When traveling in a new place, I’m drawn to the backgrounds, the negative spaces, the tapestries of color and texture that exist just behind the people and cars and advertisements and graffiti. That background is what differentiates one place from another; it’s what makes a place a place. But it can be hard to photograph [well] because there’s all that other stuff in the way. And I didn’t have the weeks or months, let alone days, to immerse myself in the buzzing energy of Oaxaca enough to anticipate those moments of perfect urban composition.
As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a handy conceit. I was struck by how many Volkswagen Beetles were plying the cobblestone streets of the old city. So I took a photo of one or two—I love the juxtaposition of an old car against an interesting facade. I found that the familiar and graceful shape of the Beetle was a convenient foil for my true intention—to capture something of the place behind it. So what started out as a whim, turned into a sport, and I began walking the streets of old Oaxaca intent on collecting Beetles in their natural habitat.
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Recently the what-can-I-optimize-next? gaze fell upon our knife block, but my exhaustive web searches for a suitable replacement came up empty. In the world of knife blocks, something with a smaller footprint and more capacity did not seem to exist. Once I’d reached the end of the internet-of-things-to-buy, I turned to Etsy, which I’ve started to use lately as a marketplace for custom-made goods. I’ll search for something, and if I’m lucky, there will be a “Request a custom order…” banner beneath an item I like. In this case, I found a design that inspired me made by a seller, Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan, who was willing to work with me.
The knife block that got my wheels turning
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Every evening I get an email from my dad’s SPOT Satellite Messenger letting me know his latitude and longitude along the Pacific Crest Trail (and that he’s OK). He asked me to track his mileage, so at first I put his coordinates into Google Maps, which actually has the PCT plotted, but the mileages didn’t seem to match the “official” mile markers that he’s referencing from Halfmile. They offer a KMZ file of the PCT for Google Earth, but I totally failed at getting it installed on Ubuntu. Eventually I was able to commandeer Stephanie’s Mac to get it to work, but it seemed like a hassle when all I really wanted was a quick way to enter his current latitude and longitude from the email and find out what half-mile marker he’s the closest to.
The PCT on Google Earth
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Last night I read an article about poaching shrimp in a butter emulsion called beurre monté, in order to impart the richness of lobster. Sounded simple and fun, something I hadn’t done before, so tonight I stopped at the market to pick up half a pound of shrimp and some salted butter. Making the sauce was easy: simmer a few tablespoons of water and then whisk in an obscene amount of butter. Then drop the shrimp in, peeled and deveined, and poach till they turn pink.
Couscous seemed the most natural accompaniment, so I boiled water to rehydrate a quarter cup each. We also had some arugula that wasn’t going to last forever, so I put the good bits in a large bowl along with a handful of pine nuts, and a healthy amount of cheese grated from the ends of two different types. I whipped together a quick vinaigrette with the juice of a meyer lemon, some olive oil, salt, and pepper and combined everything together with the couscous, which had cooled slightly.
I served the couscous salad in our deep plates with a ring of the butter-poached shrimp on top. It looked lovely. They did taste faintly of lobster, but more than that, the dish as whole evoked a lighter, more refined version of shrimp and grits, the classic southern dish. I think it was the grated cheese. Maybe next time lardons?
I wrapped up my final darkroom class last night, and as part of it, we picked some of our photos to hang in the film developing room. These three were mine. I like the juxtaposition.
Black and white prints hanging at the Harvey Milk Photo Center