Lost in totally no translation

Numata, Japan, 2008. Ross is a kind man and a fabulous guide but eventually Ross had to go back to work. That meant I was about to face Japan solo, armed with nothing but good disposition and a map. Before my trip, I had had time to take two Japanese lessons, just enough to learn how to say with aplomb: “Do you speak English?” and hope for the best. The best did not happen, but in a way, it did.

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I picked a destination at random, the Tenkeiji Temple on Zaimokusho-Dori, and I have to say that based on the map, it looked ultra-simple. Ross had warned me that the map was really old but he had not mentioned that 75% of the streets were not represented nor that the name of the streets would not be written with the Latin alphabet. Roads with no subtitles.

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Five minutes into my walk and I was already completely lost. I spotted what seemed to be a nice gentleman weeding his driveway, and I approached him with a smile and the absolute confidence that, within the next five minutes, a meaningful exchange of information would take place.

With my best Japanese accent (which, by that time, was infused with a bit of a Canadian flavor), I asked: “Do you speak English?” The man looked at me as if I had come from Mars. Maybe he was suffering from a hearing impediment. I repeated my well-rehearsed sentence more slowly and louder, taking great care in mouthing the words exaggeratedly so he could read my lips. No response. A blank stare.

Well, my valiant effort would not be in vain: I pointed at my camera and made eyes like interrogation points (that’s really big eyes with little nods) and he seemed to say okay. He immediately lowered his head so that I could take a really good picture of his hat.

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I continued on my road to nowhere or God knows where. When I saw a real estate agency, I thought for sure they would speak my kind of Japanese. I went in. A man was in polite conversation with, I think, a lady client (I’m sure about the lady part.) Again, with a confidence only slightly dented, I asked: “do you speak Japanese?” They both looked at each other, then back at me. Boy! My two Japanese lessons really sucked. I pointed at the map. They began to speak Japanese to me and I realized I was really in trouble in this country. I made little respectful bows, sumi masen, sumi masen (you can say sumi masen for any occasions, really. One can never go wrong with sumi masen. Hello, good bye, sorry: all sumi masen!) and exited the building.

Five minutes later, a car slowed down next to me, and the driver, the lady client from the real estate agency, made gestures that I should get into her car. I hope that’s what she meant otherwise she must have been really surprised when I hopped in. She drove me to the temple in her mini-car 66-99.

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Kazumi turned out to be very very cool in a non-communicative sort of way and she posed for me in the gardens of Tenkeiji. Having heard numerous tales of Japanese not liking foreigners (gaijin), I was amazed at the kindness of this woman.

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When she was gone, I started exploring. The temple appeared closed (no shoes lined up in front of the door) but the surroundings were beautiful.

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There were some very strange  Mizuko Jizo. It seemed someone had stuffed their mouth with fruit. A bit disturbing and not appetizing at all.

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I then knew why their clothes always looked like bibs. I simply had never witnessed the results of feeding time. A little further, I found mini God statues.

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I think the one on the left is a God and I think the one on the right is the butler, but this is pure conjecture on my part. I’ve probably committed sacrilege and insulted the God of cleanliness and purity.

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Another God-looking statue in the middle of the spring flowers of September, and of course, the tour would not be complete without my favorite: the tombs!

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Except they may not be tombs after all, but prayer stones. If these were tombstones, the people would have to be very small and skinny to fit. So probably, prayer stones… On the other side of the path, a small water way.

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These mini-rivers run all around town. It’s very charming. Numata is the little Venice of Japan. Without the Gondolas.

The problem with being driven somewhere is that you generally do not pay attention to the road. There I was, at Tenkeiji Temple, with the mission to go back to the house, a little blue dot on an archaic map. I just needed to find another good soul to drive me home. I put on my pathetic face and headed out toward a road…

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Afflicted with what could only be described as a camera obsessive compulsive disorder, I shoot anything in sight. Obsessively. Compulsively. Anything. My only saving grace (and perhaps downfall too) is my reluctance to carry around the four pounds of equipment necessary to take a picture… But recently, to my friends’ greatest dismay, I discovered the camera on my iPhone. A few ounces that unleashed the OCD beast in me. I blame it on Steve Jobs.

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The iPhone now accompanies me every day on my bike ride and makes me stop every five minutes to take pictures of ducks (no offense Jason). It totally breaks my cycling momentum.

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It went with me to the Nasher Sculpture Center where I photographed my friends Robby and Greg, very Abbey Roadishy.

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It came out of my pocket at the Dallas Museum of Art, and I did not even get caught. Hee, Hee!

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Greg and Robby had to pose for me under the water because I do not take no for an answer. By solidarity, I stayed under the water too because that’s just the kind of person I am. Kind, that is.

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When my friend Dorin bribed me with a Happy Meal to operate as her bodyguard during a Craig’s list transaction, I downloaded an app called CameraBag and played with it in the car. Incidentally, Dorin asked me to post a good picture to balance this embarrassing selection, so I’m sending you back to a post I had written about her previously, bless her little heart.

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The app is quite fun and allows you to alter your image in the phone: you have a choice of infrared, Helga, fisheye, 1962, etc. The image format is greatly reduced but it’s entertaining.

Dorin berated me for taking photographs instead of being social and making conversation with her. I reminded her I was there as her bodyguard, not as her entertainer, and that she had not provided the promised Happy Meal yet, and why the hell not? I feel pretty sure I cannot  exercise my guarde du corps duties to their full potential on an empty stomach.

I’m leaving you with a picture of my mantel which seems to have taken a turn for the worse lately. I’m going to need a second fireplace soon.

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I think my iPhone addiction is now in its declining phase. I’m planning to reserve its use for car accident, stupid pictures of Monsieur Shinn at Starbucks, and blackmail opportunities. It was iPhun while it lasted, but I’m iPhinished.

Not Quite Done with You Lot…

“Hee! Hee!” say I most sheepishly. If I may, I have very good reasons for sheepishness. While your help in selecting the photographs for my children brochure proved in-va-lu-a-ble, said brochure has yet to see the light of day. Furthermore, if I still may, additional sheepishity derives from my audacity to hope for your help in new selections. Grin, grin, wink, pretty please…  🙂

This time, I’m tackling another kind of beast. The hairy kind. I need to pick four animal prints for display and, as usual, I feel undecided, confused, frustrated, baffled, inadequate, and a tad unfulfilled. Not necessarily in that order. I fear that if you help me not, bitterness will prevail.

So ’nuff said, go to work! Please select the four pet prints you would pick if you were pathetic little old me. All the pets must be different.

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Et voila! The last one has chickens in it, I know. I don’t think they really qualify as pets but I like the photograph anyway.

Please, help me out! Do your blogger duty. You’ll feel better afterwards. I’m thriving on making you guys feel good about yourselves. I aim to please… And also, Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

I fell in love with the pig…

And the lazy bastard had to open a store. I have decided a long time ago that I was much more talented at encouraging (harassing) others to promote themselves than to do it for myself. I’m not even trying anymore and I ran out of business cards four months ago. I’m pathetic.

When I saw a drawing of a planet with a pig Cochon and a little man foraging for truffles on the blog of Sir planetross, I told him I wanted a pig shirt. Much prodding ensued.

“Get off the couch and go work on these drawings. Canadians will still be playing hockey tomorrow!”

“Don’t let Kelly Pettit‘s idea of a good time interfere with your work!”

“Do you think graphics for tee-shirts grow in rice fields?!”  (Monsieur planetross lives in Japan in the middle of mountains, hot water springs where men bathe all naked and a lot of rice fields)

Et voila le travail! The store is now officially opened!!!

logo2-copyA difficult delivery (breech if you will) but a full line of tee-shirts, mugs, and other stuff too

We had our fair share of artistic differences. When planetross sent me this graphic:

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I questioned his good judgment. Would people ever buy a shirt with a little boy who peed his pants (even if they weren’t his)? Apparently yes. Monsieur Shinn was the first one to say he totally wanted one! So I caved in.

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And I got my pig shirt too!

e-dylan-and-cochon-21The “cochon tres tres chic” line looks adorable on wee kids.

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Even our President decided that the inspirational messages on the shirts were quite appropriate for the campaign trail:

aobamasouthcarolina“Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is just the entrance to a lighted tunnel.”

The shirts transcend time…

keaton007Buster Keaton sporting his favorite Kelly Pettit Unplugged shirt.

Many famous actors are hopping on the bandwagon (or whatever that expression is) and are adopting planetross’ sense of fashion (I’d never thought I’d say that in a million years, trust me!)

marlon0061Marlon Brando and his special optimism method acting in Streetcar Named Desire”

All the graphics are declined in women’s, men’s, children’s tee shirts, mugs and mouse pads (except for the “coffee mugging” line which is only for mugs and therefore not really a line to be exact.)

canuck_cochon_mug-p168167015538446546tr4i_380“cochon pour le bacon” shows planetross’ patriotic fiber (the man is a Canuck)

mental_mousepad-p144145075472766376cb7z_525-copyWhy buy a regular boring mouse pad when you could buy a beauty like this one?

Also, the lines are quite sporty as evidenced by this shot taken at some kind of golf event.

woods008Generally I’m not one much in favor of red and yellow together but I think it works rather well here.

In summary, it’s all in good fun, the items make splendid gifts, and please go buy something otherwise the boy will never get off his lazy bum again and he will tell me “I told you so” ad nauseam, and I’ll have to eat crow for months at the time, and you would not want that for me now, would you?

The Many Faces of Circe

“Circe, go wear something fancy and I’ll take your photograph, okay?”

circebellyCirce the Belly Dancer

Circe, the seven year old daughter of my friend Fred, decides that “fancy” means belly dancer outfit (complete with socks.)  Before I take her portrait, she checks herself out in the mirror and sucks in her little belly. After a few pictures, she flies upstairs to change into something else.

circeperruquePreparing to emulate Marilyn Monroe

Circe is not in the mood for classic portraiture. She trades in the oriental costume for the Marilyn look. She then reclines on the settee and looks at me from under her eyelashes appearing slightly underwhelmed.  The portrait is vaguely disturbing, even more than I had anticipated, but the rule is to let her do and wear whatever she wants.

Circe has a new idea for a fancy outfit and tells me it will be a surprise. She will call me when she is ready. Five minutes later, she screams my name from the top of her lungs even though I’m just in the room next door.

circelionne1Circe and the lion

In her happy messy room, Circe, dressed like Tarzan’s Jane, is lying on her bed with her favorite lion… and the little stick to beat him into submission.

I ask her to find something a little more simple and she comes back in a white dress.

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I hear a bit of commotion outside the room, open the door, and find myself facing Catherine C., my neighbor from 35 years ago. I had not seen her since she had moved from our street in the seventies but I recognize her immediately! Weird! I ask Circe not to move while I go downstairs to meet her husband and children. One thing leads to another and before I know it, I’m having a cup of tea and cookies. More exactly tea and a cookie. The confections had all been made by Circe and taking a bite out of them is a mere impossibility. We all sit around chatting and dutifully sucking on our cookie, trying not to break any teeth.

Half an hour goes by and I suddenly remember poor Circe. I grab the camera and run up the stairs. This is what I find when I open the door:

circequiattendCirce who awaits

She has not moved an inch but looks mildly resentful (and freezing.) I have now created some abandonement issues in that sweet abiding little girl and I’m not feeling very proud of myself.  The mood has soured and the session appears over. I am not used to being obeyed. Who in their right mind would obey me anyway?

This session was photographed with a medium format film camera. I went back to film for the first time in many many many years, only to find out that in Dallas, you cannot find a lab with an old-fashioned dark room!

The Very Hairy Christmas Card

My sister faked cancer.  She faked not one, but two cancers. If you are going to tell a big lie, you might as well fabricate an even bigger one for maximum effect. In the end, it turned out that her stomach and esophagus cancer surgery was in fact a gastric bypass to rid her of her obesity.

My sister and I are not on speaking terms. Blood may be thicker than water but when you put your 75 year old mother through the ringer with imaginary health problems, my blood thins out considerably. Seriously. She even attempted to turn the situation around by claiming that her lies were a cry for help and that my failure to recognize her anguish denoted a clear lack of compassion on my part. Nice try.

With my habitual  Christmas foreigner abandoning me to go frolic in the Argentinian Pampas this year, there would be no Christmas dinner with my sister and I sitting at the same table. Instead, she gave her son a card for me with the strict instruction to open it only the next day, on Christmas.

The card was in a white envelope with a small golden bow.

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It was a pretty thick envelope and all evening, I kept wondering if perhaps it contained a letter of apology (way overdue.)

The next morning, in bed with a good book and my morning coffee (it’s unbelievable the number of books you go through when not blogging!), I looked at the envelope on the night table begging to be opened with its cute little bow.

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The card looked very average. In our family, we always go for funky and the Golden Retriever carrying Christmas ornaments definitely did not pass the originality test. Very unlike my sister. I opened the card.

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Eek! Eek! Eek! Hair!!!! I kid you not. With roots! My sister cut all her hair off and stuffed them in my card. My instincts kick in. Or woman’s intuition, whatever you may want to call that special 6th sense. I think my sister is not going to apologize. I can just feel it with all my mighty powers of deduction. I push the hair aside.

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What did I tell you?!  The use of English remains a mystery since French is our first language, but nevermind the semantics. This is my first hate Christmas card ever! I didn’t even know such thing existed. In retrospect, the use of the golden bow on the envelope seems quite deceiving when coupled with the nice curvy handwriting.

I’m going to take the hair and make a little pillow with it.

Just kidding. I’m going to keep this card for the day my body is found in a Belgian gutter, stabbed to death by a hairless assassin.

Confessional Closed Before, During, and After Christmas

Due to unfortunate circumstances (i.e. work, the loss of the letter A on my keyboard, Christmas shopping gone awry), the blog will be closed from now until sometime in January. I wish y’all a great holiday season! Here are the last Paris photographs from last year. I figured I’d better post them now before I bring back the new batch.

bparis1sem_026From les quais de la Seine. I still have not figured out what exactly the world is screaming. Nov? Mov? French people should definitely stick to French.

bparis1sem_027Picnic on the Quai

bparis1sem_025Maman, a giant sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, at the Tuileries

bparis1sem_023Bronze by Aristide Maillol

bparis1sem_024Another Aristide Maillol bronze

bparis1sem_028The same statue put to a use the artist had probably not foreseen

paris1sem_031the guilded Jeanne d’Arc, rue de Rivoli

Have a splendid Thanksgiving, St. Niklaas, Hanuka, Festivus, Christmas, and an especially happy New Year! Thanks for all your comments over the last year. They helped me grow as a photographer. See you next year for new adventures!

Dallas, Ton Univers Impitoyaaaaable…

Consider the following as a visit to Downtown Dallas without having to brave traffic, leave the comfort of your orthopedic chair, mess with a legion of one-way streets, and hurry back to your parking meter before the cop nabs you. I strongly suspect that the parking meters are secretly electronically monitored by the police otherwise how would you explain the number of tickets I have gotten in the past for running just a few minutes late? A sixth sense? I don’t think so.

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Texans are not particularly environment-friendly. SUVs and pick-up trucks abound in the streets of Dallas. My single friends who own monstrous gas guzzlers generally justify themselves by alleging the vehicles are very practical to move “stuff.” Right. Like that one time they bought a ficus tree.

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The Comerica Bank Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Dallas with 60 stories. It used to be the Bank One Center. The bank recently completed the sale of $2.25 billion of preferred stock as part of $700 billion government rescue package.

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The Majestic Theater opened its doors in 1921! Mae West and Houdini performed in the venue. I saw Rob Decker performing “Defending the Caveman” there. Men are hunters. Women are gatherers. What about Sarah Palin then?

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Dallas may appear somewhat impersonal.

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Its charm resides in the details… and low expectations.

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The red Pegasus, logo of the Magnolia Petroleum Company, predecessor to Mobil Oil, has throned over Dallas since 1934. As part of the Dallas Millennium Celebration, the sign was restored (translate rebuilt for $600,000) and relit on December 31st, 1999 at midnight.

bdowntown_051As I am taking a picture of the modern sculpture, a guard comes rushing out of the building and prohibits me from photographing the statue. Interesting! The reasoning behind the ban is that I could very well be a terrorist. Okayyyy. But if I stand on the sidewalk across the street, then I can photograph the building without any problem. That makes so much sense! Furthermore, does the sidewalk belong to the building or the city? I would surmise the city therefore how can I be prohibited from taking a photograph if I stand on public property?

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Glass and steel

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Oldish buildings

bdowntown_062-copyThe “Old Red” Courthouse built in the 1890s represents well the romanesque style of the period. Today it houses a Museum dedicated to Dallas County. I think the City should have kept it as a courthouse with little jails in the dark turrets to deter crime.

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The 1946 Greyhound Station which I like very very much.

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The usual flurry of downtown activity

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One of the rare sign of life on the street and she wasn’t staying either.

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My favorite reason to go downtown

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Typical Dallas scenery: the marriage of kind of old with really new

Voila. I hope you realize the extent of my sacrifice. To add to this heavy burden, the letter “a” on my keyboard has gone kaput and I’m typing this by pasting all the as. Is there a nerd that might indicate what to do about all the as? When your name is Nathalie and you live in Dallas, you need your as!

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This is not over yet. I am well aware that you slackers would much rather curl up in front of the fireplace (for you up north and way east) or go for a jog in a tee-shirt (my homeys and the Southerns down there), but you have far from completed your task.

Your help in helping me select photographs for my children photography brochure has proven incredibly valuable to me. I would have never selected the images you’ve chosen so far! What an eye-opener! It confirms what I’ve always thought: I should NEVER trust my own judgment!

Please select your three favorites from this set:

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All kidding set aside, I really REALLY appreciate your comments. You’ll notice for example that I have not included any photographs of squatting children in this set. I will probably never photograph them in that position anymore either for the reason so well set forth in your previous comments (why did I never think of that?)

Thanks again. I love you guys. Tears. Tears. Big smile.

If you have not cast your vote yet for the previous images, please do so here and there.

S.O.S Bloggers! I need you. I’m pathetic.

For those of you who missed the preceding post (and shame on you for that), I am in the process of designing a promotional children photography brochure for the Dallas area, and I absolutely need your input for the choice of images to include. Please let me know which are your three favorite photographs in the following bunch. Pretty please.

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All your help is incredibly tremendously appreciated!!! Thank you.

If you have not voted for the first set of photographs, please do so by clicking here.