Steel Ice & Stone is a multi-media interactive installation.
Nine suspended LED panels and sensor-triggered sound create an environment for memory recall.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Travel Through Time

Above:  Cartagena's train station; now
greatly altered. Below: the building
still exists in the old city by the
Customs House.
As I wait the final hours to board the last flight home and, for the moment, relax this image-amassing marathon, I reflect on the biggest change to the life of my centenarian subject, who now approaches 102 years old: Travel itself.

To get to Santiago from his native north Colombian town, he didn't jump the two-hour flight to Bogota and take in the snow-capped Andes from the six-hour flight to Chile as I did. He took the three-week train journey.

I went to the Museum of Cartagena, from where I traced the fate of the railway that carried my elderly friend the 4297-miles (6915 km) to his university studies. The railway from Cartagena began in 1894 as a way to ship tropical products like sugar cane to the interior. Construction was undertaken by private companies and later, subsidized briefly by the government.

The line's use steadily decreased as another port city--Barranquilla--grew and operated its own rail service to the south. The Cartagena line was ripped out in 1951, pushed out also by air travel that was more cost effective for travel [Avianca, Colombia's national airline, is the second oldest (after KLM)].

The museum's curator gave me a series of original recording of the steam engines pulling into the Cartagena station; the collection was made by various train buffs over twenty years (how awesome!). The engines were never electrified or converted to diesel engines--another contribution to their demise as cargo needs increased and the little steamies couldn't make it up the steep Andean inclines.

The station house in Antofagasta still exists
 happily; built from pine and lovingly
From Bogota, another long train ride followed with stops along the coast to Guayaquil, Lima and Antofagasta. The routes along the Pacific were built mainly connect with the trains from the Andean mining areas of Bolivia and Peru.

Stories of luxury train cars from the mid-1930's pale today as the trains no longer transport passengers, only mine freight. The big transfer spot was Antofagasta, in the northern Chilean Desert. From there, the trains went inland to Santiago. What remains of that depot is the Antofagasta Rail Museum just north of the city with a few steam locomotives, train sheds and a turn table. Riding those freight trains through the deserts would be an adventure. Next time.

Quite ironically, there is a Cartagena-Santiago railway--in Chile. The railway station in Cartagena, Chile is a beautiful historical monument on the coast south of Valparaiso, however not visited by the young Colombian traveler.

Here's a video of the train from Cartagena (Chile) to Santiago. Skip the first minute; the old footage is wonderful.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Rock of Ages

Yes, SIS is finished, but I can't resist following up with all things steel, ice and stone.

With all shooting for FTS in Santiago finished, I peeled of the $ 500 and 6-hour (each way from Santiago) flight to one of the world's great stone capitals: EASTER ISLAND!

A friend on my FB page said it was the Holy Grail of travel designations. Honestly, it falls short of that. Not that I don't recommend it, I do. But, after viewing the Moai (pronounced Mo-ah-ee--say it fast), there isn't much of the original culture left to round out the experience due to all kinds of errors--environmental; over-priced, overreaching construction; mind-control antics from self-serving leaders and their descendants; governmental in-fighting....ehem.

A cautionary tale, the Polynesian-origin inhabitants got to the island with just about none of their provisions--the sail had taken longer than anticipated and rather than fishing for food, they ate their domesticated livestock. The only things left were a few chickens and the rats on board.

From there, they cut down trees--eventually all--for fuel to keep warm. The island is temperate, but has cold trade winds in the evening. So, from a lush sub-tropical forest, they were doomed to live in a desert in a mere hundred years with no trees left to build boats to get the hell out of Dodge.

"Maybe they shouldn't have cut down the trees..."
"Ya think?!?"
Along the way, the population divided into thirteen tribes whose leaders consigned the massive sculptures hacked out of the mountainsides. They themselves lived in 3-foot shacks built from reeds stuck in holes bored into blocks of volcanic rock, while the plebes were relegated to caves with nothing but rocks to keep them warm.

This lasted about 500 years, with very little input from other cultures--even the sea-faring South American indigenous. Research and genetic studies confirmed that mainlanders came to the island to try to trade, but left quickly donating edible roots like sweet potatoes, ginger, taro and a resistant breed of chicken. No doubt the Rapa Nui's preference for cannibalism had much to do with the short-lived relationship. Even further in the 1800's, the very few visiting traders refused to set foot on the island for fear that they, too, would be the ultimate dinner guests.

The population almost became extinct due to civil wars and slave raids adding to a lack of sustenance farming. Only as recently as the 1970's was the island and its archeology appreciated for research and preservation; only since the 1990's has tourism turned into viable option for the original 118 Rapa Nui inhabitants which have coupled with (mostly) Chilean nationals.

Friday, July 21, 2017


As one car goes up, the other
returns on the same cable.
Finding correspondence to my subject's address in Santiago, I inferred that he had gone to Valparaiso to view the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I hadn't seen it in years, and I thought it was cool that the Pacific was, in Chile, in the same time zone as NYC. So I plunked down the six bucks for the bus ride and went for the day.

Like most port towns, the mountains come straight out of the ocean, and Valparaiso is an enormous precarious group of shacks forming a large favela on the precipitous Andes. I took a bus ride around hairpin curves at 45˚ angle elevations, hanging on at every turn.

Now I get it: Run for the hills. The design
work says it all.
But that was not the attraction: To get to the very tops of the hills, 12-storey staircases aren't enough. There are seven or so "asensores" (elevators) that bring you higher. The one I rode was built in 1906 and runs on a pulley and cable system, much like San Fransisco's cable cars.

I was told the crime at the top is astounding but walked around anyway, musing the Tsunami signs indicated that this was a safe zone--unlike other sides of town. Ahhh, Life in Quakesville!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chilly in Chile

Packing for southern South America needed more thought. Asking around, I was told to pack for autumn in Milan. The fact is, it's winter in Santiago. Not like NYC, but still winter.
Santiago hadn't seen snow in 20 years. Waiting for me, I guess.

I glided into town on the surfboard of a major storm with below-zero temperatures, 6 inches (20 cm) of snow, a 48-hour blackout and a little earthquake. Add to that just about NO apartment in Santiago has heat, and I developed a major attitude problem. I almost left.

With the tiny bit of resolve I had, I layered my congealed ass with everything in my suitcase and took to the streets. Many spots my centenarian told me to look up are gone, devastated by various earthquakes over the last 80 years. Others are in tact, existing quietly alongside their neighbors, in varying states of graceful age since the Pinochet years.

Most industry has been privatized since, so the price of everything but wine is high. To meet costs, everyone--who owns a property or not--has to take in a boarder. Santiago is city of roommates and everything that comes along with it--some 70's furniture, fingerprints around light switches and doorknobs, and refrigerators with unspeakable contents.

Clear on the other side of the bohemian-neighborhood-perched-on-hip-gentrification where I'm staying, is the financial/commercial area, a sprawling collection of glass towers and conspicuous spending similar to Battery Park City pre-9/11. The backdrop for the city is the snow-capped mountain range, which most Santiaguinos say is the reason they vow never to leave--though they weekend in Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, Rio, etc, etc, etc.

Also remarkable is a weak sign of indigenous people--a chief reason to suffer seasonal jet lag. After coming from the diversity overload of Colombia, this was a jolt. Looks like you're in downtown Madrid.

And, while the street signs are amusing, I noticed a scarcity of federal buildings, compared to other capital cities. Every man for himself. Maybe this is what the US will become.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

¿Como Estas?

I came down with an infection. What a drag.

I consulted with a contact in town, who picked me up and said he'd bring me to the doctor's. The doctor's house, that is. After a few questions, he reached into a credenza in his dining room for a stethoscope and BP belt, checked my vitals and wrote two referrals for lab tests.

As I suffered through the pain silently (everybody hates an ailing guest), I awaited the results of the lab tests needed to confirm which hideous bug has crawled under my skin to make voiding a few drops every half hour so excruciatingly painful. Add this to the bacterial lung issue I caught the day after I got here and the rash on my neck from something else that bit me and I strain to tell myself it's going to get better. It must.

Thanks to digital imaging, the patient
knows exactly what they're
getting into as they walk through the
There's no such thing as one-stop shopping medical care down here; and, judging from the sheer number of labs, radiology facilities, pharmacies and drug stores, dentists, pediatric centers, dialysis and colonic centers, on and on and on, the population seems to battle the same stuff I do on a routine basis, hopping from place to place to get healthy.

The health facilities open at 6:00 AM. Gathered in front of each clinic is a waiting crowd of spouses, family and friends of the patient; fruit, juice and coffee vendors to ease everyone's pain; and a parade of taxi drivers and motorcyclists offering their services to bring you home. Geez!

Inside is a receptionist, an electronic number dispenser and a second receptionist behind a protective window who, I suspected, takes the payments. Everyone wears a uniform. When entering, the first receptionist--a young man who doubles as a security guard--asks the reason for my visit. None of your business is not the approved answer. Instead, you politely answer questions like: do you need a general exam? Is it an emergency? Is it an x-ray, ECG or something else?

He directed me to the electronic number dispenser and showed me which of SIX tabs to push so I'm assigned to the proper second receptionist. Seated, I watched for my number on a flat screen TV alongside a silent soccer game. The waiting room is quiet, ice-cold and so clean you could eat off the white floor; a feat that catches your attention because outside is astounding confusion and dirt.

What you see is what you get.
To the second receptionist you show your physician's referral and she, like in the US, asks for identification--Official ID, please! 
Give me a break! If I'm writhing in pain in front of you, pleading for an appointment, the name on the script says Anita Giraldo, and I've got cash in hand to pay for medical services, why do I need to prove that I'm anyone other than Anita Giraldo? 

OK fine. Here's my passport and the cash. I was annoyed at myself for not having gotten traveler's health insurance, but you never really know if it's gonna be accepted in a place like this. But hey, an x-ray set me back $ 15.00 and the lab test $ 11.00. (I'm not joking. That wouldn't even have met the co-pay). Take my money.

Sat down again. A few minutes later a door opened and a technician called me in for the test. Now we're getting somewhere...Perfect painless phlebotomy technique--never felt the needle going in, couple of pulls and I was done. Come back Thursday.

Groan. I'm in horrible pain now! Smile. What do you suggest? She: Your physician gave you two pain medications. Fill them both and take them wisely. See you Thursday around 4:00. Me: Can't you send the results directly to the doctor? Apparently not.

The pharmacy experience was better. In a faintly perfumed, again, ice-cold shop with gliding cabinets, an impeccable man took the script, gave me a bunch of bubble foils (to protect the pills from melting). He went over the instructions THREE times and charged me $ 3.50 for two sets of pain killers to last fourteen days.

Keep smiling!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Shooting Notes III

Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean with a rich and long history, is surrounded by a huge mangrove formed by the flood plains and lake lands of the River Magdalena and its tributaries. While the Magdalena does not flow through Cartagena, a series of natural lakes, lagoons (ciénagas) and man-made canals dug by the Pre-Colombian Zenú form an enormous thorn mangrove that stretches all the way to Santa Marta.

To defend the city from bands of pirates and invading navies often numbering in the thousands, the colonial Spaniards built a network of walls around the city's outermost shores, leaving the waters behind it to ebb and swell sustaining a diverse ecosystem of birds, fish and crustaceans.

Further to the west, the mangrove winds behind a sandy beach area, an area of extreme poverty where a native population--mixed with Spaniards and the slaves they brought throughout the 1500's and 1600's--eek out a meager living on the water.

The first time I went, I shot within the tunnels of reeds and trees from the slow-moving canoe guided by a young man from the area, fairly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. Toward the end of the tour, near sunset, I saw, on the flat calm beach, the villagers unwinding from a day at work. Some were coming home from meager jobs in the hospitality industry, but most, were fishermen in the ocean and mangrove. The light and the scenery was captivating.

I pushed my equipment as far as it would go; the shoot was a failure. Next day, I looked at the worthless footage, burned out in some areas and in grim focus in others. I revisited the equipment I brought, packed the long lens with the extra-long lens-hood and the tripod. A few hours later, at sunset, I was on the water with my tour guide again.

The waters of the mangrove are only about 12 inches (30 cm) deep, so when I saw what I wanted, I requested the tour guide to stop, planted my tripod in the water and shot, with just a little sway, because of the incoming tide. Washed the tripod in the shower when I got back to the hotel. As for the edges of the reeds, again, with the long lens, I shot from a distance to capture details of the environment as we glided by.

I used images by Frank Gohlke (left) as reference and inspiration.

Lesson learned: push your equipment as far as it can go without ruining it. And, never hesitate to shoot something twice. Three times or more if necessary.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Turning a trade into a livelihood is the basis of entrepreneurship. Just ask any artist. And, while artists might wince at this statement, they're quite adept in finding ways to pay the rent, get a plane ticket or finish their next piece that go around selling an artwork or performance, since it's not a dependable source of income (even if famous).

The one-person, do-or-die business model is in full display in developing nations since many entrepeneurs take to the streets to do business.  Beyond food vendors, some get their living from the streets by plying their trades: Need those heels done? Hand'em over. A hem to your skirt? Hold still. Need a paralegal to create document, typed with a typewriter? No prob, have a seat.

My interest is how technology aids in that entrepreneurship. The man selling pineapples needs to get his message across: I have to sell and save my throat, so I got one of these and found the speakers in a junk yard. Works great, huh?

A different weekly message is on endless loop, and interspersed with a joke or two, so I can attract customers with a laugh.