I’ve been promising to do a post featuring photography, so finally here it is. I’ve been a photography nut since childhood when given a simple point and click film camera. Eventually I saved enough for an SLR – it was a very basic Russian made camera and I added a few different lenses and shot on print film and on slide film. As I improved, so did my cameras and I upgraded to an Olympus OM10…as advertised by the photographer of the moment, David Bailey. Of course we’re now in the digital age so another upgrade was needed.
I’m a relative late comer to Instagram, but have posted over 80 photos there so far. I try to make them as diverse as possible – some in colour, some in black and white – travel, fashion, people and portraits, nature, transport, aircraft, architecture and more. Here are a few examples from my Instagram posts, which can be found at https://www.instagram.com/malcfrost/
Please call by and take a look. There are a lot more photos to see there. I mainly shoot photos using a couple of Nikon DSLR’s, but also occasionally fall back to my old trusty Fuji FinePix HS10
Already we’re almost 2 weeks into 2020 and I’ve been very tardy about writing my first post of the year. I guess I am still in holiday mode as far as my blog is concerned….something I need to remedy rather smartly. First off though may I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – albeit a belated one.
When ever I commit myself to a rigid reading list for the year ahead, I always fail. So I decided to tackle my reading list month by month instead.
This month I’ll be dipping into Shaun Bythell’s second book about owning a bookshop – Confessions of a Bookseller. Just like his first book Diary of a Bookseller, it’s written in the form of a daily diary and includes some of the funny, or sometimes frustrating, events that occur each day while running his shop. The good thing about a book like this is that you can pick it up for a few minutes and read a day or two’s happenings and then get back to whatever task needs to be done. It’s an easy, humorous read and gives an insight into the life of a somewhat sarcastic book shop owner – the ups and the downs. I’m already a good way through the book…..maybe three quarters through. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for several weeks but don’t want it to end.
My second book is one I bought myself for Christmas with the money left over on my Wardini Book Shop voucher I got for my birthday. By Monisha Rajesh, Around the World in 80 Trains is a book I am looking forward to getting started on. As regular readers of my blog will already know, I love to travel and my favourite way to travel is by train. So this 45,000 mile adventure by rail should be a good fit. Michael Palin (one of my favourite travel writers) writes on the cover of the book – “Never too fast, never too slow, Monisha Rajesh’s journey does what trains do best. Getting to the heart of things. Prepare for a very fine ride.” I can hardly wait to get started.
The next book is one that my sister-in-law leant to my daughter-in law, who then decided that there was no room in her suitcase to take it back to the States with her. A quick look at the blurb on the cover had me interested immediately and I am now about a third of the way through Chris Hammer’s Scrublands. The blurb reads…“In an isolated country town brought to its knees by drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself. A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.” It’s a wonderful yarn set in a very parched Australia and so many twists and turns are happening already. It’s going to be a great read.
Of course I am never content with having bookshelves full of book awaiting reading here at home, Oh no not I. We have several wonderful libraries where I live in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. In town (Hastings) is the main library and just up the road at Havelock North we have another, smaller but very well set up, library. A recent visit saw me pick up two books to bring home. The first on yet another of my passions, photography. By Boris Friedewald it is simply called Women Photographers – from Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman – and explores the lives, careers and works of the finest women photographers in the world. Eve Arnold, the first woman photographer to be admitted into the prestigious Magnum Agency once said “I didn’t want to be a woman photographer. That would limit me. I wanted to be a photographer who was a woman, with all the world open to my camera.” And as Gisele Freund said “It is the eye that takes the picture, not the camera.” And every picture the eye sees is directly linked to the person who made it.
The second of my library books is the memoir of Foreign Correspondent Zoe Daniel – Storyteller tells the story of how Daniel found herself thrust into the dangerous world of reporting news from some of the most inhospitable places in the world. She is one of the few women to combine the most demanding job – motherhood, with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Storyteller is a timely reminder of the bravery and audacity of the men and women who bring us the news – the journalists, the local ‘fixers’, the cameramen (and women) – but above all it pays tribute to ordinary people who find them selves eyewitness to the extraordinary. I meant to read just the first page to give me an idea as to whether I’d enjoy reading this one or not. Suddenly I am 28 pages in and find my mouth is dry as I’ve been reading with my mouth open, completely agog!
So that’s my reading for January. I hope you’re reading something that has you spellbound. Back soon with another post. As always many thanks for reading and any comments, likes, follows and shares are greatly appreciated.
As I may have mentioned once or twice on past posts on this blog, I enjoy reading travel books and one of my favourite authors (along with Bill Bryson) is Michael Palin. His travel books usually accompany a TV series of the same name as his books. Since 1989, starting with his first ever travel book and accompanying TV show, Around the World In 80 Days, he was connected, almost at the hip it would seem, to the BBC. Usually, his travel series have multiple episodes. This latest book however, is presented alongside a TV show in only 2 parts, which has already been shown on British TV Chanel Five / ITV productions.
The last time Palin was anywhere near North Korea was back in 1997 for yet another travel book and show Full Circle, but he only got a glimpse of North Korea from the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. This time he gets a tour of the demilitarized zone from the other side and a frank discussion with the officer in charge. North Korea or we should call it the DPRK – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – lays out the welcome mat and Palin, now in his 75th year, gets to see one of the most secret and mysterious countries on the planet.
Of course he doesn’t get free reign to go where he wants. He has two official guides who go everywhere with him plus other “ministry officials” who make sure that his guides don’t allow Palin to wander too far off the official track.
He gets to see pristine cities where the streets are almost empty of traffic, giant statues of past “Great Leaders”, and symbols and buildings commemorating the “Great Leaders”. He also visits a state of the art airport – with no planes and no flights, a street of tower blocks built within a year, that seem to house very few people and a massive, symbolic hotel with no guests what so ever. The DPRK seems to be as a country, much like a show home is to a yet to be built housing estate. Everything is there, it appears, as a front, but there is little substance and in some cases no actual function for the building/hotel/airport. As my grandmother used to say – “All fur coat and no knickers”. This was evident in the state of the roads. Within the capital city, the streets were first class, pristine if somewhat devoid of traffic. Once outside city limits though the highways were cracked and uneven – so that every journey felt like a ride inside a tumble dryer.
The first three days – which according to Palin felt like three weeks as it was such hard work to be able to achieve what they wanted and every step had to be negotiated – Palin, his director and film crew are under strict observation and are quickly shut down and moved to another location if anything occurs that may show the DPRK in a bad light. The people he gets to meet are, to begin with, all prearranged, preapproved and very much pro the ruling regime. After a while though, once Palin and company have proved themselves as willing to follow their minders guidelines, they are given a little more rope and get to interact with the general public – some of them rather the worse for drink – at a party in a park and also to enjoy the scenery of the hills and valleys on a hike in the countryside alone when their minders, not dressed suitably for the hike, leave them to it.
At one point they visit a farm – where the workers are in military uniform – and Palin “helps” a female farm worker with some weeding. The shoot couldn’t begin however until a tractor had been moved into the background – to prove that farms are not all manual labour in North Korea and that machinery is available (even if the tractor in question was around fifty years old). When Palin asked the female farm worker how he faired as a farmhand, she quite straight forwardly told him that he was “unnecessary”.
Even with the loosening of some of the rules, Palin only had to hint at a question critical of the regime or of the history of North Korea and he was pulled up short and sharp. He told one of his guides that in the UK “we are able to be quite rude about our political leaders”. But, not wanting to get drawn in to this sort of discussion she countered with “That’s what makes us so different. Our leaders are very great. They are not individuals, but represent the masses, so we cannot criticise ourselves, can we?” One wonders at what he and his guides discussed off camera that didn’t get put into the book – for the safety of the guides themselves.
There are a few extra pages at the end of the book, written by director Neil Fergusson, which covers his own earlier visit to North Korea to meet with officials and to discuss their filming schedule, rules and regulations. He had sent the North Koreans a wish list of places and people he would like to film, but on his arrival the “official schedule” looked absolutely nothing like what he’s asked for. Several days of negotiations followed before a schedule that was acceptable to both sides was reached. Despite promises and signed contracts it wasn’t until Palin and the film crew actually stepped on to North Korean soil that they realised that the shooting or the North Korea Journal was good to go.
In summarising the 15 day whirlwind trip, Palin says that although there are certainly some differences between how North Korea and for example Britain function as far as regulations and freedoms are concerned, there were far more similarities than he expected.
North Korea feels that it can’t let its guard down even slightly due to the ever present American military threat – no wonder it has the 4th largest army in the world. Almost a quarter of the entire North Korean population are members of the armed forces. These military personnel however also man the farms, the factories and the building sites, so you don’t see them all wandering around the towns and cities carrying weapons.
To directly quote a section of the final paragraph of the book, Palin says “…the trip has been an eye-opener, a chance to look behind the headlines and see this secretive country as few other westerners ever will. As Pyongyang recedes into the distance, we turn and exchange smiles. Of relief, but also of regret. One thing we all agreed on at our farewell meal last night is that none of us would mind coming back.”
All of the travel books by Michael Palin are of good quality and this one is no exception, except for being of smaller format than usual, as you can see from the photo below. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, witty and informative – filling in some of the unknowns about North Korea without being in any way controversial or overly critical. Palin is too nice a guy to stir things up just for viewing figures, or book sales. He was Knighted earlier this year (2019) for services to travel, culture and geography following his career as a writer and presenter of documentaries that have taken him all over the world. I do fear, having reached the age of 75, that this could be Palin’s last travel adventure. I hope not, but time will tell.
As usual thank you for reading this blog…comments, questions, likes and follows are all very much appreciated.
I love books and I love to travel, so it’s no surprise that I have, over the years, acquired a good number of travel books.
My favourite way to travel is by train. I only wish that I’d been able to travel more by steam train than by the modern electric or diesel trains. There’s so much more adventure or even romance on steam trains. As a passenger travelling by rail I can relax, let someone else take care of the driving, kick back and either watch the scenery flash past the window, chat to fellow travellers, or lose myself in a good book. I can take a walk if I get bored…or feel the need to exercise…or I can make use of the onboard buffet or bar. For me, the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination…sometimes, more so.
I have several books specifically about rail travel, a few of which are in the photo below, and will tell you a little about each of these 5 books pictured.
So as not to bore you all too much I’ll try to keep my summary of each book as brief as possible…just a few sentences.
Railway Stations – Charles Sheppard is a 1996 publication and looks at railway stations that are “Masterpieces of Architecture”. Some of the standout stations being New York’s Grand Central Station, Saint Louis’s Union Station, and Paris’s Gare du Nord is worthy of inclusion for its facade alone. All of which I am happy to say I have visited over my years of train travel. Moscow’s subway is also included, its passageways more ornate than many luxury hotel lobbies, and deserving of the title ‘Masterpiece’.
Amazing Train Journeys – a lonely planet publication (October 2018). Divided into neat sections – Africa, The Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. Personally I’d probably choose some of the small privately run railways in the UK that have preserved and operate steam trains – such as the short 2 hour trip from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland – this is the line that the Hogwarts Express chugs along in the Harry Potter movies.
Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railway Journeys – (as seen on the UK’s Chanel 5) published in 2016. The text in this book is by Chris Tarrant, accompanying the many colour photos. The problem is that the majority of the photos feature Tarrant’s face mugging for the camera. There are a few pictures simply showing scenery or trains from a distance, but anything close up has the man himself blocking the view. I realise it’s HIS TV show and HIS name on the book….but really, how many photos of Chris smiling do we need to see? There are some helpful maps showing the routes of the 14 Extreme Rail Journeys covered. The text is informative and easy reading, mixed in with a lot of moaning by Tarrant about trains not running on time, being overcrowded and uncomfortable in the third world countries he visited – however he was overjoyed and waxing lyrical about the Japanese Bullet train. The efficiency, comfort and the fact that the staff bow to customers scored points with him. Tarrant, it seems, prefers his “Extreme Journeys” to be accompanied by a large dollop of comfort and luxury.
Great Railway Journeys published by the BBC in 1994 accompanying the TV series of the same name, is in my opinion a far more interesting and better presented book than the one by Chris Tarrant. What makes it so is firstly, that Tarrant is not involved at all, so we can enjoy the beautiful photographs in peace, and secondly that each of the 6 Great Railway Journeys covered is narrated by a different celebrity travellers, who barely make one complaint among them. Mark Tulley takes us through Pakistan from Karachi to the Khyber Pass. Lisa St Aubin de Teran travels in South America, from Santos in Brazil to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Clive Anderson takes us from Hong Kong, via Shanghai through to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia. Natalia Makarova is on the Bolshoi Express from St Petersburg in Russia via the various ‘Stans to finish in Tashkent. Seasoned traveller and former “Python”, Michael Palin has a shorter trip from Derry in Northern Ireland to Kerry in the Irish Republic, and finally it’s a South African rail trip for Rian Malan starting in Capetown and ending eventually in Bophuthatswana.
More Great Railway Journeys again published by the BBC, in 1996, is more of the same….This time the celebs are Benedict Allen, Chris Bonington, Henry Louis Gate Jr., Buck Henry, poet – Ben Okri, comedians – Alexei Sayle and Victoria Wood. They journey through the middle east, Africa, the UK, Canada, Argentina and the final journey is from London to Arkadia in Greece. As in it’s predecessor, great photos and informative and witty text make this book another winner. Each journey, each story, has its own unique character, written especially for people who love slow travel….who savour the experience of the journey….rather than rushing as fast as possible to the destination. The only negative thing that I could mention about this follow up book is that there were no maps showing the routes taken. But all in all another marvelous BBC publication.
Do you enjoy the adventure of travelling via rail? What’s your favourite route? Please let me know in the comments section.
“Vernazza village – Cinque Terre’s crown Pastel houses cling to cliff tops Steep streets take us down Into the winding narrows, of Vernazza’s heart And from this place of beauty You will never want to part.“
Vernazza is a sight to behold. It’s a photographer’s dream and also a photographer’s nightmare. It’s such a lovely place, scenic, colourful – that it’s almost a sin if, as a photographer, you take a bad picture of it. Not even a bad picture….just a picture that doesn’t reflect the full beauty of the place. It’s so difficult to capture…my photos don’t do it justice (in reality the colours are so bright they “ping”)…you must go and visit yourself.
Sure it’s a little shabby in places. Some of the buildings have paint peeling from their facades but it’s a kind of shabby beauty….beauty with age maybe. I loved it here. I spent so long wandering the streets, in and out of alleys and buildings, that I missed out on the final 2 of the Cinque Terre’s villages. But it was worth it.
From the train station you can either wander straight down to the little harbour – the heart and soul of Vernazza – from which everything else radiates, OR do as we did and climb upwards instead. Up the steep stone stairways and narrow paths that bring you out on the hilltop above the village, with spectacular views over the church steeple and down to the harbour of this gorgeous little fishing village. It was exhausting but well worth the climb to the top. Only after drinking in the beauty of the place from this vantage point did we venture down into Vernazza proper.
When in a catholic country like Italy you can’t help but notice the churches and religious icons – especially in these small villages – dotted here and there in quiet corners. A chance to pass on your thanks to the powers that be…..if that’s what your beliefs are….or just enjoy the moments solitude away from the tourist throngs.
Of all 5 villages of Cinque Terre, Vernazza is the only one with a natural port. It has no car traffic either which, if you can get there early and beat the other eager tourists, adds a special tranquility to the place.
Riomaggiore is the first of the villages you’ll meet if you approach Cinque Terre from La Spezia. It isn’t, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the villages but is still very pretty and very much worth visiting.
From the railway station you can either, follow the coastal path around a headland to get to the village, or take a short cut through a pedestrian tunnel that takes you directly into the heart of the village. Although the coastal path is picturesque and rugged, on a hot day like it was when we visited, the cool of the tunnel is the preferred route.
Since my last post – a black and white photographic journey through Paris – was so well supported I thought I’d try you all with some colour photos of the villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre. The villages are such a riot of colour that it would not do justice to their beauty if I presented photos in black and white.
The villages of Cinque Terre cling to the rocky cliff face along the north west coast of Italy. The can be accessed either by rail – from the nearby city of La Spezia – just 10 minutes by train to the south, or by following the pathway cut into the cliff face. The railway and the pathway link all five villages that make up the Cinque Terre. I thought that I’d be able to get some spectacular photos from the train as we made our way along the rugged coastline…..BUT – there’s always a BUT – because of the physical limitations of the geography here, the railway cuts through many, many tunnels so glimpses of the ocean are few and far between. However, the villages, as we discovered on departing the train, more than made up for the disappointment of the journey.
The buildings are close together due to the physical limits of the geography of the area and are painted in beautiful pastel colours. We spent a day exploring just 3 of the 5 villages. Here is a look in pictures at the second smallest of the five villages – Manarola.
I’ll soon be heading off to San Francisco to catch up with my eldest son and his wife….and aim to visit as many of the amazing independent bookstores there as I can. Immediately Green Apple Books, City Lights, Alley Cat Books and Dog Eared Books spring to mind, but there are dozens more scattered around this awesome city. Since my blog is primarily about books, writers, and bookstores, this will form the “bones” of my trip, but I’ll also flesh it out with lots of other bits and pieces and pursue my other passions of photography and travel…..not to mention the cafes and boutique breweries, bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, there will be visits to photography galleries and art galleries plus there is a lot of art in public spaces outdoors such as the hundreds of murals in the Mission district. Then again, San Francisco also has some wonderful parks and open spaces to explore too, so after exhausting ourselves in the parks on this side of the bridge, we’ll probably head over the Golden Gate Bridge and see the mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods and since we’re almost there already… there are the vineyards of Sonora to check out.
We’ll also be spending a few days on the Monterey peninsula and a long weekend in Portland, Oregon – where I’ll spend some of my time in Powell’s bookstore – the biggest independent bookstore in the USA.
If anyone has any other tips on “must see” things in San Francisco, OR if you have any requests for things you’d like me to check out and blog about while in SF, please let me know in the comments below. I won’t be going to visit Alcatraz as I have already been there twice – once a few years ago and once back in 1986….but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Other than my wife and family I have three main passions. They are writing, photography and travel. So I thought I’d hit you with my favourite quotes to do with writing, photography and travel
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” –Franz Kafka
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” –Robert Frost
“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” –William Faulkner
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt
“If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.” — Eve Arnold
“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” — Steve McCurry
Anatole France – “Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”
St Augustine – “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Mark Twain – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”