Feb. 25th, 2007 10:28 am
My local JCC sponsors a photography contest every year; last year's honorees went on display around the same time that I started working out there, and I must admit that I was envious of all the exhibitors. I also like to think that I've taken a few decent pictures over the last two years (the period of eligibility for the competition) -- in fact, I may have taken too many. For each entrant is limited to seven submissions, and I have as many as nine good photographs in my portfolio. I've scanned in the prints of these nine candidates, and I'm hoping that you will help me Pick Seven )

Because I don't consider myself a skilled photographer -- my talent mostly lies in getting to the right place and then holding still instead of, say, understanding what an "f-stop" is -- I will be proud if I just have some of these accepted for display. Still I like to think that I might have some chance to do well in any category other than Jewish Life. Though I think the bear keeps kosher.
I'm out the door for the huge freaking trip through the Baltic sea and up the Norwegian coast. My connectivity will be spotty for the next five weeks (!) though if I can find WiFi broadband in the middle of the Libyan desert, Talinn ought to have no secrets from me. Still, I expect that there might soon be a few posts that contain (the one true marker of LJ quality) mentions of me; I would appreciate it if people would make some small effort to ensure that I do not miss those.
In Tunis, it seems that everyone speaks French, and if they don't speak French, they speak Arabic with accents out of the tenth arrondisement. I, misnamed as I am, do not, so communication could at times be dicey. I understood our cab driver when he told us (en Francais), as he whizzed an inch by the fender of the car stopped in the fast lane (they're all fast lanes), that he was the Schumacher of Tunisia, and was tuned-in enough to pun (in English) that I'd almost rather he be Willie than Michael. (Shoemaker, you see.) But I was much less confident that any understanding was reached when we asked him if he would return to the Bardo Musum at five o'clock. Partly this doubt was due to my confusion over whether our proffered "cinq heures" would lead him to arrive not at 5 p.m. but after five hours, but mostly I was worried that we should have mangled "dix et sept" instead as the twelve-hour clock might be to him nothing but a long-abandoned anachronistic chronometer.

See, I'd been reading Charles Stross's Singularity Sky, and I'd gotten to the bit where Martin Springfield is being held by the secret police for committing a political infraction the nature of which no one will tell him. Stross writes, "Outside the skylight, it was a clear, cold April afternoon; the clocks of St Michael had just finished striking fourteen hundred [ . . . ]" For some unlikely reason, my mind stretched back to the opening line of Orwell's 1984, which was always an eerie and ominous annoucement to this American reader, the clocks striking thirteen carrying a sense of otherworldly strangeness, plain wrongness, and invoking a hint of triskaidekaphobia. But had I grown up with the twenty-four hour clock, I may not have noticed any peculiarity.

I have no idea when the United Kingdom or the rest of Europe adopted the twenty-four hour clock for civilian time, so I have no idea whether Orwell intended the reference as a frightening anomaly, an allusion to the weird way they do things on the Continent, a symbol of the regimentation of Oceanic society, or an only slightly futuristic bit of realism. Britain, though, has a history of resistance to such government imposed rationalizations. Famously, for a hundred and seventy years it regarded as suspicious popishness. I remember as a child encountering generation-old Punch cartoons lampooning the opposition to decimalization of the Pound, and I think the metric system was rejected for some time as being too closely associated with the French Revolution. My ignorant impression is that the British, or elements of British society at least, look at government-imposed rationalizations as perniciously continental. Then a generation grows up with the new system, and people are incredulous that their elders could ever have been such paranoid, parochial provincials.

Over here in America, we have a civic ethos built on our inalienable right to be paranoid, parochial provincials. We're lucky that the Revolution took place after the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar, or we might have obstinately stuck with the Julian at least until the Red Scare. We still treat applications of the metric system as a Euro-weenification roughly tantamount to letting the UN land black helicopters on our front lawns and force us to listen to Robbie Williams. And though we've since relented, we initially regarded one of the most widespread government-imposed rationalizations as a Wilsonian internationalism as threatening to the American way of life as the League of Nations. I speak of daylight savings. )
According to my eclipse bible (a heretical text on my tour, which pays its fealty to Mr. Eclipse himself), one of the first photographers to use Photoshop to build a composite photograph of the sun's corona took six months to come up with something he found satisfactory. I certainly didn't do better in a largely shadeless afternoon. I'll instead post four pictures. )

Totality occured with perfect clarity, though I wish I could say the same thing for my new contact lenses. I had trouble resolving the ring of the sun as a single image; in fact, the view was considerably better through my camera lens. I also wasted a considerable amount of the four minutes, four seconds of totality fidgetting with the tripod supporting my video camera. Once, one of the eclipse veterans with a stopwatch called out "Sixty seconds!" "Elapsed?" I desperately cried. "No, remaining!" was the disappointing response.

Three initial pictures below the cut. )

Libya Telecom & Technology has gone to great effort and has established, in the middle of the Sahara, 5 miles from the nearest highway and 50 miles from the nearest town, an internet cafe. In its tent on its tarp, it may be the most ephemeral of internet cafes, here today and gone the day after tomorrow, but it has free WiFi and it's not even all that slow. The population here has shot up from scorpions to perhaps five thousand, and the objective lenses must outnumber the people.

We'll have totality at 12:27 tomorrow, and the only possible weather problems are sand and dust storms. The skies were perfectly clear today at noon, so I'm hopeful. However, as an exercise in lowering expectations, the group leaders passed around a sheet of paper and asked everyone to count their total eclipses seen and their total eclipses attempted, and of the people in my row of the conference room, my mother and I were the only people with perfect records.

Libya has been quite a surprise. I was flabbergasted to find out that I could even enter the country: the rumor is that the US denied a visa to one of Ghaddafi's relatives and Libya has been reciprocating by denying entry to Americans. It was a tense hour while we waited for our tour company to sort out our immigration, but once that was done it was a breeze. In fact, no one has yet collected our visa fees. I can't really comment on the political situation as the tour guides have been politely circumspect (as opposed to Iran, where everyone we met was so quick to denounce the Ayatollahs that I was beginning to believe that that was what they were taught in the tour guide licensing course). However there are copious pictures of Colonel Ghaddafi. I think he's had a face lift.

Until now the tour has concentrated on Greco-Punic-Roman sites. Leptis Magna is certainly great in its size and in its preservation. Appolonia, pressed against the coast, has an elegaic moodiness. The sites have been so little exposed to Western tourism and its litter and footprints that there are no barriers and few rules at the site. I've scrabbled up capitals for better views, and at Cyrene getting around required walking on ancient Roman mosaics.

I am not sure how broad a band they've built out here to the Libyan desert, but I hope to have some pictures up tomorrow.
I'll be leaving for North Africa in a few hours. I should be able to check my email in Sharm El Sheik, so if you'd like a postcard from Libya or Tunis, send your address to dherblay at livejournal dot com.



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