Some 35mm film that reflects my unabashed love for spring and all that Victoria brings forth in these beautiful months.
Some 35mm film that reflects my unabashed love for spring and all that Victoria brings forth in these beautiful months.
Evidence that Victoria is once again beginning to bloom- the cruise ships, tour buses, and tourists are all slowly arriving, filling the streets of this city once again.
Once again I feel absent from this blog. I have been feverishly writing, editing, and re-writing my thesis for several weeks now and my pace has quickened. I get up early, write for a few hours, take a break, and then do some more. Caffeine is vital. Lots of sleep is too.
Above are photographs on film, mostly from my Chinon camera, from the last month. Coffee, walks, the ocean, and necessary bits of humanity are all present.
My body has felt off kilter for a few weeks now, but being able to be in Minneapolis for a few short days has restored my soul a bit. This weekend some really lovely souls helped me have a birthday party- my first in years and years! (Thank you all!) Things are good- the cherry blossoms are everywhere on trees and all I want to do is go photograph them all but writing this damn thing is THE PRIORITY! Keep your eyes peeled- I’ll try to get out during the day this week on one of my breaks and photograph these gorgeous things.
Odds and ends on film. Right now it is windy and clouds are being pushed past my window quickly. I’ve been busy working on a section of my thesis that is due in a few days- and I’m so nervous to send in what I’ve got! I’ve been editing, re-writing, re-organizing, and trying to find some semblance of lucidity in my own writing. Perhaps in my life as well?
I found a boxy little camera at a thrift store, went to 6 different shops and found the obscure battery, and took it out for a test drive.
The Chinon Auto 3001 is a sturdy little camera with a clamshell lens cover. It’s got a f/2.8 lens, a fill flash, an auto flash (that you can turn off) and no manual I could find on the internet.
So, on one of my meandering walks and over the course of a few evenings, I tried to shoot some test film on 2 rolls of Fujifilm. The results: Not too shabby. Obviously I need to test the auto-focus features more (it is supposed to be pretty good with the AF features) but it seems like a handy little beast to have around!
My greatest regret is that you cannot see the marvelous extra toes on Coco the cat’s little feet! She has polydactylism, which means that her feet have more toes than they should, and her adorable little paws look like little muffins!
Thrift stores are a gold mine of glorious potential. I have found luxury leather bags, exquisite vintage coats, jewelry, and my fair share of amazing/weird things.
I mostly trawl mine these days for forgotten cameras and film. Many people donate film to thrift stores- much of it expired- and for a fraction of the cost I’ll shoot it.
As you can see, most expired film gets grainy and can’t handle dark light at all. Colors are a bit off, too. However, when I found 4 rolls of Kodak Gold 400 speed film for $2.00 I definitely went for it. When I got the developed roll back from the shop, though, I found I only had about 12 usable frames- mostly because I had tried taking photographs at night, which on this expired film was nearly impossible.
Note to self with my remaining rolls: Be generous with daylight.
I insisted that Logan come to the fair with me. The fair is a microcosm of American culture: It’s big, colorful, gluttonous, loud, and silly. Children can shoot fake enormous guns that look scarily real from rough looking carnival employees. One can buy deep fried Oreos in large quantities and people watch. Rodeo visitors dress up in their best cowboy boots, hats, and belts. Men with large stomachs wear their largest belt buckles. The exhibition hall houses goats, rabbits, chickens, cows, and sheep, all for purchase or viewing.
Old people walk past children’s carnival rides decorated with busty women, hyper sexualized characters in skimpy outfits. Everywhere there is inescapable mud and dirt, in sharp contrast to the shiny neon and the lights. Food trucks line the parking lot, and one can devour anything from pork chop sandwiches to roasted corn to funnel cakes.
And I found a roll of 35mm film in a film shop in Bozeman that I hadn’t picked up, scanned in the negatives, and found all of this waiting for me. What an odd, marvelous late gift to myself.
I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.
I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.
That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)
From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.
I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.
Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.
It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.
Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.
Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.
Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.
How much of what I remember is real? How much of it is fantastical, invented by repetition of remembering? How much of Lugano that I possess in image won’t be there when I go next time?
I left Lugano in May of 2011, when I was 20 years old, sure of my return. I have not been back since. I ended up graduating from an in-state university instead of the prestigious, dual-degree giving small college in Switzerland I planned on.
I was surrounded by new things there, when at the age of 18 I embarked on the rare opportunity to learn somewhere entirely foreign to me. Ridiculous amounts of wealth stared me in the face- students in leased Porsches, BMW’s, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles lined the small student parking lot, bags worth my tuition gracefully hanging from fellow students arms, expectations of lavishness that had only entered my eyes previously through magazines. One classmate described growing up being shuffled around in armored vehicles in Colombia due to her father’s fear of being kidnapped. In Montana we keep a winter survival kit in the car in case something happens. In the cafeteria Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, Czech, and English all mingled. Downtown Lugano was a space of tremendous, blatant wealth as well- I gazed at 800 franc shoes from Ermenegildo Zegna, gorgeously tailored suits, women wearing furs in the midst of May. Limited edition cars so rare that their worth almost couldn’t be ascertained- Bugatti, Lamborghini, Bentley, Jaguar- parked near 18th century Baroque churches. Versace, Bally, Hermes, Gucci, Missoni, Cartier boutiques lined the narrow, car-less streets weaving between quiet, elegant piazzas.
In the autumn, the piazzas were laced with the smell of roasted chestnuts. Sullen Gothic teenagers huddled outside Manor, sharing quiet comradery. Efficient buses hummed around and the funiculare which took you from downtown to the train station cost .10 francs and went to and fro full of passengers up the steep hill. Centuries old buildings with painted on windows, all shades of pastel, created a maze-like town of alleys and piazzas to stumble into. In the winter, one would hear the helicopters as large, regal Christmas trees were lowered into the piazzas. Old men played chess on the many painted large chess boards around the city. Swans, regal thieves, languidly floated near the edge of the lake, waiting to be fed. The sleek, small train station whisked people away to Milano Centrale or to the Zurich Bahnhof, wherever the rider wanted to go. I myself had the utter joy of having a train pass, being able to explore such cities as Lausanne, St. Gallen, Basel, and Zurich, easily and efficiently. Well-dressed older gentleman whose taxis were plush Jaguars asked if you needed their services. If you did indeed take a taxi, the inside was full of the sounds of bad 1990’s American rock and pop music that the drivers knew every word to. (I remember having one very patient Luganese gentleman try to shove my rather tattered bag into the back of his car at 5 am, probably much more used to dealing with more sleek creatures.)
Among all this newness and strangeness, I found my stride, my humble Montana-based stride, in the midst of all. Migros was the affordable grocery store that I regularly patronized. H&M clothed me. My friends and I splurged on warm Nutella crepes or nocciolo gelato, at 5 francs a welcome luxury, from the petite stands that emerged outside Manor and on corners. Churches full of relics, frescoes, and gorgeous, quiet details absorbed my spare time. Flowers in the Parco Civico, changed frequently, smiled at me, and in the early mornings, before most humans were awake, I could have the lakeside, and even the Italian mountains across the lake, to myself. On a few special occasions my dearest friends and I gathered at the Spaghetti Store by the lake to devour pizza with marscopone, arugula, and prosciutto with cheap table wine.
And yet, how much of this is personal mythology I coaxed from the threads of my mind? How many times was my identity as outsider made obvious?
I really hope, in the next few years, to go back and ascertain how much of what I think I know about this beautiful city is false. Human memory is so faulty, beautifully so, and if I find comfort in the ideas I’ve woven for myself,so be it. The curious part of me, however, is not always content with that answer- nor should it be. Lugano, I cannot wait to re-explore and analyze you with my veteran eyes.
Flying into Montana at its ugliest reminds me how much I love it despite how dry and brown it is at this time of year. Hunting season is out and about, with men and women decked out in camouflage in the grocery stores and gas stations, likely just returning from a day in the mountains or fields, meandering buying milk and other things. I had forgotten about this simple aspect of life home.
I missed driving, the 12oz glasses of Blackfoot IPA, the inevitable seeing of people I knew, because it was all familiar. Ultra-crunch leaves were everywhere, bare trees ready to embrace coats of snow. Bob Ross, the tree in Logan’s backyard, looked eerie and naked without his beautiful leaves. We had a fire on my last day, which Ella stoked to perfection. The wind made it a mercurial joy to have around, switching directions quickly, threatening to singe one or more of us. I was able to hold warm cups of coffee with loved ones close by. I hugged my sister, surprised my parents with my visit, and slept in. It was beautiful, and like all lovely things, quick, far too quick for my liking.
I am in the process of forming a Gothic girl gang of nerdy, like-minded women who don’t mind trouncing along dark streets at night while having glorious chats. Thus far it’s been great- after our first walk we ended up getting pho, which I am thoroughly addicted to.
There were words here that I meant to expand upon about being soft and kind and letting yourself feel all the feels but I couldn’t write what my mind was thinking well enough to let it linger here. Suffice to say, it’s gone now.
I went on a very long walk the other day after a long day working and encountered lots of small moments in humanity that made me feel good. I walked a long, long way and went home and slept like a rock and it felt right. Long walks always put things right with me.
My first experience with Habit Coffee happened last fall, as an eager newcomer to Victoria. From the charming exterior to the well-lit interior, it seemed a likely spot for me to enjoy. When I inquired about WiFi at the counter (trying to deduce some good study locations) I was given a look as though I had just whispered Voldermort’s name to a wizard. “We. Don’t. Have. WiFi.”, the barista practically hissed. WiFi, it seems, is anathema to everything Habit Coffee stands for.
And yet, despite this initial rather acidic welcoming, Habit Coffee has somehow remained a place I go when I’m out of sorts, can’t stand to look at a computer screen, and just want to read or write at a small table with a cup of coffee or a hot tea. The vibe at the smaller Chinatown location is, like many Victoria places, eclectic, but simple. They’ve got great magazines to thumb through (I recently discovered the joy of Frankie magazine, a wonderful Australian creation!) and overall it’s a space that feels welcoming and warm, has decent and decently priced coffee, and offers respite from the busy streets downtown.
Photography is a marvelous tool to make your life look much better than it feels. You choose a moment, and you eliminate sound, movement, context. You strip the moment down to an element that is then frozen into light sensitive silver particles on roll of film carefully threaded into your camera.
I am a thief. I am a propagandist. I use photography as a tool for coping, for survival, for love, for preservation, for dear life. It is better that way.
Pictured above: A series of evening photographs on idyllic Vancouver Island.
Ross Bay Cemetery.
I do spend a lot of time, perhaps too much, in this cemetery. It’s enormous, full of paths, and the most magnificent trees! There is so much history here, and every time I walk through I find a new headstone I admire or a new detail to enjoy. Somebody, for example, put the most perfect pine cone on the top of a tombstone, and it looked very fitting with the darkening stone.
The trees in here are regal but not overbearing. They have different personalities and the leaves they all have are different. This time of year a lot of yellow and orange leaves- the trees that have red leaves have not yet let gravity inevitably take them yet.
If you’re in Victoria and want to escape downtown head to Ross Bay and spend some time here. I like reading on one of the benches or quietly learning about all the people who came here from every corner of the earth- Croatia, Poland, all parts of England, Japan, Russia, etc., because it makes Victoria, which feels very settled and sometimes overly cultivated, feel more real.