A Night On Deck

This story was told to the best of my ability at the Moth in Philadelphia (meaning it came out very differently than planned).

After college, with an acute fear of cubicles and the hope of traveling the world, I took a job as a small ship cruise director.  I knew that if I stuck with it I would see Alaska, Central America, the Caribbean and beyond.  I didn’t realize that the journey would be with boat loads of senior citizens.  Or that they would be what I found most interesting.

One of my favorites was Mr. Shepherd, an 85-year-old, old salt with Just-For-Men dyed jet-black hair, a puffed out chest and a Top Gun bravado to match. Mr. Shepherd boarded the ship in Baja California, Mexico, in January and on the third night of the cruise asked, “What would you think if I slept on deck tonight?”

I thought he must have had a fight with his wife.  Passengers paid thousands for the cabins. You’d think he’d want to use it. And Baja in January gets cold at night.  Sleeping outside is best left to the coyotes.

“I can bring a bunch of blankets,” he said, “and, well, I know the bathroom up there is out of service, so I can just pee over the side if I have to.”

I was still wondering why he wanted to sleep on deck when that second thing hit me.

“Wait, you’re going to what?”

“Pee over the side? If I have to, yes. No one will be awake and I really want to stay out there the whole time. It’s important.”

The mental image racked my mind as Mr. Shepherd gazed out at the sea, the very water he planned to contaminate.

I promised him that I’d call the engineer and that we’d work on the bathroom if he “just sit tight for a bit.”  I left and, as the other pressures of the day mounted, soon forgot about Mr. Shepherd.

Later, I found him waiting for me at the bar, a glass of cranberry juice in his hand.

“Ok,” he said. “I’ll bring a bucket.”

“What do you need a bucket for?” I asked.

“To pee in, Marc! To pee in! The bathroom is still broken,” he said, “and I don’t want to spend a minute inside!”

Horrified, and believing this man would do anything to stay out all night, I called the engineer.  An hour later the toilet flushed like new.

That night, wrapped in two fleece blankets and a wool knit cap, Mr. Shepherd slept in a lounge chair on deck, beneath the most beautiful star-filled sky you can imagine.  Every star, every constellation on full display.  Deckhands on duty said he was awake half the night with his hands behind his head, looking up.

The next morning I found him standing at the railing as the sun rose over the copper mountains in the distance. Maybe it was the orange glow of the sun, the ear to ear grin, or that jet black hair, but in that moment he looked about fifty years younger.

“What an incredible night!” he said. “I’d have paid twice as much for this trip if I knew I could have slept on deck.  It was fantastic! Really, you don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

I’ll admit, I was happy that he was happy, but still thought he was strange.  I wondered why; why was this so important to him?

Then he told me a story.

It was early in 1945; Mr. Shepherd was twenty four years old and in the Navy and he was looking at a star-filled sky from the deck of a US warship, one of 70 bound for the Philippines.

“Those ocean skies at night were like nothing I had ever seen,” he said. “Just filled with stars; loaded. But once we hit the beach, it all ended. You couldn’t look anywhere but right in front of you. We were cramped in fox holes, being shaken awake by mortars. There were wounded men, dead, it was hell. Now…now I just try to remember everything else around that time. I remember being on deck. And those stars. I swear, last night was no different. Thank you!”

A bit teary eyed, I thanked him for the story and walked him inside.

Mr. Shepherd left that weekend, and from then on I made a habit of going on deck at night. I’d look up at the stars. I’d think about him and the other passengers, ones I once thought so strange (and they might have been), only to revere them once I learned their full story.  My mind wandered, to the home I left behind, to this bizarre life at sea, and whatever the future held.  Then, when all felt still, when I felt the stress of the day fall off my shoulders, when my breathing matched the ebb and flow of the sea, I’d lay down.  And I’d go to sleep.

Inside.

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The Call of Haida Gwaii

I have read two books more than once—Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and a double feature of The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Both take me to incredible places.  Both make me dream.  For this, my sixth trip to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago some 30 miles west of British Columbia, I packed the Jack London.  It seemed fitting for the long flights across Canada.

What started four years ago as no more than map dots and curiosity has turned into a personal and professional journey.  It’s taken me into the woods where black bears roam, inside ceremonial long houses, in front of tour groups, onto sprawling beaches, and into the home of a Haida chief and his family, with whom I’ve shared stories, laughs, and even tears.  Because of this journey, with a little luck and lots of help, passengers aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird and Sea Lion can visit these islands.  In turn, the people of Haida Gwaii get to meet curious travelers capable of visiting without taking, of transiting without tarnishing their sacred view.  Ensuring that it all works to plan keeps me up at night.

But for now it’s time to read.  As I do, I am surprised to find passages new to me, images previously unseen, an eloquence that escaped me, the wheeler dog, Dave, and the sadness I feel when he has to be shot. (“Something was wrong inside, but they could locate no broken bones.”)  I look out the window, distracting myself from the dogs, from the old fortune seekers.

Below, a blanket of low lying clouds covers the landscape.  Broken only by the tallest mountain peaks, they ripple in the distance, range after range, shades of blue growing increasingly lighter.  Up here, everything is sun kissed and beautiful. The man in front of me takes pictures out the window.  But my thoughts are anchored below, beneath the clouds and to the waters of the Inside Passage, to the two ships currently seeking shelter from 40-knot winds and eight foot seas.  They are scheduled to arrive to Haida Gwaii in two days with a few stops in between.  They’ve already emailed for advice on alternate plans.

I am there and I am here, all at the same time, reading, watching, wondering.

By the time Buck works his way from stolen pampered dog to sled team member to leader of the pack I am reading faster.  My heart picks up pace with the dogs. “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life,” it reads.

…and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back in to the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that is was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultant under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.

Most days I do not feel this stir from my work.  I want to feel it.  I dream of it.  At times I feel the light breeze of it.  Most days though I sit at my desk and type away at my computer.  Excel sheets fill the screen, meetings overlap, headaches grow like the weeds in my garden.   I think about the wild places this work has taken me—Alaska, Central America, Newfoundland—and I am grateful.  Still, I torment over details, marketing, sales.  I am tethered to my cell phone.

Returning to Haida Gwaii forces me to feel the surge of life, the tidal wave of being.  All that we have planned could break loose at any moment.  The waves could rise, a passenger could fall ill, a simple yet important email could have gone unnoticed.  Or the plan could simply turn out to be a bad one.  It terrifies me.

At the same time, there is no better way to be reminded that the work matters.  The work is real.  The work can change people.  I’ll be selfish and say that Haida Gwaii has changed me most of all.  The rewards have been greater, more surprising, and longer lasting than any others in my career.  I have to return here to feel whole.

And would you look at that? Out the window the clouds are breaking.  The tiny islands of Haida Gwaii dot the steely gray waters below. Each holds within them all the wild nature one needs, all the tonic.  It’s raining but this is a temperate rain forest.  A little rain is OK.  The weather should clear enough for safe passage.

I turn back to the book.  We’ll be landing shortly.

“He did not know why he did these various things. He was impelled to do them, and did not reason about them at all.”

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Here are my favorite shots chronicling 2014 in Philadelphia. It was beyond refreshing to move into the city I grew up so close to but never really got to know like a local. And I took to exploring it quickly.

Philadelphia Schuylkill River 30th Street Station

Traffic moves even though the Schuylkill was frozen still for much of the winter.

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Logan Square covered in snow.

I spend hours staring out the window of our 13th story apartment.  The sunsets, the city views–coming from a dark, ground floor shoe box in Brooklyn, this was a luxury.

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The Philadelphia skyline in a glass, looking west.

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Lightening strikes the city, as seen from my window.

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Ben Franklin Bridge glows from center city.

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Crab man always has a good view. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Broad Street, looking north.

philadelphia art museum, photos philadelphia, philly art museum photos, black and white photography, visit philly,

Horse fountain west of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia Market Street Dusk

The blue hour view of Market Street, Philadelphia.

di bruno bros philadelphia, di bruno store, philadelphia, 9th street market, italian market, food,

I mean, come on, best place for cheese in the city. 9th Street, Italian Market.

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Love Park is the place to be around the holidays.

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Taking in the evening glow somewhere near Rittenhouse.

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Evening traffic makes the turn around Rittenhouse Square.

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A Septa train enters the tunnel between 30th Street Station and Suburban Station.

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Reflections of the newly completed Dilworth Park at City Hall.

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The hippest parking lot in the city, Ben Franklin Parkway and the Art Museum.

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Miracle on 13th Street, Passyunk Square, South Philly

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Taking in the view of Passyunk Square. (That’s me.)

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11th Street heading north. Signs of the old city.

Starting 2015 off with a bang, and some snow:

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  1. Go through all of the photos you took this year.
  2. Print your favorite 10 shots.  Don’t keep your photos trapped on your phone.  Surround yourself by them.  Try them in a few different sizes, different frames, have them printed on canvas or metal. Or, if you’re feeling like getting your hands into something, try doing an inkjet transfer on wood.
  3. Give your photos to the people in them.
  4. Go out and shoot for 2015!  And listen to Kid President : Less Selfies, More Other-Peoplies .

Here are my top 10 from the year that was.

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A skater shows off as couples take photos in LOVE Park, Philadelphia.

 

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A foggy morning in Falmouth, Maine.

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My wife strolling the rocky shores of Maine.

 

Early morning on a dock in Maine.

Early morning on a dock in Maine.

 

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The view from Toronto International Airport.

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Rainy morning in Petersburg, Alaska

 

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An otherworldly walk at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center, Juneau, Alaska.

 

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Sunrise down the shore. Avalon, New Jersey

The blue hour, Lake Damariscotta, Maine.

The blue hour, Lake Damariscotta, Maine.

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Downtown Manhattan as seen from the rooftop of Lindblad Expeditions’ office in the West Village.

Bonus shot from Bora Bora.

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Bora Bora, the place that sparked my entry into the travel industry.

 

 

For such a vibrant city, I have to admit, I mostly like shooting Philly in black and white.  Mostly.  I’m sure I’ll have another post soon about capturing the city’s true colors.  But for now, here are a few examples of why black and white works so well in Philly. (It will also give away my fixation with a certain building and statue.)

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Black and white can make Philly’s gritty spots stand out.  It amplifies timeless (or centuries-old) subjects.

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Sometimes there really is black, white, and barely anything in between.

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Other views are more muted, but strong on pattern.

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Sometimes the city feels crisp and cosmopolitan.  Other times moody and wild.

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And the variety of architecture so compacted in Center City allows for all gradations of black and white in one frame.

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Of course, no matter how much you enjoy black and white, sometimes a splash of color doesn’t hurt.

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Another take. Double strike!

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See. Told you.

Shot at ISO 200, 30 second exposures, F10. It took 53 shots and two hours to get these four.  Glad it was a long lightning storm!  And it is why I love photography.  It gave me a reason to sit and look out my window and appreciate the world.  I had the Muscle Shoals documentary playing in the background and an insane display of raw nature going on outside.  A great way to spend an evening.

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The sounds of Sinatra filled the streets. Red, white and green flags were everywhere.  And yes, there was food.  Lots of it.  The four food groups in fact (cheese, salami, roast pork and other cheese), piled high on folding tables and carts, begging to be tasted.  But even for me, a proud Italophile with an appetite, this feast of the senses was not the most interesting part of Philadelphia’s Italian Market Festival.

Coinciding with the festival, in which signs like “Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli” or “Keep Calm and Eat Macaroni” tend to garner the most attention, the Procession of Saints, a Roman Catholic tradition, features local parishioners carrying nearly 20 statues from Washington Avenue to St. Paul Parish on Christian Street via the market.  The event brings to mind the scene from The Godfather: Part II (of course it does) when a young Vito Corleone (DeNiro) is on his way to pay Don Fenucci a visit.   Sinatra was momentarily drowned out  by traditional Italian songs courtesy of the Verdi Band of Norristown, which has been performing in the area since 1920.  And people tucked small donations in the sashes of the saints as they passed through the crowded street.   I left the gun and the cannoli behind to get a few shots of the procession.

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italian market festival, procession of the saints, italian market philadelphia, visit philly, philadelphia food, food scene philly, philadelphia churches, philadelphia religion, traditions, italian food philadelphia

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italian market festival, procession of the saints, italian market philadelphia, visit philly, philadelphia food, food scene philly, philadelphia churches, philadelphia religion, traditions, italian food philadelphia

italian market festival, procession of the saints, italian market philadelphia, visit philly, philadelphia food, food scene philly, philadelphia churches, philadelphia religion, traditions, italian food philadelphia

There was even a visit from a few blessed mothers before the culmination of the procession at St. Paul Parish on Christian Street.

italian market festival, procession of the saints, italian market philadelphia, visit philly, philadelphia food, food scene philly, philadelphia churches, philadelphia religion, traditions, italian food philadelphia

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And for those not into the procession there was of course another way to enjoy the day…

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For more information on the Italian Market Festival, visit:

http://www.italianmarketfestival.com/

OR

http://italianmarketphilly.org/festival/

 

My project documenting just an initial piece of Philadelphia’s Italian Market culminated with the following article, published on March 16th in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  So thankful to them for running with it.

Their Home in the Immigrant Village

by Marc Cappelletti

A light snow is falling on the green awnings of Philadelphia’s Ninth Street  Market. It’s a fleeting snow, melting almost as soon as it lands. Still, I  marvel. It brings to mind the snow that fell in my grandfather’s stories of his  emigration from Italy to America, where he landed 85 years ago.

His journey began in the back of an ox-cart. It took nine days at sea to  reach New York City and then Philadelphia, where he, his mother, and two  brothers were reunited with his father. I walked to the market from Center City…

Read more at Philly.com — Their Home in the Immigrant Village.

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logan square, philadelphia, statues, city, city life, visit philly, pennsylvania, philly photos,

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Facing south on 9th Street, the market is the largest and oldest working open air market in the United States.

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“They worked at a store across the street and the guy made them work New Years Day,” says Samantha as she cuts a piece of the finest pecorino I’ve ever had, drizzles it with a syrupy, reduced balsamic vinegar and hands it over.

“The brothers said, “Next year we’re not working on New Years,” and so Di Bruno Bros was born.”  (The rest of the story can be found on Di Bruno’s website).  Since its founding in 1939 Di Bruno has become THE name in Philadelphia Italian specialty stores.  This was ten years after my grandfather arrived in Philadelphia but no doubt the store on 9th Street maintains that old school feel that I’m searching for.

“We love for people to come in and be curious,” Samantha says, asking us for the fifth time if there is anything else we want to taste.  Though the family business has expanded with larger shops on 17th and Chestnut and recently at the Comcast Center, they encourage a more personal kind of shopping experience.

“It’s about what you like,” she says, “and most of the time we import items that you would never even know you liked.  It takes time.  Trial and error.”  She pauses, then reaches into the case.  “Here, check this one out.”

She sets a half wheel of cheese with yellowed, funky skin on the counter and explains that it is made in a donut shape with a hole in the middle so that it cooks more evenly.  We inspect the cheese closely, taking in all of its nuances as if it is an unreleased iPhone on display.  It is stinky, a bit gritty on the edges but smooth in the middle, deliciously creamy, and as I search for the words to describe the flavor (which never come) I realize I have never shopped this way before.  I feel relaxed, like I am in someone’s home.  I’m at the kitchen table and they are pulling things out of the fridge and taking them off the stove for me to try, watching eagerly to see which ones I like.  I now understand why Di Bruno’s has been successful for so long.

For the visitor to Philadelphia or a local in search of high quality Italian specialty items, you can’t go wrong with Di Bruno Bros.  You might not recognize all of the items they carry, but go with an open mind.  Just don’t go on New Year’s Day.

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Thanks to Philadelphia Urban Adventures for the Italian Market tour.

85 years ago today my grandfather Giovanni (far left) arrived in America.  He sailed from Naples, Italy nine days earlier with his mother and two brothers to join his father, already a naturalized citizen, in south Philadelphia.  Giovanni was six years old (although the passenger manifest says five), and with only a vague but very common explanation of why the family left his small Italian town, now found himself in a vibrant, culturally diverse city on the verge of the Great Depression.  But he and his family adapted; Giovanni soon became John, and the rest of his story mirrors that of many Italian-Americans who built a life in this country.

Passenger Manifest

This week I will be sharing photos and anecdotes from a few of the phenomenal Italian-owned places in Philadelphia that were around then—some, like him, that were just starting out.  Follow along on Twitter/Instagram and here, of course.  I hope you enjoy the tour.

~ Marc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marcexplores

Instagram: http://instagram.com/marcexplores

P.S. If you want to read about the ship that they came over on, the Conte Biancamano, check out this piece by Maritime Matters writer Peter Knego.  The ship was actually taken apart and large sections has been preserved in a museum in Milan.  http://maritimematters.com/2010/04/conte-biancamano-decked/

The Ultimate Irony?

Don’t mean to be morbid here, but how have people taken Ben Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned” and made it a “thing” to toss pennies on his grave site?  Those are pennies literally wasted ON the man who told you to save them.

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Yes, the old landscape in a glass trick.  Only with my technique, you drink all of the wine first, then fill the glass with water.  The shot comes out clearer and you’ll be happier with it, whether it’s a good shot or not.

Like the shots? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter: @marcexplores

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Polar Bear Penguin Rittenhouse Square Philadelphia Philly

If you’re out to shoot, or just see Philadelphia’s City Hall you should wait until it gets a little dark out and set up shop on Broad Street.  What you have is a nicely lit street with changing colors, cars going by on either side, and of course the focal point of City Hall to the north.  (Do I have to say, be careful and watch for traffic?)

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You’ll find this shot (or very, very similar) on a bunch of postcards and posters.  It’s a must take, but best to experiment with styles and angles to make it your own.  Or, just wait for something interesting to walk in front of the lens…

philadelphia, city hall, center city, buildings, architecture, streets, urban,

Any way you look at it, this view from Broad Street facing north to City Hall is just another reason to bring your family, friends, and especially your camera to Philadelphia.  Have fun exploring.

Not a bad night.

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Philly At Dusk

Philadelphia Market Street Dusk

Philadelphia Market Street Dusk

The view to Center City, Philadelphia from Market Street, near 30th Street Station.

Philadelphia Schuylkill River Frozen

Philadelphia Schuylkill River Frozen

It’s not often that Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River looks like this.  Two five-degree days will do that, leaving most Philadelphians frozen as well.  Alas, it will be over 50 degrees today and the river, the city and its people have thawed out.  We can only look back on the beautiful, icy views, and recall how we never want to feel that cold again.

Philadelphia Schuykill River Frozen 30th Street Station

Philadelphia Schuylkill River Frozen

Philadelphia Schuykill River 30th Street Station

For more info on the Schuylkill River Trail, visit http://www.schuylkillrivertrail.com/index.php?/trail/overview/philadelphia/

Best Travel Photos of 2013

Aspen Winter Snow Horse

I was fortunate to have many incredible experiences in 2013.  Some through my work with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, and some personal.  Not all of the trips started out with an airport that looked like this (JFK at sunrise), but it’s how I like to remember them.

JFK Airport Sunrise

First there was Baja California, where I saw a beautiful dance…

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I lived in a cave in Brooklyn.  Not a rock studded shelter, per se, but a small, dark box that a family of bears could have comfortably hunkered down in for the winter.  Come spring, they’d burst out of there ready to explore the world.  That’s how I feel right now.  And with the view from my new apartment on the 13th floor of a building on 16th and Locust, I don’t have to go far to see a lot.

This is Locust Street facing west.  St. Mark’s Church is there on the northern half and the Curtis Institute of Music on the southern half.  It leads to Rittenhouse Square two blocks away and Steven Starr’s ode to the French brasserie, Parc.

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To the north is a direct view to One and Two Liberty Place, perhaps Philadelphia’s most iconic skyscrapers. At 61 and 58 stories, they broke the original (eh, hem) gentleman’s agreement that no building in the city be taller than the William Penn Statue on top of City Hall.  Alas, this was the 80’s, and construction moved forward.

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A close up.

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Facing south, we have 16th Street, South Philly, the lovely Rt. 95 and airplanes heading in and out of Philadelphia airport.  You have a little taste of the apartments on Spruce Street but they are outshined the dramatic sunsets.

That’s the view so far. More scenes to come…

Call it the result of climate change, call it what you will; a polar bear and penguin were recently seen on the last bit of snow in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.

Polar Bear Penguin Rittenhouse Square Philadelphia

Eyewitnesses say that the polar bear and penguin stayed in the park until late in the evening, then went to the Field House on Filbert Street where they watched the Philadelphia Eagles destroy the Chicago Bears, 54-11.

Rittenhouse Square, philadelphia at night, philly, city of brotherly love, philly parks

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Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square is ripe for classic holiday photos.  The tree is up, the lights are hung, and it’s 65 degrees three days before Christmas.  Maybe not entirely classic.  Snow-covered would have been nice.  Although for the fair-weather photographer, it’s not so bad.

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After having been away from Philadelphia for over ten years, moving back last week and living just two blocks from this beautiful park is a real treat.

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It’s also worth taking time to appreciate the park’s sculptures, like “The Duck Lady” and Lion Crushing Serpent.

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In response to today’s awesome #FriFotos Twitter theme of #chill, here are some of the chilliest photos from my travels in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, and right here in NYC. Stay warm!

Traveler Moments

“…when you realize that your reason for taking the journey and the reason for the journey are not the same.”

From the blackness of night, with no depth to anything, the first rays of morning light over Mexico’s Copper Canyon are a revelation.   They play with the rocks, painting them bluish pink and orange and golden yellow, a moving canvass without borders. 

If the Copper Canyon were in the United States it would be featured in every Outside Magazine ever published.  Wider, deeper and longer than the famed Grand Canyon, its features would garner pages of Trip Advisor reviews and tweets and Facebook Pages.  How many people “Like” Copper Canyon?  Of course if it were in the US, it wouldn’t be as special, as hidden, and as personally rewarding to explore. 

The air was chilly (this was winter at 7,000 feet above sea level) and the morning fog filled the canyon like sheets of cotton.  From my balcony overlooking the canyon I could see a Tarahumara home, a plywood shack.  There were a few car parts strewn around, but no car.  Two small children walked out and gathered up sacks of brightly colored cloth filled with the woven baskets and bowls made by their mother or grandmother.  Soon they would be at the hotel lobby to sell their wares.  This is every day for them. 

Dogs barked for breakfast.  A rooster crowed. 

Two rooms away, a door slid open.  A gray haired tourist stepped out onto the balcony and looked down at the Tarahumara home and the expanse of the canyon. 

“Incredible,” he said.  “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life.” 

He took a few breaths, deep and more befitting a youthful yoga student, and his arms spread to embrace the view.  After a few more breaths he returned to his room, leaving the door open to allow the cool breeze to fill the space.  I wondered how it came to be that at twenty two years old (and then again at 32) I had been fortunate enough to see something that had taken this man seventy.  Fog continued to flow through the canyon.

Soon I went for a hike and, had John Muir been there he would have agreed that, the walk along the canyon rim was more like a journey within. Sunrise in Copper Canyon.

The First Sign of Fall

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It was like watching the flickering flame of a camp fire.  Every second brought something new, interesting and unexpected.  It drew me in, and entertained me in the simplest way.  Time passed unchecked.

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imagesCA8Q84POThe ever-changing art show took place beside a dock in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii, British Columbia–an industrial ferry dock in fact.  The reds and blacks are from a painted wooden railing that ran the length of the dock.  It is a strangely appropriate palate, as Haida artwork is dominated by black and red and is “traditional” form line design.  It is created to tell the story of the land, the animals, mythic creatures, and man’s relationship to all of it.  No right angles.  Shapes inside of other shapes.  This water-born version is Haida meets Dali.  Maybe even Pollock at times.

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Among the gorgeous mountains and forests of Haida Gwaii this little show was nothing.  But it was one more unexpected and beautiful surprise among the many that I found here, and I was thoroughly entertained.  Where Haida Gwaii is might be a surprise to you, so here: check it out.  http://www.gohaidagwaii.ca/  You’ll be entertained as well.

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When I came upon the eagle I was excited to get a shot, any shot.  It’s a bald eagle.  It’s awesome.  Part of me felt that the first shot was as good as it was going to get–relatively close up, in focus, OK lighting, fine.  There is something odd and interesting about a bald eagle in front of a no smoking sign.   But a shot of a bald eagle perched in front of a no smoking sign–well, I’m not hanging it on my wall.

First Shot:

Bald Eagle

So, I waited.  And I waited.  The bird was pretty content on the piling.  A fresh piece of salmon was at its feet.  After a while the eagle’s feathers ruffled.  Then its head turned to the side.  One leg bent briefly but returned to clutch the salmon.  A few minutes passed.  A breeze blew.  I thought about my time on these islands, Haida Gwaii, and the incredible scenery I had been privy to.  Then, in a rush, the bird flapped its wings and it was off.  Majestic, free, bold, it soared overhead and down the length of the channel, presumably seeking out more salmon.  I rapid-fired a few shots.

Second Shot:

Bald Eagle on Haida Gwaii

This is the result.  The result of being patient.  The result of hoping to get a dramatic shot, envisioning where the bird was going to go, and receiving a little bit of luck from the photography gods in the process.  I’m glad that I waited for this second shot.  This one is going on my wall.

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To my surprise, some people prefer the first shot over the second. Which do you prefer?  Put it in the comments.

Bald Eagle of Campobello Island

Bald Eagle of Campobello Island

They came with an appetite.  Bald eagles, once calmly perched atop the spruce trees that line Campobello Island’s rocky coast, now dive bombed seagulls and pushed aside cormorants until they and they alone could claw the fish on the water’s surface.  And they clawed like hell.

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This is Baja California

Baja California Impressionist sunset sky blue

Of all the photos I took during a weeklong trip to Baja California and the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, this one brings back the most memories.  Not memories, but feelings. I took four hundred shots of dolphins leaping in the mid day sun; scenes so crisp you can see individual beads of water running down the sides of their sleek, gray bodies.  You can see into the blacks of their eyes.  There are also colorful landscapes, dramatic sunlit vistas and kayaking shots with the front tip of the kayak at the bottom so the viewer might be fooled into thinking that he is in the shot.  Those, I see.  This, I feel.

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Jersey Shore Storm photo

Jersey shore beach photo

“Not a cloud in the sky” is an all too easy measure of perfect weather, especially if you’re at the beach.  Double especially if you are on vacation, when just a drop of rain feels like a personal punishment from God.  But the phrase is also just a catchy alternative for describing the plain, flat, static upper half of your world.  What happens when those dreadful clouds roll in?

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Costa Rica Capuchin Monkeys

Costa Rica Capuchin Monkeys

Monkeys.  What is more adorable than a little white-faced capuchin monkey?  I mean, really.  Resting on tree branches, soaking up the shade, lazily grooming his fellow equally-adorable friends and family. Capuchins radiate personality.  And they are so playfully sweet.  There is no way they could ever become aggressive or hostile.  No way at all…

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The Farm Road

In between Aspen and the rest of America I found a road that led to a farm that led to horses and hills and snow and trees. The road curved often, weaving through the wild landscape. The hills turned to mountains. I drove slowly, the radio turned off, observing the scenery in silence. My body rocked with the weaving of the road and soon the thoughts of where I had come from and what I had come to find had left me. All I knew was that I was driving down a lonely farm road, that I hadn’t yet reached the end, and that was fine with me.

On an Evening in Quito

Quito at Night

Quito Plaza Grande at night

It’s no wonder that Quito was the first city to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list (along with Krakow) in 1978.  The place is an architectural gem, on par with any European city. In fact, much of the designs are from Italian architects whose work was brought to Ecuador by missionaries as early as the 1500’s (Bernini for example, who designed the Vatican). The churches are beyond impressive and are worth the trip during the day.  But visit at night to see the historic Old City at its most dramatic.

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Fernandina Island, Galapagos

I just read that Jane Austen is replacing Charles Darwin on the 10-pound bill, which brought to mind the Galapagos Islands.  This is the scene when you take your first steps on Fernandina Island, and absolutely pristine place. Watch your step!

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When you step aboard a boat you leave a lot on the dock.  At first, you may not notice anything behind you but wooden boards, the odd line, maybe a hose or the stains of where a fish once rested.  But soon you’ll find that your entire frame of reference is gone.  Passive, involuntary living is a thing of the past.  Stay at sea long enough and the very legs that carried you there are said to have been transformed completely.

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New York City, Manhattan skyline

New York City, Manhattan skyline

Brooklyn Waterfront, July 4, 2013–Tripod set, camera on and adjusted for a long exposure. The image in my head was one of the Manahattan skyline lit up by fireworks exploding overhead and cascading down on the city like a veil of light.  It would be a turned into a postcard bought in bulk and screen printed onto t-shirts and sold at the Brooklyn Flea.  Sadly, the fireworks don’t go that high, so I was left with the glow of the show emitting from behind the buildings. Only a few times did an errand flare show through one of the gaps. Still, the feeling on the waterfront was one of splendor, of excitement, and of a shared joy of simply being together on a beautiful night.  It was as memorable a 4th of July as I’ve ever had.  Fireworks or not.

Colorado Horses

“I  discovered that the horse is life itself, a metaphor but also an example of  life’s mystery and unpredictability, of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object of repeated and ever changing contemplation.” ~ Jane  Smiley

Colorado horse Magpies

Since I can remember, I’ve been scared of horses.  No one is scared of horses, you say.  Well, I am scared of horses.  Since I was a child and set upon a pony for obligatory photos, I’ve found it easy to imagine them charging, biting and kicking their way through me at any moment.  Yet, when I see horses roaming the countryside I see God putting the finishing touches on a static land.  I see myself riding them proficiently, masterfully, over the mountains and into the sunset.   It was with this conflicted mind that I set about trying to photograph them.

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galapagos, water, ocean, leon dormido, kicker rock

Beneath the surface

Sharks sway through coral gardens,

Slicing through schools of razor surgeon fish,

Silver knives into billowing curtains of black and yellow.

Parrot fish of myriad pastels scrape bulbous coral heads with their beaks,

In concert with shrimp and reef fish feeding en masse.

The seas fill with a soft static,

A radio station long out of range.

Orange cup coral, giant sea fans and tiger anemones color the ground in fanciful hues,

Impressionistic but precise,

While wrasses so sleek and shiny

Rule their rocky domains.

In the blue expanse, green sea turtles glide like airplanes,

Flying to worlds unknown.

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Darwin’s Flinch

The wet, ragged bottoms of long ago washed linen pants clung to Charles’s legs, providing a rare and welcomed cool amidst the oppressive equatorial heat.  The transition from the Beagle to the rocky, volcanic coast of Albemarle Island had been a precarious one—a leap from the wooden dingy onto sharp, slippery rocks where a multitude of orange crabs scurried about and marine iguanas blinked their prehistoric eyes in the sun.  A young sea lion raised his head and barked.  Charles, swaying from seasickness, gained his bearings, straightened his hat, and set off up a hill covered in stunted trees.  His leather collection pouch bounced at his side.

The sound of crashing waves dissipated as he walked further onto the island, and soon Charles was left to observe the sweet call of finches as they fluttered from tree to tree.  In the distance, he noticed a brownish-grey bird with black and white striped wings sitting on a crooked branch of a guaiacum tree.  The bird resembled a finch, one of many that he had cataloged on other islands, but its beak appeared to be longer and more dramatically curved than the others.  The bird could be a different species altogether, he thought, or conclusive evidence he needed to prove was becoming clearer during the previous days on land—that similar species of animals can possess differing, adaptive features, each better suited to the separate environments.

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galapagos animals wildlife

galapagos animals wildlife

Many of the world’s special places have been coined “The Galápagos of the (fill in the blank).”  It never made sense to me.  The Swan Islands are the Galápagos of the Caribbean. Haida Gwaii is the Galápagos of the north.  The islands in the Sea of Cortez are Mexico’s Galápagos.  It’s like saying that Paris is the New York of France. Having never been to Galápagos, however, I jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about.  And I quickly realized why every wild place on earth would want to be associated with it.

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New York SKyline EMpire state building

New York SKyline EMpire state building

Manhattan — The sky, the weather, the color and clarity of light, each change by the second.  New buildings rise and old buildings fall.  But for those photographing the iconic skyline, the greatest variations come from behind the camera — from emotions born within, formed by our relationship with the city and then recast, consciously or not, in megapixels that reflect our momentary disposition.  The result is not always rosy–it is New York.

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Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence Square

“Ya tenemos un Presidente!  Tenemos a Rafael!”  The song played on for hours tonight in Independence Square in Quito, Ecuador.  And yes, Ecuador already has a president, Rafael Correa, and as of tonight, they have elected him to four more years in office.Quito Ecuador Election RafaelThe crowd of a few hundred were undeterred by a gentle rain as they waved their green flags and cheered for Correa to make an appearance on the balcony of the Carondalet Palace — the presidential palace which Correa opened to the public in 2007 .Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence SquareThey were passionate and excited, hopeful and proud.  And, in contrast to other rallies around the world, they were decidedly sober.  By country law, the imbibing of alcohol is outlawed a day before and even in the 24 hours after voting.  No restaurants will serve it and bottles in bars were locked up or even surrounded by caution tape. Anyone caught drinking or selling alcohol risks arrest.  Oh, and by law, EVERYONE has to vote.

Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Correa Independence Square

Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence SquareA mere fifty feet away, on the other side of Independence Square, it was a still Sunday night.Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence SquareQuito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence Square

At a few minutes past 8pm, Correa addressed the crowd .Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence SquareAnd there was much rejoicing…

Quito Ecuador Election Rafael Independence Square

New York City Chinese New Year Photos

Is this a newly discovered Jackson Pollock painting? Not exactly. It’s the street after the Chinese New Year Parade in New York City.

Chinese New Year New York Streets

The parade is a fantastic, chaotic and colorful celebration that should be experienced, at least once, for a little bit — at least until the claustrophobia takes over.  Here are a few shots from Chinatown and a previous Chinese New Year.

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State Rt. 74 is one hell of a winding road. After driving for all of 30 minutes in the dark on our way from Palm Desert, California to San Diego, my wife and I decided to pull over and take a breather.  Ok, I wanted to take pictures of the stars, but she was fine with not being tossed from side to side for a bit.

Even though we hadn’t noticed it, we pulled over next to the sign for the San Bernardino National Forest–letting us know that this wasn’t just any starry sky.  These were the stars of San Bernardino!  What, you ask, are the stars of San Bernardino?  I have no idea.  It just sounds good.

Flashlight in hand (because anyone interested in night photography needs a trusty, variable intensity/scope flashlight), I painted the sign with a split second of light.  Just enough to make it pop from the skies above.

With my wife in the car listening to the latest episode of the Serial Podcast, and a long drive ahead of us, I didn’t want to take too much time.  So after four shots I was back in the car, getting up to date on the whereabouts of Sargent Bergdahl, and navigating every twist and turn of Rt. 74.  But I’m glad that we stopped.  I’m glad that we were there in the first place.  And I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to capture these, the stars of San Bernardino.

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(Also seen on Instagram by following @marcexplores)

Amidst the chaos that is Penn Station and the subway below, I was shocked to see a platform void of people, except for this single shopkeeper, quietly writing in a notepad.  I quickly snapped this shot before moving through the mob of people behind me and swiftly leaving the station.  Now, I look at it and I don’t hear the screeching trains and chattering crowds.  My muscles don’t tighten from the anxious buzz of the city.  I see a shopkeeper writing in his notepad.  That’s it.  And for once, I feel that the rest of the city is asleep.

Reflection in the window of Claudio’s Specialty Foods in Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market.

Instagram: @marcexplores

Is it cheating?  Yes.  Does it look cool?  Yes.  So do I care.  Nah. Not really.

I recently discovered the Impression suite from Topaz Labs, a photo editing software that adds various artistic looks to your photographs.  The program can be linked with Lightroom too, which is very convenient.  I tried it out with these landscape shots of Philadelphia.

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Once up and running, you’ll have 100 impressionistic looks to choose from and an array of options to further customize those looks. Best of all, the editing can be done quickly and any adjustments you make to the stock options can be saved for later use.  I took advantage of brush styles, sizes and overall looks: Pastel, Chiaroscuro, Van Gogh, Da Vinci Sketch, Oil Painting, Cezanne, Charcoal and a few more.

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Sample look from the website. 

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Below, a crop of the photo shows the brush strokes of the, eh hem, painting. Of a few painting/artistic programs I’ve found, I like Topaz Impression for its realistic brush strokes, ease of use, and savable, customizable options on top of an already large catalog of looks.

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It’s not for everyone.  But so far it’s giving new life to photos that I haven’t looked at in months.  That’s worth something.  And best of all, no messy clean up!

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