During my life I’ve lived in four countries. When I have a chance to visit one of the old homelands, I’m always tempted by some local specialties, that reawaken the home feel good factor. In Milan, it would certainly be a visit to one of the many great caffe’s around San Babila or Duomo squares, but also, simply a quick lunch based on a good pizza and the local Birra Peroni.
This particular beer brand has a long tradition of witty TV commercials, where the image of the beer is superimposed on a beautiful blonde. Milan is the heart of the productive part of Italy, hence even if wine and more sophisticated food would be the gourmet standard, a quick midday meal based on pizza and beer is quite popular among the working population.
While some eat, others work, to make their meal enjoyable. We take the division of labour for granted, but it is actually a fairly recent invention in the history of humankind. It might be for this reason, that some scientists believe, that our highest point in brain capacity is a thing of the past. However, we still evolve our intelligence, under pressure of life in a modern society.
Last autumn I had a chance to make a short trip to Milan, and I took advantage of the possibility to fix some of my cameras. New Old Camera is a photography shop located in one of charming courtyards of an old Milanese palazzo in the city center. It has been started off several years ago by Ryuichi Watanabe as a second hand camera store, and has evolved and expanded over the years, to comprise sales of new products by such brands as Leica, Zeiss, Fujifilm and Gitzo, and is also offering to its customers assistance with repair and maintenance.
The staff is competent and helpful, and you are likely to find an atmosphere typical of a hub full of camera junkies. I have actually met there people, I only knew about from photography forums… NOC also promotes photo exhibitions, events, and books about cameras – notably one of the most interesting is the Contarex book by Pierpaolo Ghisetti and Marco Cavina . I find there is something exquisitely mitteleuropean in this institution, and if you pass by Milan, don’t forget to drop in.
And comes the day of the year, when everybody gets crazy about romance. Is love overvalued? I don’t think so, but now the fanfare of the media is going to be so loud, that it can make us doubt.
“Every man should plant a tree, have a child and write a book. These all live on after us, insuring a measure of immortality.”
Quote from the Talmud.
This would be an old fashioned look at things. I prefer to look at it in a different way: Every man ( and woman) should do their utmost to develop fully their human potential, and should spend it for the benefit of other people, thus transcending their own lives. Love is the ideal means conducive to both processes, and the best part of it, is that when you love, you don’t need to ask for directions.
Modern psychology is also discovering, that relationships and even single acts, in which you give to others, are the most potent way in which to increase your happiness. When struck by romantic love, we are full of contradictory impulses, like the wish to give everything, but also to have a total exclusivity. As you cool down with time, what emerges, is that if your emotional mind set is able to function primarily on basis of voluntary exchange of kindness and love, it makes long term relationships easier.
What everybody knows, is that no matter how messy love is, while it grabs you by the throat, you don’t want it to stop, almost hoping, it will never let you go.
We’ve had an unusually wet January this year, but this seems to be over now, and first shrubs explode flowering as soon as sunshine starts prevailing again. On the flip side, the past winter has been quite warm, I think the lowest temperature I’ve seen on the thermometer hanging out of my window, was +10C.
What I am going to say will not surprise anyone who is a dog owner: presence of dogs inside a house makes for a more relaxed atmosphere. There are even documented benefits on psychical well being as well as on some objective health aspects, like blood pressure. Some dog breeds spread more relaxation than others: I had for many years a wonderful Golden Retriever, which was a champion in this domain, but it is probably difficult to beat a big St Bernard – both for the benevolent aspect and for the proverbial calmness.
Circles and ellipses please our eyes. Living in a sunny climate motivates people to use hats, and I find it to be a welcome practice, which enriches the décor of the street life. The style which dominates here , is a cream white straw hat with a black ribbon for men, while women’s models tend to be more wide ranging. A particularly delicious female “provencal” hat has a very shallow cup and broad rim, aimed at creating shade for working in the fields, but is rarely used nowadays.
A particularly celebrated hat wearing opportunity coincides with the tennis tournaments, commencing with the springtime Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, and culminating with the Roland Garros and Wimbledon (where hats will also protect you from the rain). I have a mixed relationship with hats, because they inhibit my natural tendency to shoot my cameras in the vertical mode by gripping them from above.
I like to take a break every now and then, and just look around at what surrounds me every day. The temptation in photography very often, is to associate a successful image with exotic places, circumstances or beautiful models. Yet, not only famous photographers, but above all great painters, have often found best inspiration among common objects, or inside their studios. Perhaps this is the best known photograph by Kertesz, while certainly Matisse’s most famous painting is this one.
I wanted to test an old lens – 90/4 Elmar from the fifties, and see if it had some particular charm. I have to say, the way it draws really reminds me of older times. When looking at the photo above, I’ve also noticed a similarity with some of HCB’s shots using the power of citation. Somehow, it seems to work even here.
One September afternoon, I suddenly heard a roar of jets passing by at a low altitude. I jumped out on the terrace, and saw a flying squad in tight formation. After a brief consideration that perhaps Monaco has just been invaded by the French Army, I thought this was unlikely, as it would have been much cheaper to invade us by foot… I dashed off to my camera shelf, and grabbed anything that still had unfinished film inside.
For a moment, I felt like an operator of the famous 20mm Oerlikon : I quickly emptied my available film cassettes, while the planes performed their loops and flips above the coastline.
When the jets terminated their magnificent performance, I looked up on the internet for explanations: it was the squad of Red Arrows, the acrobatic formation of RAF, invited to perform here by one of the sponsors of the Monaco Yacht Show.
“Collage is an art term. It means creating a work rather like a painting, but with pieces of paper and fabric (‘found objects’) stuck together on a surface to make a work of art.”
I often find myself attracted to random complexity. The advantage of photography, is that you can record on the fly images, that form interesting abstract collages, yet make part of everyday reality. I am not sure, who fell for this taste first, probably Eugene Atget, but the first high quality body of work on this theme, called: “Reflections, New York” has been done by Lisette Model, in the period 1939-1945.
At an intellectual level, this type of images chime with my interest in complexity – a domain that has become increasingly important, as our understanding of the world grows, alongside the growth of processing power of our computers. At the social level, this can be portrayed by Thorngate’s postulate of commensurate complexity, which, simply put, says, that in social sciences, a law cannot be at the same time Simple, Accurate and General, thus most often, instead of looking for easy answers, we must accept Complexity, if we want to find true and general rules that are at work.
In music, I like to associate this kind of perception with the coolness of Modal Jazz.
I was born in Warsaw, in the middle of the Great European Plains, and except for a couple of years passed studying on the edge of the Bristol Channel, have spent most of my life away from a coast. Only five years ago, I moved from the Milan area in northern Italy, to Monaco, at the very heart of the French Riviera. It’s most picturesque part extends from Menton, right on the border with Italy, to Nice, once an Italian town, annexed to France in 1860.
When you move to live by a warm coast, you undergo a subtle change: you become more relaxed, optimistic, outgoing and … intolerant to frost. In most cases, you also develop resistance to common colds. There is a theory, that regular bathing in a sea enhances your immune system. If you add the benefit of being exposed to a good dose of sunlight , the availability of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish throughout the year, a recipe for a healthier life is ready made. Even living in coastal areas of Britain, seems to deliver measurable health benefits.
People who studied the most long lived populations on the planet, have analyzed multiple factors, but failed somehow to observe, that many of the elements contributing to extended well being are correlated to living by a warm sea. In fact, their Blue Zones are all placed within coastal sub tropical climates around the globe. The yearly and daily narrow temperature amplitude around moderate values, makes life somehow less of a challenge. To sum up: if you like the idea, and can plan for moving your home by the sea, don’t waste any more time. It’s well worth it.