Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fantasy in Kathmandu: the Garden of Dreams (Nepal 2017-06)

From brochure provided at Garden of Dreams ticket office.

Kathmandu has some unique historical sites. Just off the noisy and polluted Tridevi Sadak, you pass through a nondescript gate in a dusty brick wall, buy a ticket, and step into an oasis of quiet, green, and splashing water. Even more odd, the pavilions are neo classical, with Greek columns, Sphinx statues, and plaques showing stanzas from Omar Khayyam. The garden was built next to the Kaiser Mahal (palace) in the early 1920s. Sir Kaiser Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana (1892 – 1964) was one of the Shamsher Ranas, the dictators/strongmen who ruled Nepal with iron fists for over a century until 1951. Within the walls, Kaiser Shumsher Rana created an ensemble of pavilions, fountains, and European elements like verandas, pergolas, balustrades, urns, and birdhouses.

Kaiser Rana was an odd one. He admired Adolph Hitler, and the Fuhrer sent him an automobile (carried over the mountains by porters). He so admired Jawaharial Nehru, when Nehru died in 1964, Kaiser wilted away and died a few weeks later. He loved books, and I will cover his famous library in another post.

The Ranas built a number of these fantasy gardens in the early part of the 20th century, but I do not know if others have survived or are open to the public. After Kaiser's death, the Garden was handed over to the Government of Nepal, after which it was neglected and vandalized for decades. The Austrian government donated funds for the restoration and replanting of rare trees and plants. The Garden of Dreams is popular with young Nepalis, partly because they are free from parental oversight for a few unchaperoned hours.

These cheerful youngsters cheerfully acquiesced to my taking their portraits (film photographs from a Leica IIIC camera and 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens).

Some observations:
  • Coffee aroma from Himalayan Java next door.
  • Everyone takes selfies
  • Everyone has a phone
  • Young Nepalis sitting on the grass with their Macs
  • Young couple in a corner kissing
  • Young lady on a bench with her head on her gentleman's lap while he popped pimples on her cheek
After a couple of hours in the Garden, my friends and I walked next door to have some Himalayan Java and chocolate torte. Pastries are a well-appreciated culinary specialty in Kathmandu. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Into the maze: Asontol, Kathmandu (Nepal post 2017-05)

For the Kathmandu visitor, a walk to the historical Asontol (or Asan Tol) area is almost obligatory. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the best-known historical locations in the city with strategic location and famous bazaar and festival calendar. "Six streets converge on Asan giving the square a perpetual bustle. The bazaar at Asan attracts shoppers from all over Kathmandu because of the tremendous variety of merchandise sold here, ranging from foodstuffs, spices and textiles to electronics and bullion."
Kathmandu looks like a construction zone. Much of the work is still done by hand. The bricks are often made locally, with the kiln's symbol fired into the clay. Much of the air pollution in the Kathmandu valley comes from thousands of unregulated and uncontrolled brick kilns in northern India. The smoke blows north into Nepal, carrying an immense load of fine particulates. These brick operations have also contributed to massive deforestation.
Many of the roads in old Kathmandu are essentially the same narrow lanes that were present before cars or motor scooters came to the valley. A very few motorcars were carried into the valley by porters in the 1930s and 1940s, but the Tribhuvan Highway to India was not completed until 1957, after which cars proliferated.
Work your way through the crowds, and you see an endless collection of small shops and street vendors. The following photographs are more examples.
Unknown vegetables or noodles?
Interested in a dried fish of dubious provenance? Take your pick.
Grains or rice, as requested.
Vegetables and apples in copious supply. Apples often come in giant baskets balanced on bicycles.
Need a pan to cook your grains and vegetables? Much of this production is from India, although inexpensive Chinese goods are becoming more common.
Bead vendors and manufacture. Much of this work is done by the Muslim community. 
Kathmandu is great fun for the urban decay photographer. Crowds, noises, pollution, smells, puddles, trash, sticky stuff, holes in the pavement, exotic foodstuffs, belching motor scooters, ladies in saris - it does not get much better than this.

This the 5th in a series of 2017 Nepal articles. To be continued....

These photographs are from Kodak Tmax 100 or 400 film exposed with my Leica IIIC rangefinder camera with 5cm ƒ/2.0 Summitar lens (both purchased by my father in 1949). Praus Productions in Rochester, New York, developed the film in Xtol developer. I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i film scanner controlled by Silverfast Ai software.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Footloose in Kathmandu (Nepal post 2017-04)

Kathmandu view northeast from Thamel district from roof of Moonlight Hotel, Paknajol Marg (road). Yellow filter to increase contrast.
Oh oh, something has happened, Kathmandu is a big city now. And as of late 2017, it looks like a construction zone. Buildings are being razed and replaced, or rebuilt within their historic facades. Scaffolding, piles of brick, concrete mixers, and dust are everywhere. The 2015 earthquakes caused terrible damage to historic sites, but the palaces and temples are slowly being repaired. I think Kathmandu is on a cusp or transition from an old Asian city into a new commercial city. We will take a short walk around town; no real theme, just a tourist exploring, smelling, watching, and enjoying.
Rooftop laundry, Thamel district.
Some families live in older-looking multi-floor buildings. I am not sure how they responded to the earthquakes. Did engineers inspect each and every house?
An old, but still maintained and active English Cemetery is near the UK Embassy. For over a century, the Empire did not have an ambassador but instead had a Resident. He consulted with the Nepali government and had some of the duties of a true ambassador. The cemetery contains graves of some of these ambassadors as well as their families and the occasional English traveler and mountaineer. And, most unusual, there are Russians here, possibly refugees from the Bolsheviks.
Workers still demolish buildings the old way, by hand. No hard hats, eye protection, or steel toe boots here.
The wiring at the Chasibari Marga area is somewhat of a mess. Well, all the wiring in Kathmandu is a mess. You see the same in Hanoi.
Despite the construction and commerce, the gents still have time to sit, play chess, smoke, and gossip.
Chhetrapati area, Kathmandu, October 2017
Near Asan Chowk, Kathmandu, October 2017.
Whatever you may think of the state of the infrastructure, it does not deter people from shopping, trading, selling, shoving, walking, eating, yelling, and sort-of sniffing the fumes. I see crowds like this in cities like Arusha, Athens, Rangoon, Cairo, Lodz, Hanoi, or Mandalay. Why are American cities like Jackson such deserted wastelands?
The Asan Chowk (or marketplace) is always interesting. This where you can buy spices, vegetables, fruits, legumes, dried fish, Himalayan salt, and other consumables. Chickens and meats are sold somewhere else, but I am not sure where. In Nepal, Muslim men often work as butchers. I have written about the Chowk before, and it remains as much fun as ever.

This is the 4th in a series on my 2017 Nepal trip. To be continued....

I took these photographs with my Leica IIIC 35mm camera with 5cm ƒ/2.0 Summitar lens on Kodak TMax 100 and 400 film, with exposure measured with a Gossen Luna Pro Digital light meter. Praus Productions in Rochester, New York, developed the film in Xtol developer.
Update May 2018: Unusual or gourmet salt has become trendy in USA. As an example, here are jars of Himalayan salt in a Big Lots store in Vicksburg, Mississippi. These jars were labeled Product of Pakistan but Packaged in China. So the poor Nepalis have been bypassed again.
Update October 2018: Well, it looks like Himalayan salt is trendy in Brasov, Romania, too. The brand name is "Eurosalt," but the contents are from the Himalaya.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Mississippi Delta 25: Avon

Avon is an unincorporated community - really just a cluster of houses and a big cotton gin - off  Highway 1 in Washington County, Mississippi. It is only 12 miles south of Greenville, and most travelers on Hwy. 1 probably rush on by. One cold December day, I had been birding and found myself in Avon. The light was soft and mellow, a roll of Ektar 25 was in my camera, and I could not resist documenting some more of the Delta.
The Maddox Grocery was closed, but it may be a worthwhile stop during a work day to sample some of the bar-b-que.
The Avon Depot looks like a railroad depot, but I did not see any evidence of old tracks here.
This drainage ditch off Riverside Road is typical of the state of infrastructure in the USA. What has happened to us?
A bit further east on Riverside Road was this closed and abandoned restaurant.
Avon Gin was a big complex of warehouses and sheds, with a lone shotgun house on their property.
A short distance south, Possum Ridge Road joins Rte. 1. A lone farm workers' house sits in a field. This photograph was at dusk, with an exposure of 1 sec. at ƒ/8.0.
I photographed this same little house in 2005 with Panatomic-X black and white film. At that time, there was a child's bicycle inside and some old signs.

The color photographs are from the long-discontinued Kodak Ektar 25 film. Mine expired in 1995, but it has been frozen all these years and seems to be fine. The Ektar 25 works especially well in soft light, drizzle, or snow, and the contrasty palette brings out colors. It was the finest-grain color negative film ever made and benefited from careful technique and top-grade lenses. I exposed it in my tripod-mounted Hasselblad 501CM camera with 80mm CB and 50mm CF lenses. I scanned the negatives in a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner using SilverFast Ai software. The 2005 frames are from Kodak Panatomic-X film.

This is no. 02b of my irregular series on Abandoned Films.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Gone Forever: Smith Hall at the Bonner Campbell Institute, Edwards, Mississippi

The Bonner Campbell Institute or college, formerly the Southern Christian Institute, is west of Edwards, Mississippi, along Old U.S. Highway 80 (once known as the Dixie Overland Highway). The college was one of the early institutions in America dedicated to educating African Americans during the era when most southern states did not consider them worthy of education. I have written about the Bonner Campbell before. In late January, while driving west on Old U.S. Highway 80, I saw that the handsome pillared building known as Smith Hall was totally gone. This motivated me to scan my 2010 film negatives and share the photographs.

The Southern Christian Institute was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. A Vicksburg friend, Ms. Nancy Bell, who is director of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, did the survey work and wrote the descriptive text. She confirmed that at that time, the buildings were in good condition. The following text is from the official description:

"The Southern Christian Institute (SCI) is situated on 53.6 gently rolling acres at 18449 Old U.S. Highway 80 near Edwards in western Hinds County. The property is rectangular in shape and has 1,434 feet of frontage along the south side of Highway 80 and a maximum depth of 1,776 feet. The campus' seven buildings are situated to either side of a roadway that runs perpendicular to Old Highway 80, and these buildings are linked by concrete walks. The one and two-story structures are constructed of rusticated concrete block, brick, and stucco. Also on the campus are a bell tower and a water tower, and other amenities include a swimming pool and a playground. There are mature pecan, live oak, and cedar trees scattered throughout the property.

In 1882, SCI purchased the plantation of Col. McKinney L. Cook and immediately began repairing the existing buildings, which included the c. 1853 Greek Revival mansion house, a two-story, frame, five-bay, center hall structure with hip roof and two-tiered, full-width gallery. Within five years, a two-story classroom building, a small bam, and two two-room tenant houses were constructed. In 1891, an addition was made to the original plantation mansion to house a girls' dormitory, and over the next 44 years, numerous buildings were constructed, including dormitories, a president's house, a teachers' home, industrial building, and classroom building, in addition to auxiliary buildings such as a grain house, stables, buggy shed, and laundry building.

The campus presently includes seven buildings: the president's house, administration/ classroom building with auditorium, an assembly hall, dormitories, cafeteria, and a multipurpose building that was constructed in 2000. The old Cook mansion was destroyed by fire around 1970, and all that remains is a chimney, which stands on the north end of the campus. The existing historic resources were built by the students during the first 35 years of the 20th century, and many reflect the Colonial Revival style that was popular during that period."
I had always admired this building from the road. When I photographed it in 2010, it has suffered some vandalism, but the building looked sound and the asbestos roof seemed intact.  From the official description:

"Smith Hall Girls' Dormitory 1915 Colonial Revival. Facing west, this building is a two-story, U-shaped, stucco-over-metal lathe, dormitory building (15,412 s.f.) on a raised rusticated concrete block basement with an asbestos covered hip roof. Several colors of asbestos tiles were used to spell out "1914 Smith Hall" on the west side of the roof. There is a two-tiered porch that extends across two thirds of the front fa$ade and over one-third of the north side. This porch is covered by an asphalt-shingled hip roof, with exposed rafter tails, which is supported by tapered stuccoed wooden columns (on the second floor) resting on rusticated concrete block."
Approximate location where Smith Hall once stood (digital photograph).
Allison Hall, the cafeteria complex, has also been demolished.

"Allison Hall (Stanton Hall, Cafeteria) 1909 Colonial Revival influence. Facing east, Allison Hall is built in two sections: the rear section is a two-story square and the front section is a long, one-story, rectangular building. The front section is constructed of rusticated concrete block and topped with an asphalt hip roof. There are ten bays on the main facade: two 2/2 double-hung wooden windows, a single-leaf glazed wood door with a sidelight and transom (configuration of this entry was originally double-leaf with a transom), and two 2/2 double-hung wooden windows."
This building is still standing, but I was unable to check it during my recent visit.

"Administration/Classroom Building 1926. The Administration/ Classroom Building, which faces west, is a two-story, brick, rectangular classroom building on a raised stuccoed basement and crowned by a gable roof with parapeted end walls. A three-bay, gabled, projecting pavilion is in the center of the main facade. There are nine bays on the front facade: four large multi-light, metal, louvered windows; two pair of non-historic, double-leaf doors with covered transoms; and a central pair of non-historic double-leaf doors flanked by multi-light metal louvered windows. A wide concrete band separates the first and second floors and another accents the cornice. The second floor windows have plain concrete lintels. There is an additional wide concrete band that runs across the gable end of the cross gable, above which is a pair of fixed six-light windows with a shaped concrete head mimicking a hood mold."
"Bell Tower 1926. The bell tower is a two-tiered brick structure with an asbestos-shingled hip roof having exposed rafter tails. Brick piers support a wide concrete platform on which brick piers support the roof, which is trimmed by a wide concrete cornice. The bell hangs from the upper tier's ceiling."

The site was also listed on the 10 Most Endangered Places in Mississippi register, which needs to be updated to register the loss of buildings.

Dear Readers, this is how we lose out architectural heritage.

The 2010 black and white photographs were taken on Kodak Panatomic-X film with a Fuji GW690II medium-format 6×9 camera, tripod-mounted. I developed the film in Agfa Rodinal 1:50 and scanned it with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Mouldering Away: the Elks Club Lodge 148, Greenville, Mississippi

For at least 20 years, when I passed through Greenville, I admired this stately building at 504 Washington Avenue. The imposing structure of Greek temple appearance, like many banks of the era, was intended to convince viewers of classical architecture, permanence, and the prosperity of its proprietors/builders/owners.
Card 90710, Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH)  
Card 90936, Cooper Postcard Collection, MDAH.
Card 91689, Cooper Postcard Collection, MDAH
The 1906 Neoclassical-styled building is attributed to architect Patrick Henry Weathers, according to a Mississippi Department of Archives and History fact sheet.
The only recent information I could find was a 2016 article by Suzassippi in Preservation Mississippi about how Mississippi Action for Community Education (M.A.C.E), owner of the building, was trying to secure funding.
The grand entrance stairway is gone, replaced by two opposing narrow stairs under the overhang. The concrete limestone block lower surround was also removed for unknown reason. Let's hope this structure can be saved.

2014 photographs taken with a Fuji GW690II medium-format camera on Kodak Panatomic-X film, developed in Rodinal 1:50. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner operated with Silverfast Ai software.

Update March 10, 2018: I drove by the Elks Club in the morning. A chain link fence in poor condition surrounds the property. Some of the plywood panels over the windows have fallen off. There is no indication of any repair or stabilization. Fate: unknown.