Category Archives: USA

Photography Challenge 101: Landscape

Took me a while to think about some landscapes, and unfortunately, I was unable to get out and about to photograph some, so here is a selection of some of my favourites.


Chicago from Sears' Toweer
Chicago, from Sears’ Tower – Photo Mari Nicholson

This was taken on a fairly good day in Chicago from the top of the famous landmark, the Sears’ Tower.  The skyline is probably more impressive from ground level, but I found the view from above quite exciting.   See another Chicago photo, bottom.


Citiva 6
Citava, Italy – Photo Mari Nicholson

Citiva is in Lazio Province, within driving distance of Siena, Rome. and Orvieto.  Inside the mountain fastness is a quaint old town of cobbled stoned streets, a couple of good restaurants serving rustic food, and a Bodega where the wine flows very liberally.

Walking trails to Stanserhorn
Walking trails to Stanserhorn in Switzerland

This was taken from a cable car as we floated over the mountains in Switzerland.  I seem to remember that it was quite a long cable-car trip, longer than most I remember.  It was a magical journey over the mountains and villages below, the brown and white cows hardly visible and their cowbells muffled by the distance.

Village in the Madonie National Park, Sicily
Village in Madonie National Park, Sicily – Photo Mari Nicholson

One of my favourite places in Sicily, the National Park of Madonie, where wild figs grow along the roadside and just a few locals are left in near-deserted villages to sit outside their doors and chat to whoever passes by.  Now and again one sees a thriving village like this one, which is being slowly restored to its former glory by returning families who have made some money working elsewhere and now are coming home to reclaim their birthright.

Skyline with clouds - Chicago
Chicago skyline peeking from out the clouds

Tribute to Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint died of a heart attack on November 10th last. Aged 77, he was one of the great Jazz and Rock and Roll legends that influenced many of today’s household names, including Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas and Ernie K-Doe. He collaborated with Paul McCartney, LaBelle, Robert Parker and Elvis Costello over the years and he was also a talent scout, record producer, studio owner, singer and arranger. He left New Orleans for New York in the wake of Katerina and it was when he returned to New Orleans that his career as a performer really took off.

Toussant_Obama_Medal_2013 (1)
Toussaint receives Medal for Services to the Arts from President Obama Photo by P. Souza


Piano-player/Bandleader Jon Cleary, born in the UK but long-time resident in New Orleans and considered a native of the city, has long been a fan of Toussaint and in 2012 he recorded Occapella, a mix of popular and less familiar pieces penned by the legendary songwriter.


Jon was one of the musicians asked to play at the Tribute Concert held in the Orpheum Theatre, New Orleans on November 20th, just prior to the internment.

The casket was placed at the front of the stage and friends, fans and fellow stars joined together to mourn the legend, then stayed to cheer his legacy. This legacy was celebrated by an all-star lineup of singers and musicians who took to the stage to perform his songs in genres that covered his work in pop, R&b, gospel and even funk. The recently re-opened theatre rocked.

For the finale, all the musicians, along with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, piled onstage and blew the roof off with a frantic rendition of I’ll Fly Away with Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
After Oh Didn’t he Ramble the pall bearers carried the coffin out of the theatre to the hearse, followed by the family and everyone who’d been on stage, as the band played  Just a Closer Walk with Thee in slow tempo.

Allen Toussaint Photo by Derek Bridges

Outside, crowds had been waiting since the small hours to pay their respects. They waited almost silently as the slow march continued and as the coffin was placed in the long stretch limo hearse. Then they erupted, singing and dancing, twirling their umbrellas, and in general, giving one of New Orleans’ favourite sons, a joyful send-off. The family hadn’t intended for the traditional Second Lining, but they gave in to the crowd’s wishes and the place went wild.

New Orleans will continue, as it always has, but it will never be quite the same.

Deliverance in Louisiana

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Creepy.”

Not everyone finds the place creepy, but I do. The air is hot and humid, eerily still as the electric boat moves slowly through the swampy waters of the Louisiana bayous whose trees are hung with ghostlike, gossamer-fine, Spanish Moss.  I can’t see the shore because the branches of the trees that line the banks hang far into the waters, hiding just discernible movements and deadening the squelchy noises that drift towards us.  Now and then a snake plops from an overhanging branch and the shadowy form of a nutria, an animal like a river rat on steroids, can be seen slipping into the murky swamp through the yellow and purple wild irises that cover the banks. Household pets are kept indoors in these parts, cats and dawgs are all the same to a giant Nutria.

Crocodiles lurking on the Bayou

Turtles, herons, and egrets share floating logs, but trail your hand in the water and the log will move swiftly to snatch at it, for this is alligator country and ‘gators will eat anything that moves.  The bayous, streams that are fed by the Mississippi River in the low-lying areas of Louisiana, make ideal homes for alligators.

The culture of the bayou is Cajun:  a banjo is playing from somewhere over to the left and low voices are heard.  It’s not romantic anymore, it’s creepy and scary, as my memory flashes to Deliverance (1972) John Boorman’s brilliant, action-adventure film about four suburban businessmen who encounter disaster on a summer river trip.  The banjo duet and the film’s brutal action haunt me still, and this river, this boat, is a perfect scene from that film.

And I’m in the middle of it.  And the banjos play on.

Mrs. O’Leary’s Fire and What it Did for Chicago

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chicago’s summer of 1871 was a scorcher.  Legend has it that the Great Fire of that year started in Mrs. O’Leary’s  barn on the south side of the city, when her cow knocked a kerosene lantern into some hay which ignited some wood, which set the city ablaze and … the rest you know.  Chicago was left in ruins.   The cause of the outbreak may be debated but the facts are well documented: over 300 dead, 100,000 left  homeless, and nearly 18,000 buildings burnt to the ground. For decades it had been a tough city – and a rich one – but not even Chicago could have foreseen that what would spring from the ashes would one day come to be considered the greatest outdoor museum of modern architecture in the world.

Immediately after the fire innovative young architects from all over the world poured into the city.  They devised new ways of building on Chicago’s swampy land, found ways of firming up the foundations and experimented with new methods of steel-framed construction.  A Mr. Otis invented the hydraulic lift, and in 1885 the first skyscraper was erected and Chicago became a vertical city.

We’ve been looking up to it ever since.

Entertainment in Chicago

Check into almost any downtown hotel and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a skyscraper forest, cheek by jowl with awe-inspiring architecture,  from the neo-Gothic Chicago Tribune building to the 100-storey Hancock Centre and the 110-storey Sears Tower.  The Observation Deck that tops this lures 1.5 million people a year to gaze at a cityscape that can only be described as awesome.  Seen on a cloudy day from either of these buildings the effect is dreamlike, as the clouds that you can almost reach out and touch drift in and out among the towers.

Not all entertainment is up in the clouds though.  Chicago has one of the best shopping streets in the world, Michigan Drive, the Magic Mile or Magmile to the locals call it.  There is the Shedd Aquarium on Lakeshore Drive, the nearby Adler Planetarium and the Navy Pier with its Ferris wheel, cinema, ice-skating, theatre and shops.   Trolleybus tour of the Lakefront, Oak Drive and various neighbourhoods offers viewing of a series of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, usually enhanced by snippets of history in easily digested soundbites from the driver.

The Mobs and Prohibition

But even he clammed up when I asked him about Chicago’s relationship with the mobs, for the locals are somewhat reluctant to talk about their gangster past.  Most would prefer to forget Chicago’s long association with the mobsters and their bloody feuds for control of the licquor supply during prohibition.

A few landmarks remain.  Capone’s home still stands at 7244 Prairie Avenue, but the garage that was the scene of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre has been demolished.   One of Capone’s favourite speakeasies at the time of his power, the Green Mill Tavern on North Broadway in the heart of the city’s clubland, is now a swanky Blues Club and shares a reputation for great jazz with Blue Chicago and House of Blues, but there are dozens of smaller clubs dotted around the city, listings for which cover five pages in a free sheet called The Reader: gospel and R. & B. take up another three.

Apart from jazz, there’s a wealth of evening entertainment in Chicago, the best of which after a hard day’s sightseeing is The Second City, the original stand-up comedy club and the forerunner of all comedy clubs around the world.  The atmosphere is relaxed and easy, snacks and full bar service available at your table, and it attracts an appreciative and receptive audience of mixed ages for cutting-edge satire.  If your taste runs to avant garde theatre then the brilliant Steppenwolf Group Theatre (equivalent to London’s  Royal Court) will not let you down.  Chicagoans love the summer and celebrate it with a variety of free concerts under the stars in Grant Park, ranging from classical to country, zydeco to Cajun.


In 1909, Daniel H. Burnham, the then creative planner and architect of the city  said “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood….” and ever since then Chicagoan architects have thought big.  But don’t be overwhelmed by the city’s size.  There are corners that feel like villages and ethnic neighbourhoods where diversity is celebrated.   So feast your eyes on green-tinted glass buildings reflecting terracotta skyscrapers, and gaze upward at elegant curtains of aluminium and bronze.

For this is architecture to stir men’s blood.