Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Extra, Extra! Photographer Hawks Prints!

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Photograph of Eastern Market, Washington D.C.

I love outdoor shopping.

Whether it’s farmer’s markets or Third World bazaars, there’s nothing better than perusing open-air stalls on a sunny day. I’ve always admired the jewelry-makers at craft fairs, the knickknack-dealers at flea-markets. Weaving through the Three Rivers Arts Festival, I always see artists lounging in their fold-out chairs, chatting with passersby. There’s something refreshing about this old-world vendorship. It’s just a merchant, some stuff, and you. You don’t like the price? Negotiate. Walk off with a pint of apple cider. Everybody’s happy.

Well, I finally get to be one of them.

This Saturday, I’ll be manning a table of photographs at StripFest, a low-key little block party in the Strip District. Most pictures are framed or matted, and I must cast aside the veil of modesty — they turned out startlingly well. I’ll be sitting around all day, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or so). I’ll be sharing real estate with my friend Lindy, whose surrealist studio photography is frankly mind-blowing.

If a sunny day in the Strip and plenty of (very reasonably priced) fine art don’t get your heart racing, there’s also tons of live music, wine-tasting, beer-kegs and lobster rolls.

Coming back from Canada was never so much fun.

Nevermore Songs

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm

{This blog post is dedicated to Elena Passarello, friend, writer, actress, and kick-ass music commentator. Photograph depicts sleeping passengers in LAX Airport}

One day, I was killing time at Dave & Buster’s. Suddenly, above the empty bar, a music video started to play. The song was “She’s So High,” by Tal Bachman. I hadn’t heard the song for ages, but it was familiar – too familiar. If you listened to the radio at any given moment in 1999, you probably heard Bachman singing in his smooth falsetto: “She’s so hiiiiiiii-yai-yai-yai/so far above me/she’s so lovely…”

This is what I call a Nevermore Song.

Hearing this hit single made me feel strangely exhausted. Not because the song is bad, per se, but because I’d heard the song so many times in 1999. “She’s So High” never moved me enough to warrant so much listening. And now, a decade later, I still had not interest in it. I was being bullied by nostalgia.

I realized there are a lot of songs like this – songs we remember so vividly, and care so little about, that we never need to hear them again. I can’t judge them on value; all listeners have their unique tastes. But when they pop up, we furrow our brows. Oh, that one, we neutrally think. I remember when that was popular.

Here are some favorite Nevermore Songs – the singles that feel worn-out no matter how much time passes. I have no particular feelings about these songs, except for “Push” and “One More Time,” which I’m pretty sure were written by Nazis.

  1. She’s So High, Tal Bachman (1999)
  2. Adia, Sarah McLachlan (1997)
  3. Your Woman, White Town (1997)
  4. Iris, Goo Goo Dolls (1998)
  5. I’m Like a Bird, Nelly Furtado (2000)
  6. Push, Matchbox 20 (1997)
  7. …Baby, One More Time, Britney Spears (1998)
  8. Gone Till November, Wyclef Jean (1997)
  9. Change the World, Eric Clapton (1996)
  10. Beautiful, Christina Aguilera (2004)

If you feel so inclined, dear friends, feel free to post your own Nevermore Songs in the comment box below.

Canadian Outback: 6

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 1:39 am

One of my favorite photographers is Edward Burtynsky, who shoots landscapes of industrial wasteland. Burtynsky was first inspired by a drive through rural Pennsylvania, where he found miles of devastated mountains and forest. Ever since he visited my state, he has traveled around the world in search of environmental catastrophe.

I have admired Burtynsky’s work for a long time, and I’ve often wished to emulate his mission. Since Burtynsky was first affected by Pennsylvania, the state in which I live, it seemed only fitting that I found similar horrors in rural Labrador: The landscape above is not the Sahara desert, but a once-healthy evergreen forest (if you zoom in, you’ll see a tiny bulldozer in the upper left). This kind of strip-meaning leaches the soil of nutrients, poisons water-systems and makes re-forestation nearly impossible.

Canadian Outback: 5

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 1:30 am

Unless you’re a very careful driver (as we were), the Trans-Labrador Highway is incredibly dangerous. There are narrow curves, soft gravel, pointed rocks, and the constant threat of moose in the road. Bears roam this country, and rabies outbreaks are common. Many drivers carry satellite phones. In over 300 miles, we never saw a single squad car.

We passed several wrecks, and the vehicles were simply abandoned on the road. But this crash was the most dramatic: an entire cargo truck, overturned and crushed into a ditch. My fellow passengers held hands over their faces and went pale. There was no telling what had happened, whether the driver had survived.

Canadian Outback: 4

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 1:23 am

It’s unfair to say that “nobody” lives in Labrador. But compared to its southern neighbors, Labrador is practically empty: The province (which is governed by Newfoundland) is over twice as large as Pennsylvania. Now, imagine driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, in all its stultifying boredom, except that it’s twice as long. Meanwhile, only about 24,000 people live in Labrador. This is almost the exact population of Squirrel Hill, an average-sized neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

And even fewer people are from Labrador. Many are immigrant or seasonal workers, who spray pesticides or fly helicopters or work on the gas-lines. Others are Innu — a Native American tribe — and they live farther north and only come down to Goose Bay for errands.

Since most of the land is undeveloped, we passed hundreds of miles of evergreen forest. Every time we stopped — mostly to change busted tires — we were swarmed by black flies. If you’ve never seen a black fly, imagine a gnat or a fruit-fly that can bite through your clothes. Now imagine several hundred of these circling your head, crawling into your head, getting sucked up your nose, crushing on your lip. It’s no wonder that few people live in Labrador: Within hours, any settler would go bat-shit insane.

Canadian Outback: 3

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 1:07 am

It’s easy to romanticize Canada. Easy for me, at least. I’ve always admired the healthcare system, the diversity of Canada’s cities, the explosive arts and culture. I love that Canada is a multi-lingual nation, that Canadians rarely fight wars, and the crime-rate is minimal. Montreal is a place of refuge, the northeastern city that does everything right. Toronto and Vancouver are magnificent places. The hockey teams are awesome.

But Canada has its dark side. As a kid, I visited Sudbury with my family, and we found a grim factory city stuck in an apocalyptic wasteland. Rural Canada isn’t all Rocky Mountains and Inuit villages; the land is also ravaged by strip-mines, harnessed by dams, dotted with sad little towns. And as we started riding the Trans-Labrador Highway, my postcard image of Canada started to fray and bend.

Canadian Outback: 2

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 12:58 am

The truth is, this road was hard.

Our crew included 15 people, including grads, undergrads and instructors. It’s difficult to mobilize so many people, nor even send simple messages. But overall, I was very impressed by everybody. Some folks were camping for the first time. Others had never left the country, much less handled a passport. And I, for one, usually hate traveling in large groups. My preference is to journey alone. I had to adapt, but this posse made adaptation easy. Despite some minor tiffs and squabbles, everybody did well — not an easy task, in such a foreboding corner of the world.

Canadian Outback: 1

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 12:51 am

Photograph of Jim Vota and Sarah Jennings riding the Trans-Labrador Highway. Within seconds, they were subsumed in a cloud of dust.

After three weeks and several thousand miles, I have just returned from Canada. My bank account is empty, my phone was briefly shut off, and mail has piled on my desk. I’m a little shaky on my feet, having spent so much time huddled in the back of an SUV. But now I’m here, back in real life, and I have a lot to write about.

A lot of people are confused about my trip. They’re not sure where I was all this time, and I was too busy, before leaving, to really explain it. Here, in brief, is what I was up to:

  1. I traveled with the ALT Project, a documentary film team that takes alternative roadways through North America. Each year, they pick a theme and plot a course. This is the Project’s third year.
  2. The theme this year was twofold: Acadian culture and riding (by motorcycle) the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is effectively Labrador’s only major road. The highway is mostly gravel, sparsely populated, and cuts through 341 miles of wilderness.
  3. The highway was completed earlier this year and should be paved within the decade, so it has attracted all kinds of adventure-riders from around the world. The route is long and rugged, and a lot of motorcyclists salivate over this.
  4. This odyssey also doubled as my “field seminar” for Chatham University. The MFA Program requires that students travel somewhere (aw, shucks), and I wanted a structured project that was also independent in nature. The ALT Project seemed like the perfect opportunity.

My goal now is to write about this journey. I have a pile of notes, 500-odd photographs, and tons of memories — none of which have to do with the documentary proper. Jim Vota, the head of the ALT Project, gave me plenty of free-time to explore the towns and meet people. Once I’d finished interviewing the Acadians, Jim encouraged me to do what I do best — wander around and meet people.