The Winter Light in Princeton

princeton shadows

The trees are budding already on the Princeton campus. The daffodil shoots are coming up. There will be crocuses soon.blair arch winter sunset

But before everything turns green, I wanted to capture some images of the campus near dusk at this time of the year. The long beams of winter light break through the bare tree limbs, casting spiderweb patterns on the Gothic buildings of this strikingly gorgeous campus.

old tiger sentry princetonIn the pale winter gloaming, an aging tiger, eroded over the years, grips a stone plaque, its inscription long illegible.

Inside the Princeton Chapel, sunbeams through stained glass cast rainbows on the stone columns and arches.

Princeton chapel rainbow

“I’m lookin’ for the man who shot my paw”

splinter vertical“You and your puncture wounds,” MJ said as she prepared to do a little surgery.

MJ is, as we’ve stated before, lovely and talented, but also eminently practical and resourceful, a kind of female McGyver. Or perhaps Norm Abram.

“The right tool for the job,” she said as she packed off for the pharmacy to get the right tools for the job at hand: remove the Lincoln log-sized splinter that had embedded in my foot two days before.

Yes, I do have a history of stabbing a thorn in my paw.

This splinter incident happened Thursday night when E (my good friend and college sweetheart, soon to be married to a college professor) visited Princeton. As I turned from the sink, in my stocking feet, a splinter from the hardwood floor jammed into the middle of my right foot, sliding horizontally into the flesh. I winced, sat down, tugged at the end of the splinter.

But a sizable chunk broke off inside my foot.

I took off my sock, and rubbed the spot with my thumb. It was tantalizingly close to the surface. I tried to pick it out with my fingers. “You need longer finger nails,” E said.

E was kind enough to have a look. She put on her reading glasses, and tried for several minutes to work it out with her thumbs, while I tried not to writhe too much in pain.

No success.

We decided it would probably work itself closer to the surface if we let it go over night. The next day, it was still where it was before, and had me hobbling and limping around campus.

Which reminds me of an old joke:

A three-legged dog limps into a bar and (in a western twang) says: “I’m lookin’ for the man who shot my paw!”

Did I mention the dog could talk?

Two days later, on Saturday morning, MJ was in town, and she came up with a two-fold plan: A) find the right tools, which would help her succeed with minimal pain and avoid being blamed for hacking open my foot and not getting the slab of lumber out, and B) avoid being kicked in the face if her patient involuntarily jerked his knee.

MJ clearly found the right tools. A magnifying glass would let her see better (and keep her face out of kicking range); the pointy tweezers would give her more precision.

We both took a deep breath. She found the end of the splinter with the tweezers. I clenched my fists. She gave it a tug.

And in an instant it was out. Painless.

But then I heard a gasp that was not my own. Then the four-letter equivalent of “wow.” MJ held up the splinter to get a better look. About 3/4″ long, blood-covered and menacingly pointy.

I’m grateful for such kind visitors who are willing to play Androcles to my raw-pawed lion. From what I remember, that story worked out well for both of them in the end.

Another upside: I got a magnifying glass out of the deal.


Splinter with magnifying glass

Mining Heaven

Salt cathedral nave of lifeZIPAQUIRÁ, Colombia, March 20.

The things we do for faith.

Deep in the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia, where men labor more than ten hours a day and some still drill holes for dynamite charges without power tools, the miners have made an image of the devil out of clay.

And they give the devil his due – cigarettes, coca leaves, trinkets and other gifts – because he is, they say, the owner of the silver. El deuño de la plata.

The clay evil avatar has the requisite horns, the pointy beard, the devilish grin.

If the miners didn’t pay Beelzebub tribute, they believe he might get angry that they’re taking precious metals from his lair.

Removing that silver is no easy job. The miners carry bags of ore on their backs through narrow passages deep in the mountain, selling it by the ton to make a few dollars a day.

Underground, the miners pay homage to the devil. But above ground, at the end of a back-breaking day, they become good Catholics again, filling the churches on Sunday.

Angel salt cathedralDeep in the mountains near Zipaquirá, Colombia, the salt miners are all about Jesus.

The devil is not welcome there.

After a coffee-less hour and a half on buses, MJ and I arrived in Zipaquirá, a town of 120,000 outside of Bogotá. A quick quaff of joe (or someone was going to get hurt!) and a sweet danish later, we hailed a taxi and headed uphill to the entrance of the area’s top destination: the Salt Cathedral.

We queued up at the entrance on Maundy Thursday, when hundreds of families had come on a Holy Week pilgrimage. As we waited, we discovered a separate line for foreign language tours. My brain was a little fatigued from interpreting Spanish during the past week, so having an English guide was a relief. After a few minutes, a lithe and grinning polyglot of a tour guide came bounding around the corner, teasing his co-workers with a Spanglish mix: “Aynglish? Did someone say Aynglish?” His name was Rafael.

He took us into the long entrance to the site, lined with a dozen or so HDTV monitors playing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in honor of Semana Santa (some of you already know my feelings about this movie: a sacrilegious snuff film I can’t bear to watch). Safely past the gauntlet of TV monitors, our eyes had adjusted to the darkness and we banked to the left and walked down the sloping floor deeper into the tunnel.

Cross station salt cathedral 2Heading toward the cathedral chambers, some 600 feet inside the mountain, we passed 14 chapels, representing the Via Crusis, the Stations of the Cross – the final steps of Christ’s life from being condemned to death by crucifixion to being laid to rest in the sacred sepulcher – images that are common to most catholic churches. As we passed the stations, with some visitors praying at the austere crosses carved from solid rock that looked like marble, but is actually salt, Rafael told us the geological history of the mountain.

Continue reading “Mining Heaven”

Taganga, Colombia

Taganga 3Greetings from Taganga, a little fishing village turned backpacker hangout, on the Atlantic coast of northern Colombia. We stopped here for a night en route to the Tayrona National Park.

Last night and this morning, I hung out on the beach and enjoyed the scenery. Here are a few images to share.

Taganga 1

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taganga 5

Bogotá, Colombia

mona lisa boteroIt rained our first day here, so MJ and I did mostly indoor stuff like museums, but also found my bank’s ATM, and booked some later excursions.


Here are some images from the collection of works by Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist. You’ve likely seen his chubby sculptures or paintings, which show up in places all around the world.

Adam and Eve Botero




The figures at right are the smaller prototypes for the figures of Adam and Eve in the Time Warner Center lobby in New York.

Browsing through the gallery was a little like looking at a photo album from one of my family reunions. Well, except for the nudity.

Tossing Penguins

Why would you ask grown adults to toss a stuffed penguin back and forth for several minutes? Especially in the hallway at a professional conference? Well, it’s my goofy little way to teach video journalists the craft of shooting sequences of shots, at various angles and focal lengths, and then edit on the action. Here’s a sequence one of the workshop participants put together. He got into the campy nature of the exercise and found an old recording that fit the scene.

Chocolate Chips and Video Clips

hershey lodge signI’m in Hershey, Pennsylvania, co-teaching a workshop in video journalism for multimedia producer/reporters working for newspapers in the northeast.

We’re at the famous Hershey Lodge, where desk clerks give you a chocolate bar at check-in, the gift shop is filled with items like chocolate soap and cans of syrup, and there are bowls of Hershey’s candies and kisses at tables throughout the building. Even the streetlights are shaped like Hershey’s kisses.

I wonder if the incidence of diabetes is higher here in Hershey? And it must be a profitable place to be a dentist.

workshop 01The last time I was here, I was probably 8 years old. I remember touring the chocolate factory and, on the same vacation, cutting my leg on a shard of iron when I climbed on a cannon at the Gettysburg battlefield.

This time, I’m doing more grownup things like getting adults to toss a stuffed elephant and penguin back and forth as a way to teach how to shoot video sequences. Here are some images of workshop participants, and my co-trainer Robb Montgomery, editing quick video stories on deadline.

workshop 04
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