Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keeping Busy.

I've been getting photos ready for 's annual competition, and uploading them, which was quite a feat given slow internet speed from Mestia.  All finished now, time to start more regular blogging.  First, a link to my latest Letter from Svaneti, here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Letters from Svaneti, 1 & 2

Proudly holding last week's issue of Georgia Today with Letter from Svaneti No. 1 inside and my photo on the cover.  It just arrived in Mestia today.
Letter No. 2, meanwhile, is also now in print as of today, and available online here!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mestia, Feb. 21, 2011

I took all 3 of these on my way home from International Mother Language Day, which we celebrated in Svan at Domink's school, No 2, in grand style - most of it his own doing.
Top 2 - minimalist snow and fence.
Bottom - yes, this overhang of snow and ice is high enough, and heavy enough, to kill if you're standing under it when it falls.  One of many in Mestia.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ormotsi, Lenjeri, mid-Feb. 2011

Ormotsi is the Georgian word for 40.  This feast, held all over this part of the world, is 40 days from the death of someone.  First there is the funeral feast (gasveneba), then this one, then another a year after death (ts'lis tavi).  Except here in Svaneti, between the funeral & 40-day feast, there must be more, more... a feast for every Saturday between those two.  no wonder the women weep and wail when someone dies - a crazy amount of work awaits the survivors, which may drive them - despite financial gifts from all guests - into debt for months or years.
This ormotsi was for our host lady's aunt, who had raised her and her siblings when their mother died young. I should have been outside with the men, but was asked by our hostess to stay indoors with my wife and the other women, to be joined by other men, who never came.  So I was an honourary woman for the occasion, and glad enough to escape the cold and araqi - Svan moonshine.
The tables are planks of wood on sawn wood legs, covered with a roll of paper bound with a long spiral of thread.  If you're a VIP you get a real metal fork, and maybe a knife; lucky, and you have a plastic fork; the most usual utensil is a piece of bread with which you pick up everything your fingers can't put straight into your mouth from your plate, the more fiddly salads or thick soups, etc.  The food will never run out, and neither will the drink, as there are countless toasts to be made, and a feast can last hours upon hours in certain situations and conditions.  Crockery is a set kept by each village for common use, plates stored in wooden boxes for every wedding or funeral.
The middle shot is the village of Lenjeri, where my wife teaches English, its school half an hour's walk from where we're staying in Mestia.   The school is so close to the Mestia sign that it almost merges with Mestia, and the location of this ormotsi is about twice as far from our house.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mestia Views, Feb. 2011

3 more recent shots.
Top:  our hosts, father (l) and son (r) cutting wood, from the 2nd story window just outside our room.  I regularly chop wood for Lali's & my little stove as well.  It's nice and dry, so it burns like a rocket.
Middle:  roster for supper...
Bottom:  A watchtower near our house, and icicles.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fires in the Snow 1: Lamproba, Mestia 14/2/2011

Here are the first few of my Lamproba photos from last night, the main church in Mestia, called St. George's.  Everyone brought bundles of sticks and lit fires on their family's communal graves, then drank toasts and feasted the dead.  Meanwhile, there was a normal Orthodox service going on in the church.  Apparently, the Church has decided to make peace with this Svan ritual, which predates Christianity, seeing nothing inherently wrong with it.  It was an amazing thing, in the -10 C temperatures, to see all these fires lighting up the cemetery.  My shots were all of 1 second or more exposure, with fill-in flash to freeze some of the action.  The middle shot is a TV crew recording the words of an elder as he says and does his thing.  Bottom, the scene from halfway up the church's tower.  It was all fascinating.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mestia Views 3, late Jan. 2011

 Top, Vitia taking another load of cow manure to the fields by bull-powered sled, where it will lie until spring and then be spread.
Middle, another vertical panorama of a view I love, the river and towers, all garbage blissfully snow-covered.
Bottom, view of the barn and town from our upper windows, a several-minute exposure on a tripod during fairly heavy snowfall.  Where's the falling snow, then?! Magically vanished by the long exposure, its only remaining effects a slight changing of the light in the distance and an overall softening of things.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Twilight in Mestia, early Feb. 2011

 These 2 are from the roof of the lower of the 2 Chartolani watchtowers; the upper tower is the one at left in the top photo, giving an idea of just how safe - or not - I was.  The roof is shallow and wooden, so not at all slippery despite having half a foot or so of snow on it.  But there's nothing to stop you aside from friction should you slip towards the edge, and it's a long way down...
The 2-storey house at right in the top photo, with 2 sets of lower windows lit and 4 sets of dark windows above, is where Lali & I are staying (in an upper-floor room) with a super host family, our new friends in Mestia.
The lower shot is of most of the eastern side of Mestia as twilight fell, that magical time again.  I was shooting on a tripod, exposures of up to a minute or 2 in length, bare fingers getting numb as the evening deepened and the wind rose a bit on our high perch.  But nothing too serious, and the frames I came away with made the whole thing 100% worth it.  At extreme right, the white building is the new gamgeoba, or town hall, and left of that blazing away with light is the central sqiare and its park and hotel.  Mt. Tetnuldi with its pyramidal peak in the central background obligingly came clear of clouds during the shooting, a relative rarity at the moment.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mestia Views 2, late Jan. 2011

 Top, from our host family's barn.
Middle, from an upstairs window.
Bottom, panorama from the newly refurbished Tetnuldi Hotel.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mestia Views, late Jan. 2011


Top, the area where Lali & I live, just right of the towers, shot from my school..
Middle, a view of the town as you enter it from the west,
Bottom, towers through a frosty window in the house where we live.
What's not to love about this place?!  Landscape wise, at least.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Twilight in Mestia, late Jan. 2011

There is a window of time, only minutes long, when the twilight is descending... the snow is still visible and the watchtower lights are coming on one by one.  Blues and yellows contrasting.  Streak of a car's headlights caught in my tripod-mounted slow exposure of a minute or so. Star from a tower light shining nearly straight at my lens.  Church lit in its own colour, more green.  In short, a magical time.  Before this, the lights haven't illuminated the towers; soon afterwards, darkness descends and much of the blue detail is lost.  Right time, right place.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dance, Lenjeri Middle School, late Jan. 2011

Some friends and I were visiting the school where my wife teaches English, in Lenjeri, 20 minutes' walk from our house.  The older students treated us to an impromptu concert with singing, poetry and dance, the latter which I captured in my usual motion-blur style.  Lots of fun.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mestia, Jan. 25, 2011

Only one photo today, but it's assembled from three (same shot, different exposures) in the HDR style in order to capture the full range of tones such a contrasty scene offers.  Mestia, with Mt. Tetnuldi's pyramidal peak in the background, this midmorning.  This is also the first time I used my new circular polarizing filter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter, Spring Lake, Alberta, Jan. 1, 2011

Just frost on windows, nothing fancy.  But it never fails to thrill me with its endless detail, a different world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Winter Olymics 2020...?

New Year's Day 2011 at my niece & nephew's place, near Edmonton, Canada - their husky dogs, rarin' to go with snowboarders attached.  A new sport is born?!  Slow shutter speeds and panning to blur the background but stay with the action as much as possible.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rustavi 2's March 2008 video from Ushguli, AT LAST!

I've had a copy of this soon after it was made, but the subtitles took a lot of work to add.  Every single one needed to be put in just the right place for the right amount of time - and there are about 140 of them.  Many thanks, Terry V, for your hard work with me to finish this thing off at last - I knew you could do it, and I didn't know anyone else who could!  (We changed the original Dean Martin song, quite distorted, for a better one, added all the subtitles and some photos - otherwise it's as it aired.)

The story:  I lived in Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia, Europe's highest village, for the winters of 2007-8 and 2008-9, teaching English to all of its 50 schoolchildren for free in exchange for room and board.  My first TV event from there was the photos of a set of avalanches which closed the village off for about a month in total.  I took the photos, uploaded them to my blog, had a phone interview with Rusiavi 2 TV Channel, and saw it all put together on the next morning's news - very satisfying.  The TV people were also interested in how I came to live in Ushguli - not a common occurrance for a foreigner.  So they had to come up and film me, and eventually told me that they were on their way "for a couple of days".  I jokingly told the villagers, "A couple of days?!  It takes a couple of days just to get here and back from Tbilisi!  I hope the guys get stuck for a week!"  Well, 1 metre of snow later, that's exactly what happened.  Once they surrendered themselves to the inevitable, they were able to make such a good little documentary that it was chosen as one of the channel's 10 best programmes of the year!  So, at the end of 2008, newly married (civil ceremony, at least), Lali & I were called back to the studio to receive our prize, again on TV.  People STILL recognize me in the street in Georgia - "Say, you're that guy who was taking a bath on TV, aren't you?"  Well, everyone should be famous for something.  Lasha and Levan - great work, still reaping fruit.  Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


... seems the posts I made ahead of time for early January 2011 have failed to start materialzing.  I'll have to repost them, or post some new ones, really soon.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cracked Paint, Mestia, November 2010

 More of an autumnal feeling than a wintery one, but I don't claim to be logical on this blog, I just post what I like, in general.  An abandoned house above where we are staying in the town.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mestia, late November 2010

 New digs, and a new little wood-burning stove in our bedroom.  The room itself is SO much warmer than our one in the last host family's house because:  1) it's a more normal size without being cramped; 2) it's heated from below by the family's main wood stove, so the floor isn't deadly cold; 3) only 1 of its 6 surfaces (4 walls, floor, ceiling) is an outer one; and 4) we have a hole in the wall for the stovepipe, allowing us to have the stove at all.  A VAST improvement in our comfort - it roars away and heats up the room in about 5 minutes flat, once I light it in the morning.

Below, us at the restaurant of Mestia's Tetnuldi Hotel, 24/11/10, our civil wedding's 2nd anniversary, a shot hand-held by me.  We look happy because we ARE.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Iced Fence, Mestia, November 2010

Perhaps more of a Christmas-themed image than the last few (at least for the minority of earth's population living in the Northern Hemisphere, where Christmas is in the cold part of the year, not the warm!).  Caused by a leaking water pipe, and delighted in by me in the morning when I saw it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

K'ala and Ushba Vertical Panorama, late July 2010

(From now until January 16, I'm in Canada, but still posting Georgian images for now.)
Mt Ushba again, top centre, with part of the village of K'ala below, and the Enguri River.  Also taken on Kvirikoba day, also a panorama assembled from several photos.  Clouds coming would soon obscure the mountain as usual, but until then all they did was add more interest to the sky.

As for this day being Christmas Eve... no apologies for refusing to wish you a mere "Happy Holidays".  No, this season is called Christmas, like it or not.  Have a Merry Christmas.  Or don't take it off at all, if you're serious about protesting a Christian holiday.  Grinch, grumble, &c.