31 Dec 2012

The photography of Joseph Breitenbach




Until recently, and a post a few weeks ago seen on the blog of a friend, (see here for the page in question), I had never heard of the photographer Josef Breitenbach (self-portrait above). But then I am far from being an expert in the history of photography, although I appreciate this media enormously.  Breitenbach was born in Munich in 1896 and died in New York in 1984. He worked first in his native Germany (see photo below from 1933),  


before fleeing the Nazis (he was not only Jewish, but also a political radical involved with libertarian left-wing movements of the time) to live and work in Paris, which he also had to leave later on account of the aforementioned dangerous lunatics, and finally settling, like so many others, in the USA (and, by the way, thank you America, whatever one's misgivings may be about some aspects of this country where large numbers of adults consider that the best way to make the place safer is to give everyone a gun!). 



from Breitenbach's Montparnasse period

His work covered a wide range of subjects: portrait, including some famous shots of James Joyce, Berthold Brecht, the boxer Joe Louis, or the singer Sarah Vaughan, but also reportages, surrealistic and experimental images, and the human body, both male and female. He has had many exhibitions since his death, and I, for one, would very much lile to see one at some time. 



 Sarah Vaughan



James Joyce











14 Dec 2012

Back to Moto Guzzi specials

 
A while ago I posted a couple of articles about these great Italian bikes that somehow manage to combine a feel of mechanical brutality with a good degree of refinement and mechanical efficiency. Ok, so put more simply, I should perhaps say that I like the looks of these machines, and still regret having sold my Le Mans Mk 1 years ago.
 
Several custom builders, in Italy, Australia, the USA and Germany (and probably other places too) work on ways of making this apparent paradox both more aesthetically convincing and more potent by lightening the machine up all around and tweaking the mechanical parts. In fact, from the mechanical and dynamic side, it mostly comes down to the old Colin Chapman (of Lotus fame) adage of just "adding lightness".
 
Here are a few pictures to show what I mean. They include quite a few of the machines produced by the excellent Axel Budde, who works in Germany and specializes in Guzzis. In case you were wondering what to offer me for Christmas, this should give you some ideas....
 
This is a special from a Daytona base. Remove the silly pipe-wrap and you have a pretty nice machine.
 
 
A rather more elaborate and futuristic effort from a more recent Guzzi model, the Griso


 
 Now we get down to a series of pictures of machines based on the earlier Le Mans model. The above version is quite close to the machine I owned back in the late 70's/early 80's
 
And the ones below are all by Axel Budde. See what I mean?
 
 




 

6 Dec 2012

Autumn leaves and a strange phenomenon


I was recently in Lubljana, the capital of Slovenia (see article here on this beautiful town), and I noticed a curious phomenon on a tree while walking around the castle that dominates the town. In a long line of horse chestnut trees, all of which were bare after the late autumnal loss of their leaves, the branches on the side of just one of these trees had not only retained most of their leaves, but these were still bright green (see photo) in late November. This lead me to investigate the mecanisms behind the changing colour of leaves in the auturmn, prior to their being shed by deciduous trees.


The mysterious chestnut tree in Lubljana, still with green leaves on part of it in late November


Why are leaves green or other colours anyway?

First of all we need to understand what makes leaves green. This colour is due to the presence of a substance called chlorophyll. This is in constant production during the growing season, as sap rises from the roots up to the leafy part of the tree or bush. It is utilised by the plant to absorb solar rays and produce food. When the sap slows down, and then ceases to rise, production of chlorophyll also slows down and then ceases. The last part of a leaf to change is, logically the vein system as these are the parts most loaded with chlorophyll. Leaves apparently contain as much yellow pigment as green during the summer months, but, when the stronger green colour ceases to be produced, the yellow shows through more and more. This explains why leaves turn yellow in the autumn. Of course some leaves may turn orange, red or brown. How come?




Different kinds of trees, and sometimes the same trees in different places (climates, soil types, environments will make for these differences), will produce a varied range of colours in the green leaves, but also in their leaves as these change colour before falling. One evolutionary theory about red colours in autumn leaves, for instance, is that these have some kind of insect-repellent function, particularly against aphids. In any case these pigments are either present in latent form in the leaves or not. Arotenoids make leaves turn yellow, orange, or brown. Not all leaves contain anthocyanins, another type of pigment which cause colors like red and purple to appear. Anthocyanin is formed when sugar gets trapped in a leaf after the chlorophyll is gone. Then, when the leaf is exposed to sunlight, the anthocyanin turns leaves red or purple.



So how and why do leaves fall off trees ?

If  I have understood it right, it is part of a survival system. Leaves contain water and this would freeze in the winter. The tree uses sunlight energy to form a kind of seal between the branch and the leaf. This area, called the abscission zone, swells when the sap ceases to pass throught it, causing the connection to be severed and the leaf to drop to the ground, where it finds a final use as compost to fertilise the soil as it decays. A protective layer is immediately formed where the leaf previously met the bark, stopping the entry of mushrooms or predators and preventing water evaporation. The annual change of leaves also eliminates certain predactors like insects which attack the leaves and live in them. Growing new ones each year is a another form of response to these attacks.

And why were the leaves still green and still attached to this part of just one tree?

Unless some prankster glued them on, I have no idea! If anyone has a suggestion, I would be very grateful. It has been observed that global warming and higher levels of CO2 have slowed down the colour-change process, but, if this was the case here, then surely all the horse chestnuts in this row would have retained some leaves. No there was just one, and the leaves were green! 

And it looks like our friend Richter has the changing colours of leaves in his mind when he painted this one

3 Dec 2012

Rugby test matches autumn 2012: full of surprises

The last of the 2012 autumn rugby test matches played in Europe were completed this past weekend and they were often full of interest and we saw some excellent play (at least in those games I managed to see). One should bear in mind that the teams from the southern hemisphere, who have regularly dominated world rugby over recent years, with a couple of exceptions (France and England, episodically) were, for the most part, at the end of a fairly long season and so, arguably, were not at the very top of their physical form. But then I have also heard the opposite argument put forward: namely that they were at their best tactically from having played many more games together as teams than their Eiropean rivals. Two sides of a coin I suppose.


 
France has finally found itself a fly-half with the return  to grace of Fredéric Michalak, excellent in his team's 3 games


So what does the balance sheet looks like overall for the countries involved?

The cards are not quite stacked equally here as one team (Fidji) played just one game, some teams played two games (Ireland, Tonga, Samoa) many played three (Scotland, France, Italy, Argentina, South Africa) whilst England, Wales and Australia each played four games.

If one is to consider the overall balance in terms of victories for northern and southern hemisphere nations, the victory clearly lies in the south. European teams only won 7 out of a total of 19 games played, with none being drawn.

 
and so has England, who would do better sticking to the excellent Owen Farrell, both more creative and more solid in defense than Toby Flood


Only 2 countries won all of their games : France and South Africa (3 each)
Australia won 3 and lost 1
The "invincible" New Zealand All Blacks won 2 and lost 1, thus proving that nobody is "invincible".
England won 2 and lost 2 (one of them stupidly and by just 1 point)
Ireland, Samoa and Tonga all won 1 and lost 1
Argentina won 1 and lost 2
Italy won 1 game, against Tonga, and lost the other 2, quite narrowly against Australia, but quite heavily against New Zealand.
Fidji lost their only game
At the bottom of the chart, Wales (4 games) and Scotland (3 games) lost each test match they played. Bit of a headache for coaches and players!

 
Chris Robshaw, the England captain, who proved his leadership qualities againt New Zealand, but made some rather strange decissions in 2 other games.

The 2 biggest upsets must have been France's crushing 33-6 victory over Australia, and England's equally impressive 38-21 defeat of the world champions, New Zealand.
The counter-performances of Wales have to be added to this list, unhappily for them. And this is all the more surprising as they have been the strongest European team over the past 3 seasons or so.


The two English centre backs played brillantly againt the All Blacks. Here Barritt scores after a glorious effort and pass from Manu Tuilagi (in the background)

France played very impressively in the two games I saw (vs Australia and vs Argentina). They totally dominated each game and played with courage, intelligence and skill. They have justifiably moved up to 4th spot in the world ratings, and are thus the sole European team to be head of series in the draw for the 2015 world cup pools that has just taken place

After their try festival against Fidji, England then missed the boat that could have got them the number 4 slot. They looked a bit too staid in their game against Australia, which they could have won if they had been a little more realistic. And they should have beaten South Africa in a very physical game, had it not been for a very strange decision on the part of their captain, Robshaw, in the last 3 minutes of the game.
But they certainly showed plenty of spirit and initiative in their surprise victory against New Zealand, which was won convincingly and by the biggest margin since a game back in 1926! If they manage play like this each game, they could be redoubtable. And this is also a very young team, with an average age in the early twenties.

They have now drawn Australia and Wales in their pool for the 2015 World Cup, but will be playing at home (so will Wales).

With the apparent demise of Wales, England and France are now clear favourites for the future 6 nations European tournamant that will begin on February 2nd. Ireland remain an always redoubtable outsider. England wil be playing France on February 23rd, on their home patch at Twickenham. Should be fun and will do my best to be there!



1 Dec 2012

Who are you, and where are we going?

Rest assured, you are NOT in for a session of brain-curdling existentialism here.

This is the traditional time of year when people start drawing up balance sheets, producing end-of-year statistics, and all of that stuff. As it has now been 2 full years that this blog has been going, so I thought it made some kind of sense to give you readers a little feedback on where you come from, what you like most, and what sort of things I have been up to here. I do not know most of you, and most of you do not know me. So I guess this is my way of saying hello, even if I realise that this article is not going to boost any of the statistics kindly provided by Google on the readership of this blog.

So here goes....

I actually started this blog on October 6th, with no idea of where I was going, apart from the fact that I wanted to write about, and show images of, things that I enjoy in life. I suppose the word "sharing" is appropriate. I certainly prefer it to "showing-off", which is how some construe the fact that people write these things. I certainly do not do it for money, and I have managed it while working pretty hard over this period. So it is a spare-time activity, and has in fact been far more time-consuming that I anticipated. This in turn explains while the regularity of my publications has been erratic.

Over the past two years, I have published here a total of 346 articles (excluding this one), received or made 993 comments, and you are 46 to have become "members" of the site so far. Over the 25 months of its existance, More than just wine has therefore seen a monthly average of 13,8 articles published. This has been much lower over the past year, due to my work load and other activities. There have been a total of 405,686 pages seen (at the time of writing this), and last month's figure was 22,247.
In november 2010 (the first full month of activity), there were 411 visits, In November 2011 there were 13,101, and last month doubled that figure. So we have progression in numbers. I suppose that is a good thing?

Anyway, thank you for coming!

And where do you come from, dear readers?
Here is the top ten list per country so far:
USA 77,885
India 61,566 (thank you cricket!)
UK 51,886
France 32,588
Germany 12,641
Canada 9,085
Italy 8,006
Australia 7,748
Spain 5,653
Holland 2,336

About which subject matters (these are my self-determined categories) have I posted the most articles?
Wine 77, Motorbikes 74, Good looking 38, Painting 32, Sports 31, Places to go 29, Litterature (read on) 27, Life & all that (ie "various"), 25, Just for fun 22, Sounds good 13, Feels good 9, Tastes good 8, and, last but not least, Pet hates 6. 

What have been the most popular articles? 
I know, popularity is not everything, but I find this interesting all the same, although it has not (and will not in the future) guided my choice of subject matter. It is interesting to me to note that my main subject matter (wine) has not placed a single article in the top ten. 

Painting, with 4 articles in the list, is the clear winner, so maybe I should change jobs and become an art critic? My sports column places 2 articles in this list, both about cricket, which regrettably I barely get the chance to see, living in France. The other categories represented here (motorbikes, sounds good, looks good, places to go) place just one article each in this short list of ten.


 

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29 Nov 2012

Go to Lubljana!

I recently spent a couple of days in the capital of Slovenia, Lubljana, whilst attending a wine fair there (about which I will have more to say in another article). First visits to a country or city are often, but not always, the most impressive, as one is, literally, at one's most impressionable, acting like a sponge to all that is new, strange and beautiful around one. All that it ugly too, for that matter. As I said, a sponge...

This article will take the form of a commented snapshot album of small (or larger) things seen. I did not systematically take photographs of everything I enjoyed here, as there was so much and I really prefer just soaking it it, at least the first time around. Suffice it to say that I loved this old city, at least the central part, blissfully car-free and which I visited extensively by foot. I would highly recommend a stay in Lubljana to anyone. The people are very friendly and helpful, the hotels good and reasonably priced, the food and the wines too....what more could you want? I even found an Irish bar that shows rugby games and has 83 beers on offer! A slice of paradise, I tell you!



The dragon is the emblem of Lubljana. This is one of the many turn-of-the-20th century sculptures to be found in Lubljana, and it is one of four of these beasties that guard one of the bridges that span the Ljubljanica River. The bridge is called, not too surprisingly, the Dragon Bridge, and it leads to the splendid market were you can see scenes like the two below, buy great fresh goods, or eat and drink in surrounding cafés. It was designed by the Croatian architect Jurij Zainovich (the bridge I mean).



Lubljana, at least the old town, seemed to me to be happily low profile and discreet, and most of the streets are gloriously free of those dreadfully ubiquitous "big brand" shops (mostly cloths) that totally pollute almost all of the world's cities these days, making you wonder just where you are at times. On the contrary, the streets I walked were full of shops selling odd antiques, books, locally made stuff of all kinds, good food, and cafés and restaurants of all descriptions (and I didn't see a single Chinese restaurant!). Add to this the fact that it's architecture is quite fascinating, occasionally off-key with great colours on some of the facades, and full of sometimes quirky details and a true sense of craftsmanship. I found some similarities in feel to Prague, with perhaps a more "southern" touch.









The lamp post above, like several others and the famous triple bridge (see first photo below), was designed by the local architect Joz Plecnik. As you can see, Lubljana also looks great at night, with some very subtle lighting making the buildings look sharp and intricate, yet very different one from another. 








Presumably some of the strange objects that I saw in the street were due to the pre-Christmas decorations, like this giant teepee-like construction (above) that went the height of a two-story house and stood on the fork between three streets near my hotel. And decorations of various descriptions seem to be into hanging objects, like this collection of shoes supended between two buildings.


Or this one...


There are many more padlocks on either side of this bridge, left apparently by lovers who have sealed a pact, presumably throwing away the key to their hearts into the river below (youth is so rash...but then are they all youths?).

There is also evidence in the streets of contemporary art and contemprary philosophy colluding. What is the world coming to?





And if you want a reasonably priced hotel recommendation for Lubljana, here it is. 

http://www.adorahotel.si/

My room was very comfortable, practically designed, simple, light, impeccably clean and inexpensive. And the staff were particularly helpful and friendly. What more could you want?

Get going!