Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At Long Last, Florida!

I was lucky enough to be invited to Florida this year for Christmas. I stayed with my sister and brother-in-law in Port St. Lucie, and it was evident that they put a lot of thought into entertaining me while I was there. We dined well, on waffles and Pineapple Chicken from my mom's recipes, and packed a lot of sightseeing into the few days before Christmas Day.

Day One, Miami: We drove the hundred or so miles to Miami where we toured James Deering's 1916 mansion called Vizcaya. This is a big enough deal (and I have enough photos) to make it a separate blogpost. Stay tuned for that. For something completely different, we boarded a tour boat that took us around Biscayne Bay to visit movie and music stars' homes. We agreed that the cheeky bilingual guide could have been telling us anything about these gorgeous mansions, but chose to believe him when he told us these properties were owned by Gloria Estefan, Sylvester Stallone,
Frank Sinatra, Antonio Banderas and others. (Note these are all celebrities whose first names are superfluous!) Shaq sold his place to A-Rod, and JLo lives across the pond.

Anyway, after the posh star homes, the boat took us through the Port of Miami. There was one large cruise ship docked there and many cargo ships. We got to see a giant gantry crane unloading one of these monster ships.

We saw some Brown Pelicans hanging out,

and this guy who I'm pretty sure is a Great Egret.

After the cruise, we drove through South Beach. It was dark enough to see the holiday lights decorating the buildings, but light enough to get an idea of the swanky South Beach scene. I didn't spot any movie stars.

Day Two, Jensen Beach: Didja know that Jensen Beach in Martin County, FL, used to be The Pineapple Capital of the World? The weather was nice enough this day to walk in the shallow surf. To the Floridians it was chilly, but this Jersey Girl probably could have jumped in. There were flocks of brown pelicans flying overhead and sandpipers or plovers scurrying about at the water's edge. Two of my favorite shots are this lone palm and the kid wearing a Santa hat while boogie boarding. I picked up a few shells that are different from New Jersey's--the colors are more vibrant and the shells are thicker. The flat one will go in my scrapbook.

Back at homebase, I took some shots of the orchid and pineapple plants by the pool, and a tiny gecko hiding in another plant.

Day Three, Lake Worth: We spent Christmas Day here with my niece and her family. Many neighborhoods have these small lakes in their center, or canals, but if you're smart, you won't stick your feet in them (use your imagination). Ducks come right up to the shrubs around the house to lay their eggs.

And then there is Fraidy, snoozing in his favorite spot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Autumn in Cape May

Autumn seems tranquil and untroubled in any beach town, but in Cape May there is also an element of merrymaking. Cape May, with all its history, has extended the summer "season" into the spring and fall and offers numerous events to entertain oneself with. Normally, I participate in Sherlock Holmes Weekend in November (it is also offered in March), walking around in Victorian costumes trying to solve a convoluted mystery I know I'll never solve. This year I opted to skip the Sherlock Weekend and observe the town in order to fill out my work-in-progress article about Sherlock Holmes Weekend. For one thing, Sherlock's weekend in November usually coincides with the Jazz Festival, and jazz draws many more visitors than Sherlock. Birders are in town to check out the migrating birds, some of which stop off off at few sites besides Cape May on their way south. All visitors and locals alike enjoy ignoring the pesky parking meters and parking close to their venue, and walking into the restaurants so popular in summer without reservations. (We couldn't wait to pop into George's Place for some really good Greek food--in summer we steered clear and let the tourists enjoy it.) And then there's the shopping: really cool stuff from the previous season marked down 50% or more to make room for next year's stuff. Even on my spending diet I scored quite a haul.

I like photographing doorways, and Cape May's inns always have some clever ones to welcome their guests.

The beach is popular almost all year long except for the really icy-cold days when the moist wind shears right through a person. Late fall is especially pleasing to me because all of those mosquitoes and tiny black flies are gone. And, we November beachgoers can enjoy the sunset before dinner:
Victorian Christmas is a big deal in Cape May with house and inn tours, special meals, plays, and other events special to the season. Some of the inns involved already had their festive decorations up by late November, and some were still festooning the wrought-iron fences with fresh pine garlands and decorating elaborate doorways.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

iPhone Photography

Twice this week, I've come across references to photos taken with iPhones. First, check out the Nov/Dec issue of American Photo. "Instant Gratification," an article on camera phone photography begins on page 56. We're not talking about little snapshots like the one I took of Fred last night after he ate the enormous cheeseburger

and got his picture on the wall of the restaurant, or the one of the Gladys after she covered herself in Post-it tabs.

The iPhone came in handy on this day to capture pictures of my poor dismantled car which was promised to me the day before. That's Oscar working on it trying to make me think he'd been working on it all along. I think he was surprised by the impromptu photo shoot, and I had my MINI back in a few days. (I'm still waiting for him to call about reapplying the stripes to the hood.)
Mentioned in the media lately, though, are iPhone photos taken by professional photographers who now consider their iPhones part of their standard gear. Think about it: you have your cellphone with you more than your big digital camera, so already it's more convenient. I just transferred my iPhone shots to my 17" laptop, and I'm amazed by their quality. The iPhone is not as klunky (that word always reminds me of Ernie on "My Three Sons") as a big digital camera, so it is easier to use in certain situations and easier to hold in creative ways. Since there aren't buttons and dials to experiment with, the emphasis is on the content of the photo rather than exposure, aperture, and the rest of those mysterious settings.
The articles I read this week about iPhone inspired me to look back at the photos I have taken since I acquired it in June. And that's the other thing: my old phone held about nine photos, but the iPhone can store many, many more.
I hadn't brought my DSLR to the Delaware Bay beach for this evening's sunset, but I did have my iPhone! What a great shot, huh?
If you've ever tried to get good portraits of pets, you know how they instinctively refuse to be cute while the camera's in your hand. I happened to have the iPhone handy to get these great shots of my girls.
Imagine how difficult it would be to capture this belly-rub face with a DSLR!
Then there was this amazing expert award-winning quilt at a recent quilt expo
And a more humble work of my own.

For more ideas and some tips on iPhone photography, check out this other article: "Photo Lessons from an iPhone" by Shelly Perry: http://tinyurl.com/yj4jr2w.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Philadelphia 80s Memory Tour

It all started with a crazy plan to visit the Diana: A Celebration exhibit at the National Constitution Center. This was crazy because most other people in the Delaware Valley had the same idea. After waiting in two long lines (and I suspect that those of us who bought our tickets online waited longer than those who bought on the spot), we were finally let in to see the Diana artifacts. I was (am) a big fan of The Princess, so I was captivated by the childhood memorabilia, diaries and photos. Then there was The Wedding Dress in a giant glass case. The ivory silk is sumptuous, made from England's only silkworm farm. It was displayed with her shoes, a matching umbrella (just-in-case), a clutch, and a bridesmaid dress. Wowee. Then another room with about twenty-five dresses including ballgowns, cocktail dresses and day dresses. I took the time to admire each one and note the designer and fabric. The exhibit wrapped up with two rooms devoted to the end of Diana, including a display of the memorial books people signed, Elton John's hand-written lyrics for "A Candle in the Wind" and a video of the funeral.

The exhibit got me thinking of the eighties and nineties and what I was doing then. (The eighties are hot right now.) Since I lived in Philadelphia for most of the eighties while I attended Temple University, I took off on a walking tour of my old haunts east of Broad Street. I walked from the National Constitution Center to Penn's Landing, then down South Street, north to Locust, west through Outfest 2009, up Broad Street to Market and back to the car. I wish I had remembered to activate my iPhone pedometer!

These stones look really cool, but hurt my feet. Luckily they were in the beginning of my tour before my feet started to hurt a lot. While touring my old haunts, I remembered my college and graduate school days and how I knew I'd miss living in Center City when I inevitably moved away. I had hopes and dreams then and few have been realized. I can't say I have regrets, though: life had many surprises for me along with challenges. I often think that when I'm an old woman I'll not only wear purple, but I'll move back to the city and drive my purple Vespa all over.

This is the Ritz Theater, a place where I spent a lot of time in the eighties. I saw many movies here with my friends Vince and Carol even when the price went up to five dollars a ticket: "Out of Africa," "A Room With a View," and "My Beautiful Launderette" in addition to many, many French films.

A long time ago, I toured the Olympia (the ship) and the Becuna (the submarine) with my friend Vince. I remember I didn't feel very well that day and it was stifling hot, but I didn't regret the walk down the Penn's Landing because these ships were fascinating. They are still there:

After a brief tour of Penn's Landing, I headed to South Street, still a hip, bustling place, but much different than I remember from those college days. I have one fond memory of ditching the French Film Marathon at the TLA in favor of shopping the punk rock stores with a fellow dorm-inhabiting music-major friend. At breakfast one Saturday he explained he wanted to stock up on animal print T-shirts before he went home to Erie, PA, where they were in short supply. I had hoped to stop for lunch at Jim's Steaks, but the line was around the corner (see picture). Instead, I ducked into South Street Souvlaki, a favorite of my later Philadelphia years when I had a vegetarian friend. I ate some hummus and moved on.

This is Washington Square, a quiet park on Locust Street from Sixth to Eighth. Unlike the more popular Rittenhouse Square on the other side of Broad Street, Washington Square is a quiet secret, the place you would go with your book or your dog if you're not particularly interested in hunting for a place to sit or peoplewatching.

Ahhh, one of my favorite places on earth is the Academy of Music! I spent hours and hours in line here waiting for two-dollar orchestra tickets on Friday or Saturday nights. Back then, the Philadelphia Orchestra shared this performance space with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet. I had subscriptions to all one year or another, always the cheap seats way up in the top of the room (the dreaded Amphitheater). It's no exaggeration to say that I saw hundreds of performances amidst the red velvet upholstery of this hall. When it appeared in the movie, "The Age of Innocence," based on the Edith Wharton novel (a favorite), I recognized it immediately.

This is where I lived for five years while pursuing my Master of Music degree in Music Theory and a few years after. It's at 1324 Locust Street, was called the Sylvania House then, and now it's the Arts Condo. My apartment consisted of one room with a high ceiling, a small bathroom with a nice-sized tub, a teeny-weeny olive green kitchen unit in the main room, and a rusty-orange carpet. I had many spider plants on the sunny southern exposure windowsills along with houseplants I bought each year at the Philadelphia Flower Show back when it was held in University City. The apartment was nothing to brag about, but the location was perfect for a music major: across the street from the Academy of Music and the Merriam Theater, a few blocks from a large-for-then Barnes & Noble with a loft full of compact discs where I was in line behind Riccardo Muti once, and a few feet from the Broad Street Subway I used to go to school. This is the place where I hooked up my first CD player and my first VCR, and had my sewing machine set up to make most of my own work clothes inspired by the ladies of Dynasty and Princess Di herself.

I knew that many of my favorite haunts had changed over the years because I still visit Philadelphia frequently. There were few surprises other than Outfest 2009 blocking Locust Street and the conspicuous absence of The Book Trader on South Street. These big black boxes are new, and they were all over the city. I'm intrigued--can anyone explain how they work? Maybe I'll be a good librarian and Google 'BigBelly Solar Compactor'.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Cape May Canal

One of my favorite places anywhere, and one that is unique to Cape May, is the Cape May Canal. Some of my earliest memories are at the canal as we used to go swimming there before it was widened and deepened to accommodate bigger boats and more boat traffic. My father prefered swimming in the canal over swimming in the ocean, because he could swim across and back. My swimming skills never advanced that far: I've got a powerful doggie paddle and I can frolic with the best of them, but I never really developed a good crawl stroke. These days, it would be impossible to swim across the canal any day that the water is warm enough because of the increased boat traffic, and there's really no place to hang out since the strip of beach went away when it was widened. This video shows boats in the canal with dredging going on in the background. I love how Beethoven timed the music so that the climax happens when the boats pass each other. Genius.

The canal was dug in less than a year during World War II because of the potential threat of German U-boats going north through the Delaware Bay into the Delaware River and taking over the important ports of Camden and Philadelphia. Fort Miles, strategically placed on Cape May and Cape Henlopen (the Twin Capes), guarded the bay, and the canal was dug to give mosquito boats easy access to the bay from the base on the ocean side. Cape May's part of Fort Miles is now the Coast Guard Training Center, and Cape Henlopen's is now part of Cape Henlopen State Park. This photo was taken from the fire tower in the park looking down at the restored barracks of Fort Miles. If you look closely in the parking lot, you can see my red MINI!

The canal is important today not only because it is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, but because the Cape May-Lewes Ferry docks there. This ferry has always been important to me because it is just a year younger than I am and I have always heard its whistles from our house. During the summer when the ferries make more crossings for summer travelers, the whistle is more frequent. When I walk on the bay as I have all my life with family, friends, dogs, or alone, the canal is the spot where I take a break on the rocks, maybe watch a ferry come in or go out, and then turn around. This routine is fundamental to my existence as it's one of the few things that has stayed constant. This photo was taken on a baywalk, and you can see a ferry off in the distance:

My perception of the ferry, though, has changed over the years. It used to be a rarity that I would be on the ferry. I was usually watching it from the shore. But occasionally, if my parents and I went south on a trip, we would take the ferry to save time and driving. Even my dog, Bambi, could walk around on the ferry, but not in the cabin. It was exciting even though it wasn't much fancier than a bus then. As a child I was familiar with the Staten Island Ferry, and the Cape May-Lewes wasn't even as nice as those! Now the ferries are much nicer and more comfortable.

We never explored Lewes, though. I had a kind of xenophobic picture of Lewes, Delaware, until recent years when curiosity got the best of me. The ferry began running shuttles buses to take ferry passengers to points of interest on either side. My mother and I were curious about the outlet malls in Rehoboth, and ventured onto the ferry as foot passengers to see what this was all about. We had a ball shopping and enjoyed the cruise back home after we had shopped all day. After Mom was gone, I started to explore the historic parts of Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park, and soon began to write articles for the ferry's free magazine, Twin Capes Traveller. Here's the red Mini on the ferry heading over to Lewes for a research trip.

These days, I've come to know Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth Beach as extensions of my home base of Cape May, and I love writing about their unique features almost as much as I enjoy sharing Cape May's distinctive personality.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hurricane Bill: Cape May Point

The Hurricane Bill breakers at Cape May Point today were not as huge as I had hoped, but the beach had a new landscape: some extra lakes and streams that were never there before! The tide was coming in, but erratically. Because of the hot, humid haze photos were difficult. I hope this wedding photographer had his camera settings set better than I did!

So although we didn't see much rain in Cape May (besides the monsoon overnight), it was hard to be outside Saturday and Sunday. We grabbed some pulled pork sandwiches from the food truck in the lighthouse parking lot Saturday, and the heat was so oppressive we thought maybe we could find a sea breeze close to the water. It was much cooler there but I was attacked by a crazy seagull hungry for, of all things, PULLED PORK! It swooped down, landed briefly on my head, pecked at my sandwich, and proceeded to eat the stolen part just feet away from me. Sadly, there is no footage of the event, but this is a picture of the assailant (or one of his close relatives):

I don't think it would have been possible to sit on the beach Sunday with sandwiches, not because of seagulls, but because of the tide coming in so quickly, the big waves, and the torrential rain from the night before, there was moving water everywhere. I was surreal--not the Cape May Point Beach I am used to! And the haze added to the unusual scene.
We noticed how pretty the lake looked, but also that there were very few birders hanging around this popular birding spot. On this side of the dunes, the heat and humidity was unbearable!