On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)

I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.

Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.

I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.

I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.

I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.

“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”

She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.

***

“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”

She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.

“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”

She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.

Click.

“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”

Click click click.

“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”

“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”

Click. Click. Click click click.

“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.

“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”

Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.

“There you go.”

“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”

*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”

My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..

Click.

I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.

Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.

Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”

Click click. Click. Click click click.

I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.

“This is like a proper photo shoot!”

I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.

Click. Click.

Click.

Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.

I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.

We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.

At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.

Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.

One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.

***

This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:

On having Murcian Churros for breakfast

Lots of Murcians (and possibly lots of other Spaniards) have Churros for breakfast.

Churros are like pieces of deepfried (oozing) doughnut-dough rings. Here, you dip them into thick, custard-like, rich hot chocolate.

When in Murcia, do as the Murcians do.

So I did. And here they are:

On failure and other misfortunes

(Warning: contains a small amount of blood and a great deal of frustration)

***

On Sunday I admitted failure. 

I had failed to finish the book in time to send it to the printers before leaving to catch the plane, despite staying up all night to work on it.

I was quite miffed (ok, a lot miffed)..

There’s not a lot of point being miffed if you aren’t in a position to change anything. I decided to look up instead.

On Monday I was so busy looking up, that I didn’t notice the small piece of volcano sticking up in the middle of the otherwise even path.

..and that dear readers, is why looking down isn’t always a bad thing…

Luckily I was equipped with water and tissues and DB had a plaster with him.

Onwards and upwards!

That evening, on the way to get dinner, I missed the step onto the pavement and stubbed the same toe, removing the plaster and the flap of skin I’d created earlier.

Back to the apartment for a new plaster.

I don’t particularly appreciate losing skin, so I gave up on looking up, and decided to look down, and watch what my feet are doing instead. 

That worked well for a day or so – until I went to the toilet while the window was open. And even that was fine until I stood up…

An almighty yell and a lump on my head later, and I was convinced that looking down doesn’t help much either.

***

I think I’m going to keep my feet up and my head down, and get on with my revision. Maybe I should even look forward to the exams?!

On not talking about Christmas

It’s the 25th of November.

That makes it exactly a month until Christmas.

I am ignoring that, and all other Christmas related things.

Between now and then, I have:

4 exams to revise for

a book to finish compiling and find pictures for and format and send off in time for printing

3 aquariums to look after, including water changes, getting rid of the duckweed and reinstalling a pump/filter

a 10 day holiday which DB wants to cancel because I’m planning on revising through it and he thinks staying here and working is more efficient…

I think I might not acknowledge that Christmas is even a thing until the 23rd when I will already be on the way home, and passed caring too much.

On unequal injustices

I wrote this while on holiday in January. (I will aim to make the links work soon).

***

(Trigger Warning – contains information about sex-trafficking. May also contain too-much-information about periods…)

***

I was going to write a whinging, whining, self-pitying post about how stupid and mean and unfair and generally ‘meh’ it is, to not only be someone who inflates like a balloon* for the week preceding her period, but to do so while on holiday. Not only that, but to also start said period in an apartment where toilet paper has to be collected in a bucket instead of flushed down the loo. How gross is that? Also, it’s all very well peeing behind rocks when out discovering the island, ‘perioding’ is a different story, and the island im general isn’t particularly toilet friendly – the few-and-far-between public loos here close at about half past 6.

Yeah, then I watched a documentary about European sex-trafficking and underage prostitution and girls having to choose (at around 12 years old) between,
A) staying at home, where ‘home’ means in a hovel** with an outside loo or no loos at all, probably no electricity or running water, and a high chance of unemployed, abusive, alcoholic parents, with no real perspective of improvement or a decent education or a job of their own in the future
or,
B) going out into the ‘big wide world’, where ‘big wide world’ means leaving everything you know, trusting a stranger, or a cousin, (or sometimes, in the most harrowing cases, a former close friend who’s come back to fetch you), to bring you across the border to freedom, with the promise of a good job or an education thrown in, but actually turns out to be having your trust broken, having your passport taken from you at the border and being made to ‘work’ in a bordell in the backstreets of an unnamed European town (or directly on the streets) where you are likely to be drugged up and forced to do unthinkable things with uncountable, mostly rich, men who have too much at stake to report the underage, underfed, underslept ‘staff’ in their bordell of choice. One of the bordells they’d just arrested in the documentary, looks, at least from the outside, like a typical house in an upper class housing estate. Inside, behind closed doors (and closed windows), lived a group of ’24-hour prostitutes’. 24-hour-prostitutes have to be available all day every day. No respite. Instead of informing the police, the ‘clients’ complained to the bordell, the same way they would complain about a hire car: ‘this one doesn’t meet the requirements’.
This upper class housing estate is less than 20km from where I live. It unfortunately isn’t the only one of it’s kind in the world.

***

The worst part of it, really, is that I can’t do anything about it.
I am a glassblower, not a social worker, not a politician, not a judge.
I can’t make laws, and I can’t even vote for them if someone else makes them (unless they’re made in England) because I’m English living in Germany.
I speak English and German (with a tiny bit of French and Spanish for good measure), not Romanian or any of the other East European languages most of the girls speak. Even if we shared a common language, I have no idea what I could say that would help, I don’t have any experience of living in hovels or bordells or any of the other things they’ve been subjected to in their short lives.
I can’t help them escape, can’t offer them an alternative, can’t brighten their futures.
I can’t even pay someone else to help them because I’m close to broke – I will have to talk to the bank when I get home as my account seems to have a leak, or more likely, a holiday-sized hole, in it. And then I need new glasses. And to eat. And to pay the electricity bill. And the water bill. And the phone bill. And all manner of things which I pretty much take for granted as necessary for life, but which are probably unimaginable to a Romanian 12 year old…

***

If anyone has clever, or workable, ideas or suggestions for things I could actually do (apart from pray, wish and hope) please let me know.

***

In the meantime, faced with all this information, which to misquote Stefan in this article about ‘reading rape’, “I don’t even want to have in my head”, I think I’ll stick with my holiday in an apartment with the strange loo-roll laws. Maybe I’ll still complain about them, but quietly, and in the knowledge that it could be so unbelievably much worse. And I’ll enjoy the rest.
* I have friends who were less round at 7 or 8 months pregnant..

** a real hovel, not a wantable hovel like Kate lived in.

On sight-snoring

I am on the road again. Or more rather on the tracks. Since I’m travelling almost entirely by train.

Whatever.

It’s a 7 1/2 hour journey from where I live to where I have to be at 7pm.

Instead of leaving at midday and making a usual late appearance, I chose an early train so that I arrived at about half past 2 and had time to admire the town. I’ve been here before but didn’t get to see much of the 16th century architecture and pokey cobbled alleyways.

There’s also quite a lot of a castle left – although it’s not quite IN the town itself, it’s still not too far to walk.

That was my plan.

It was raining lightly when I got off the train. Grey and damp is always the best way to see a town…. *sigh*.

After wobbling along the line between what I wanted to eat and what I’d given up for lent at the ‘proper’ bakery next to the station, I wandered towards the hotel via a church closed for repairs and a graveyard with a mixture of war memorials and more recent memories, my pink umbrella standing out from all the grey like the red-jumpered man in a Constance painting.

When I got there the hotel foyer was deserted, except for a landline phone (with a curly cable :)) next to a small sign with a phone number on. Once I’d convinced myself that there really wasn’t anyone around, I phoned the number and let it ring a couple of times before hanging up.

The hotel man, who appeared a couple of seconds later, seemed a bit miffed that I’d hung up on him, but he still handed me the key for my room, which was all I wanted anyway 🙂

I dumped my bag, went to the loo, sat on the bed and promptly decided to take off my coat, shoes and glasses. Big beds can only mean one thing – sleep!

Fast forward a good couple of hours (can almost 3 still be a couple??) DB phoned to get my help setting up a new computer. (That’s a bit like me phoning him up and expecting him to talk me through changing the oil in a new car, one neither of us has ever seen before…).

And now it’s time to go to the restaurant for an evening-before-the-real-meeting meeting.

Ho-hum.

Next time I’ll have to plan to get here a day in advance!

On running out of medicine

(From 13th January)

This morning I used the last of one of the three remaining eye drops.

Oops.

(A second bottle wasn’t actually empty, but didn’t gloop much when shaken. It’s difficult to tell how many days worth of drops are left in an opaque 5ml bottle.

Double oops.)

I’m in a very small seaside town in the Canaries. I have another 3 days here, followed by a Sunday in Berlin where pretty much everything is shut, except emergency chemists, and I need a prescription for the eye drops I’m supposed to use.

I think I have a problem.

***

Except I didn’t really.

First stop – phoning the secretary of the eye surgery. The doctor wouldn’t be in again until the next week and as secretary she couldn’t write me a prescription herself. She suggested I just go to a chemist. I couldn’t believe that would work, but I didn’t have much choice but to try. I thanked her and hung up.

Second stop – searching for a chemist. DB and I and wandered down to the beach and along the promenade (where all the shops are) clutching the empty bottles and the hospital letter and looking for chemists. From our evening walks, we knew a couple existed because we’d seen the brightly flashing signs outside their shops, alternately showing the time, date and temperature. We just hadn’t made notes about where there were in relation to our apartment. I asked at the first one we came to. The well (/over*) made up ladies behind the counter said they hadn’t got anything like that and sent me to ‘the English chemist’ at the other end of the town – back the way we’d come and then a bit further. It was apparently opposite Burger King, so obvious we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went.

Third stop – accidental dragon-viewing. After walking several minutes longer than they’d recommended, I spotted a doctors surgery with an English flag in the garden. It was on a side street and there was no Burger King in sight, but I decided it was worth asking anyway. The nurse-in-charge stared at me like I’d just asked her for a passenger flight to Jupiter. There was no way she was going to look at my eyes, write me a prescription or dole out medication. She told me to try my luck with ‘the English chemist’ up the road opposite Burger King….

Ho-hum.

Fourth stop – finally striking gold…The English chemist’ was almost certainly not English, but he spoke it (and some German) very well, certainly well enough to wish me a speedy recovery and to laugh with me at the idiocy of companies not writing the ingredients on the bottles. Turns out the trade names are different in different countries, even for medicine, which was logical when he pointed it out, but hadn’t occurred to me before.

After a lot of research and rummaging through cupboards and drawers, he pulled out two tiny boxes. I pulled out my purse, awaiting an extortionate bill – a combination of not having a prescription and expecting to pay extra as a non-native. Both eye drops together came to 5,70€. I’m not complaining, I’m just left wondering if Spain is subsidised somehow, or if someone’s making a lot of money out of Germans and Brits. You can’t buy anything useful in a German chemist without a prescription, and you still pay upwards of 5€ per item. I don’t know what it’s like in England anymore, but my Dad says it’s expensive being ill.

On the way out DB noticed what we’d both missed on the way in; directly across the road was the tiniest Burger King I have ever seen. Most ice cream vans are bigger 😉

***

What could have been a disaster, actually wasn’t – three cheers for good directions (and friendly chemists!)!

* I wouldn’t usually comment on how someone else chooses her make up, but if I can see it while partially blind, I figure it counts as theatre-worthy…

On coming home

I flew home* on Saturday.

I landed, and was presented with two of my favourite things:

Chocolate

image

(which they handed out on the plane as we got off)

and

Snow

image

(which you can barely see in my blurry photo).

Isn’t that awesome?

It was even more awesome the next day.

Tthere was enough to make footprints in 🙂

image

And to admire

image

And to brush off the van

image

And it was at least 25 degrees  (centigrade) colder than the day before…

 

* in this case “home” means Berlin, Germany. Often it means my parents’ house in Southern England.

On banknotes and other liabilities

By “other liabilities” I mostly just mean myself.

I just went into a shop to buy a lens cover for DB’s camera.

Easy right?

Wrong.

Despite seeing better every day, it appears that I still can’t see well enough to be let loose in society.

The cover was supposed to cost 15€ which felt like a lot, but still less than replacing the lens if it gets scratched.

http://www.opixx.org/images/for-free/originals/money_finance__business_economy_26/10euro_schein_20130714_1640998163.jpg
A 10€ note

I took out my purse and handed the man-behind-the-counter the first red note I found in it. In my head, red notes are 10s. He took it and immediately turned towards the till which I thought was a bit impatient but I ignored my thoughts and continued rummaging through my purse for the remaining 5€. A few seconds later I took out the next red note, which I also handed over and which he also took.

So far so good.

http://www.opixx.org/images/for-free/originals/money_finance__business_economy_26/50_euro_20130714_1336324660.jpg
NOT a 10€ note

When he handed me 35€ back, I was a little bit confused. Then I realised I must have given him a 50€ note to begin with, not a 10€ as I’d thought. 50s are brown, but apparently a very reddish brown.

 

Side note:

It appears my ability to judge colour is out of whack too.

http://www.opixx.org/images/for-free/originals/money_finance__business_economy_26/vier_verschiedene_euroscheine_20130714_1668553110.jpg
Pictures of banknotes found on Opixx.org

Since I usually read everything I look at without having to think about it, it’s not usually a problem. I don’t rely on the colour, I read the numbers too. Not that I ever have 50s on me, at least not regularly.

If I’d thought about it, I could have held the notes up to my nose and been able to read them, just not at arms length.

IF.

But I didn’t.

ARGH.

So.

Back to the shop scene.

I looked at the 35€ in my hand. Then at the man, “there’s 10€ missing” (I hoped the second note had been a 10€, not another 50€). He said 50-15 is 35, so it was exactly right. I said I’d given him two notes, he asked why he would take a second note when the first was already more than enough (fair point). I said I had no idea, but that he had definitely taken the second note as I handed it to him. He’d already closed the till so he was no longer holding any notes at all which left it my word against his.

In the end, we settled for him giving me 5€. That way we both risked losing 5€ instead of 10€.

I left the shop wanting to kick things. Including myself. I hate it when I make that sort of unnecessary mistake.

In future, at least until I have glasses, DB will have to be responsible for all purchases.