Monday, December 31, 2012

Village in the city: Pláka, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis hill has been occupied since Neolithic times. For millennia, people lived around the base of the hill because it was blessed with natural springs. But when visiting Athens today, other than the Acropolis and various other classical remains such as the Agora, most of what we see is a modern city. The first post-Turkish-era king of the modern state, King Otto, brought in his Bavarian architects to design an elegant European capital city with a palace (now the Parliament), parks, and broad boulevards. Greece and Athens suffered terribly during World War II and in the brutal Civil War that followed. But much of what we see today was the result of frantic uncontrolled urban expansion that followed the end of the Civil War in 1949. Beautiful old mansions and municipal buildings were torn down and replaced with concrete boxes. Now they look like mass-produced, tired 1960s concrete boxes.
First some geography. The Acropolis is the limestone hill in the middle of the view. This is a photograph taken from Lycabettus Hill facing west at sunset. The port city of Piraeus is in the upper right, and ferry boats and container ships are in the roadstead off the port. The big temple on the Acropolis is the Parthenon.  Look at the base of the limestone bluff below the Parthenon, and you can see a cluster of small houses. This is known as the Pláka district (Greek: Πλάκα). The uppermost houses are the Ano Plaka or upper Plaka. This area has been inhabited for centuries, and this is all that remains of medieval Athens.
Now let's reverse positions.  This is the view east from the base of the Acropolis towards the Lycabettus hill. The post-World War II city fills the entire valley now.
This is the view from the Acropolis in 1900. The royal palace (now parliament building) is in the distance, and the city spreads out in the foreground. I scanned this from the left side of a stereo card. The only printed information stated, "Webster & Albee, Rochester, NY."
Walking in the warren of lanes in Ano Pláka, you almost think you are in a village (if you ignore the din of the traffic in the distance).  On a sunny day, the area has an island look.
Most of the houses have been restored since the 1960s, when this was a hippy haven and pretty grungy.
Cats love it up here, especially on a warm sunny day.
There is a lot more graffiti now, worse then I ever remember it. This is one consequence of the Greek economic crisis.
There is also widespread disgust with the priesthood, but, to its credit, the church runs many soup kitchens and helps the hungry and poor.  (The priest above is carrying a bag of Euros).
There are still some dilapidated lots in Pláka, just waiting for a rich American to bring funds and start restoring. Ever hear the term, "money pit?"
As you descend into the Kato (lower) Pláka, you enter the popular tourist area, rife with restaurants and souvenir shops.
This is the Temple of the Winds, in which a water clock once measured the time. The Acropolis is in the distance.
Finally, the Athens flea market is worth a visit. In the 1950s, I remember this being filled with vendors of car parts, mufflers, old clothes, toys, used tools, and junk in general. It has been gentrified, and many of the stores sell pseudo-designer clothes, souvenirs, and miscellaneous modern junk. I did find a music store with a good collection of Maria Callas CDs.  We will explore the flea market in more detail later.

The equally colorful Central Market is only a 10-minute walk away towards Omonia Square.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2013 to all readers!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Railroad in Markópoulo, Attika, Greece

Markópoulo (Greek: Μαρκόπουλο Μεσογαίας) is a market and farming town in Attica, east of Athens. For many years, it was a bustling market center that retained its small-town look, although it was only an hour or so drive from Athens. But recently, developers built houses and condominium apartments, some out in the olive fields. As usual, I am mystified; who are the potential customers? Today, Athens Elefthérios Venizélos International Airport is only a few kilometers away and the area is slowly becoming more commercial.
Quite by accident, I came across the historic railroad station. The Attica Railway (Greek: Σιδηρόδρομοι Αττικής) once linked Markópoulo with other rail lines near Kifissia (and connection with northern Greece) and with the town of Lavrion. The track was 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) (metric gauge). Since prehistoric times, silver was mined in Lavrion.  This silver once funded the classical Athenian society and construction of monumental temples like the Parthenon (but note, the mines were worked by slaves; democracy did not extend to everyone). In the late-1800s, Greek and French companies mined lead, manganese and cadmium, leading to construction of this rail line in the late-1880s.
The handsome old railroad station was last used in 1957 and fell into bad repair, but the municipality restored it in the late 1980s. According to Wikipedia, passenger service was discontinued in 1957 due to political lobbying by private bus companies.
This locomotive sits forlorn and unhappy, but it was once a proud representative of the railroad system.
The rail cars are in poor shape, and one suffered a fire.

This is the fifth post on Greek railroads. If you are interested in the topic, here are previous articles:

Peloponnese railroad Corinthos station

Kalavryta narrow-gauge line

Station in Milies, Pelion, Greece

Pireaus, Athens, and Peleponnese railroad

Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens. I thank my sister, who loaned me her car for this excursion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi

St. Mary's Catholic Church is at the corner of Main and 2nd North Streets, in the historic part of Vicksburg east of the Courthouse and south of Old Jackson Road.
As you can see, this building is relatively modern (1923). Did this structure replace an older church? Possibly a reader can provide information.
St. Mary's operates a large parish hall, which resembles an old hangar.
What interested me most about the property was the old rectory, an 1800s wood structure on a flat lot south of the church.  To me, it looks like an old schoolhouse, but the priest told me that the schoolhouse was demolished many years ago, and the white building was the rectory.
It is a handsome old building, and I wish they could restore it.
This is the view from the church property looking east along Jackson Street. Did the lower garden once have an orchard or vegetable garden? In the early 1900s, many schools grew their own food - how times have changed.

Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera, tripod-mounted.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jackon Street Missionary Baptist Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Jackson Street Missionary Baptist Church is a handsome, imposing brick church at the corner of Jackson and 2nd North Streets. It is one of many churches in Vicksburg, which I hope to feature in upcoming articles.

Photograph 1994 taken with a Fuji GW690II camera on Velvia film. 
I do not know too much about the history of the Jackson Street MB Church, but the cornerstone shows construction in 1901. This was an active and devoted African American community to support construction of such a handsome building. The 1994 photograph was taken on Fuji Velvia film with a Fuji GW690II rangefinder camera.
Once when I was photographing here, an elderly lady told me with pride that the bricks had been made by slaves. She had the chronology off by a few decades, but the pride in the church was clearly there. The church never had stained glass, but many of the window panes are original and display the rippled pattern you see in old glass.  Jackson Street here is still brick-paved, as were most Vicksburg Streets around 1900. Notice the rough pattern, which I was told was designed to let horses get traction. Most of the glazed bricks are amazingly intact.
At one time, the second-floor door led to a fire escape. The church was not originally designed with handicapped access. The congregation hopes to purchase the high-elevation lot next door and pave it for parking. Then elderly members of the congregation will be able to enter the church via a bridge through this door directly into the 2nd floor.
One of the deacons (is this the right term?) showed me around one Saturday. The balcony was originally equipped with theater seats. He told me the church was originally built with plaster walls directly on the brick bearing walls. It was hard to heat in winter and was drafty, so the congregation installed sheetrock on top of furring strips, which provided a degree of insulation. The church is now centrally heated.
This is the late-1800s cottage at 1412 Jackson Street, right next to the church. It is a handsome, traditional wood cottage but now in poor condition. The City inspector marked it for demolition with the spray-painted number on the front. It may have once been multi-family with the three entry doors. This is the lot that the church hopes to buy and use for parking.
This is the view north across Jackson Street from the porch of the condemned cottage. The house below is no. 1413. St. Mary's Catholic Church is on the hill to the north, at the corner of Main and 2nd North Streets.
This 2-floor unit is at 1415 Jackson Street.
At the top of the hill is 1907. A lady told me that it was over 100 years old. Two houses were located in the empty lot in the foreground, but they were torn down. She said the land is sinking because of a large drain below.
This little store is at 1001 2nd East Street. It once served the local community. Note: this building is cinder block, so probably post-World War II. I wonder if it replaced an older wood store?
This cute cottage is at 918 2nd North.

Most photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera, all tripod-mounted.  (As I have written before, use a tripod for architecture, set your camera at its lowest ISO setting, and use the optimum aperture for your lens.  Optimum is usually 1 or 2 f-stops closed from maximum aperture.)  For some of these frames, I was testing a new Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens.. Map made with ESRI ArcMap GIS software.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Washington Street Motels, Vicksburg, Mississippi

South Washington Street was once the main entry route to Vicksburg for travelers coming from the South on Highway 61.  Also, drivers coming from Louisiana and Texas would have crossed the old Mississippi River bridge, turned left, and driven north on Washington Street to reach town.  To cater to travelers, several motels lined Washington Street. Today, only the Dixiana is left. Let's take a tour from south to north.
This is the old Mississippi River bridge, photographed in 1994 before the multi-floor parking garage was built, which partly blocks this view. The bridge has been closed to car traffic since the early-1990s, but Kansas City Southern railroad runs trains across the river many times a day. Numerous people have proposed opening a biking and walking trail on the old roadway, but petty squabbles and lack of imagination have squashed these plans to date. Can you imagine what a fantastic tourist attraction this would be, a chance to walk or jog high above one of the world's great waterways?  This is a photograph taken with a Fuji GW690II 6×9 camera on Fuji Velvia film.
This is a view looking west of the old bridge from the banks of the river. You can reach this site easily by parking in the Ameristar Casino parking lot and walking south through the woods. Just look out for snakes.
This is the Ameristar Casino Hotel. It sticks up from the flat bluff like some Neolithic monolith. The Magnolia Inn occupied this site before the new hotel was built. A coworker's wife worked at reception at the older motel in the late-1980s, and was fired when she let a black couple check in.  Before the Magnolia was built, it was an empty field where the carnival set up temporary quarters.  (Photograph:  Kodachrome 25 film taken with a Leica M3 and 90mm Tele-Elmarit lens.)
Heading North we reach the Dixiana Inn, still in business. It is a venerable establishment and has been here for decades. There is a view from the bluff at Louisiana Circle.
Plaza Motel, Washington Street
Next, to the north, is the former Plaza Motel at 4033 Washington Street. I think these units are now apartments, but am not sure. The main building resembles a World War II barracks, similar to two units in an apartment complex next to the Waterways Experiment Station.
This is the view north on Washington Street near the ramp that drops steeply to Diamond Jacks Casino.
This was very unusual: an art-deco filling station that had been converted into apartments.  The service bay had been enclosed with a plywood wall.  Did people sleep in there?  I wonder if there were fumes from old spilled oil and solvent? The filling station was periodically repainted with the characteristic red stripes to accentuate the horizontal lines. The sepia-color print was made on Polaroid 4×5" instant sepia film with a 75mm Super-Angulon lens.  It was a wonderful emulsion.
Riverview Motel, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Just to the north was the Riverview Motel, an old-fashioned motor court. It was located at about 4009 Washington Street, near the bend in the road, and it did have a great view.
This map, with 1995 building footprints, shows the former Riverview Motel.
The Riverview and the filling station/apartment were demolished in 1995.
Proceed further north, and as far as I know, there were no more motels. But there was another filling station, now a car detail shop. There is not much commercial activity on Washington Street now. I assume the I-20 corridor siphoned it away, along with general decline in industrial activity.
Children of Washington Street, Vicksburg
Finally, some of the local children were interested in my Leica camera and agreed to pose for an informal portrait.