Sunday, June 30, 2013

On choosing the joy

"Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy."
Joseph Campbell

When you take a closer look

Delray Beach, FL
December 2009

Click photo to embiggen
At first glance, it's pristine, a perfect example of shiny newness.

But lean in a bit for a closer look (go ahead, we'll wait) and something else becomes apparent. In the margins, in the little folds next to and in between the intricate chrome-topped lettering, things aren't as perfect as they seem.

As anyone who's ever cleaned the kitchen, mowed the lawn, polished the silver or wiped down a post-mealtime toddler, the big, wide-open parts are a lot easier than the nooks and crannies.

This isn't my way of saying I enjoy highlighting my friends' and family members' cleaning inadequacies - Lord knows they'd have a field day if the tables were turned. Rather, it's a gentle reminder, to myself and the three people who might read this, that we see things differently if we take the time to look more closely. And if we don't, we'll never know what we might miss.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

On holding on to memory

"Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going."
Tennessee Williams
So go ahead and catch it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Kermit would have loved this view

Calm waters run deep
Laval, QC
May 2013
This is shiny. So is this week's Thematic. Here.
I often came here as a kid. I'd get on my bike and ride out of my immediate neighborhood, across the scary-busy road, and down the huge hill. It seemed like I was riding to the ends of the planet, but in reality it was only around a kilometer from my front door.

Funny what time can do to our personal sense of perspective.

On this day, I'm back here with my kids. This mysterious destination of my childhood has become their grandparents' home. This peaceful spot by the water where I used to rest after the arduously long ride (or so it seemed back then) has been redrawn by time. New trees, branches and leaves have grown. The flowing water has subtly redrawn the shoreline. It's familiar, but the mind plays tricks with distant memories.

It doesn't matter whether it's old for me or new to them. This place is significant to all of us, and it feels right to simply stand here with them and take the moment in.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catch the setting sun

Laval, QC
May 2013
I have no way of knowing how new - or not - this vinegar dispenser was, but I'm pretty sure it was the shiniest thing I had seen that day. At least after I was finished positioning it this way and that to best capture the sun. (See here for more Thematic shiny and newness.)

New or old, it served as a sobering reminder that not every scene is immediately visible to the eye. Or to the mind's eye. Sometimes you have to shift things around - either the things themselves, or your own perspective. Sometimes you have to squint your eyes just so. Or let go of a long-held belief.

Only then can you see what hadn't been there previously. Or maybe it was indeed there, but you just weren't ready for it. Either way, I'll never simply walk away again. Otherwise I might miss a pretty decent second act.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On what makes us truly great

"Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others."
William J.H. Boetcker

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thematic Photographic 249 - Shiny and new

Scallops in the sky
Shanghai, China
May 2012

Click photo to embiggen
For some inexplicable reason, I can't get the Love Boat theme out of my head whenever I think of this theme. And now, if you were around during that wretched pop culture era, I'm betting neither can you. Sorry.

Moving on, I wanted to celebrate all that is pristine and bright with this week's theme. The world can be so pervasively dirty that it's almost therapeutic to set the ickiness aside every once in a while and bask in something that's perfectly bright and unblemished.

This building dominates the pollution-choked skies in Shanghai. Despite the scary-looking air around it - visible even in this shot - it manages to carve out its own space with a defiantly glowing, glassy presence. I couldn't stop staring at it, and even now I keep coming back to it.

Architecture rules, doesn't it?

Your turn: Take a pic that evokes or suggests the "shiny and new" theme, then post it to your blog, website, Facebook page, etc. (anywhere online, really.) Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and drop by others to spread the fun around - that's what Thematic is all about, after all. Pop by here for a Thematic primer, or just dive in and have fun with it!

Sunday, June 23, 2013


At the gate
Hong Kong, China
May 2012

For more curvaceous Thematic, click here.
Airplanes are sexy. I've covered this before (here, here and here) but it'll still never get old. These incredible machines have a certain presence, a je ne sais quoi that never fails to make the hair on my skin stand up whenever I'm near one.

Which is why when I've got time to kill in an airport, I like to look for new ways to shoot them. I know the post-9/11 mentality frowns on this kind of thing - hello NSA! - but it's a chance I'm willing to take given the fact that I can't get a pic like this from my front porch. You've gotta be at the airport for this kind of photography, and if pursuing the craft here means dodging the occasional rent-a-cop, I'm up for it.

Never mind that this was in Hong Kong, and the rent-a-cops were probably a little meaner than they were back home. Silly me...

Your turn: Do you shoot in airports? Pictures, that is.

Friday, June 21, 2013

On thesauruses and you

"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word."
Stephen King
I'd like Mr. King to have a chat with some folks I know. High-fallutin' language and 50-cent words have always hit my ear wrong. If you think big words impress others, think again.

Wait, it's 2013. Does anyone even use a thesaurus, anymore?

Bixi takes over the world

Group ride
Montreal, QC
July 2012
Head here to share your own curvaceous vision
New York City's been getting a lot of headlines lately thanks to its much ballyhooed new bike sharing service, Citi Bike. I find it amusing that most media covering the story fail to accurately report - if they report at all - the system's origins.

For the record, it all started in Montreal, where a company called Bixi introduced a service called, coincidentally, Bixi Montreal, in 2009. It's since spread to a number of other cities in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Go Canada!

I find initiatives like this rather inspiring because bike sharing services like this provide a new, inexpensive, easily accessible way of getting around the city. Urban transportation has for so long been dominated by the almighty car that it's refreshing to see a humble bike assert its place in the asphalt jungle. For folks afraid to leave their own bikes locked outside - and let's be honest, even if I take my deliberately old, beaten-up "beater bike" downtown for a meeting, I still worry when it's locked, alone, to a pole - a service like this could be an ideal solution for ad hoc, worry-free pedalling.

It isn't a perfect solution by any means. There have been conflicting reports in recent years about the service's financial viability, and the decidedly non-eco requirements to truck trailers filled with bikes from station to station to ensure even distribution. The automation-heavy solution also doesn't always work as it should, leaving riders either unable to get a bike on the road, or unable to check one back in when they're done.

These are all very real challenges, but at the same time nothing is ever perfect. Complex systems take time to mature, and we'll never improve city life if we don't push the bounds every once in a while. I'm glad a bunch of Montrealers chose to do just that. And I'm glad folks around the world are now benefitting from their efforts. Ride on.

Your turn: would you support something like this in your area?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On play

"When you play, never mind who listens to you."
Robert Schumann
Smart guy. Why do we put so much value on what others think, anyway?

They don't make them like they used to

Blue Ford
St. Thomas, ON
June 2009
I love the look of older cars. They weren't designed in wind tunnels or by focus groups. They were crafted by designers whose signatures were baked right into every curve* and flourish.

Yes, today's cars are far more efficient and safe. They can do things the antiques couldn't even dream of, and they'll last longer and do less damage to the world around them.

But. Because with me there's always a but.

I still stop in my tracks when I come across a well preserved older vehicle, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one who does. There's something inspiring about a machine that survives time. The people who take it upon themselves to keep them alive are even more inspiring. To listen to them talk about their cars, to see their eyes and faces light up as they explain what it took to get them from pile of rusted metal to pure rolling art - you feel reverent just being around them.

The Toyota Camry is a lovely car. It's safe, efficient and reliable. But I just don't see crowds gathered around one 40 years from now while the owner, fresh off a ground-up restoration job, waxes poetic about why this particular vehicle deserved to be saved from the ravages of time. Some things are best let go. Of course it's impossible to read the future and know beyond a shadow of a doubt what will and will not be a future classic. But with the benefit of hindsight, I'm kinda glad the Ford Customline V8 in the photo above continues among us.

Your turn: What separates something that's worth preserving from something that isn't?

* Thematic's curvaceous theme is here, and you're all invited.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Getting back on the road

Ready to roll
London, ON
May 2009
Thematic. Curvaceous. Here.
Once upon a time, I typically logged more miles (okay, kilometers) on two wheels than on four. I cycled everywhere. To work, to meetings, to kids' functions, to nowhere in name it and if I could find a way to leave the car at home, I did. I relished the prospect of pushing the bounds of bike culture, of building my day-to-day life around it, of powering myself to distant destinations with little more than muscle-driven power and stubborn will.

The adventure was a fun one. I went to new and incredible places. I got into crazy-good shape. I was even punched out by a nasty motorist. Good times, all.

These days my commute is a little too long for cycling, and the other competing priorities of life leave me little-to-no free time to get out and pedal.

Which is a poor excuse, I know. If I really wanted to ride, I'd find a way to make it happen. Every time I see someone cruise on past, or look at my own parked machine, it dawns on me that I'm not balancing this life thing as best I could. I need to start making better decisions about how I allocate my time, how I get around, and how I prioritize my activities.

Time to make a change. I'm guessing stark words on a screen, along with a stark photo, should be enough to get me to make that first move.

Your turn: This weekend, we ride. Who's with me?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Facebook is down. World panics.

Don't look now, but is unavailable. I'm actively watching the streets of our sleepy burg, ready to spirit my family to a safer location in case the masses decide to riot.

Or maybe I'll just unplug and walk the dog. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Update 9:35 pm ET: Aaaaand, we're back. The emergency seems to have passed, folks, and we can now return to our regularly scheduled lives. Which, if my read of Twitter streams over the last 10 minutes is accurate, mostly involves aimlessly reading through the Facebook feeds of so-called friends. Remember, they're not "friends" simply because Facebook calls them that. But that's a blog post for another day, I suppose.

9:51 pm ET: CNet has published this story, Facebook experiences apparent outage and NBC News ran this piece. Other updates: Gizmodo, AllThingsD,

9:53: Found these handy dandy and pages. Other similar resources: DownWhere, IsItDownRightNow, and...

10:04: Best headline so far: Facebook server outage makes everyone freak out (gotta love Australia!) 2nd best headline: Facebook crashes, no injuries.

10:07: TheNextWeb.

10:12: This is ridiculous. I'm going to walk the dog. Ping me if anything momentous happens. On second thought...

Your turn: We all like to remember where we were and what we were doing when the lights went out. So let's update it for the social media age: where were you and what were you up to during the Great Facebook Not-Quite-Meltdown of June 2013?

On those who light the fire

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
Albert Schweitzer
Your turn: Who lights the fire within you?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thematic Photographic 248 - Curvaceous

I dream of geodesic
Montreal, QC
July 2012
If the world is a ball - and the seminal Canadian new wave band Martha and the Muffins certainly believed it was, because they named an entire album as such - then creations like the one I've shared here deserve their moment in the sun.

This is the Biosphere, a decidedly huge geodesic dome that's become something of an icon of the Montreal skyline.

If you're just old enough, you might remember this structure as the home of the U.S. pavilion at the Expo 67 World's Fair. Nine years later, the acrylic skin of the dome was destroyed in a spectacular fire, but the structure, sans skin, was eventually recycled as an environmental museum, which remains its prime function to this day.

I've chosen it as this week's Thematic launch photo because curves make for great photographic subjects, and this is just about one of the loveliest curved - okay, spherical, but I won't quibble about it if you won't - forms I've ever had the privilege to shoot. I need more lens time here the next time we're back in Montreal.

Your turn: Take a pic that evokes, suggests or even barely whispers the "curvaceous" theme. Share it on your blog, website, Facebook page - anywhere online, really - then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share in the fun, and feel free to post additional photos throughout the week. This isn't a competition. Rather, it's a collaborative, supportive means of expanding our photographic horizons a bit, and more background can be found here. Have fun with it - I can't wait to see what you've got up your curvaceous sleeves!

Did our kid just become an adult?

It was a big weekend for our little man, as Noah celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. In the Jewish tradition, it's the milestone where you, quite literally, are recognized as a true adult. While we're not about to turf our almost-13-year-old into the big bad world so that he can earn his keep, we are pretty thrilled that he's already become a remarkable young man in his own right, and that he so ably stepped up to the plate and made the experience his own this weekend, surrounded by friends and family who adore him.

I'm generally not one for speeches, but I shared some thoughts in shul (synagogue) on Saturday, and wanted to share them here, as well. Hope you enjoy:

Thank you all for being here. Looking around the room, surrounded by friends and family who’ve come here from as close as around the corner and as far as Toronto, Montreal, Florida, it’s easy to see how blessed we are. We have the life we have in this amazing place called London thanks to the support of friends who have become family to us since the day we moved here. Thank you for opening your homes to us and our friends and family, and for always being such an integral part of our lives.

I'd like to share with you a brief peek into a typical morning in the life of Noah Mayer Gideon Levy.

The scene: our darkened bedroom. It's early. Very early. The sun isn't yet up, and even the birds outside are quiet. The dog is snoring away by my feet. I may or may not have been snoring, as well.

The door opens ever so gently, and soft feet pitter patter into the room. A slight shadow passes over the bed as little man, awoken from his slumber, reaches out for a hug from his mom.

He then saunters over to my side of the bed, and I get a hug, too. Just because. The dog is next, softened words filling a darkened room.

It doesn’t take long before our rescued, less-than-perfectly-trained dog is following our son downstairs. Noah feeds him, walks him, sits down with him in the middle of an otherwise empty kitchen floor, gives him his needle and plays with him until the rest of the house starts to stir. Pretty soon, the house is alive, and Noah’s helping Debbie load the car and head off to school.

An average day. But not an average kid. Because this is your every day. No one asks you to do any of this. You simply know it needs to get done. From the moment you wake up, you’re looking out for others. If someone in your group forgets lunch, you’re the one who shares. If someone needs a little extra help in class or out of class, you’re the one who jumps in. You always manage to quietly find opportunities – and people – that need just a little extra something.

You do your homework without complaint. You succeed in school and you’re a blur on the soccer field. Whatever you’re doing, you do it well – there’s no half-way with you; you’re always all-in.

You still hold your mom’s hand. You still hold mine. For how much longer, we don’t know, but the fact that you still do makes our hearts melt just a little every time you reach out.

None of this dropped from the sky, though. You came by it honestly. You’ve been absorbing all this goodness from your mom pretty much forever, and she, in turn, absorbed it from her parents.

Bubby Zelda, of blessed memory, wanted so much to be here today. Even had her outfit picked out. Her lessons, today and every day, live on in you, every time you feed the dog, look out for a friend, help someone in the community. She made the world’s best green jello, but it wasn’t the jello that mattered. It was the fact that she knew how much you loved it, made sure it was ready and waiting for you, Zach and Dahlia when you got there.

You make green jello for us.

Likewise, Zaidy Arthur, also of blessed memory, lives on in you. In the way you look out for others before yourself, in the way you surround yourself with your friends, immerse yourself in their world, laugh with them and squeeze the joy out of even the most everyday moments. His Zaidy Shows were legendary, but it’s how you took them and made them your own that stands out for me. When visiting him in the hospital, you’d put on the gown, gloves and mask, plop a get well card onto his bed and then read him what you wrote. You made the moment your own, let him know that you could make him smile just as much as he had done for you.

So many words come to mind when we think of you. Don’t worry: they’re all good. You are empathetic, sweet, kind. You’re driven and focused. You’re a remarkably good – most of the time – little brother to Zach and Dahlia. You’re a great friend, the kind of kid parents love to have over because they know they never need to worry about you. You’re a gutteh neshumeh, a good soul.

There are so many things we want to say to you as you make this transition from childhood to adulthood (and, no, you can’t have the car just yet.) But I’d like to share this with you, from Norman Vincent Peale, because I think it captures the spirit of who you are:

“The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget yourself, and think of others.”

Mazel tov, mazel tov, mazel tov. We couldn’t be more proud of you, and we know how lucky we are to be on this remarkable journey with you.

Your turn: Got any wishes or words of advice for Noah?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the next generation

“The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget yourself, and think of others.”
Norman Vincent Peale
On this day of days - more on that later - these words reflect the spirit of our youngest son, Noah. These words are who he is and how he lives. They are the lessons he's learned in his almost-13 years on this planet, and the basis of the inspiring young man that he's become.

All parents are, of course, proud of their children. Consider me, my wife and our entire family just a little more proud of him than usual today.

Reconnecting with my wavy past

Waved off
Grand Bend, ON
July 2012
Click here for more "on the water" Thematic
I had a weird ritual when I was a lifeguard. At the end of the day, as we cleared the pool and sent everyone on their merry way, I liked to watch the waves in the pool slowly subside until the surface returned to an almost-flat calmness. It was never perfectly still thanks to wind and filter action, but it was enough to reinforce that the day's swimming was done, that peace had once again returned to a usually noisy place.

Of course, the next morning, we'd open up and some kid (always a kid) would inevitably dive in and turn the glassy surface back into frenetic, molecular chaos.

Great Lakes - this one's Huron - don't subscribe to the same notions as swimming pools nestled behind local community centres. There are always waves here no matter how few swimmers are in the water (I blame the ducks, but that's a story for another day.) That doesn't mean I still don't stand off to the side and watch the inevitable, never-ending ebb and flow. It's strangely calming, and the textures in this deliberately underexposed shot serve as a reminder that personal touchstones exist everywhere, even hundreds of kilometers and decades apart from where the memories were first formed.

Your turn: a long-ago memory involving water. Please discuss.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wait for me

When you run out of runway
Grand Bend, ON
July 2012
Thematic. On the water. Here.
Sometimes when I pull this picture up, I like to imagine what this guy was thinking as he perched so close to the edge of the breakwater. He was probably just enjoying a few peaceful moments on a sunny summer afternoon, but part of me wonders if he was trying to will those boats back to shore so he could hitch a ride.

I know I sure would.

Whatever his story may have been, the shot reminds me why I enjoy shooting beside the water. Because every experience is unique. And you can keep coming back to the same place and never run out of things to see, stories to tell or feelings to share. I think water does that to people.

Your turn: So what is he thinking?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Flying over the old 'hood

Rolling onto final approach
Montreal, QC
February 2013

For more Thematic on the water, click here.
In a certain respect, I was coming home.

To the left, Montreal, the city where I was born. To the right, Laval, where I was raised. In the middle, the Riviere-des-Prairies, the maligned, polluted, often forgotten little sister to the St. Lawrence River that flows around the other side of Montreal, to the south.

On both banks below, I had spent countless hours as a child biking the streets and paths, exploring an ever-widening world, wondering where it all ended. In an era before GPS or cell phones, I'd simply ride for a long as I dared before turning for home. Every time I pushed further from home, every next turn became a new adventure. With each turn of the pedals, I controlled my destiny just that much more.

Sadly, I'm not sure it's something I'd want my kids doing today. Different time. Different world. But as I glided far over streets that once looked so limitless, I realized how much larger the world really was, and how important it was for me to take those first steps so long ago.

Your turn: where do you like to explore?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On connecting with others

"At the end of the day your ability to connect with your readers comes down to how you make them feel."
Benjamin J. Carey, Barefoot in November
I'm guessing this applies to writing as well as everyday life. I'm guessing I need to spend more time figuring out the connecting-with-others thing. And the feeling thing. Because we all deserve to feel a little better.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thematic Photographic 247 - On the water

Frozen in time
Laval, QC
July 2012
I was something of a late bloomer when it came to swimming. For a lot of reasons, I learned to swim at a relatively advanced age. Once bitten, though, it stuck, and it took years until my parents were able to coax my then-prune-skinned form back out of the water.

Our kids apparently inherited the fish gene, and have become strong, comfortable swimmers in their own right. Since we spend as much time as possible around the water, and given where we are in the calendar, I thought this week's theme should reflect our watery reality. Because if we're experiencing it here, I'm willing to guess you are, too.

So for the next week, I'll be sharing scenes from in and around - indeed, on - the water. Hope you'll join in, as well.

Your turn: Share a photo from on the water - or one that suggests or reflects the theme - on your blog or website (or Facebook, or anywhere online, really.) Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants through the week, and feel free to return with additional posts as the inspiration hits you. If you'd like to learn more about how Thematic works, click here. Otherwise, can't wait to see what you've got!

Escape from the concrete jungle

Tucked away in plain sight
Montreal, QC
July 2012
New Thematic launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern
Concrete-themed entries accepted here.
To most of us, urban alleyways are foreboding, dirty places we've been taught to avoid. Risk lives here, among other things, and it's typically something that we spend much time thinking about. Note it in our peripheral vision, and keep on walking.

Yet this one is, if not different, at least worthy of a bit of a pause, a second thought, and clearly on this day, a picture. Someone felt comfortable enough to park a superbike here. And whoever built the surrounding buildings saw fit to include some fairly large windows overlooking this seemingly bleak landscape.

Perhaps we need to revisit the rules of what constitutes "worthy" and what does not. Perhaps there's more to these often-shunned patches of the urban fabric than meets the eye.

Your turn: Is there?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Not afraid to get a little dirty

Laval, QC
September 2012
Click here for more concretely-themed Thematic
There are many moments in a child's life where you kind of sit back and realize he's more like you than you ever realized.

This was one of them.

Whenever Noah picks up a camera, he becomes even more thoughtful, deliberate and focused than he usually is. As his eyes carefully soak in the space around him, I can almost feel the gears in his head moving, processing the scene and pointing him toward the story he wants to tell.

On this cold and blustery afternoon, Noah, big sister Dahlia and I picked up our cameras, tightened our jackets and headed out into the light mist with no real agenda in mind. As we've done so often previously, the kids knew that inspiration would hit them once they had had a few minutes to get into the groove.

Which is exactly what happened here. What would normally be a washed out shuffleboard court to most was, to him, something worth a closer, low-angled look. I said nothing the entire time - it was enough to let him explore the moment on his own. And explore he did.

When he was done shooting, he got up, wiped the grit off of his clothes and immediately looked for the next target of opportunity. He and Dahlia buzzed about what they had found, and quietly discussed what they should look for next. The scene repeated itself a number of times before we finally headed back in, a little dirtier. Which is as it should be. Washing machines can clean up the gunk he picks up along the way, but nothing can take away the experience of seeing the world through a lens, on his own terms.

Your turn: What first sparked your interest in photography?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

On Albert Einstein's latest feat

"Everbody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Albert Einstein
The famed physicist hit the headlines again this week when the fourth European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle (aka ATV-4) was lofted into orbit atop an Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket. Per ESA tradition, the cargo ship, which docks with the International Space Station next week, is named after a famous European scientist. Jules Verne, Johannes Kepler and Edoardo Amalfi have already flown, while Georges Lemaitre will close out the program on flight 5 next year. (Don't worry, though, as ESA is planning on using the technology as the basis for a service module for NASA's Orion capsule, and possibly other applications, as well.)

Einstein may have died 58 years ago, but he's clearly still making his mark here on Earth and well above it. Beyond his scientific genius, he was a keen observer of the human condition, and his words, as evidenced here, continue to inspire. Now I'm guessing it's up to us to heed his advice.

Your turn: I'm a big believer in words that inspire. What words or quotes inspire you? Feel free to share here.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The lonely blue shoe

Missing its mate
London, ON
June 2013
For more Thematic concretely, please click here
A single shoe sitting in the middle of a parking lot at the local mall begs a million questions:
  • Who wore it?
  • How did it become separated from its rightful foot?
  • How drunk was the owner of said foot? (And presumably the other one, come to think of it.)
  • How did he (totally a he) get home afterward?
  • Was he aware of his footsy imbalance?
  • Would this have happened had he tied his laces properly?
We'll never get the real answers, I fear. And the shoe? It's probably since been scooped up by a wild flock of seagulls and deposited in the shadowy spot between the recycling bins and the loading dock behind the no-longer-shiny-and-new Target store.

I rather like the lesson inherent in this misplaced shoe. Just when you think malls aren't capable of throwing you a curve and making you think, they surprise you.

Your turn: So, what is the story of this shoe? Have at it. Best comment wins, uh, what...socks?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Truth in advertising

3D warning
London, ON
May 2009
This sewer cover warms my heart for a number of reasons:

  • It's almost fully covered, lacking the linear grooves that have toppled so many cyclists over the years.
  • It's a great example of effective industrial design.
  • It's politely helpful - well, if you read English, that is - in that passive, friendly-Canadian kind of way.

I know it isn't concrete but it's suspended between the concrete curb and the crumbling asphalt road, so I figured it counted (head here if none of this is making any sense. Or even if it does.)

The urban landscape is filled with micro-examples like this, snippets of often overlooked design that quietly govern our day-to-day lives whether or not we choose to take note. Whenever I find myself in another city, I like to peek a little more closely at things like this, because there's just enough variation from one place to another to keep this little game of mine interesting.

Besides, what else are you going to do while waiting for the light to change?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Puppy love

Laval, QC
August 2009
Thematic. Concretely. Here.
Say hello to my aunt and uncle's dog. Don't worry: she doesn't live in jail. She was being boarded at a kennel for a couple of days. She usually spends her life being loved and adored - and she has the full run of the house, including the couch.

I know concrete block construction is cost effective. It's an inexpensive material that can be built up quickly - perfect for buildings that are built to a price.

Unfortunately, concrete block has about as much charm as, well, it has no charm. Throw in some rusted gates and ill-fitting drains and you have a perfect storm of depressing architecture. From the look on her face, I absolutely believe she agrees, and the tail wags and kisses we got when she was let out only confirmed it.

Your turn: What's she thinking?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Shot through an open car window

Montreal, QC
August 2009
Please click here for more Thematic concretely
I took this picture almost four years ago, and I'll confidently state now that I'll never take another one like it again.

That's because I took it while driving in heavy Montreal traffic. I was basically parked in the middle of the city because I made the mistake of finishing the day's work smack in the middle of rush hour. Living in smalltown London, you sort of forget these things. My bad.

Anyway, after sitting in neutral for 10 minutes, I figured if I wasn't otherwise doing anything, like driving, I may as well reach for my camera and snap off a few frames.

Great in theory. Not so great in practice, as they now call it distracted driving. And rightfully so. Even if you're stopped at a red light, or stuck in hopeless traffic, you really shouldn't be doing anything but driving. It's a lesson I wish the lady who passed me on the 401 one afternoon last week had learned. She was doing 125 km/h in the left lane...and texting furiously. I deftly changed lanes to get as far away from her as possible. Whatever it was that was so important that she Absolutely Had To Text Right Now, I hope she never learns the hard way that nothing is ever that important.

Looking at this shot, it's clear it never will be, either. No more traffic jam photography for me.

Your turn: What does the message on this concrete block mean?

Monday, June 03, 2013

Thematic Photographic 246 - Concretely

Laval, QC
August 2009
I'm going to make this week's theme, concretely, an easy one because a) my life these days is filled with plenty of other complexities and b) I'm guessing yours is, too.

So I did the easy thing for the launch photo: grabbed a moody shot of past-its-prime concrete slab just before sunset. While concrete is fundamentally a literal and figurative pillar of modern construction, the cracks of age betray the fact that it isn't permanent, and it isn't anywhere near as strong as the day-to-day forces of nature that will eventually, inevitably, turn it to dust.

Perhaps there's a lesson in this that transcends the principles of materials engineering. Perhaps we'll have a chance to shed a little photographic light on it over the next week.

Your turn: Please take a photo of concrete - or something that evokes or suggests concrete. Share it on your blog, website, Facebook page, wherever you store stuff online. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Feel free to repeat the process through the week - multiple submissions are always welcome - and bring a friend along if you wish because more is always merrier. For more background on how Thematic works, click here. Otherwise, have fun with it - and thank you. I appreciate your continued participation and contribution.

Journey to the end of the earth

Nature's messiness
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2010
I wanted to end off this week's messiness theme (head here to share yours) with a peek into the chaos of nature.

Walk through a thick stand of trees, watch a windstorm or, as is the case here, stand in the surf and you'll come face-to-face with nature's ability to make a huge mess. From impenetrable knots of branches to randomly strewn debris to a roiling intertidal zone, nature is constantly rewriting and redrawing itself in an eternally unfolding story, with a plot we're only beginning to understand.

I didn't need to understand the plot as I watched the waves roll in on this late afternoon. It was more than enough to stand and feel awestruck at the wonder of the moment. Sometimes, that's all you really need to appreciate where you stand in the universe, and why it's an inherently good thing to get outside every once in a while and drink it all in.

Your turn: What does messiness mean to you?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The tree of life

Silent witness
Duvernay, QC
May 2013
If life is messy, so, too, is its end. I've learned there's nothing linear, logical or predictable about any of it. Between navigating your own journey and managing the turbulence created - unintentionally or not - by others, it's a trip no one wants to be on, but we all end up there regardless.

So on a breezy afternoon in the cemetery where my father and mother-in-law are buried, I thought I might want to tote a camera along not because there's anything particularly gripping about shooting in a graveyard. But because this place has, for reasons we had never hoped for but knew were inevitable, become a permanent focus for our family. We don't come here often, but it's always there, in the back of our minds, reminding us of what we no longer have.

This tree was different than the others in the leafy stand that defined the border of this place. As you can see, it's led a hard life, and at some point I figure I'll return here and find a stump in its place. But for now, it stands, defiantly alive in a place that is not. In a place where the living come to somehow make sense of life after it ends.

Not that there's any sense to be had.

Your turn: what is this tree's story?

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