Dec 082016

You may have noticed, Austria has a properly elected president now, and to the surprise of many, it is not Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the “Freedom Party”.

It has caused a sigh of relief throughout most of Europe, and most certainly among those who still think the EU is a good idea.

Brexit was a shock, and after Brexit, we thought that everything is possible, regardless of how stupid it is. Populism seemed to reign surpreme, and Trump seemed to be the clear proof that the age of facts is over.

Is this a turn of the tide?

We can’t be sure of it. It was Everybody vs Freedom Party in Austria, and what we got was a clear lead of 53.8% vs 46.2%. That’s more than OK for a victory, but it is not a landslide for reason. The next time, in general elections, we will see each party campaign for itself, and only the most principled of them will be steadfast about their refusal to go into a coalition with a probably leading Freedom Party. I expect the Greens and the Neos (a neoliberal party, basically the modern conservatives) in this role, but the two biggest rivals, Social Democrats and People’s Party, are already “reforming” their programs to be compatible with any coalition that may be needed to stay in power.

What can we, the people, do?

Well, we can stop waiting for the next elections. We have to make it clear NOW that we don’t approve. The next time we’ll be asked, it will already be too late. If we don’t say no to populism today, tomorrow and every day, if we don’t insist on facts as the fundament of political decisions, then the rivals for power will all go the way of populism.

If we don’t want to be lied to and if we don’t want to be tricked cheaply, we must demonstrate that populism does not work. Populism depends on a gullible populace. In a society of independent critical thinkers it does not work. Let’s show them that we are responsible individuals and not voting material. That’s all we need to do, but we have to do it convincingly.

Dec 072016

I’ve got no images from the whole drive along the coast. Basically it’s a mix of tourist places and private houses all along the coast up to Saint-Tropez.

Thirty years ago I’ve been in Provence with a group of students. We’ve traveled by bus, and I remember having been in Saint-Tropez, or rather, I remember having driven through Saint-Tropez. Basically I remember one specific street corner, nothing more, but when we were there this year, everything looked completely new to me.

Which is good, because in my memory Saint-Tropez had been a let-down, and that’s definitely not what it is. It actually has a picturesque center of narrow old streets, and that’s probably also the reason why I can’t remember it: it would have been completely unaccessible for a tourist bus 🙂

The image has been taken under the marquee of a restaurant where we sat and sipped a drink. The cool trick there is, that they spray a mist of cool water from the marquee a few times a minute. That’s cool luxury under the burning sun.

Dec 062016

The cloister was more important to us than the church, and because the tourist office, our entrance to the cloister, closed at noon, we started there and visited the church later.

Well, it was slightly anticlimactic. The baptistery, the oldest part of the church, originates from the fifth century, but you can only look into it through a scratched and smeared glass window. I’ve tried my best in post-processing, but you can only do so much to a bad image 🙂

The other thing is the church. It looks like an odd mix of architectural styles and misplaced furniture. By all means, this is one of the most ugly churches that I’ve ever visited.

I’ve spared you the baroque parts of the church, and to be honest, I’ve not even taken an image of them.

There’s one exception though. The church has two beautiful modern stained glass windows. They are not enough to save the ensemble, but at least they take away some of the pain.

Dec 052016

In earlier times I would have had bought a guide to the region, or more likely a few. I’m mostly interested in art, history and architecture, and the quality of guides varying.

Today I always start with a look into Wikipedia, and in order to be independent of Internet connections, I also have an offline copy of the German Wikipedia on my phone.

Basically the quality of that information is comparable to everything that a good tourist guide of the Provence would have revealed about a town like Fréjus. It told me that there is a cathedral, and it also told me about a cloister. I love cloisters, therefore we had to see it.

It’s a two story cloister. It’s not a big one, but it is extremely beautiful.

What makes a cloister beautiful? Well, twin columns are always nice, and of course much depends on the nature of the patio. This one has a lovely well, white gravel and a few small trees.

Fréjus is not a tourist center. We spent maybe 20 minutes in the cloister and for the whole time we were completely alone. That’s one of the benefits of visiting places off the beaten path.

One of the beautiful details was the wooden roof of the lower part of the cloister. It’s not completely uncommon, but most of the time you have gothic or romanesque vaults.

Originally the cloister was connected to the church, but that door is closed now. You reach thr cloister through the tourist office, just like we’ve seen it in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

Dec 042016

Fréjus had not been on my radar. If you had asked me where that place is, I would have said it’s in the French Alps, just across the border from Torino, Italy. Which is also correct, because the mountain pass pass leading from Torino to France is called Col du Fréjus, and that’s the name that I had in mind.

It’s always irritating when two places have the same name. I don’t know the origin of the name of the mountain pass, but the city in Provence derives its name from Forum Julii. It’s one of the cities founded by Julius Caesar. From there, linguistically, it’s a long way to Fréjus, but that’s what 2000 years do to names.

It’s not a particularly interesting city, not a must-see in Provence, but it was one of the places where we could reach the sea. Cannes, half an hour on the highway to the east, would have been the next access to the Mediterranean, but we didn’t want to drive that far. We just wanted to drive an hour or two along the coast and probably sip a drink somewhere. Therefore Fréjus was it.

Dec 032016

The Gorges du Verdon, the canyon of the Verdon river, is frequently called the Grand Canyon of Provence.

Well, I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon for real, but I am quite sure this is a little bit far-fetched.

It’s big though. We originally planned to drive along the southern side, cross somewhere far into the valley at the first bridge, and then return along the northern side.

We didn’t. It would have taken a few hours, and I had the feeling that it would have been much, much more of the same. For an impression it was enough.

Maybe it would be interesting to spend a day hiking along the Gorge, and maybe it would be funny to rent a paddleboat and do what everybody seems to do, follow the storage lake Lac de Sainte-Croix into the mouth of the river. It’s one of those countless “maybe next time” things that tend to never happen.

The world is a big place 🙂

Dec 022016

You won’t be entirely alone while taking photos of lavender.

Obviously lavender seems to entrance photographers to a degree that they become oblivious to the dangers of car traffic. That’s the reason for these warning signs that I saw over and again.

By the way, as I already said, there are a lot of other flowers, mostly at the sides of the lavender fields. Sometimes you’ll see fields of poppies though. Believe me, they are not easier to process. I dare you to make them glow but not burn out. Happy processing 😀

Oh and, before I forget, here’s one more thing about lavender: you can eat it. In Aix-an-Provence I bought calisson, a typical regional kind of candy, and they have some lavender-flavored variants there. If you try them, make sure to not think of toilet cleaners, and then you may well like the taste. I certainly did.

3695 – The Power of a Cliché

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Dec 012016

It’s Provence. Everywhere you go, you see lavender, right?

Well, that’s a cliché. It’s not true. Actually you have to look for it, and when you by chance happen to avoid certain places like the region around Valensole, you may even manage to never see a lavender field at all. In any case it won’t strike you as a determining trait of the landscape.

That was different a few decades ago. Lavender is cumbersome as an agricultural product. It is endangered by certain insects (the very cicadas that we saw in wooden replicas a few posts ago), and in fact what we see today is not true lavender (lavande) at all, it is a similar but more resistant plant called lavandin.

The other cause of the slow demise of lavender is fashion. Lavender has become an old-fashioned protection against moths, and it is also frequently used in cheap room perfumes and toilet cleaners. That’s the kind of application, that kills your reputation 🙂

As a consequence, the area devoted to lavender is continuously in decline. There’s a lot left, but you have to search for it these days.

Nov 302016

Harmonizing colors is also problematic, and I don’t mean that from an ethic point of view. I’m unscrupulous as far as that goes.

No, you’ve got two problems to solve.

The first one is, that you have to find a standard, a color towards which you intend to harmonize your images. That sounds easy, but believe me, it ain’t. Basically you have to try processing every single image, and only then do you know where your target color is.

One reason for that is, that not all images are mallable to the same degree. Some can be changed in amazing ways, some seem to resist even small changes.

Of course you can throw away what tries to resist, but then you may have to give up on images that you really like for different reasons, for instance their composition. You don’t want to do that, and therefore the color standard is set by those images that are least mallable.

The second problem is, that you can’t work with color temperature alone. Lavender is not the only color. Even in tight compositions there is the green of the stems, and you soon recognize that you want to harmonize that green as well. And then there are the other flowers. Yellow and red, sometimes pink, and all that is under a blue sky that you want to look natural. The same can be said about the color of the earth.

It’s a processing nightmare. I’ve never in my life spent as much time with images as I did with these. Each of them has been changed over and again. I did it not to make all look equal (they are not), but instead to make them seem plausible. I think I did succeed to a certain degree and definitely to the best of my abilities, and if not that, at least to the end of my patience 🙂

By the way, in case you wonder, the second image of this post is not lavender. It is some kind of salvia, a flower that is also grown here, although to a lesser extent.

Nov 292016

Lavender is a hard test for your judgement and your honesty. It forces you to lie.

Make a Google image search for lavender. You immediately see amazing (and sometimes atrocious) colors, but much of what you see is a blatant lie. Lavender does not look like on Flickr, it looks more or less like … here in my images. Yes, two weeks later it may be stronger in color, but it is not that intense violet, that you so often see, and it’s not an intense pink either.

Lavender’s color is more modest. It is tempting to present it as something garish that it isn’t, but even if you can resist, your troubles are only just beginning. The problem is, that it looks very different, depending on the light and your position relative to the sun.

It’s easy to make the test: On a sunny day, for instance at 10 am, when the sun is already high but still directional, hold your car at a lavender field, take a few steps into it (being careful to stay between the rows and not to trample the flowers), and then take images in different directions. All those images will have been taken at roughly the same time, the difference will only be the direction of light and the amount of backlight.

All images will look vastly different. Some will look more “correct” and some less so. If you process all of them in the same way, you will have some that look grossly wrong.

What I did was trying to “harmonize” the images. That’s a euphemism for lying, of course, but – believe me – I’ve tried the alternatives and they are worse.