Happy Holidays, Everybody!
See you next year
My mother is still going, not strong perhaps, but she is going. Yesterday she turned 88. Sadly I could not be there, but I will see her in two weeks’ time.
I was in fact frantically scanning old photo albums so I can return them when we go for Christmas. That’s when I came across this wonderful almost 69-year-old picture of her and her best friend at teacher training college. She was still 19 years old that summer when she graduated. I believe this photo is from early spring 1942. So elegant, a real class act! (She is the one on the left by the way.) The hat might be dated, although beautiful, but the rest of her outfit would have done a modern business woman proud. What a good dresser she was!
All of a sudden we had the first snow, on the last day of November, and then much more today.
Since it got cold I have noticed the birds having a greater appetite. Add snow to that and they start getting more aggressive, in particular the Greenfinches.
The Great Tit had to wait for its turn. But this Blue Tit was luckier, the female Spotted Woodpecker had her own food supply. Is that the same Great Tit waiting up there?
Some flowers had not even had time to fall off the shrubs before the snow settled.
The fog has us in its grip. Airports have closed. Motorways are slow. No proper daylight all day, only cold, thick fog.
So I thought this morning, what an opportunity to practise some black and white photography (and some colour)! Said and done, winter jacket and gloves on.
I just wandered around in the woods, the fields and also paid a visit to our military cemetery (Rheindahlen). I think the thick fog gives these pictures another dimension, the grave stones look positively ghostly.
(Please click on them to get a better view.)
Almost two years ago I blogged about Stolpersteine (please click and read). Some time ago I came across three more. They are next to each other for obvious reasons.
I tried to avoid writing about them, but then these three people just would not leave my mind. For a long time I have had this picture as a thumbnail on my screen reminding me, prompting me to look into this issue again.
If you read my earlier post you will see that it is a German artist who has devoted himself to this cause.
From the information on these Stolpersteine, metal cobbles, and some internet research (just google “Chelmno” and you will see) I have come to the following conclusion:
Fanny Levison was born Leubsdorf in 1878. At the age of 28 in 1906 she gave birth to Reinhold (my educated guess). In 1941, when she was 63 years old and Reinhold was 35, they were picked up by the Nazis from where they lived in Düsseldorf and deported to the growing ghetto in Lodz, Poland. The Nazis had established this ghetto from which they systematically transported people to the nearby extermination camp in Chelmno.
Using three specially adapted Renault vans the Nazis murdered, gassed, 150,000 to 300,000 Jews, gypsies and others before they tried to get rid of all incriminating evidence of their evil activities.
11,700 Jews were deported from Lodz to Chelmno between 4 and 15 May 1942, among them Fanny Levison. But before her gruesome death in one of those gas vans, she will have experienced having a granddaughter, Chana, for roughly two months.
The little baby succumbed to starvation or some decease (another assumption) about one month after her grandmother had been murdered. Reinhold, the father, lasted another two months and a week in the horrible conditions in Lodz.
What happened to granddad? Who was the mother? What happened to her? These three sad cobblestones cannot tell us, but you do not need much imagination to understand what terrible tragedy they are evidence of.
When will mankind ever learn?
I am still here, yes, but I have not had much time for the blogosphere lately. I will not bore you with what I have been up to in great detail, so I have assembled a few photos from a week in Normandy where I recharged my batteries. I will soon get my blog mojo working again, but for now I leave you to a few minutes of contemplation. Just click and relax!
|A picture slideshow by Smilebox|
It was a beautiful autumn day with wonderful sunshine without a cloud in the sky. The little roads and paths were brimming with life; people of all ages took advantage of the opportunity to walk or cycle. You met people in the remotest corner of the forest and we all said our polite “Guten Tag” to each other, making it even more enjoyable. How very civilised!
My camera accompanied us and I snapped a few here and there, trying to catch some interesting light. After two hours’ walking this was my best attempt.
I have posted many photographs here but not any Pic of the Week for a long time. But here is one I could not resist putting up. It is not one of outstanding beauty, but a funny one.
I am still in Brussels, La Grande Place, the main square where people gather and lots happen. There is music and giant puppets walking about, people having a relaxing drink and then all the tourists taking pictures of all those fascinating buildings I mentioned in a previous post.
On this car-free Sunday the square was very crowded and some girls in their early teens put big smiles on many faces with their antics. What they did? They moved like a lightning-quick snake positioning itself behind people snapping the imposing buildings with their backs to the centre of the square. The girls also walked behind people copying their every movement, like some delayed ripple effect. Extremely funny.
I have never seen so many (at least ten of them) in such a well-choreographed action. It only took them a few seconds to get in line behind this man, the only one actually with a camera in his hands. Good, clean fun!
When we were in Brussels a couple of weekends ago we stayed in a B&B where one other guest was a young Russian, who was there for some conference, and then there were two Belgian women.
At breakfast on Saturday we chatted like one does, and the topic of the state of the Belgian motorways was introduced (by me). I explained with my standard joke “How do you know you are travelling through Belgium? It goes bumpety bumpety bumpety.”
One of the ladies said to the other “You have to tell your boss that!” It turned out that one of them worked for the Minister of Transport. Ooops!
Another unlikely meeting took place in one of Brussels’ many excellent restaurants. Since Brussels is a city of two official languages, French and Flemish (Dutch), you are not quite sure how to start a conversation. Mrs S spoke French, since neither of us speak Flemish, and the waitress replied in fluent French, of course. But it turned out that she actually was French.
Mrs S continued to tell the waitress that we had a holiday home in Normandy, and she wondered where. Before Mrs S had finished her geographic explanation the young French waitress said with a broad smile that she came from a town not far away from there, and that as a young girl she had often been with her mother to the swimming pool in our nearest little town, the very same pool Mrs S regularly frequents on our holidays. How about that for a coincidence?
The symbol of Brussels (?), Manneken Pis, is a bit like the Mona Lisa painting in that it is much smaller in real life than many people think. These days they dress him up in different outfits, and we were lucky to see a change-over, or at least the first half of it.
We walked a lot, since that is the easiest way of getting round the centre of this rather small capital city (approx. 1 million). But many locals used their cars, and HOW they used them! Many streets were very narrow and junctions were often complex. Getting this insight into Brussels traffic I understand much better why the motorways we use to get to France on a regular basis are so hazardous sometimes.
It was far easier to count the drivers who used their seat belts than those who did not. Many were using their mobile phones while driving with one hand, and this hand often let go of the steering wheel to pip the horn at the shortest of delays. Patience was at a premium. It was like the Wild West!
Sunday, on the other hand, was a car-free day and all the streets changed character dramatically; now you had to look out for cyclists who swarmed like locusts. Boys, inevitably, made the streets somewhat unsafe, but mostly it was families with small children who enjoyed the freedom. In crowded places they had to dismount and try to push their bikes through pedestrians.
Apart from the famous boy letting water, we saw for instance the lavish and exuberant Grand Place where most of the buildings had some connection with the old guilds. It was completely over the top, as if they had tried to outdo each other.
Most of the time we just strolled down the streets and my camera was in action nearly all the time. It was very colourful.
Tintin, other cartoons and murals were everywhere …
… but my favourite image of that day is the one of a little girl who was out strolling with her older sister, who was trying out her roller blades. There was only time to get one shot, and here it is.
Well, I am not sure sneaky pics is an accurate description of what I sometimes take, but I do like to take pictures of people who are unaware of my presence and therefore behave naturally. Like I have mentioned before I am fascinated by people and find them interesting, no not just beautiful women, but all people regardless of age, gender and character.
When I am in a crowd my camera often hangs from its strap on my stomach. I have a firm grip of it with my index finger ready, but I try to look as casual and cool as possible. Speed is often crucial in order to get an image of somebody or something passing by in a second or two, so I have my camera on auto setting and shoot from, not my hip, but my stomach.
I do sometimes ask if it is ok to take a photo, or I at least give them a friendly smile as a thank you, should they spot me in action. One thing which I would like to point out is that I always have the best intentions. I never publish a picture with ridicule in mind. I always treat my objects with respect.
Despite popular belief and custom, smiling at the camera is not the best idea for a good portrait. Experts always advise you to ask your “model” not to smile. That’s why I use stealth as my preferred method, because if people realise that they are being snapped, they sometimes wave and smile at you, unless they show that they object to the idea one way or other.
This summer I had the opportunity to take many photos of people. Like this old man in need of a rest on a bench in a busy market.
Or this shot on an off-chance in a very crowded street. Just look at all the eyes, in particular the eyes of the enamoured young couple on the left. Aren’t they sweet?
Then you have the opposite, a bored couple waiting for the rain to stop in Cologne last weekend.
In a French market place I took some pictures of two Police Municipale, and when he discovered that I was pointing my camera roughly in their direction, he asked me if I wanted to take a picture of him and his colleague. He was more than willing to pose for me, and a passing lady said something about him (or possibly them) being oh so handsome.
Here is one I took earlier, and if I wanted to, I could come up with all sorts of suggestive captions! But I won’t.
All these images and many more will be added to my photo website in the coming days. Please come and visit me there.
Is that possible? Well, first I have to say it is nice to be back. It has been almost two months since I last blogged, and the reasons for that are many; guests, holiday (will blog about that later) and lots of other practicalities of the boring kind, which I will spare you. But last nights event needs a mention.
We were just preparing to go out for our regular start-of-the-week-treat-yourself meal at a small restaurant when the smoke alarms went off. They sound terrible! I was upstairs and rushed down only to find Mrs Swenglish also wondering what the reason was for the emergency. Normally it is the cooking that gets the alarm on the ground floor going if the door to the kitchen is not shut, but we were going out!
All of a sudden we realised that the smoke came up from the cellar, and we had forgotten that there was an alarm there as well. It smelled of paper burning, but how was that possible? We have a cellar under the whole house, so it took what seemed ages to find out where it came from.
In the laundry, which incidentally also is where the heating system is located, the smoke was quite thick. There were no flames anywhere, but since the only fuse that had tripped was the one for the washing machine, we homed in on this proud representative of white goods from Hoover.
It still looked all white and shiny but very hot. Mrs S had put in some washing at 90 degrees and something had gone desperately wrong. This was too hot!
A quick call to the fire station’s non-emergency number and a request for “someone to come and have a look at it” resulted in a fire engine and another vehicle with wailing sirens pulling up in front our house. Concerned neighbours came out and I felt almost embarrassed. Firefighters in full gear with portable extinguishers and oxygen tubes on the back were preparing themselves to enter the cellar where we just before had been running around trying to fan the smoke out with flattened Bran Flake boxes from the recycling pile!
They quickly established that the engine or the heating element had overheated and burnt some covering made of greasy paper, hence the smell of burnt paper. According to them it was “kaputt”, and they unceremoniously carried it upstairs and plonked it down in front of the house. The chief said “If there is smoke there is fire”, which will come in handy when we claim on the home insurance.
After having had a negative answer initially the insurance guy rang back later and apologised for his earlier assessment and said that since there actually was a fire, not just a mechanical or electrical fault, he would now class it as Fire. Just get some proof, report or so, and we will process it.
So, does it sound just a little bit weird perhaps if I say that I am in a way glad that the washing machine caught fire? I mean, rather than just dying on us?
Yes, washing machines can catch fire.
As I was washing up I spotted this unlucky creature on the lawn, a magpie without tail feathers looking rather sad. One can only speculate how it had lost its rudder like that. Those feathers must be there for a very good reason, the design has been perfected over generations, so how would it cope I wondered.
But all of a sudden it took off and headed for the neighbours' garden. So, yes, it could fly, but I wonder about the landing. Maybe it crashed and rolled over. I will never know. (It is somewhere in the middle, slightly blurred.)
Not only do I keep pen and paper near me or on me for when some writing ideas come up, but this time of year there is a lot going on in the garden, so my camera is never far away either.
When I wake up in the morning I often hear how young birds are calling for more food, now! They congregate by the feeders under our bedroom window. Since we are in mid June now, all fledglings have left their nests and ventured out into the big unknown, and it is fascinating and rather sweet to see how some of them are still trying to understand how to get to the food. They can see others eating from the feeders and those fatty balls full of yummy seeds.
This young greenfinch could not figure out how to approach and land safely to get some food, but ended up on the ground looking slightly bewildered.
This juvenile great tit is getting some help though.
Not only birds are hungry but also this female squirrel is in need of replenishing her energy levels. She is pretty agile and acrobatic!
When the great spotted woodpeckers fly in, the crowd of smaller birds disperse in a flash, and you cannot avoid hearing the young ones calling for food. In these pictures a male adult is feeding a young one.
Since I started supplying water I have also realised that birds do not only have a bath every now and then, but most of all how often they need to drink, and it is not only birds who come to drink. I have many times seen birds repeatedly visiting the water bowls between sessions on the feeder perch. When everyone else has gone to bed the hedgehogs appear.
No wonder I always keep both camera and tripod close at hand. Like yesterday when a jay turned up all of a sudden. I have never before seen one in the garden, only in the woods.