usually go for the new man and moisturiser approach to life. However, wallowing in a pit of runny mud looked like it had to makings of a good laugh.

I got really absorbed in the activity, to such an extent that other tourists were taking pictures of me as if I was an employee of the Israel Tourist Board there for their entertainment. It was great fun! After enjoying a second childhood playing in the mud it was time to wash it off by going for a swim and a float. All this amazingly left my skin soft and smooth for weeks.

Wallowing in the Dead Sea Mud 2008
Above: Wallowing in the Mud

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Above: Floating in the Dead Sea with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Obscured by Pinkish Haze rising from the water in the Background

As the sun began to go down, earlier than usual due to the shade from the cliffs of this rift valley, we began our journey across the desert back to Jerusalem.

Tales From the Venetian Lagoon

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Last time I visited Venice I went on a tour that encompassed three of the lagoon’s more interesting outer islands. These are the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

I got a ticket for a tour that took you round these three Islands. This lagoon cruise cast off from the pier adjacent to Rio dei Giardinetti, the gardens next to St Mark’s Square.

Didn’t get much time on each island but did gain a flavour of the lagoon’s huge variety. In this account I will try to convey some of this rich flavour.

Murano – Workers of Glass

Years ago I used to play a computer game called Machiavelli: The Prince. In this game you represented one of the illustrious families of old Venice. You engaged in intrigue and traded, like Marco Polo, with the pre Columbian world. The cargo of choice at the beginning of your path to trading empire fame and fortune was always Venetian glass.

The island of Murano was therefore a priority destination in my expedition across the lagoon. This is where Venetian (Murano) glass is actually made and this was the first island on the tour.

When you disembark in Murano, you are guided to one of the glass making factories only a few steps away from the quay. Here you see the glass being made, feel the heat from the furnaces and look on in wonder at this ancient art.

Murano Glass

You can then buy something at the factory shop and take a short stroll to see a bit of the Island. You can’t see much as the boat will soon leave for the next island. You do get an impression of the place and have laid the foundations for a future more detailed visit.

Murano

Burano – Vivid Colour and Lace

The first thing that strikes you about Burano is the vibrant almost surreal colour. It is a real feast for the eyes and a great place to walk around.

There was an opportunity to be guided round a lace making operation – Burano is famous for its lace. I gave this a miss and concentrated on the place rather than its commercial activities. I don’t have much interest in lace anyway! Managed to see quite a bit of the place before moving on.

Burano

Torcello – Land that Time Forgot

Torcello could almost be described as rural Venice due to its green and unspoiled landscape. It is more like a nature reserve than anything else. It’s hard to grasp this island’s historic significance.

Nevertheless, it was from this humble location that the Serene Republic of Venice began its march to commercial greatness. The refugees who founded Venice settled here to escape the ravages of Atilla the Hun and his hordes who were rampaging down the mainland. These horsemen were effective warriors on dry land but they couldn’t walk on water. The islands of the lagoon provided the perfect refuge where people could escape their wrath.

You disembark on the western side of the island and you are immediately in the Venetian countryside. You follow the canal on its eastward course and enjoy a peaceful stroll. You may be interrupted by the posh tourists who occasionally glide up the canal in their expensive water taxis.

You arrive at the eastern side of the island where the last remnants of the civilisation of old Torcello are located. If you wanted pyramids and hanging gardens then you have come to the wrong place. All that remains is a rather charming Byzantine church, but it is a lovely area to explore.

Torcello

After your visit here you return to the pier and enjoy a relaxing cruise back to Saint Mark’s Square while dreaming about the romance and drama of old Venice.

Egypt Air Hijack – ‘Don’t Call Me Shirley’

That hijacking the other day is starting to look like a remake of the film Airplane.

Imagine the scene, first you have the smiling Brit from Leeds playing it cool and arranging a ‘selfie’. Then you have the person who who took the video footage of him having that selfie getting the best angle from a few rows back. Finally a selfie from one of the stewardesses comes to light – after all the crew can’t be outdone by the passengers!

Then use your imagination. Everyone on the plane suddenly whips out their iPhones, pods, pads – they all want a selfie to commemorate the occasion! You can just picture the scene in the cabin. Row upon row of panic stricken passengers, arms outstretched trembling fingers gripping mobile devices as the hijacker looks on. Every detail of the drama is captured, the black box suddenly becomes redundant and leaves the plane in a disgust. Every detail of the unfolding drama is captured from multiple angles, each shot has its own hero/cameraman. Everyone is suddenly a movie star, what a day for the ego!

I dread to imagine the situation in the cockpit! Perhaps the pilot kept muttering “Don’t call me Shirley!” into his iPhone as the drama unfolded?

No wonder the hijacker guy gave up he must have had stage fright!

Anyway, good to see a return of the British stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. Glad it all turned out okay in the end.

Treasures of Tuscany – The Piccolomini Library

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Above: Close up of the vaulted ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

The Piccolomini Library is located within the magnificent Duomo di Siena in one of my favourite cities in all of Italy.

I used one of its illuminated manuscripts to give a bit of colour to the article I posted yesterday. Today I thought it would be good to show people more of the library’s cultural treasures. It also gives me the excuse to showcase some of my photos.

Wikipedia describes the library as follows:

“Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini Library, housing precious illuminated choir books and frescoes painted by the Umbrian Bernardino di Betto, called Pinturicchio, probably based on designs by Raphael.” (1)

The library is named after Enea Silvio Piccolomini  who became Pope Pius II. The frescoes on the walls by Pinturicchio depict his life. According to an article at DiscoverTuscany.com:

“The Library itself was built by Pope Pius II’s nephew, also a cardinal who also later became Pope Pius III…, the library was in memory of his uncle and to conserve the rich collection of manuscripts he had lovingly collected.” (2)

The Illuminated manuscripts on display are impressive in and of themselves but the library’s delights don’t end with the books. The vibrancy of colour is a veritable feast for the eyes.

Untitled Above: Illuminated manuscripts (choir books) on display

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Above: Close up of an example of the illuminated manuscripts

Untitled Above: Vaulted ceiling and statue of the Three Graces with Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the alcoves. People looking at the choir books at the bottom of the shot.

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Above: Piccolomini receiving his cardinal’s hat from the Pope

Untitled Above: Part of the fresco where Piccolomini introduces Eleonora of Portugal to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III

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Above: Part of the fresco depicting the Diet of Princes at Mantua where Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) proclaimed a new crusade in 1459

If you are wandering around Italy and find yourself in Siena be sure to check this place out, it is well worth a visit.


Notes:

(1) Sienna Cathedral: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siena_Cathedral

(2) The Piccolomini Library, a Treasure within a Treasure https://www.discovertuscany.com/siena/piccolomini-library.html

Anne Boleyn, The Most Influential Woman In English History?

A few years back there was a big debate about the under representation of women (other than the Queen) on Bank of England banknotes. It was just before they decided to put author Jane Austin on the next £10 note. This all got me thinking about who could be regarded as the most influential women in English history and be worthy of a similar memorial.

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If I were to name such a woman it would not be the first woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it would not be that famous Briton of Roman times – Boudicca, and it would not be that glorious of Queens – Elizabeth I. In terms of having the most dramatic and far reaching impact it would have to be Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn.

More than anyone she was responsible for one of the most momentous events in English history – The Reformation.  After this key turning point England and indeed the world would never be the same again.

Henry VIII just wanted her for his ‘bit on the side’ after the shine went off his relationship with his wife, the formidable Catherine of Aragon. The intelligent and capable Anne thought otherwise.

She insisted on marrying Henry and used her feminine wiles to fill his head with some of the most cutting edge theological innovations of the day. Without her this would not have happened.

If Henry had succeeded with his ‘plan A’ of establishing her as his mistress the break with Rome would not have been considered let alone implemented. That would have been the customary solution for the age and history would have proceeded without upheaval.

Anne Boleyn is a case study in the application of feminine power to achieve political ends. She already had a Protestant  worldview before meeting Henry. She arguably used her ‘influence’ to push a Protestant agenda at the pinnacle of state power. During the Catherine of Aragon Divorce Crisis some of these Protestant ideas would be crucial in getting the upper hand with the Pope. She would undoubtedly have made a formidable politician in our own day.

They say behind every great man there is a great woman. The case of Henry VIII was no exception to this rule. Surely she deserves banknote status.

Piri Reis – A Name for a Ship

On the news this morning, there was a segment about a new Antarctic survey ship that is being built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. They mentioned that they wanted the public to suggest a name so I suggested the name Piri Reis.

This was in reference to the Piri Reis Map (below) copied by the Ottoman Admiral Piri Reis in 1513.

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What is remarkable about the map is that it shows an accurate representation of the Antarctic coastline, currently invisible beneath the ice sheet and only visible via remote sensing techniques. It is also remarkable because the copied map was produced before Antarctica was even discovered.

Of course this presents a problem for modern science and has let to speculation that there was a civilisation that predates our own that developed in the Fertile Crescent. It has caused some to suggest that the map may even have been produced by Extra Terrestrials. (see article HERE that covers both explanations)

Nevertheless, I still think Peri Reis would be a good name. I emailed them with the following (with a couple of typos corrected in the version below):

“I have a great name for your survey ship. I would call it the Piri Reis[.]

This would mean that the ship would be named after the famous ice free map of Antarctica[. T]he map dates from before the discovery of Antarctica and therefore creates a bit of mystery. The idea of an ice free Antarctica also raises the topical issue of the changing climate. It is inclusive in that it uses the name of a Turkish admiral. The map also demonstrates cartographic excellence, something on which good exploration relies[…]. In short it captures the imagination and potentially opens minds to new possibilities.”

If you want to suggest a name for the ship click HERE. For more about the Piri Reis map there is a article HERE and HERE.