Black and white ruins

A few years ago in Les Angles, France, near the Spanish border, I came across a collapsed cottage, its roof shingles caving in, door hanging off, woodwork tumbling to the ground. I took a photo of it, not because of the decrepitude but because of the colours. Every one of the dark grey shingles was partly covered in orange lichen, the stones of the walls were of varying earthy tones, and the door was a rich cedar brown. But today I’m switching the image to black and white to see how it compares with an image from my father’s WW2 album of a bombed building and a boy raising his arm. (Defiance? Victory?) The photo was taken in the Middle East, probably Egypt. Both buildings in the photos are ruined, no longer habitable, probably beyond repair.

I like the softness of the 1941 image. Despite it being a scene of war damage, the picture is easy to look at, I don’t need to see more detail. What’s there is enough. Usually I turn away from shots like this, confronted as we are these days with countless graphic scenes of destruction on our news pages. But this one I can look at.

By contrast, the recent image of a French cottage in a ski town in the Pyrenees is starkly clear. I suspect a weighty load of snow has brought down the roof. This photo which I took in 2015 has definition to each of the shingles, stones and pieces of timber, even a few nails sticking out of the boards, making it an interesting image to analyse. To compare the blocks in the foreground of each image, those in the 1941 photo are roughly defined but not sharp like those in the newer one. The building in the background of the Egyptian photo looks interesting and I would like to see more of its detail. So, my conclusion is that the newer photo is more useful information-wise, but the old picture from World War Two gives enough information about war, and no more is needed.

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365 Unusual Things: 218-224

218. Went to the new Nepalese café in my street and saw a painting of dancers in Kathmandu, signed Painter Krishna. Also saw a large photo of the Nepalese royal family who were assassinated in 2001.

219. Watched a band rehearse this morning where the woman at the microphone was singing and knitting at the same time, not as a gimmick but just because she can’t not knit.

220. Bought a 2300-page book that has pages 1607 – 1670 accidentally placed at the back.

221. Came across a tree I photographed a few years ago with ducks sitting in it. Today it’s completely dead.

222. Three years ago I asked someone the name of my favourite barista, and was told he was Kyle, which I’ve called him ever since. Today, thinking about his slight Chinese accent, I asked him if his name was actually Kyle. He informed me it’s Kai. He has never corrected me. This would be unusual for someone with an Anglo name, but migrants are often satisfied with ‘near enough is good enough’.

223. Rose early to photograph the sunrise for the first time this year. It was beautiful. Within minutes grey clouds came, stayed and drizzled on me all day.

224. A friend who told me a week ago that she wouldn’t have time to come and see me any more came to see me today.

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365 Unusual Things: 211-217

211. Saw a woman walking a cat on a leash in Gundagai.

212. Having lunch at the local golf club I saw a man heading onto the course in purple polka-dot pants and matching hat.

213. At the café/restaurant of the golf club, an Uber Eats driver brought a delivery of food to the receptionist which she tucked under her desk.

214. I was approached in the street by a woman with a petition to ban a certain Communist Party. She assured me that my first name would be sufficient. I didn’t sign it.

215. A large man arrived 2 weeks ago to rent an Airbnb apartment on the other side of my street. He was wearing shorts and t-shirt on a very cold winter day, and stood outside for the first 2 hours waiting for the owner to let him in. Today his car, parked in the street, is wrapped in police tape that says “Under investigation”.

216. A storm at one o’clock this morning made the solar fairy lights in my trees come on with every lightning flash.

217. After two storms and non-stop rain all day yesterday, the pond flooded and the cut reeds that are left to float on the pond for the birds were washed up onto the path. Stinky and sludgy.

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Black and white war planes

Today I’m comparing a photo from about 1941 of a huge propeller plane in World War Two, probably a bomber, with a photo I took last weekend of an F-111C in the RAAF museum in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

I took the F-111 photo with my new camera, a Fujifilm X-E4. I’m no professional. I use a camera simply because I can’t take decent photos with a mobile phone, can’t hold it steady, am likely to drop it since it doesn’t have a wrist strap like my camera does. Actually I use a camera so I don’t look like everyone else.

The details in the new photo are outstanding. When I click on ‘full size’ in the WordPress info I can read the writing on the plane, and the bars of the fence around it are each defined. Clicking ‘full size’ for the old photo reveals little more of the plane, but I can see details on the young pilot’s face, a space between his teeth and prominent ears, which would help me identify him if I found another photo online to compare it with. There appears to be snow on the ground, suggesting it was December 1941 or January 1942.

My father captioned this photo McGowan RAAF. I’ve searched the War Memorial website for a pilot by this name who was flying in the Middle East (where my father had been sent) at the end of 1941, but I’m yet to identify him.

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365 Unusual Things: 204-210

204. Bought a robot vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t pick up crumbs on the edges of the room. This is unusual because it was expensive.

205. Received a photo of my great-grandfather’s grave which surprised me. I’ve been told he had a mansion with maids. But the photo shows he lies in an unmarked grave.

206. Helped a Colombian migrant today learn the terms on a family tree. She has so many different ethnicities in her family that she can’t track her tree further back than one generation, unlike mine which consists only of Anglo-Scottish-Irish ancestors, some of whom I’ve tracked back 500 years.

207. Had a conversation with a Cameroonian woman who is 46 and wants to start a medical degree next year that will take her at least 7 years to complete.

208. Took photos in the street while waiting for someone, and noticed that Canberra has a winter uniform: a black puffer jacket. I’m unusual: my jacket is not black or puffy.

209. Read about a book of postcard poems that’s just been released. So I wrote a poem on a postcard in both English and French. Never done this before.

210. Saw a woman in blue lycra beside the pond, doubled over in a stretch, looking backwards at me through her legs, through matching blue-framed glasses.

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365 Unusual Things: 197-203

197. Our new grandson came to be babysat at our house today for the first time. While I was talking baby talk to him, I was unknowingly videoed. It was posted on a social media site. A private moment all of a sudden became unprivate.

198. The Persian shop across the road has a set of traffic lights for sale. They’re shining so brightly that they catch my eye when I’m inside my house.

199. Near the Persian restaurant there’s a Nepalese discount grocery store which is setting up a new restaurant in its empty space. They’ve had the Himalayas painted around the top of the entrance.

200. Walking towards a nature reserve I was spooked by some large bird shadows appearing in front of me. I looked up and saw a flock of ibis flying low above my head, coming in to land.

201. Saw two birds by the pond today standing on one leg. A swamphen had a broken leg and was hopping on the good one; a seagull simply had only one leg, but wasn’t moving at all.

202. Found out that another literary translator/editor has followed my translation site for some time. Yet she’s not on my list of followers. Just shows that people read our stuff without letting us know. That’s not a bad thing.

203. After 18 months without a U.S. Ambassador in Australia, Caroline Kennedy arrived today to take up the position.

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Black and white soldiers

There’s this photo of Egyptian soldiers in my father’s war album from about 1942 in which each man seems to be wearing his fierce face. The photo is blurry but the facial expressions are surprisingly threatening, an effect which I think is intensified by the dark shadows covering half of almost every face as they stand in the hot sun.

In 2013 I was sitting in the street in Collioure, France, outside the 800-year-old castle, the Château Royal de Collioure, when a lot of soldiers, or rather commandos, arrived to prepare their rubber dinghies to go out on the sea. The scene was a head-turner and naturally I took some photos.

I have just converted one to black and white to compare it with the image of the Egyptian soldiers, and I find a very different picture of practice preparations for battle. However, my photo is nine years old now and though it’s clearer than the 1942 picture, it’s not as good as photos we take today in 2022; it’s slightly pixelated when I zoom in. Still, there’s a definite difference: softness versus clarity. For example, the stones of the castle wall are defined, and the small tower windows at the top are clear, whereas the building behind the Egyptian soldiers is hazy, and zooming in makes it even fuzzier. The focus is on the men, and the background is irrelevant. It’s also interesting that the Egyptian soldiers are looking at the camera, while the French soldiers are oblivious to all observers.

Out of the two photos, I prefer the modern one with its detailed setting and background. The Egyptian photo’s background leaves me wondering about the darkness and verticals of the building.

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365 Unusual Things: 190-196

190. Saw an amazing bike sculpture in someone’s front yard. Passers-by are allowed to pedal the bike and make the wheels above turn. I didn’t, because I was alone and the owners weren’t around.

191. On a woman’s tracksuit jumper were the words Eat Sleep OTF Repeat. I sat by the pond imagining what OTF could stand for.

192. Got a contact message from my website, patriciaworthtranslator.com, from someone in the Australian literary translation field. She wants to meet me, but why? It’s the first contact message I’ve had from my site, though I’ve been running it for years.

193. Read that the Hebrew word śerāpîm, transliterated as Seraphim and generally associated with angels, actually comes from sārap meaning fiery flying serpents or poisonous snakes. But translators have been unable to find an English equivalent and therefore leave it untranslated, perhaps to avoid the image of flying venomous serpents as caretakers of God’s throne.

194. On a walk around the pond today, a man riding a skateboard with his arms crossed, and his little daughter on a bike, were coming towards me when I heard her ask “Dad, is it afternoon?”. He said “Yes, it’s afternoon”. When we reached each other on the path she said in a loud cheery voice, “Good afternoon!”. This was unusual coming from a small child, and indeed it’s unusual for anyone to greet me any more since most walkers wear earphones.

195. At the post office I applied for a passport renewal and the guy said it will take a few months because of the high demand now that we can travel again. He then cut the cover off my current passport so I won’t end up with two. But actually now I have none.

196. Driving home tonight I saw a huge yellow ball in the sky. Found out it’s a super moon.

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365 Unusual Things: 183 – 189

183. Found on the ABC news web site (our national broadcaster) a section called ‘Good News’. Never seen it before, perhaps because it comes 10th on their news page, after National top stories, State news, Local news, news videos, world news, Asia Pacific, Business, Sport, Arts & Culture.

184. Saw a Great Egret in the pond today. The local nature experts told me it was rarely seen outside of another pond on the south side of the city.

185. Today I was encouraged to submit a translated fantasy story to a journal. They want me to ‘self-identify’ … “Everyone sits at intersections of identity and privilege—please do not write that you have ‘no intersectional identity’ in your cover letter … We also encourage folks who aren’t marginalized to get into the practice of self-identifying, to normalize the practice across the board.” This is an unusual request from editors who are supposed to be judging writing, not writers.

186. Heard theme song from Phantom of the Opera (1986) on the radio and recognised a riff ( DAAAA-da-da-da-da-da) from a song I’ve used for teaching English, ‘Mary had a little lamb’ by Paul McCartney (1971).  It’s also used by Pink Floyd in ‘Echoes’ (also 1971).

187. A delivery guy brought my new camera to the door today, knocked once, then took it back to his van and drove away before we could get to the door. I had to go to the post office to get it.

188. Went walking to take photos with my new Fujifilm camera and found a pigeon fancier who had released his birds for a free fly.

189. Went to dinner in a Thai restaurant where there were two statues of women, one is Thai, the other African. Unusual but complementary.

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Black and white old graves

In the album my father brought home from the Middle East in 1942 there are several photos of graves and cemeteries. The one I’m posting here is quite moving. It seems to be an impromptu grave made for a pilot in the north African desert where Australians were serving. I’m comparing it with a photo I took in 2014 when I was doing some family tree research. Some of my ancestors were pioneers in western Queensland and are buried in Dalby, in a cemetery which looks fairly abandoned. This neglected family plot doesn’t belong to my relatives but their graves are nearby.

I’ve converted my photo to black and white to compare it with the photo from World War Two. The older one is a bit fuzzy but clear enough that we can make out the cross, the stones on the grave, the propeller, crash debris, and stubbly desert plants. But cameras have come a long way, as we can see in the newer photo if we zoom in, using the WordPress blog feature of clicking on the photo, then the ‘i’ information symbol in the circle, then ‘View full size’, then the plus sign.

The detail that’s revealed is surprising. For example, the headstone in the top left of my photo becomes completely legible. (At least, that’s what it’s like on my desktop monitor. I hope it’s the same for those looking at a phone screen.) But for the old photo, zooming in further only makes it even less distinct. The stones on the grave are recognisable as stones, but blown up they look more like black, white and grey forms. Perhaps a positive about old photos is that details are not too visible in scenes of destruction like this. We have to use our imagination because not all the information is there, unlike today’s graphic news images that require a newsreader’s warning before they’re shown on our screens.

N.B. My father wrote under the photo in his album: ‘Grave Flt Lt Smith’. I haven’t been able to find out more information.

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