Ask me how does a man feel, when he’s got the blues…

If you want to get a good argument started, gather a few blues aficionados and ask them to define “blues music“.  Boz Scaggs knows the blues (Ask Me Nothing clip).  People who are into the blues tend to be really into the blues, and it’s a fascinating subject that attracts attention from scholars and schoolboys alike.  Blues music was brought to us by poor blacks in the rural South, building on West African traditions and their own home-grown ingenuity.  To the early recording industry market segmenters you had the terms “race music” to define music by blacks for blacks and “hillbilly music” to define music by whites for whites…but the two types differed little musically, differentiated mostly by the race of the performer and the target of the record salesman.  Both hillbilly and race music spoke of the hard times and sometimes desperate circumstances of your rural Southerner, white or black.  When black Americans migrated to the North in search of economic opportunity the music went with them, morphing as innovations in technology such as electric amplifiers opened up new creative possibilities.  As American tastes changed and local gigs dried up, performers took their sound to willing and appreciative audiences in Europe.  Europeans musicians in turn took what they were hearing and incorporated it into their own sounds, with which they stormed the American market…ever heard of the British Invasion, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, or guys by the name of Clapton or Jagger or Plant?  And the process of innovation continues today, each succeeding generation adding their bit to what came before, and sometimes even getting interested in where it all started.  You’re not going to hear Robert Johnson’s version of Cross Roads Blues on commercial radio any time soon, but you hear derivatives of it all the time.  Matter of fact, going back and listening to recordings by early guys like Johnson, Son House, the Reverend Gary Davis and others can be a real revelation if you haven’t heard it before!  Yeah, it’s not everybody’s sound, but it’s IN everybody’s sound.  The image below was shot at the harbor in Menaggio, on Lake Como in northern Italy, on a lovely evening’s walk with my sweetheart when the only blues in town were the harbor lights!  (11 September, 2011  Menaggio, Italy)

Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind…

If I ever tire of looking at the Arno River in Florence, someone stick a fork in me…I’m done.  The timeless combination of moonlight, water, and stone so often creates stunning images, the kind I like to have sitting around in plain view for a mental retreat when things get stressful.  The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River was first built in Roman times, using stone piers and a wooden superstructure that tended to wash away during floods.  It was finally rebuilt in stone in 1345, a medium which has proven to stand the test of time. The bridge was originally home to butchers, but we are told the odors of their cast-offs led to their eviction in favor of the jewelers who still occupy the bridge shops today.  In 1565, the Medicis had a private enclosed corridor built atop the shops on the bridge, giving them a safe and secure way to get from their Pitti Palace to the town hall nearby.  It is indeed so historic and picturesque that even Hitler found a soft spot in his heart for the Ponte Vecchio…at his express order, this was the only bridge over the Arno not destroyed by the Germans as they retreated from  Florence during WWII.  Check it out some time, and don’t be afraid to explore the far side of the river too…many visitors to Florence don’t venture beyond the great Duomo and Uffizi Gallery hotspots, and they’re missing so much.  (5, September, 2006  Firenze, Italy)

Eye in the Sky…

I think the Pantheon in Rome might be the most beautiful building in the world.  Built sometime around the first century AD, its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  Think about that for a moment.  In two thousand years no one has been able to equal or exceed the engineering and architectural prowess of a bunch of guys wearing bedsheets and doing the math in their heads.  Concrete is made with aggregate (little stones), and the Romans apparently used lighter volcanic stones as they went higher to maintain the strength while reducing the weight.  Technical notions aside, it also possesses for me unequaled simplicity and beauty of lines.  The list of buildings modelled on the Pantheon would run to pages, and includes Jefferson’s Monticello as well as the Wyatt center on the campus of Vanderbilt University in my hometown.  By the way, the “eye in the sky” refers to the oculus in the center of the dome which lets hot air out and daylight in.  Go see it some time.  (18 September, 2006  Rome, Italy)

Dem bones gonna rise again…

One thing I find so cool about Italy is how you can drive through almost deserted countryside to some sleepy hill town that looks like it couldn’t keep a McDonald’s in business and discover a staggeringly huge and gorgeous cathedral.  It seems every little Italian village in the middle ages somehow found the means to erect these towering monuments to faith, and they are scattered about like confetti.  The Cathedral of Orvieto, where we shot this architectural detail (from the Messianic Prophecies on the second pier by Maitani), is a prime example.  Begun in 1290, it took them almost three centuries to finish the thing, so long that the style changed from Romanesque to Italian Gothic along the way.  Popes came and went, as did Master Builders, wars were won and lost, and still they carried on.  Now, that’s devotion.  (9 September, 2006  Orvieto, Umbria, Italy)

Angel flying too close to the ground…

The Ponte Sant’Angelo, also called the Angel Bridge, spans the Tiber River in Rome.  It was originally constructed by the Emperor Hadrian in 134 AD to connect the city center with his new and enormous tomb on the far bank.  Recycling being a time-honored Roman tradition, a succession of popes converted Hadrian’s resting place into a castle.  And as we learned from Dan Brown the forward-thinking Pope Nicholas III built a covered passage linking St. Peter’s to Hadrian’s tomb, for those times when a pope might need to beat a hasty retreat.  It was Bernini’s vision (though not all statues are by his hand) that five angels holding symbols of The Passion would flank each side of the bridge leading from secular Rome to sacred Vatican ground.  The threatening clouds and calm reflections on the water this day called for a classic black & white treatment.  (18 September, 2006  Tiber River, Rome, Italy)

Just when you thought your day couldn’t possibly get any worse…

Back in AD 79, the jumping little town of Pompeii sat on the Campanile coast of Italy, near Naples, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.  The town had experienced an earthquake in the recent past and the citizenry were in the midst of the laborius rebuilding process when the volcano erupted and their day got infinitely worse.  Whether they were killed by the immediate blast of superheated air, or by the poisonous gasses that flowed down the mountainside, or by the 75 feet of ash that rained down over the next six hours…the end result was the same.  Flash forward to rediscovery in 1748, when diggers first started coming across voids in the ash that contained human (and other) remains.  It wasn’t until the clever Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavation in 1860 that anyone thought to inject plaster into the voids to reveal…that long, last goodbye.  While plaster casts of people and even dogs are to be found in museums, this lonely guy was sitting under an open shed on the grounds, head in hands and forever frozen in a biorhythmic triple low.  (15 September, 2006  Pompeii, Italy)

Night time is the right time…

The Arno River in Florence, Italy, is one of those can’t-miss places where any chimp holding a camera can take an interesting photo.  In this case I was the chimp, and the photo was taken at about one in the morning.  As luck would have it we weren’t adjusted to the local time, it was too hot to sleep, it was a beautiful night, and we were packing a sense of adventure and a tripod.  (5 September, 2006  Firenze, Italy)