Reykjavic Day 1

So here’s the thing I learned on my last day in Iceland. The colours on the Icelandic flag represent the majestic and beautiful nature of the island, something they have been proud of since way back in the day (way way back as in when the first visitor got there). The blue is meant to represent the Atlantic ocean, the white represents the snow and glaciers and the red the lava of the active volcanoes. Save that little tidbit for a swank cocktail party, and watch it kill.

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Views from halfway down a stairwell

Since I am usually taller than the person I am photographing, and I often shoot photos from my eye level or even from an elevated position, I really loved the perspective of shooting from halfway down this staircase outside a very busy metro. It was new. It was Mexico City and it was hot, it made me sympathize for the musician. Why was he dressed like a policeman while he played an accordion in the street?

Photos taken September 2015 with a Nikon D3100 in Mexico City

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Tepoztlan

Sitting across the aisle from me on my flight from Dallas to Mexico City, Ulysses said to me “You go to Tepoztlan. That’s your place. They have Queso ice cream there.”

I was in.

He told me the metro to take to the bus station and which bus to take where. It would be a couple hours. It was a Sunday morning and it was sunny. It was perfection- warm in the sun, with a hint of a chill on each breeze. It was September of 2015 and the town was straight out of a movie, set in another time. 

 

 

Musicians of Plaza Garibaldi.

One day, in early 1996, I was on Church Street and rented Desperado starring Antonio Banderas. That movie, along with the song Mexico by James Taylor formed an impression in my teenage mind of an unrealistically romantic Mexico full of guitar playing mariachi/vigilantes and incredibly beautiful women with impossibly sexy accents. The music was everything.  Arguably my favorite song to listen to on the run in Mexico. Exhilarating!

I cued up the soundtrack for the movie when I walked around Mexico and my musical highlight of the country was an evening at Plaza Garibaldi, a square in Mexico City where mariachis of all shapes and sizes and attire bring their gear and best tunes each night. Beers, smoke and song filled the air, until one by one we all dragged our tired feet to the main road in search of taxis at the end of the night,  mariachis and revelers, every man for himself. They were definitely upstreaming. And they deserved to. 

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Playing an incendiary cover of La Bamba on a harp

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Thick as Thieves

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Voice Like Honey

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The Professional

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Lead Vocals

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The Hired Gun

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Footprints

April 2nd, 2015

I stepped off my flight from Istanbul to Izmir with my schoolbag, a startling sense of excitement and three days to see this part of the country. All I had been told was that the people of this region were very attractive. I can confirm that now. I descended the escalator off the tarmac and into the airport and my nose was immediately smelling smells it had never smelled in an airport before. These Turks had a fully stocked professional florist’s right there, black escalator stairs ending in a mass of flowers of all colours and fragrances. It was a very strong first impression.

I was spending the day in Izmir before taking the train to Selcuk. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey. It appeared more industrial, there were no tourists and people were genuinely surprised to see me almost everywhere despite there being a lot of people around almost always. I walked all along the bay in downtown Izmir, following a path past waterfront hotels and restaurants and bars all in soft pastel tones, like San Francisco on a post card long before Instagram filters.

I walked for five or six hours from an old bazaar with nothing but food and clothes, through a modern business area where I relaxed in a posh hotel lobby and put my bag down thankfully. I walked out of there and went down a side street full of kiosks all selling little trinkets. I found one man half asleep and all he sold were turkish artists interpretations of Hollywood movie posters. Framed. I would have purchased dozens if I could have but left happily with a Back to the Future and a Batman Begins that I added to my list of things to not forget somewhere.

I bought a delicious chocolate bar, Turkey has the best assortment of convenience store counter chocolate bars that I have come across in my life. They are clearly of a higher quality than American candy bars.

I listened to my short but sweet Turkish Gold playlist for hours and steadily walked in a drizzle that I frequently prayed wouldn’t turn into a rain. The preciousness of time is amplified even more while traveling, we are clearly at the mercy of the weather gods then, those powerful few known as weathermen in America. These were the sort of deep thoughts l had while listening to Paul McCartney channel his days in Africa.

All I need is a pint a day, if I ever get out of here, if we ever get out of here

I stopped and had a delicious coffee on a side street from an old man. We both smiled a lot and fumbled around trying to talk but neither of us communicated a single thing successfully. Well, actually, when I left he knew I liked the coffee and Izmir, and I knew I liked the coffee and Izmir. I paid him with a single coin.

Soon I was in the station. It was much seedier at night. Drug addicts and tough guys were popping up from buildings I had assumed were shuttered and boarded up. I found my platform and boarded my train and as I got within a few feet of my seat, my feet and knee ached. Maybe it was my imagination.

I found my hostel at 1am after sleuthing around the tiny village of Selcuk for the good part of an hour. I was greeted by somebody who made zero effort to pretend that I had not just completely woken him up. He showed me to my room and I fell asleep, exhausted.

I could hear loud noises. I heard them half-asleep and then they became louder. Now I was awake and could hear the sound moving. I lay there in my bed, under the covers and realized a damn bird was flying around my bedroom. I was alone in the room so I had to get up at some point, adult me lectured sleeping me sternly. I ran to the front door, hit the light, looked up at the ceiling and there is a huge bat flying around. I hightail it down to the front desk and wake up the guy for the second time that night.

He’s looking at the bat in disbelief. He’s asking me if I brought it. I’m looking at him in disbelief. I’m telling him no and that I’m not fluent in the language he’s speaking. I’m only guessing what you’re saying, dude. His plan is to throw the complimentary notepad from my desk up at the bat which is now stationary (pun intended) on the ceiling. Incredibly his plan works and works very quickly. I had resigned myself to sitting exhausted and watching him throw a stack of paper at a bat for at least the next thirty minutes but he grazed that flying rodent on his fifth attempt. It flew out the window and I closed it. We carefully inspected the room for more bats. There were none. He assured me this was not normal. He asked me if I would mention the bat on TripAdvisor.

The next morning, I woke up and ate breakfast. I guess everyone did.

I did not want to take a bus to Ephesus. From the Batcave, it was a 70 minute walk through the countryside so I elected to walk. I first passed cows and sheep and lambs aplenty on plots of farmland. There was a nice clearly designed path to walk alongside the road to Ephesus. That path was empty for many minutes at a time, but I did pass some interesting folks – some schoolboys, some old men, and a young woman exercising. She was really pushing herself through a demanding workout on the parallel bars at a kid’s playground. I saw some college-aged guys on a motorcycle and took one of my favorite photos of the trip. I was asked for a cigarette by somebody. I disappointed him and he too, did not hide it.

I had downloaded a Rick Steves podcast which was a walking tour of Ephesus. If you walked in and timed pressing Play correctly, you had a English tour guide in your ear for free. Directions, history, little facts and jokes. It was fascinating. They said that supposedly Julius Caesar or Cleopatra actually walked down that same narrow rock path. Following in Caesar’s footsteps felt amazing, Efes felt like a truly historic place, could easily imagine how this little place captured the attention of the world in 10,000 B.C.

I left there and walked back to Selcuk. I wanted a haircut. It was late, but Selcuk must be the barber capital of that state. Every lane has two or three salons or barbershops. I walked into an empty one. A very soft spoken gentleman named Salih gave me an immaculate cut. He even burned rogue hairs off my ears with a flaming Q-tip (Pun intended – you should be listening to A Tribe Called Quest). Most restaurants had closed. The village is so small, there must be about six square blocks in the tourist section, but there must be hundreds of restaurants. I was fortunate enough to not only have the best meal of my trip that night but to also become friends with my waiter. We talked about Syria, regional politics, Turkish basketball league, futbol and his plans for finishing college. We closed the restaurant and met with one of his friends for beers at a nearby pub. We then met their friends. Everybody wanted to be somewhere else. Guys who lived in Selcuk wanted to live an hour away in Izmir and those guys wanted to live in Istanbul. And those guys in London. And those guys just hoped the rain would hold off, like it had in Turkey today.

We shot the shit early into the morning and I drank too many beers. I was hungover the next day sitting in the courtyard eating my hardboiled eggs, papaya, berries and apple.

 

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Grand Bazaar’s Young Hustlers

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My very first morning in Istanbul, March of 2015, I went walking out of my hostel door with my carefully selected playlist blasting in my ears.

My only mission was to enjoy the music, look around, maybe take some photos and to exchange some dollars for Turkish Lira or “Tee Ells, mate” as one Sydney-sider at my hostel had corrected me. Following only a trail of currency exchange bureaus that seemed to each offer a more favorable rate than the last, I wound up at a side gate of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. I walked around the inside and got tired of it quickly since I didn’t plan on buying anything. Still, I do have to say I was impressed by how much Hindi every random Turk threw my way. Stiller, I was much happier circling the bazaar from the outside and taking photos of the people who worked there running to and fro, people of all ages both male and female. I saw one young boy running through a market street while a shopkeeper chased him angrily until the grey-haired man grew tired and cursed behind him. Where was I – Agrabah? Despite the Artful Dodgers, I also saw plenty of shopkeepers offering prospective customers fresh bread and hot tea. I found a mosque on the edge of the market to one of it’s countless sides and laid back there for a while. Many a man came out to wash his feet. Not a woman did. I thought to wash mine but suddenly noticed a quiet removed stairwell snaking up behind the mosque. If it led me to the roof, I’d be able to peer directly into the market through it’s open roof so I was excited to get up there and take some photos.DSC_0486.DSC_0588DSC_0593DSC_0485DSC_0615

The bad news was there was no vantage point. The good news was the “Street Rat” Aladdin-wannabe I had seen being chased earlier was up here now and wrestling some kid older than him. Let’s call him Jafar. When I asked them why they were fighting, after the bigger kid had won, he held up his hand triumphantly with a cigarette in it, and lit it. Everybody smokes in Turkey. Hell, I guess everybody smokes everywhere else. Everywhere European anyway. I did not know they started smoking in Fight Clubs. Travel teaches. “Street Rat” asked me to buy some Tops. Now, I love Tops and have since many schoolboy trips in India to tiny shops without names to get them. I asked Aladdin how much. He offered me 2 for 20, I said 3 for 10, we agreed on 3 for 15 if he let me take a bunch of photos. He agreed to this caveat only if he got Final Cut and I delivered the photos to him via email so he could make them his Facebook profile. This kid was born in 2005. No sooner did I give him the money, the formerly victorious Jafar offered me a much better deal. DUDE, where were you two minutes ago? I took their photos as the familiar sting of regret came over me as I walked away from the mosque curious how much those two jokers had paid for their Tops. They had seemed too pleased with themselves.

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I walked past a familiar face on my walk home after the currency exchange. I asked him “How much for a Top?”. He answered “2 Turkish Lira” while his eyes angrily surveyed the busy market streets for the two dodgy kids who kept stealing his Tops.

Gotta steal to eat, gotta eat to live, tell you all about it when I have the time…

Future Keyser Soze

Future Criminal Mastermind Keyser Soze

Out There On The Ice

Words and Photos by SC, your man on the ice.

Music by Cut Copy.

Went walking, came across some ice skaters and their faces were so expressive. I was taken by the looks of focus, intensity and fear while learners made their way round the rink and equally entertained by the looks of confidence and grace that the better skaters wore. The best faces were of people who had just fallen. Their laughs were so genuine and accompanied by blushing and other charming hints of shame. I thought not to take photos of people who had fallen but some of these kids – their faces were too good to not capture.

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Looking for Balance

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Maria, Full of Grace

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Love Story

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Figure 8s and all that. Quite the array of moves,

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Flail Better.

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horseplay

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Why do we fall, Bruce?

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Grace like a feline

Andy Vs Novak: That Moment

Words and Photos by Siddharth Chander The Arthur Ashe Stadium located in Flushing Meadows in the Queens borough of New York can seat up to 22,547 people. It is easily the largest tennis venue in the world. When I visited the stadium on a perfect summer’s day this past autumn, there were about a quarter of that number in their seats as I arrived. Still I had no doubt that every last seat would be full. For in addition to that gargantuan number, two additional people would be at the stadium that evening. They were according to their ranking the second and third best male tennis players in the world, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Great Britain’s Andy Murray respectively. They were playing for the last Grand Slam title of 2o12, Andy playing for his first taste of a Slam and Novak the defending champion playing to keep that taste all to himself.

Riding the 7 train out to the stadium, the subway car was the biggest collection of tennis fans I had ever seen. What’s a tennis fan look like? Well, in everyday society, one may occasionally see someone wearing a hat bearing a regal RF on it, but on the way to the US Open you will see it in every colour under the sun including ones that would make Roger Federer himself cringe. Now, I can honestly say that Roger Federer was my favorite tennis player before he won a single Grand Slam so I feel like I am one of the stalwarts in the Roger camp. But when I got on that train, I knew I had underestimated the popularity not only of the Fed but of tennis in general. People flew in from all over the world for this thing. Trying to gauge what direction the crowd was leaning, I asked the man across from me (branded by the RF) who he wanted to win. I was pulling for Andy, not because I liked him or disliked Novak in any way. I simply felt Andy had paid enough dues to (I hate the word but) deserve a Slam. (Deserving something is a funny concept because it’s a completely subjective abstract thing. I once saw Gregg Poppovich of the Spurs say in a post-game interview seconds after his team got screwed by a referee’s botched call that his team “can’t start thinking about deserve. There is no deserve. There’s what you got and that’s it. You start thinking about deserve and you get soft.”  He said the two of those words with such disgust that I don’t think I’ve ever thought I’ve deserved a thing since. That Poppovich could be a Life Coach.)

The man wanted Novak to win. This led to quite a few people saying they wanted Novak. I was surprised but Rafa and Roger being my guys, all I really wanted was 5 sets. I said as much and there was unanimous agreement on that. Now all that was left was for these two young men to deliver the goods to those twenty-two thousand. Talking to the hardcore tennis fans on the way, the conversation kept coming back to Roger and I realized Federer is to them a savant, a genius, a once in a lifetime phenomenon. There is no criticism they accept. Roger is one of my favorite athletes but to criticize him in any way was sacrilegious even if I offered that he was the best. I liked hearing it. I enjoyed meeting people so passionate about tennis that they would argue a failing argument to the death. The truth, another abstract subjective notion?

Walking into Arthur Ashe is incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a game in most pro sports and nothing has been superior to the two matches I’ve seen at Ashe. In my opinion, tennis is simply the most intense from a viewing standpoint. You have two men standing alone. No teammates. No coaches. Nowhere to hide. Most sports offer moments when an athlete can get a break, whether it be when his teammate takes the heat off him or whether the ball is simply far from him. In tennis, and in Arthur Ashe, the players can’t escape for a moment. You see their every move from the first second they walk out onto the court. You see them warm up. You see them when they rest in between games. You see every inch of them on every single point because there is no other body that will ever obscure your view. They are all alone. John McEnroe compares it to Boxing, saying two men walk out on their own, take their respective sides and then attack each other until one emerges victorious. The size of the stadium completely lends itself to this Gladiator analogy because after 4 hours of watching Andy and Novak battle, it really felt like one of them would have to kill the other to walk out of there.

One aspect of a tennis match that is unique is the silence of the crowd while a point is in play. This increases the intensity by tenfold because you clearly hear the grunt of the player, the thwack of the ball off the racquet, the squeak of their sneakers on the court. The echo reverberates through the air when a player lets out a yelp of anguish after he has mishit a ball or been run ragged in the pursuit of winning one solitary point. All the adrenalin builds up in you silently during a particularly long point and then when it finally ends, you release the emotion via a clap or a shout and then it’s silence again. This process repeated intensifies the entire evening. A good crowd becomes one collective mass and an integral part of the match.

You hear everything. You see everything. You feel everything.

Which is why I wanted to attend a Final. From the time I was a child and began watching tennis, that moment of winning a Championship seemed magical. One would watch the world’s best transform in an instant from stoic squinty-eyed robots into puddles of emotions and bundles of nerves with an opponent’s final backhand hit just long or a forehand that found the net. That moment when you become a champion. And none more special than the first time. Maybe the seed was planted with that old Archie’s Gallery ad featuring a guy striking out with a girl – until he saw a poster of Bjorn Borg celebrating his Wimbledon title by falling to the grass with his eyes closed and his hands to the skies. The aspiring Romeo falls to his knees and wins Juliet forever. I’m telling you, that moment stays with people. I got chills when the umpire said it: Championship Point. I knew I had pulled for Andy. Was it subconsciously because I had a chance to be there for that moment? When he would break through, when twenty odd years of hitting balls would be everything him and his fans hoped it would be? I was only pulling for Andy because Roger was ousted earlier and Rafa was out with injury but in that moment, you wanted him to win it so badly. I just kept wondering how he would react. It was the 5th hour and 5th set of the match. It had seen everything. Momentum turns. Raucous tie breaks. A 55-shot rally. Wind gusts that blew the ball around like a candy wrapper. Cramps. Bathroom breaks. Physical therapists. The bright afternoon sun had given way to a gorgeous sunset which had given way to a clear night under the bright stadium lights and airplanes coming to and fro LaGuardia Airport.

In the 5th set, Andy managed to get his second (or third or sixth) wind just as Novak began to cramp and fade a bit. As Novak was treated  in his chair, Andy Murray who had already been labeled the best player to never win a Slam walked over behind his baseline and volleyed against the wall to stay loose. 4 hours and 47 minutes had passed. Everyone in the Stadium believed in that moment he was going to win his first Slam in a minute or five or another thirty. But he was going to get it. How would he celebrate? Was he thinking of that as he volleyed and waited for his hobbled opponent to return to his feet? I thought he had to be but he said later he wasn’t.

Novak saved the first championship point with a forehand winner. On the second, Novak brazenly returned Andy’s serve with a blazing forehand that was either going to be a sure winner. Or that moment for Andy Murray. And so it was. At the end of one of the longest Finals in Grand Slam history, the first time Champion dropped his racquet, held his hands over his mouth in disbelief, went into a squat for a second and that was that. It’s unbelievable. You work your whole lifetime for that moment and it passes before the ball even comes to a stop.