Monday, October 16, 2017

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 10a, Return to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Dear Readers, I drove another piece of Route 66 in 2017, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We will continue our tour of the Mother Road with a short return hike in the amazing  Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This visit was in July, the "monsoon" season in New Mexico, and the skies were amazing with towering thunderheads. Also, this time, I tried black and white film instead of digital.
The Slot Canyon Trail is an easy way to get the feel of the desert, rock formations, and views. From a parking at about 5,200 ft altitude, you gradually ascend across dusty desert and enter a narrow slot canyon. You wind your way through the narrow canyon with vertical walls, and then ascend to the plateau at about 6,300 ft. The last part is steep but well-marked. The trail ends at an overlook of the Monument’s teepee (or tent) shaped rock formations.
As I wrote last year, these teepees remind me of the cones of tuffa in Cappadocia, in central Anatolia. Read more about the geology at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources.
The bent-over and weathered trees are especially interesting.
Late afternoon, and the lightning crackles in the distance, and the thunders rumbles. The signs warn you about flash floods.

Photographs taken with a Yashica Electro 35CC camera (with 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon lens) using Kodak BW400CN film. I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i scanner. Note, in the 1970s, the word "color" was applied to all sorts of optics to demonstrate that they were so superior, you could use them for color film. Today the marketers would use the word "digital" instead. Or maybe they would use "nanno."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Small Towns in Mississippi: Return to Edwards

Kansas City Southern railroad and Front Street, Edwards, Mississippi
Edwards, Mississippi, is a small town just south of Interstate 20, near a bend of the Big Black River. Before World War II, the Big Black was a Federal navigation project and was dredged and kept clear of snags, but now it is no longer maintained for commercial traffic. Like many small Mississippi towns, Edwards was prosperous up through the 1970s, but has slipped into a multi-decade decline and population loss. As usual, I do not understand the causes, considering the town is on the Kansas City Southern rail line between Vicksburg and Jackson and has easy road access to I-20. It is a mystery.
Walker Evans (American, 1903 - 1975) Railroad Station, Edwards, Mississippi, 1936, Gelatin silver print 19.3 x 24.2 cm (7 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
This is supposed to be a picture of Edwards taken in 1936 by Walker Edwards. Was it taken from the same bridge as my photograph no. 1 above? Was there once another bridge or crossover from which Evans took this frame? Where is the church on the left? I think the 1936 photograph may be mis-labeled and show another town. It is not Bolton nor Bovina.
Front Street parallels the KCS tracks. The city hall is there, with the police department a short distance away.
103 Magnolia St., Edwards, MS
205 Magnolia St., Edwards, MS
Magnolia Street has some gracious old houses, demonstrating former wealth in the town.
This is the former Dodge automobile dealer, at the corner where old U.S. 80 makes a sharp right-angle turn. An old-timer in town told me that Edwards was prosperous enough in the 1970s to have two car dealerships.
The high school gymnasium was designed by architect James Manly Spain in the Art Moderne style. It was completed just before we entered World War II in 1941 by the National Youth Administration (from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History). I have photographed this building before, and there has been no change in status.
The water tower is a prominent feature at the corner of U.S. 80 and Main Street. I was surprised it was over a century old. The big rivets are an example of early 20th century steel and iron construction. This was solid construction intended to last the ages.
Mai Street, which runs north-south, was once, well, the main street, with stores and small companies.
Both the east and west sides of south Main have stores with collapsed roofs.
On Main Street north of the tracks, the former Woodmen of America building was in poor condition in 2008. A former coworker from the Waterways Experiment Station had bought the historic building to preserve it, but the task may have been too much for her. It is now gone. Other historic buildings on Main Street were demolished in the mid-2000s, with the bricks salvaged for use in McMansion construction (this was in the last gasp of the construction orgy before the 2007-2008 housing collapse).  Much of Utica's former commercial core suffered the same fate.
Drive around the streets and the scene s pretty depressing. This is Joe's Lounge on Utica Street, a short distance from a collapsed store.
On Williams Drive, a store of modern construction, also closed.

The 2017 photographs were taken with a Yashica Electro 35CC compact rangefinder camera on Ilford Delta 100 film. There was rain and drizzle, and the contrast worked out perfectly with this film and development. I bought this little Yashica as a convenient walkabout camera for an upcoming trip to Nepal. The 35mm f/1.8 lens, a Sonnar type, is very high quality. The film was developed by Praus Productions in Rochester, NY.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Arkansas Delta 2: McGehee

North First Street or US. 287, McGehee, Arkansas.
Dear Readers, many of my previous posts have been about the Mississippi Delta. Cross the Mississippi River to the west side, and there is a similar flat alluvial plain in Arkansas, which comprises it's "Delta." Note, I am not referring to the geomorphic delta of the Mississippi River. That is the immense mass of riverine sediment that protrudes south into the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana. For reasons I do not know, the flat alluvial plain that was so fertile for agriculture in northwest Mississippi and southeast Arkansas was historically also called the "Delta."
McGehee, a city in Desha County, is one of these agricultural and railroad junction towns in the Arkansas Delta. McGehee developed in the 1870s, when the railroad was cut through this area of undeveloped hardwood bottomlands and marshes. A sawmill was one of the first industries.
The rail lines, still active and an important commerce routing, are now operated by Union Pacific Railroad.
The Missouri-Pacific Depot was built in 1910, in a Mediterranean/Italianate style, combining Spanish tiles on the roof and exposed beams with a Craftsman appearance. The depot has been restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Hord Architects of Memphis, TN, and Miller-Newell Engineers restored the North Building of the McGehee Train Depot, with funding from the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department and local contributions. The south depot was restored in 2013 and now houses the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum. The internment camp was east of town. The site now is a grassy field with no remnants of the WWII barracks.
McGehee looks like many other delta towns: shuttered stores, almost empty streets, and a forlorn look.
First Street was once the commercial strip with sturdy early 20th century brick shops.
The old cinema is now the 2nd Chance Ministries. It's a sign of a town's decay when ministries occupy old theaters, schools, or auditoriums on otherwise deserted streets. 

These photographs are an experiment with a 1970s Olympus Trip 35 camera with a fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens. This compact camera was sold in the millions and has become somewhat of a cult item among recent film users. The lens is a 4-element 3-group design, which likely means a Tessar-type optic. Tessars are noted for sharpness with a type of edge enhancement that make transitions look crisp. I can confirm that this Olympus lens is excellent. The film was the Kodak BW400CN C41-type black and white film, which is rather grainy. I used a yellow filter to enhance the sky. This BW is very forgiving on exposure but never quite has the tonality of traditional film. Next time, I will experiment with a finer-grain traditional B&W film.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Burmese Days 23: On the Road to Mandalay

BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
(Rudyard Kipling, first published in Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses, the first series, 1892)
Well, the river boats don't do any chunkin' any more; instead of paddlewheels, they are powered by smelly Chinese-made diesel engines connected to propellers. And the waterfront is bustling! Oddly, there are very few real docks. The boats tie up to the mudbanks and set up wooden walkways.
My fellow travelers left on a tour of Mandalay Hill and the palace, but I decided to walk around on my own. My enduring impression is that Mandalay is a busy place! People, bicycles, scooters, and cars are everywhere. The bustle and activity remind me of Guatemala City or San Jose. Hundreds of shops sell just about every type of hand-made craft as well as inexpensive commercial products. It looks like many of the factory products come from China. The second photograph above is a pharmacy (I think).
The mannequins are European ladies. I saw the same trend in Nepal, where fashions were displayed on European rather than local forms.
26th Street at dusk is bustling. The street grid and numbering convention is a remnant of the colonial era, which lasted from 1885-1948.
The movie rental store was active. As of 2014, internet was still spotty, so most people rented movies, similar to our old Block Buster stores in USA.
We saw a few internet stores, which also served as business centers (make copies, etc.). As of 2014, I did not know if Burmese citizens had open access to internet or if it was restricted.
Buddhist art and figures are a big seller, especially in the Mahamuni Paya (stupa). I wrote about the marble-carving street in an earlier post.
Scooters are everywhere, unfortunately, belching acrid exhaust fumes. A local gent told me that three years before (meaning prior to 2011), motorbikes were very expensive for Burmese to afford. But as of 2014, cheap ones were imported in mass from China, and a used one was about $500. In Rangoon, the country's main city, the military government prohibited scooters, but the prohibition did not apply to the rest of the country.
The moat surrounding the former royal palace grounds has promenades and trees. I saw plenty of these exercise machines, in active use.
Photograph of the Mandalay Moat from the British Library, with caption:
Photograph of the west city wall and the moat at Mandalay in Burma, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections: Burma Circle, 1903-07. The photograph was taken in 1903 by an unknown photographer under the direction of Taw Sein Ko, the Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of Burma at the time. Mandalay was Burma’s last great royal capital and was founded in 1857 by Mindon Min (reigned 1853-78), Burma’s penultimate king, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be built at the foot of Mandalay Hill. In 1861 the court was transferred there from the previous capital of Amarapura. However the glory of Mandalay was shortlived as it was annexed by the British Empire in 1886 after the Third Anglo-Burmese war, renamed Fort Dufferin and a military cantonment was built inside the walls. The original city was built as a fortress in the form of a perfect square with the Nandaw or Royal Palace at the centre. Its walls faced the cardinal directions and were each nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) long, surrounded by a 70 metre-wide moat on all four sides. There were twelve city gates, the main gate being the central gate in the east wall, which led to the Great Hall of Audience in the palace, and five bridges spanning the moat. The walls were surmounted at intervals with tiered wooden spires known as pyatthats. This is a view looking along the moat, with lotus plants in the foreground, a bridge in the distance and the city wall at right.
My photographs were taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, with most frames using the 27mm f/2.8 Fuji lens. This is an excellent choice for street photography because it is small and inconspicuous. I processed some of the files with PhotoNinja software.

Note: for previous articles about Burma, please type "Burma" in the search box.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Burmese Days 22: The World's Largest Pile of Bricks, Mingun

King Bodawpaya was definitely an ambitious chap. He wanted to build the largest stupa the world had ever seen. He chose a site on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, now known as Mingun (Burmese: မင်းကွန်းမြို့; ), about 10 km northwest of the modern city of Mandalay. Bodawpaya began his monumental Mingun Pahtodawgyi in 1790 but never completed it because an astrologer claimed that, once the temple was finished, the king would die. 
Bodawpaya's stupa followed in a tradition practiced by Burmese kings for centuries. The plain of Bagan, south of Mandalay, is covered with literally hundreds of stupas. Each king wanted to outdo his predecessor. These were religious structures, but, as you all know, a monumental temple's real purpose is for the ruler to a. demonstrate his power to his enemies (real or imagined); b. show the political opponents who is on top (this is the real threat); and c. keep the peasants and underlings awed and groveling.
Freshly fried dry-fish cakes.
The ride across the Irrawaddy is very pleasant. Mingun is a popular with both Burmese school groups and foreign visitors. Vendors sell snacks and souvenirs.
To generate the appropriate awe to visitors alighting at the riverbank, Bodawpaya built two grand lions. Unfortunately, the lions collapsed in the big earthquake of 1839. To get an idea of their scale, this marble ball is one of the eyeballs!
Walk to the base of the unfinished stupa and start a circumnavigation, and you realize what a staggering pile of bricks this thing is. The sides are 73 m (240 ft) long, and construction abruptly ended when the pile reached a height of 49 m (160 ft). If completed, it would have reached to 150 m, making this the largest stupa in the world.
The workmanship was spectacular. Bricks were shaped as needed for specific decorative locations.
The drain pipes were crocodile snouts.
As I wrote above, King Bodawpaya never finished his project. He used thousands of slaves and prisoners of war in the effort. Our Burmese guide said the surrounding villages were tithed to supply bricks and laborers every year. The need to fire millions of bricks caused massive deforestation, and the loss of manpower from the villages caused poverty and discontent. Possibly the use of an astrologer was a convenient way to convince Bodawpaya to give up his project. Bodawpaya died in 1819, and on March 23, 1839, a strong earthquake caused huge cracks to open in the structure. The photograph above shows one of the entrances on the west side of the pile.
The walkway to the top may or may not be open. The sign says no, but the railing is shiny and new.
The Mingun bell in 1873 (photographer unknown)
Approx. 1880.
Bodawpaya's excesses did not end with his stupa. He also wanted the largest bell in the world. Casting started in 1808 and ended in 1810. It was cast on the east side of the river and moved using barges. A canal was built for the barges, then dammed off and elevated via levees to float the bell into position.
The bell weighs 90,718 kg (199,999 pounds) and was for two centuries the largest uncracked bell in the world (the Kremlin bell is larger, but has a crack and cannot be rung). The 1839 earthquake knocked the Mingun Bell off its supports. Technicians from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (the British company than ran boats in the Irrawaddy River) hoisted the bell onto a new support frame in March of 1896. If you look at the photograph above, you can see a massive iron pillar with square-head bolts, an example of heavy-duty Victorian construction.

The blog, Burmese Silver,  has a detailed description, including historical photographs, of how the bell was cast (click the link).
Amazing architecture just does not end in this place. This is the Hsinbyume Pagoda (or the Myatheindan Pagoda), built in 1816 to honor Princess Hsinbyume, who died in childbirth. This is very different from the norm in Burmese pagoda architecture. The concentric rows represent the seven mountain ranges going up to Mount Meru.

Photographs taken with Panasonic G3 and Fujifilm X-E1 digital cameras, with some RAW files processed with PhotoNinja software on a Mac computer.

For previous articles on Burma, please type the word "Burma" in the search box.