Roadside tractor, Chia, Colombia

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

Street Clocks

With the ubiquity of cell phones, it's rare to hear someone ask the time anymore. But when your battery dies, as mine has doing all too quickly, how do you know what time it is? Of course you could ask a stranger, and watch them look at their cell phone. You could use your ATM card to check your account balances or buy something in a store and look at the receipt.

Or you could check a MuniMeter. For drivers (or, more precisely, parkers) in New York City they are the digital parking meter, the only thing that stands between you and a ticket. For all others, they are just a highly redundant street clock.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kamakura Scooter

Can't leave this brief slides-of-recent-travels without a nod to the ubiquitous scooter, favored mode of transportation by students, monks, and mailmen. I snapped this one parked outside a house off the main road into Kamakura, the seat of the Shogunate from 1185-1333. A beautiful city of shrines and temples, it is also home to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at the KĊtoku-in temple.
Given the chance, I'm quite sure he would have ridden a scooter too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Slow Bullet Train

Japan is rightly celebrated for its passenger railway system: subways, commuter lines, and shinkansen (bullet trains), whisk millions of people to their destination with order and precision. In the midst of all the high-speed and high-tech, it was nice to find a couple memorials to earlier train times. Above is just part of the massive and beautiful Tokyo Station, opened in 1914. If you've got 700,000 yen (about $700), you can spend a night in the luxurious station hotel that occupies one wing of the building.
On a smaller scale, this car from a suburban line is open daily as a tiny museum, set alongside the platform for the spiffy modern trains. It also dates from early 20th century. The bench seats are hard, and there's no AC, but the day we looked in, a couple of twelve year old boys were happily using it as a place to hang out and, what else?, play video games on their smartphone.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Welcome to Tokyo!

The BTB staff is back from a mind- and body-jolting trip to Tokyo. We can report that despite the truly awesome, Star Wars scale of the city, Tokyo is a very friendly place. Even the bus stop signs are inviting, like this one in the Yanaka neighborhood.

And of course, if you want to feel welcomed, there may be no better place on Earth than the Gotokuji shine in the Setagaya neighborhood. This is home of Maneki Neko, aka, the Beckoning Cat. You can read the story, or, at least, a story, of how this little guy came to be venerated on the Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko blog (no Hello Kitty jokes, please).
Possibly the friendliest welcome of all came from Husky. He runs a great little used record store tucked away off the main street in Kyoda, not far from Freshness Burger. He handwrites (in Japanese) extensive notes on every LP and CD in his shop.
I scored an original Japanese pressing of Amalia Rodrigues' 1969 fado record. On red vinyl no less. Check him out if you are in town.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Two Blue Pick-Ups

Two movies on the Fourth of July. What's more All-American that? An afternoon showing at Film Fourm of Les Blank's documentary about Leon Russell, A Poem is a Naked Person. Shot in 1972-74, and only now released, it's really more of a brilliant and shaggy scrapbook of those times. The trailer gives you a good taste of what's in store. In typical Les Blank style, the opening credits are handled by signs nailed on a tree (probably around the studio in Oklahoma Russell is building) and on the door of a blue pick-up.


Did you get the message from the girl in white at the very end? (Good story on Leon Russell and the genesis for the film on Oklahoma-themed blog Center for Open Secrets.)
The second feature, streaming via Netflix, was An American Journey: In Robert Frank's Footsteps. A French filmmaker recounts the making of Frank's iconic work The Americans. Not a perfect doc, by any means, its best parts are the filmmaker tracking down subjects and locations for some of the photos in the book. Finding the boy standing beneath the flag at the Jay, New York, Fourth of July parade (above) or standing in the window of the Butte hotel room from which Frank took his photo looking out over bleak rooftops and streets.

In South Carolina, a local guy points out where the disused butcher shop still exists behind some more modern buildings. "The barber shop?" the fillmmaker asks, hoping to shoot the one Frank did. "No, the butcher shop." "What happened to the barber shop?" "It's gone," the guide answers. He smiles, "Nothing we can do about that."

They may be filler, but I also enjoyed the footage driving on those roads Frank travelled sixty years ago. [Note: The staff of BTB hits the road for a week or so tomorrow. Until then, keep on truckin'.]

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Signs of the Times - Southern Edition

Two photographs in today's Times, neither in the news section, say a lot about this summer and America's changing social mores.

ArtsBeat reports that the TV Land network has cancelled reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard. According to the Times, "The spokesman for the network would not confirm why the show was withdrawn, but the move follows last week's decision by Warner Bros. to halt production on toys of the General Lee [above], the famous car in the show that prominently displays a Confederate battle flag."
(Photo: Michael Stravato, The New York Times)
A story the Business Day section, describes how ExxonMobil has begun, after years of resistance, to publicly support its L.G.B.T. employees. A interesting as the ExxonMobil marchers and banners in the photo from the Houston L.G.B.T. parade above, is the Fox Network (!) convertible celebrating its "Divas" Whitney and Reba and providing a vehicle for divas of the drag persuasion.

Too bad Daisy Dukes couldn't be on the right side of history as well . . .