Friday, October 24, 2014

Elegant and Glorious Decay: Palermo, Italy

Palermo, Sicily's capital and main commercial city, is a delicious and haphazard hodgepodge of cathedrals, fountains, 1800s manor houses, palaces, early 20th century apartment blocks, trattorias, and ruins. "Like a smaller version of Rome, Palermo's centre is sprinkled with domes and dotted with pedimented façades of churches rising above the rooftops of surrounding palaces and houses." (Duncan 1994). The palaces and churches have some of the most exquisite stonework, statuary, and mosaics you will see anywhere on earth, a legacy of the talented Moorish artists who worked for the Catholic kings. Palermo is not a sterile archaeological site; it is a vibrant city, just a bit grungy and "earthy." It is off the normal American tourist route (not one of the top five after which the rest of Europe is totally ignored), but the residents are friendly, and it is a short flight from Rome. In my opinion, Palermo is a must-see destination, and I fully agree with Duncan (1994), "This is still one of the most fascinating cities in southern Italy."
We stayed at a bed and breakfast in an old apartment building. They did not heat much, but there was plenty of hot water, and the breakfast had fresh croissants and pastry.
The view from the balcony was pretty interesting. The scaffolding over the church in the distance is typical of Palermo - long-neglected maintenance of an art masterpiece. The narrow lanes likely follow the same paths that have been here since the Roman era.
The merchants below sell odd items from their tiny shops.
I love to check out the market in any city that I visit. The Vucceria Market is at the Via Maccheronai. "Nowhere in Palermo do memories of the old souks survive with such intensity; this was the most disorderly, ramshackle, and chaotic of places even in Arabic days. Merchants, hawkers, bootleggers, and artisans of every description still cluster here." (Duncan, 1994). Well, the day we toured it was rather quiet, but still a great visit. The bootleggers must have been at siesta.
 This is an old apartment block at the Via del Cassari.
Another somewhat rough apartment at the Via dei Candelai.
And some more apartments on the main thoroughfare, the Via Vittoria Emanuele (the name of a former king).
We were warned that these little tourist scooters are a bit dangerous, but probably no worse than a tuk-tuk in Kathmandu.
The side streets are pretty interesting. The gents on the pink Vespa were on the Via Simone di Bologna.
Do you need to move your 4-wheeler somewhere? Put it in your Vespa 3-wheeler.
Earlier, I mentioned the legacy of art to be found throughout Palermo. One example is the Capella Reale, the royal chapel, built by Roger II between 1132 and 1140. Roger and the Pope had some real issues, and Roger wanted to make his capital, Palermo, the equal of Rome in art and culture. The interior of the Capella is one of the most amazing architectural sights in Sicily because it is lavished with brilliant polychromatic mosaic tiles. The ceiling is Islamic-style wood with intricate decoration. Duncan (1994) states the craftsmanship is without parallel in the Islamic world even today. The language of the mosaics is mostly Byzantine, but much of the decoration is Islamic, a legacy of the hybid nature of Sicily's Norman Kingdom in the 1100s.
Next, for a totally different type of art, this is the Fontana Pretoria, designed in 1544 by Francisco Camilliani and and Michelangelo Naccherino. The Piazzo Pretoria is also known as the Piazza della Vergogna (the "Place of Shame") because the forty nude statues (ladies and gents) look at each other most shamelessly. When it opened, the local residents were shocked, mortified. The statues were so realistic. They were anatomically correct. And they had no trousers. Actually, this fountain would still not be tolerated in most American cities, but we are known for hypocritical prudishness. Anyway, 450 years later, the fantastic statues and fountain are part of Palermo's art heritage.
An office building facing the Piazzo Pretoria.
The food is absolutely divine. Find a local place, guess at what is on the menu or the chalkboard, and dig in. This was the Trattoria Ferro Di Cavallo. Locally-sourced ingredients? Ha, Sicilians have always done it.
Ask a Sicilian beauty to share a bottle of grappa.

I took these photographs with a Panasonic G1 digital camera and processed the RAW files with DxO Filmpack 3 to simulate Tri-X film. Next time, I will take real Tri-X. Film is having a revival for its non-digital look.


Duncan, P. 1994. Sicily, A Traveller's Guide. John Murray Publishers, Ltd., 244p.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hedy Does the Vicksburg Photowalk

Hedy does not get out often. She is very cranial and usually stays home and ponders the great topics of the day. But a chance to participate on the Worldwide Photowalk was just too good to miss. And who would not want to tour the metropolis of Vicksburg on a hot muggy day in company with other photographers?
We started out at the Old Courthouse Museum at 1008 Cherry Street. The museum features Vicksburg historical exhibits, and many early 20th century photographs taken by J Mack Moore are on display. Hedy likes the Corinthian columns and the view.
Right across Cherry Street (address 1009 Cherry Street) is the Art Deco Warren County Courthouse. According to Mississippi Department of Archives and History:
The Warren County Court House, of Art Deco design, was constructed in 1940 with Havis & Havis as architects and W.J. McGee & Son as the general contractors. The rectangular three-story building features eleven bays on the first floor of the main stepped facade. Ornamental detailing includes decorative panels of floral and geometric designs, decorated parapet around the flat roof, and the decorated lintel of the window surrounds head. The verticality of this building, which is studded with relatively narrow windows of eight lights each rising vertically and one above the other on each successive floor in the central section, is emphasized by tall, rectangular panels of marble. 
Continuing north on Cherry Street near the junction with Main Street, and you are in the historic district.
Adams Street runs parallel to Cherry, but many of the houses are in rough shape. The pavement retained its brick surfacing.
This is an example, the cottage at 722 Adams. I hope someone restores it.
This is the old McIntyre Elementary School, closed for decades. The Good Shepard organization uses most of the building. It is in poor condition.
Adams Lane is perpendicular to Adams Street. It formerly was lined with shotgun shacks, but there are only 3 or 4 left. Years ago, while taking photos here, an older lady told me that she remembered when it was a vibrant African-American neighborhood. A truck would come around in the morning and the men would ride off to farms. Most of the women worked as domestics around town.
Around the corner at 1203 Openwood Street is the former Gore's Hardware. This is a well-preserved example of a late-1800s commercial building, of which Vicksburg once had hundreds. Look at the seven windows and the decorative trim along the roof line. The brick facade above the showcase windows was supported by cast iron beams, possibly brought here by barge from Pittsburgh or Toledo. Now we erect mass-produced sheet steel buildings designed to be a tax write-off in a minimum number of  years.
Mr. Gore passed away in 2014, and someone is cleaning up the stock in the former store. It was always said that he had every type of old-fashioned fitting, lock, or faucet in his storage rooms, although I was unable to buy suitable materials for my old house. Maybe the really old-fashioned fittings were used-up by the 1980s. I wonder if there is any lead paint left?
Hedy gets hungry when she passes Mamma's at 1209 Openwood Street.
Here is another interesting place on Openwood Street.
Across the street is an old filling station, now used as a repair shop (I think). The Vicksburg Art Association's Firehouse Gallery is in  the brick building to the right.
Head back to Cherry Street and head south. At 1411 Cherry is a brick building that formerly housed the Mutual Credit Union. JC's Barber Shop now uses one of the rooms. This utterly banal one-story brick commercial building occupies a lot on which the Baer House once stood, a handsome Queen Anne-style house with a turret. The house was demolished in the 1970s, the decade when Vicksburg was subjected to "urban renewal." That translated to tearing down historical architecture and replacing it with cheesy commercial buildings or parking lots (like those crappy monstrosities west of Washington Street, which usually stand essentially empty).
This is an interior view of the gorgeous Church of the Holy Trinity at 900 South Street. At the corner of South and Monroe Streets, it was designed by E.C. Jones and built in 1870. This was an experiment setting my Fuji camera at ISO 1600 and using the dynamic range function at 400 percent. I was surprised how well it handled the exposure range from dark pews to glowing windows.
Finally, time for lunch. Hedy had a sandwich at Martin's at Midtown, at 1411 Belmont Street. It was muggy and hot, and we were both tired. Hedy is too young for a cold beer.

Photographs taken during the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk, hosted here in Vicksburg by David Rorick. I used a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. These are the jpeg files taken with the Astia film emulation.

Please click the link for some views of Vicksburg in the 1990s, taken with film.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vicksburg in the Old Days (the '90s)

No, not the 1890s, the 1990s. I recently rummaged through some of my negatives and was horrified that they were already 20 years old. I suppose you are officially an old geezer when you think something is not particularly old but your co-workers would consider them so 20th century or so non-digital (you mean, like chemical-based?). This "old days" post will consist of a semi-random walk around Vicksburg with film.
This is Ryan's Coal Yard Package Store, at the corner of North Washington Street and First East. The building was torn down sometime in the early 2000s. At one time, this (or a predecessor building) was a coal yard. It was right next to the railroad tracks, and most Vicksburg homes heated with coal before the 1930s. (Trivia fact: Coal fires caused cinders that occasionally escaped from chimneys. Therefore, most older homes were re-roofed with asbestos shingles in the 1920s and '30s because the asbestos was fire-proof.) This is a Kodak Tri-X 400 frame taken with a Nikon F3 camera.
This is the warehouse right across the street from the Ryan Coal Yard. The place is empty and for sale now. The Fina gasoline station in the distance is where Klondike restaurant is now located.
This is L D's Kitchen at 1111 Mulberry Street, just a short distance south of the Ryan Coal Yard. The building is still in use as a restaurant. At one time, it was a package store and then a lounge. This is a photograph taken with a 35mm Summicron-RF lens on a Leica.
Here are three shotgun shacks, possibly off Clay Street. Many of these have been torn down in the last two decades.
This is the old commercial building at 719 Grove Street. It was condemned for over a year but is now being restored. This is a Polaroid Type 54 instant print taken with a 90mm ƒ/6.8 Raptar lens on a 4×5" Tachihara camera.
Right across Grove Street from the commercial block was the Vicksburg Steam Laundry. It was formed in 1910 and closed some time before 1985. The laundry was in the building that previously housed the first commercial Coca-Cola bottling plant in the country. The building burned in the early 1990s. The rumor is that someone started to redevelop it but found asbestos, so instead torched it. That way, the fire department took care of the problem by washing the asbestos down the storm drains.
The Jackson Street YMCA was demolished in 1995. It was built in 1924 and served the African American community. When it was built, YMCAs were segregated. Notice "Boys' Entrance" above the door. The Jackson Street Community Center, address 923 Walnut Street, now occupies this lot.
Heading south along the river, this is the Riverview Motel at 4009 Washington Street. The site is an empty lot now. This is a Polaroid 4×5" sepia instant print.
This view south along Washington Street looks about the same today. The old motel that resembles a barracks is still in business.
This is a former gas station converted into a motel or apartment on Washington Street, with a river view. The building was demolished in the early 2000s. This is another Polaroid 4×5" sepia instant print.
This is the Carr School on Cherry Street. The hulking building had been closed for decades and lay vandalized, an eyesight to drivers entering town via Halls Ferry Road and Cherry Street. Fortunately, it was restored in 2014 and is now used as apartments.
Back to Clay Street, this is the Junius Ward YMCA at 821 Clay. It has been closed for over a decade, but in 2014, I saw some renovation underway at an erratic pace.
The residence halls in the "Y" were last used in the late 1970s. On contemporary standards, the accommodations were rather basic (What, no air-conditioning? Quelle horreur!), but served as temporary residence for hundreds of men who moved to Vicksburg, including two of my friends.
Further east, this is the lot next to the old Vicksburg Ford at 2704 Clay Street. The garage (on the right) now houses TD's Tires. The apartments at the back are an odd architectural design, suspended between telephone posts driven into the ground. The apartments are occupied by a mixed clientele.
Turn around 180 degrees and look north; the old Mercy Hospital was a block away. It may have been named Parkview in 1996, but I can't remember. The little cottage at the very left, facing Clay Street, may have been the home of J. Mack Moore, the photographer who took hundreds of photographs of Vicksburg in the late 1800s and early 20th century. Mack Moore coated his own glass plates and used a large format camera. When the house was demolished, stacks of his glass negatives were found in the basement, some of which he had recycled for use as window panes. The collection is now at the Old Court House Museum.
Proceed north on North Washington about 5 miles and you reached Margaret's Gro, which the Reverend Dennis had converted to his Temple to God.
The Reverend had a creative streak with bricks, paint, wood, Styrofoam, and anything else he could glue or cement in place. He told me that he learned his brick skills from German bricklayers. He had been a prison guard for World War II prisoners and learned from his charges. Even as late as the 2000s, German tourists came to see Margaret's Gro. (Another trivia item: Germans soldiers were terrified of American black soldiers because of the gruesome stories they had been told by their propaganda machine. Therefore, they tended to be pretty docile when guarded by black soldiers.)
In February, 1989, an ice storm knocked down power lines all over Mississippi. Some parts of Vicksburg were without electricity for almost a week. This is a view of Drummond Street.
Here are two more views of the 1989 ice storm. These are scans of 4×5" Polaroid Type 54 film.
These cottages are on the slope below West Pine Street, just west of the old bus barn. The Kansas City Southern railroad tracks are just below. At one time, there was quite a community of little houses along this slope, but most have been torn down, and the kudzu has taken over. I recall some of these residents had vegetable and corn gardens.

In the future, I will scan more negatives.