Those First Impressions: The Palatinate


The first sentence of Lafcadio Hearn’s, ‘My First Day in the Orient,’ reads, “Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible …They are evanescent, you know: they will never come to you again, once they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these.” Although Hearn was quoting a teacher he had met shortly upon his arrival in Japan, these words have stayed with me and I carry them close whenever I travel.


Ah the Germans…  I’d avoided coming here my entire life.  From abroad I couldn’t seem to discern a culture of any substance, a cuisine beyond sausage, or any reason to travel of particular significance.  There were however, two distinct things I had always admired about the Germans… design & cameras and my first trip there in 2015 did not disappoint.  I wasn’t 10 minutes into the drive from the airport when I noticed the classic clean German design aesthetic on most of the lorries passing us on the autobahn. Signage was also a beautiful bastion of impactful simplicity.  I found the Germans extremely personable, once they deemed such behavior appropriate.  Not quick to criticize anyone or anything too harshly I wondered if this tendency stemmed from some lingering remnants of wartime guilt.  70 years on the contrast between the German and Japanese post-war conscience  couldn’t be more monochromatic.  The Japanese propensity for ignoring the ‘problem’ they wished would simply disappear and the Germans endless efforts to atone for the past.  Admittedly my appreciation of German cuisine remains distant and challenged, but at this, the conclusion of my third trip, perceptions are finally beginning to settle in for me.  The openly accommodating weave of a social fabric that lays cover to a distantly quieted mistrust.  The omni-present fear of being perceived to be on the wrong side of history yet again.  The uncomfortable nature which seems to govern almost every aspect of German village life. They are nice, generous, and giving people… but the ever-present lingering indescribable discomfort lies always just beneath the surface… or slightly above.


Those First Impressions: Abu Dhabi

The first sentence of Lafcadio Hearn’s, ‘My First Day in the Orient,’ reads, “Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible …They are evanescent, you know: they will never come to you again, once they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these.” Although Hearn was quoting a teacher he had met shortly upon his arrival in Japan, these words have stayed with me and I carry them close whenever I travel.


Having received the unexpected complimentary upgrade to business class on my flight from Frankfurt, I wanted to give myself the opportunity of decompressing over a few cups of coffee at the airport lounge upon my early morning arrival.  It was important for me to gather these first impressions free of the six hours of undeserved pampering i’d just received.  The airport taxis are large and spacious providing an almost disconcerting amount room in which to stretch out.  My driver, from India, was very polite efficient and a genuinely nice guy.  My first impressions of Abu Dhabi, forged mostly during the fourty minute drive to my hotel were surprisingly not what I had expected.  Gratefully falling short of the endless starchitectural landscape of neighboring Dubai, the drive across Abu Dhabi was eerily familiar to me… I had been here before.  Indeed, this was every trip I had ever made to visit my grandparents in Arizona.  That hour long drive from the airport in Phoenix to their home in Sun City came rushing back to me in all the most wondrous of ways.  

Abu Dhabi is a landscape built for automobiles with more foreigners on the road than locals.  It feels far more like Arizona than the Arabian peninsula.  Traffic is indeed a bitch at 7AM.  A low lying smog(or more likely sand) hangs in the air while drivers are tangled in the politely aggressive tango of getting where they need to be.  I need a shower.  I can’t help but noticing the occasional van filled with migrant laborers being shuttled off to some construction site where they are undoubtedly working for sub-standard wages which still presents a better option than what they could have earned in their homelands.  I try to push aside the inner conflict and focus on the fact that I am in Abu-freaking-Dhabi!  I really need a shower.  

Groovy, if not mis-matched architecture dots the landscape and construction sites abound.  The Grand Mosque appears on the horizon dominating the landscape like an oddly comforting alien craft that has gently landed integrating itself into the hearts and minds of all who see it.  Gazing upon it for the first time in this morning light is intoxicating to say the very least.

Everyone is so accommodating, genuinely welcoming… I was expecting excellent ‘customer service’, but what I found was something far less pretentious and much more genuine.  It’s hard not to smile.


Those First Impressions: Istanbul

The first sentence of Lafcadio Hearn’s, ‘My First Day in the Orient,’ reads, “Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible …They are evanescent, you know: they will never come to you again, once they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these.”  Although Hearn was quoting a teacher he had met shortly upon his arrival in Japan, these words have stayed with me and I carry them close whenever I travel.  


On few occasions have I felt the urgency to pen these impressions the moment they came tumbling out as I did the night I arrived in Istanbul.  Standing on a crowded platform,  bags of luggage in hand tired and cold, i furiously typed onto my phone this vivid bombardment of socio-cultural stimuli.  It was late evening rush hour and everything felt tense… uneasy even.  I felt an endless stream of suspicious eyes being cast upon me.  The environment on the platform seemed disappointingly less than friendly and ‘customer service’ fell far short of what i’d grown accustom to back in Japan.  I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have flipped for a taxi from the airport.  It wasn’t until I got on the train that I realized everyone around me wasn’t disgruntled, just exhausted after a long days work.  Turkish women are eclectically hot.  Seemingly unable to adhere to a specific schedule, the tram was late and very crowded making my bags and I somewhat less welcomed.  I hear the evening call to prayer echoing through the streets as we go rumbling by… a rhythmic clacking of the rails as our car gently sways back and forth.  It’s an oddly calming almost hypnotic combination that pushes me into a near out of body existence if only for the very briefest of moments.  Some 20 stops later and the crowd has thinned out.  A group of badly behaved boys, who will one day be twelve have boarded and are climbing on seats(with people in them) making noise and begging for money… passengers are completely tolerant, no one gets upset, no dirty looks or impromptu scoldings.  Im tired, hungry, and still have another 10 or so stops to go…


The places only a few songs, a micro-bus, and a reckless sense of adventure can take you.

There are places I sought refuge growing up… I can remember them all. The crisp cool summer mornings racing across fields wet with dew in a frenzied attempt to not be late for breakfast at summer camp; shadowing Josie, our housekeeper, as she went about her daily routine of cooking, cleaning, and teaching us right from wrong; and just about every moment spent in any room of my grandmothers house in Sun City, Arizona. They are vivid, palatable impressions that might well have been forged mere hours or days earlier.

Refuge takes many forms… and for a curious 19 year old trying to gain a foothold in 1986 Japan it came in the form of a magical summer themed double album titled ‘Kamakura’ by the Japanese band, Southern All-Stars. Those songs filled with never ending notions of long walks on the beach, unrequited love, and warm summer nights were so all encompassing to me that I struck out in the middle of a cold winters night with my less self-assured nonetheless willing friend, Sam, to hitch an 8 1/2 hours long ride in a micro-bus to this coastal inlet where we found ourselves staying with artists we had never met in a hundred year old house whose only source of heat was the irori or central hearth pit in the center of the living room.

A couple of cold dark winter days on a desolate windswept beach and none of that mattered because I had lived the summer fun that existed there long before I had ever arrived. In these subsequent years Kamakura has become my refuge from all things Tokyo, from the stresses of life, and from myself… it resides high on the list of those places where fear is vanquished, self doubt and loathing are not allowed, and the realities of my own worth become somewhat less muddled.


Lucidity in the urban fabric and the relative anonymity of one .

The complex nature of just about everything in Tokyo demands a precision of execution and blind fidelity to a social order that’s constantly revoking certain inalienable rights like personal space and the ability to not have the rest of humanity pressed firmly against you during an hours long morning commute. The carefully choreographed loading and unloading of commuter trains and the rhythmic drumming of footsteps relegate original thought to mere afterthought in the relentless march forward.

A seemingly unlikely choice for someone whose struggles with anxiety have been as pronounced and profound as mine, Tokyo provides a relative anonymity I have found nowhere else. Movement en-masse results in a dulling of the senses and a reduced awareness of the world around us which is uniquely suited for the way I photograph. I see the camera as refuge from a world I’m not always that comfortable with.

Photography was an easy choice for me. Looking through that viewfinder I can frame my world seeing only the realities I have chosen. Just me alone in that dark box sorting perceptions accentuating perspectives… unlike my own existence it is a medium I can control.

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