Ronny Light Photo: Blog en-us (C) Ronny Light [email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 09 Oct 2023 15:38:00 GMT Mon, 09 Oct 2023 15:38:00 GMT Ronny Light Photo: Blog 90 120 Abandoned Car Wash Grafitti

The owner of Phat Bites Deli in Donelson, TN also owned the property next door, and I assume, the abandoned car wash that sat on that property for years.

The owner kindly permitted graffiti artists to put their art on the car wash walls. If there were 8 car wash walls, there were 10 car wash canvases ready for graffiti art.

I took the photos in this gallery with my cellphone in 2012; I never got back to shoot more serious DSLR photos.

The abandoned car wash met the wrecking ball in 2014. Eight years later, I was looking for images to try some once known but mostly forgotten Photoshop post-processing techniques when I came across these mostly forgotten images.

I talked to several graffiti artists the day I shot photos at the car wash. Although they were permitted to put their art there, one or two didn’t want to be in a photo, fearing being known by police when they put their art in places they weren’t permitted. A few artists were bold enough to sign their art.

I showed the artists graffiti images I shot of graffiti in the Krog St. Tunnel in Atlanta and they recognized the artists by name and recognized their work.

Click here to see more photos…

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 02 May 2020 21:05:15 GMT
Union Station Hotel - St. Louis, MO

When St. Louis' Union Station opened in 1894, it was the world’s largest train depot, and, at its peak in the 1940s, serviced 100,000 people a day. 

Union Station was restored in the 1980s as a hotel, shopping and entertainment center, wedding and meeting venue, restaurant complex, and home to the St. Louis Aquarium and the Wheel, a 200-foot-high observation wheel.

Grand Hall, with its Art-Deco, barrel-vaulted ceiling, mosaics, gold leaf ornamentation, detailed moulding, and Tiffany stained-glass windows, was the former train lobby and is now the hotel’s lobby and the location of one of its restaurants.

The famous photo of President Harry Truman holding a newspaper with the erroneous title, Dewey Defeats Truman, was shot at Union Station.

Today, Gateway Multimodal Transportation Center, next to Union Station, is home to St. Louis’ rail system, the regional MetroBus, Greyhound, Amtrak, taxis, and ridesharing.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 01 Mar 2020 12:17:27 GMT
Nashville Zoo - Zoolumination

The Nashville Zoo held a Chinese Festival of Lights event called Zoolumination. It was the largest attraction the Nashville Zoo has ever produced and is the largest lantern festival in the country. One highlight, among over 500 lanterns on display, was a 200-foot long dragon.

The handmade lighting displays were built by artists with the Zigong Lantern Group who traveled from China to help put the festival together. 

Zigong Lantern Culture Industry Group publicizes Chinese culture and promotes integration of Chinese and Western culture. The business has covered all the present sectors in the lantern industry, including organization of lantern festivals at home and abroad, the design, fabrication and installation of traditional Chinese lanterns, animatronics dinosaurs and animals, artistic landscape construction, research and development of artistic lantern products.

The work of about 50 Zigong Chinese began three months before Zoolumination was installed across more than 60 acres of the Nashville Zoo. They started with a welding process that created the frame using different types of welding techniques. Once they had the frame in place, there were Chinese specialists who wrapped them in different colors of silk and then wrapped them with foil. 

Visitors to the zoo made their way through lantern-lit pathways that connected them to intricate displays of wild animals and exotic plants located around zoo animals’ habitats. Lanterns the size of four-story buildings and the large dragon can be found in the zoo’s festival field. 

Custom made silk lanterns featured zoo animals, holiday themed scenes, lit pathways, flowers, Chinese pottery, Chinese temples, two-story buildings made entirely of lanterns, a life-size train, and the 200-foot dragon.

Chinese acrobats and entertainers traveled from Zigong, China to perform at Zoolumination.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 13 Jan 2020 13:28:49 GMT
Sloss Furnaces - Birmingham, AL Sloss Furnaces - Blast Furnace, Skip Bridge, Blast StovesSloss Furnaces - Blast Furnace, Skip Bridge, Blast Stoves

Sloss Furnaces is an 1800s industrial revolution marvel: huge metallic shapes, strange machinery, strange tools, and decaying metal, frozen in time and unused for 50 years.

In the late 19th century, in the post-Civil War era, Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, AL was the world’s largest producer of pig iron, an intermediate product of the iron and steel industry. Sloss is the reason Birmingham is called the Iron City or Steel City.

Colonel James Withers Sloss, a Birmingham founder, promoted railroad development in the area, along with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N), and, in 1881, created the Sloss Furnace Company, Birmingham's first blast furnace, on land donated for industrial development, 2 miles from downtown Birmingham. Sloss produced pig iron from 1882 to 1971.

The Furnaces sit on 50 acres of Birmingham land by an L&N Railroad line that used to deliver raw materials and take the pig iron and slag (impurities) away. All raw materials needed to produce pig iron were available in abundance within a 30-mile radius making Birmingham the perfect location for a blast furnace.

Sloss Furnaces produced pig iron for about 90 years until strict environmental laws and better manufacturing methods ended its production.

Sloss Furnaces are now a National Historic Landmark and, in 1981, became the only blast furnaces in the U.S. to be restored and used as a tourist attraction, museum, concert, wedding, and festival venue, metal arts instruction, and for haunted ghost and paranormal experiences.

The Sloss blast furnaces are very tall structures. There are two furnaces on the site. The biggest one is 60’ tall and 18’ in diameter and, other than smokestacks, is the tallest structure at Sloss Furnaces. It is a steel stack lined with refractory (fireproof) brick, where raw materials, iron ore, pellets, sinter (a solid mixture of iron ore and other materials), coke (cooked coal), and limestone were stored separately in a stockhouse before being dumped into the top of the furnace in a predetermined recipe, as preheated air was blasted into the bottom. Pig iron was produced by melting iron ore in a blast furnace at very high temperatures--3600°F to 4200°F.

Raw materials were delivered by rail to the stockhouse where they were held in storage bins. A stock tunnel, two levels below the storage bins, was 250 yards long, and served both blast furnaces. Today, it is a dark, spooky place where you hear sounds of running water and the walls are covered with dripping water and bright color of questionable origin. It is, undoubtedly, the reason Sloss is considered haunted by ghosts and why ghost nights and paranormal events are a popular attraction.

Shutes (seen in the ceiling of the stock tunnel) would open to deliver raw materials from the storage bin, two levels above, to a scale car in the stock tunnel that would weigh the material, load it into skip cars, and carry it up rails on an inclined, escalator-like ramp called the skip bridge, where it was charged (delivered) into the top of the furnace.

Solids descend and gases ascend. Iron oxides melted in the furnace and, freed of impurities by the limestone acting as flux, trickled as liquid iron (hot metal) through the coke to the bottom of the furnace. Liquid slag impurities sunk to the bottom of the furnace where they floated on top of the liquid iron since they were less dense.

In the long casting house, liquid iron and liquid slag were cast (drained off) through an iron notch and slag notch.

In early years, a floor-casting method was used. The floor of the casting shed was compacted sand. Molds were dug into the sand for iron bars. There was one main trough, or runner, going down the center of the casting shed, secondary troughs extended from the main trough, and bars extended from the secondary trough. Workers thought the bars looked like piglets and called them pig iron.

After the floor-casting method, hot metal and slag were poured into ladle train cars, large steel kettles lined with refractory (fireproof) brick. Some train cars were called torpedo cars (also called sub cars due to their shape). Slag was processed into road fill or railroad ballast.

Hot, dirty gas was vented from the furnace, cleaned, burned for energy in four cylindrical shaped hot blast stoves, and used to preheat the air entering the blast furnace.

A network of machines and structures were employed: stoves to heat the air, blowers to pump blast air, boilers to produce the steam that drove equipment, and pipes that carried steam, water, and gas.

Sloss used five million gallons of water a day for each blast furnace to cool the furnaces, create steam, power machinery, and cool molted iron and slag. Following each cycle, hot water was pumped to spray ponds where it was cooled and recycled.

The Pyrometer House, named after temperature measuring instruments located in the house, was the strongest building on the site and would protect workers if anything went seriously wrong with a furnace. Workers called the Pyrometer House the Doghouse--if the furnace acted badly, it would put them in the Doghouse.

Leased convict labor, predominately black, made up 60% of the workforce until 1928. Workers were segregated, including the use of a black bath house, separate time clocks, separate company picnics, and segregation of jobs.

Work at Sloss ran 24 hours a day at it’s peak. Locals used to park on nearby roads after dark to watch as hot molten iron and slag lit up the night sky. Those days are over but the ghosts of Sloss remain and it is worth a visit.


Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 16 Nov 2019 22:06:00 GMT
Merchants Hotel – Lower Broadway, Nashville, TN Merchants Hotel – Lower Broadway, Nashville, TNMerchants Hotel – Lower Broadway, Nashville, TN Merchants is a three-story Nashville building built as a pharmacy at the corner of 4th and Broadway in 1872, seven years after the end of the Civil War, but expanded and turned into a hotel with a pharmacy in 1892, the same year the Ryman Auditorium, the longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry, opened less than a block away. 

Merchants Hotel was an affordable option for traveling salesmen (merchants) who could stay there for a week at about the same price as a day rate at nearby, well-known, fancy hotels.  Early 20th century rates were 25 cents for a room and 25 cents for a hot meal.

Famous wild west visitors to Merchants Hotel were Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, and his James-Younger Gang.  At one time, Merchants Hotel was also a brothel and a casino.

In the early days of the Grand Ole Opry, country music legends Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, and Dolly Parton stayed at Merchants Hotel when they performed at the Ryman Auditorium which was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974 and still hosts the Opry on special occasions. The hotel operated until the 1980’s, when downtown Nashville was in steady decline. 

In the 1970’s, Lower Broadway became home to pawn shops, porno shops, peep shows, adult theaters, and pool halls.  Merchants Hotel became known as a transient hotel that catered to the down and out.

In between Opry spots, entertainers and musicians gravitated to three nearby locations – they would walk out of the backdoor of the Ryman Auditorium, into the alley, enter the backdoor of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and drink beer, eat at a greasy spoon restaurant on Broadway called Linebaugh’s, play the pinball machines in Linebaugh’s front window, or play pool in a back room of Merchants Hotel just past the bar and surrounded by destitute, transient roomers and drinkers.

At one time, the downstairs side of Merchants Hotel nearest 4th Ave. was home to a bar and honky-tonk called Deemens Den, named for the young singer, Nancy Dee, who owned the bar.  It was a gathering place for Nashville musicians when they were home off the road. They would go to Deemens Den between Opry spots and sit in.

WSM and the Grand Ole Opry management became determined to clean up the Lower Broadway area to make it a place where families could visit the Opry without encountering the sordid neighborhood.  For days and weeks, the evening news reported on the squalid neighborhood and the King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, became the Opry’s on-camera spokesman.  In one interview, Acuff pointed out what he thought was the worst offender in the neighborhood – a porno shop on a Lower Broadway corner a block from the Opry – and said, whoever owned that property should shut them down.

The news media did their job and searched for the owner of the porno shop property.  In their next interview, they said, Mr. Acuff, we found out who owns the porno shop property and you are the owner.  Are you going to throw the porno shop out of your building?  Acuff said, I can’t do that; they’re good tenants and always pay their rent on time.

In the 1980’s, Ed Stolman purchased the Merchants building when it was on the brink of being demolished and, in 1988, Stolman opened Merchants Restaurant, an upscale dining establishment in a less than desirable neighborhood long before Nashville’s boom in tourism and upscale food service.  The restaurant did well for a time but, in 2010, brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg learned that the famous restaurant from their childhood was, once again, on the brink of closing and demolition.  They bought it and turned Merchants around again.

Today, Merchants Restaurant is going strong in the midst of a Nashville tourist explosion and surrounded by attractions such as the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Music City Center, Nashville’s convention center, the Ryman Auditorium, Bridgestone Arena, the many music clubs on Lower Broadway, and towered over by 21st century skyscrapers like the Pinnacle Building.

There are only three 19th century Nashville buildings that were once hotels and are still standing but Merchants is the only one that has survived in a hotel/restaurant capacity for 146 years. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 26 Oct 2018 13:04:18 GMT
Krog Street Tunnel - Atlanta, GA – February 3, 2012 This is a new blog – previously only an email – about a photo gallery I posted in 2012 when I shot photos of the street art (graffiti) at the Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta.  The tunnel is a railroad underpass that links Cabbagetown and Inman Park.  It is known for the graffiti that covers its walls.  Graffiti also appears on neighborhood walls and buildings.

Cabbagetown was an 1800s mill town on the east side of Atlanta that is now on the National Registry of Historic Places.  The Atlanta Rolling Mill was destroyed after the Battle of Atlanta and, in the post-Reconstruction era of the 1800s, a German Jewish immigrant built a mill on the site of the old Atlanta Rolling Mill by the railroad in Cabbagetown; the railroad brought raw materials and took finished products to the marketplace.  The mill was a rag, paper, and hide business that produced textiles, paper products, and cloth bags for agricultural products.  Their chief product soon became bags for the cotton industry.

The mills hired cheap white labor from the Appalachian area of North Georgia.  Cabbagetown housed its poorly paid labor in shotgun houses on narrow streets.  In recent times, the area has become a magnet for artists, musicians and other bohemian spirits.  Some of the old mill buildings have been converted into the nation’s largest residential loft community – The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts.

Inman Park was Atlanta’s first urban, planned community and Atlanta’s first electric trolley neighborhood.  In the 1800s, Queen Anne and Romanesque mansions were built in Inman Park, two miles east of downtown, on land that was previously the Atlanta Civil War battlefield.  Great attention was paid to street layout, parks and public spaces and Inman Park inspired other Atlanta garden suburbs, including Druid Hills.  Inman Park was where rich Atlantans lived in the 1800s; business tycoons such as Asa Griggs Candler, founder of Coca-Cola, called it home.

The arrival of the automobile allowed wealthy Atlantans to live in suburbs such as Buckhead, farther north from downtown workplaces. Inman Park mansions were subdivided into apartments and Inman Park became an economically depressed neighborhood of mostly blue-collar white people, elderly couples who couldn't afford to move, and families on disability and welfare.

Today, after decades of gentrification and restoration, Inman Park is a desirable place to live again – a mixture of restored single-owner restored Victorian mansions and tiny mill town shotgun rental houses.  Former industrial areas on the west side of the neighborhood have been redeveloped into mixed-use complexes with artist’s galleries and graffiti covered walls

The Krog Street Tunnel connects these two disparate communities – Cabbagetown and Inman Park.  The tunnel is a railroad underpass that is lower than the surrounding land and floods in heavy rains; I saw a photo of a man rowing a canoe through the flooded tunnel. 

The Krog Street Tunnel is covered with ever-changing graffiti.  There are two lanes for traffic and a pedestrian walkway on each side.  Supporting beams separate the two car lanes and the pedestrian walkways.  Rush hour traffic is extremely heavy.  I had to shoot these photos of graffiti in the rare times between rush hour traffic.  A photographer could get run over by passing bicycles but they are courteous enough to give warning grunts and vocalizations.  The light was a strange mixture of daylight toward the ends of the tunnel, car lights and unearthly red tunnel lights.  I used only ambient light.

If you visit the Krog Street Tunnel, the graffiti will be totally changed.  It is always a work in progress. 


Click here to see more photos...


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 15 Oct 2018 16:41:45 GMT
Elk - The Rut - Cataloochee, NC, 10-2-18 Cataloochee, NCCataloochee, NC Elk once inhabited the valleys and forests of Cataloochee, NC, near Maggie Valley, in large numbers but were nearly made extinct there due to encroaching civilization and excessive hunting.  The elk were repopulated in Cataloochee in the early 2000s by about 50 elk, mainly imported from Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes, and the numbers are now about 150.  Almost all elk are tagged with collars but free-roaming and protected from hunters.

I went to Cataloochee at the height of the rut, the elk mating season when bull elk (males) fight by clashing antlers to gain the right to mate with cow elk (females).  In the past, I’ve seen one huge bull elk that had a large number of cows corralled in one area and challenged any bull who approached and ran any cow who tried to escape back into the harem.  Elk threaten each other by curling back their upper lip, grinding their teeth and hissing or by charging with their antlers where their opponents can be injured or killed.

Among North American animals, only walruses and elk have ivory teeth. In walruses these are tusks, but in elk they are similar to their remaining teeth. These ivories, also called buglers or whistlers, are in the upper jaw on each side of the front teeth and are often kept as trophies by elk hunters. In prehistoric times, these ivory teeth were 6 to 8 inches long.  When an elk bares his ivories, it is a sign of aggression.  He uses his antlers and ivories to attack foes.

In the rut, bulls urinate and then roll in the urine to get a urine perfume all over their bodies to attract cows as part of their mating ritual.  How romantic.

I have one video in my gallery that shows a bull urinating and then bugling (bellowing), a high-pitched call to attract cows for mating and to intimidate other bulls.  The pitch is very high and not what I expected to come out of a 700+ pound bull elk.  Urination almost always preceded bugling.

The best time to spot elk, as with most animals, is early morning and late evening and I shot both times. In the middle of the day, the elk disappear into the cooler, shaded forest.

This year, I saw bull elk (adult males), cows (females), calves (baby elk), and spikes (yearling males with short, spiked antlers).  Calves, usually born from May to June, are born spotted and scentless as protection from predators.  When young, they lie motionless in tall grass to remain hidden while the mother cow hunts for food.  On this trip, older calves were running around like unbridled, energetic kids.

I saw no clash of antlers but I included two images from last year in my gallery that show a spike and a yearling elk clashing antlers.

One bull elk had a harem of about 20 cows and no competition from other bulls, even though I saw a few bulls nearby

A couple of years ago, I was at Cataloochee and saw one smaller bull elk confronting a huge bull elk that was guarding his harem.  He also got too close to tourists and seemed to have no fear of anyone or anything.  I thought his actions were a bit crazy, even for a moose.

Later in that same day, after I was gone, that bull confronted a photographer who was sitting on the street with his camera and gently, at that point, butted heads with him.  The photographer didn't run or move or he might have been killed by the crazy elk.  This went on for minutes as another tourist got video of the encounter.  The video became national news and the crazy elk was put down by park rangers before he could injure or kill a tourist.

Elk are in the deer family.  A bull elk can weigh between 700 and 1,000 pounds, stand 5’ from the shoulder, and is more unpredictable during the rut.  Visitors are warned to stay 50 feet from the elk and near their car where they can seek protection, if needed, and warned they can be injured or killed.  I saw many visitors get within 10 feet of bull elk to shoot photos with their cellphones and tablets.  There were no park rangers present.

Last year I was standing with a park ranger looking toward a field of elk when he suddenly yelled, watch out.  An elk I didn’t even see behind us decided to bolt toward the field and ran right between us.  The park ranger said, when they decide to bolt, they don’t care who or what they have to run over.

This year, I had a lens with a maximum focal length of 500mm (700mm equivalent in DX cropped mode) and kept my distance while near my car and ready to take cover.

I watched and shot for hours while the one bull elk with a harem approached cows, any cows, with amorous intentions.  Every single cow walked away, ran away, sat down, or otherwise rejected him.  If we’re looking to that bull elk to repopulate the species, they are doomed.  Just a thought - maybe too much urine perfume?

There is no joy in Mudville tonight; mighty Bull Elk has struck out.

Click here to see more photos...


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 07 Oct 2018 02:04:48 GMT
Tel Aviv, Israel - Alma Beach on the Mediterranean Sea Tel Aviv - Alma Beach on the Mediterranean Sea - SurfingTel Aviv - Alma Beach on the Mediterranean Sea - Surfing I heard a comparison years ago – Jerusalem is Holy and Tel Aviv is Hedonistic (engaged in the pursuit of pleasure).  I won’t agree or disagree but you might make up your mind with this photo gallery.

On the day we were flying home, I wanted to get close to Ben Gurion International Airport ahead of the flight.  So, we went to Tel Aviv and I decided to shoot photos of people engaged in the pursuit of pleasure at Alma Beach on the Mediterranean Sea.  I used my long Nikon 200-500mm lens that I lugged to Israel but didn’t shoot until Tel Aviv.

A one-man band played drums and sang to tracks through his portable sound system.

A modern skyscraper was made to look like ancient ruins.

A dog trainer was training his dog on the beach amid a lot of noise and activity.  The dog learned his lesson well, wasn’t distracted by all the activity going on around him, and only responded to his trainer after he reappeared from hiding.

A girl checked her phone at the surf.  You can’t go to a Mediterranean beach without seeing how many likes you had on Facebook.

People pursued pleasure by working out on the beach, playing volleyball, or by just walking around, overly clothed for a Mediterranean beach – as I was.

People in small sailing vessels ignored the warning signs and got dangerously close to obviously dangerous rocks and concrete and steel buoys in the surf.  Motorized rescue dinghies had to go out and end the non-motorized sailboat operators’ pursuit of pleasure and potential death on the rocks.

It was a warm day but the mostly female surfers were dressed nicely, or modestly, in wetsuits.  They were terrible surfers and two women were lathered with sunscreen and wore ballcaps surfing.  Didn’t help.

A couple walked by the sign in Hebrew, English, and an icon that said swimming prohibited.  They were carrying two surfboards and entered the surf just past the swimming prohibited sign.

By the way, you can tell a surfer isn’t a pro when they hold their nose as they try to catch a wave.

A man who looked like a professional photographer was setting up for a shoot of a young girl, probably a model, who was wearing a long black robe.  He had what looked like expensive Profoto self-powered lighting.  When he got the lighting and pose the way he wanted them, the model took off the robe and revealed that she was wearing a bikini and had a black leather jacket that might have been the advertising product draped over her shoulders.  Since I had a long lens, I grabbed a few shots of the model – without the Profoto lighting.  Nobody noticed the model in her bikini except one passing photographer with a long lens.

We were definitely not in Jerusalem anymore. 

Time to go to the Ben Gurion International Airport and fly home to the USA.

Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 09 Aug 2018 16:52:04 GMT
Jerusalem - Random Images Jerusalem - GPS PinsJerusalem - GPS Pins The images in this blog and photo gallery are from the last day in Jerusalem on this trip and didn’t fit categories like the Tower of David, the Western Wall, etc.  They show the daily Jerusalem life of tourists and citizens.

My Nikon D800 had a GPS and the first image in my photo gallery shows the location of all images in this gallery but doesn't show images previously in blogs and galleries about the Western Wall, the Tower of David, etc.

The old city of Jerusalem is small – 220 acres.  Work began on the current walls in 1,537 and was completed in 1,542.  The Old City has a total of 11 gates but only seven are open, the Jaffa, Zion, Dung, Lions’ (St. Stephen's), Herod’s, Damascus (Shechem) and New Gates.

The original gates are angled so attackers can't enter directly into the city without making a sharp 90-degree angle turn.  This was to prevent enemies on horseback from charging full-speed, straight through the gates, and to make it difficult to use a long battering ram to break them down.  Above some of the gates, there is a hole through which boiling liquids could be poured on attackers.

The main gate into Old Jerusalem is the Jaffa Gate and it has a road that permits cars and motorcycles to enter.

It’s easy to forget that Old Jerusalem is thousands of years old and most structures were built before electricity, plumbing, telephones, and the internet existed.  Those amenities were added in modern times but required that conduits, pipes, and wires run on the outside walls in what looks like, and is, a wiring and plumbing nightmare.

Something I didn’t experience in my 2008 trip was that many areas of Old Jerusalem had a strong smell of sewage.  It’s hard to wire 3,000-year-old buildings for electricity and phones but much harder to install plumbing and a sewage system.

All city services must be overwhelmed.  I saw empty boxes stacked behind shops or discarded on the street.  Trash pickup seemed nonexistent.  

There were a lot of people in Jerusalem when I first visited; ten years later, there were more.  Most areas of Jerusalem had so much foot traffic that it was difficult to walk without running into someone.  I’m sure this influx of people has strained all city utilities and services.

One thing that’s hard to miss in Israel is the influence of the Roman Empire that invaded and conquered Palestine and Jerusalem.  Rome laid siege to Old Jerusalem and destroyed much of it but their influence over rebuilding is still evident. 

The Roman Cardo was the main street in Ancient Roman cities, running from north to south and lined with a row of columns on each side. The Cardo of Jerusalem begins at the Damascus Gate in the north and crosses the city southwards until it reaches the area of the Zion Gate.  The Cardo was comprised of a central lane, open to the sky, for the passage of carriages and animals, flanked on each side by colonnades, covered walkways for pedestrians.  The street of the Cardo was paved with Jerusalem stone.

Parts of the Cardo are still preserved in Jerusalem.    Excavations in the Jewish Quarter, between Chabad St. and HaYehudim St., have uncovered sections of the Cardo extending intermittently for approximately 320 feet. 

Romans didn’t invent arches but they improved their ability to be used in constructing large viaducts and bridges, and smaller doorways and domes.  Ancient Romans created an arch that could support huge amounts of weight by using concrete, a mixture of lime and volcanic sand.  Arches made of this substance allowed them to build massive structures such as aqueducts, which provided water to cities, bridges, ceilings or roofs called vaults, a hemispherical ceiling or roof called a dome, and smaller structures, such as doorways. 

Romans solved the problem of arches not being able to support massive weight and expanded the use of arches for all the world's architects.  Arches were ever present in Jerusalem.  They were used in vaults, domes, and doors.  If you saw a rectangular door, it was a modern architectural invention modified to fit ancient arches. 

Many arch doorways were converted with metal doors that filled the arch and included rectangular doorways.  Some were metal doors that filled the arch.

Years ago, feral cats were introduce to Jerusalem to control the rodent population.  They have flourished and the authorities don't believe in spaying and neutering and say, as proof, that the Bible says, go forth and multiply.  The cats have.

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer was behind barbed wire with broken glass at the bottom of the barbed wire to make unwanted entry difficult.

Israeli soldiers are young, male and female, carry assault rifles, and are everywhere. 

There are four quarters in Jerusalem: the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter.

The Christian Quarter is near the Jaffa Gate, the most used entry into Old Jerusalem.  It contains the Church of St. John The Baptist and the Church of the Sepulcher, the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified and then buried.

The Jewish Quarter is quieter and cleaner than other parts of Jerusalem.  It contains the Western Wall and the Roman Cardo.

The Armenian Quarter is the smallest quarter and has an ancient feel because of its compact size.  It contains the Tower of David, just inside the Jaffa Gate, the Armenian Museum, and St. James Cathedral.  It is the first quarter you come to when entering through the most used gate, the Jaffa Gate.

The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four quarters.  The streets are narrow, winding, and very crowded.  The Muslim quarter contains the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended into Heaven, accompanied by Gabriel, the Monastery of the Flagellation where Jesus was flogged by Roman soldiers prior to His crucifixion, and is the first point on the famous Via Dolorosa, the first of the 14 Stations of the Cross.  Red, green, and black graffiti cover walls in the Muslim Quarter.  Those colors are the colors of the Palestinian flag.  T-shirts are sold with pro-Palestinian messages and Palestinian colors.

When you think of Jerusalem, you think of Holy sites but people live there, too.  Laundry was hung up to dry in many homes.

At the Corob Walk, near the Jaffa Gate, an Orthodox Jewish violinist played complete with his own sound system and hoped to sell CDs or receive donations.  At the Zion Gate a man played guitar and sang Gospel songs; he had no sound system and nothing to sell.  I talked to him and found he was from Ohio and made yearly trips to Jerusalem.  He recorded in Nashville with a producer and musicians who were my friends.  A man took a selfie in Jerusalem.  A mother pushed a baby stroller.  Men played cards on the street.

It’s surprising how much commerce goes on in the old city.  There are gift shops, restaurants, and shops that sell leather goods, sandals, clothing, art, fabrics, jewelry, pottery, windchimes, small stuffed animals, guitars, cellphone covers, rugs, clothing, hookahs, religious figurines, yamakas, menorahs, shofars, vegetables, meat, candy, spices, and more.

Much of the food, candy and spices, was sold unpackaged and open.  The customer just filled plastic bags with their selections.  Falafel, sometimes heart shaped, was cooked on the street.  Unpackaged bread was sold on the street.

Most shops were very small and, usually, only one person worked there.  Goods covered every inch of shops and spilled out of the store.  The small shops were all stone and Roman arches.

One frequented coffee shop was the Americanized Christ Church Coffee Shop which had roots and employees from the US.

If a shop had no business, the owner stood at the entrance and enticed passersby to come in and look at the shops goods.

I talked to a couple of people who said they owned, not rented, their shop.  One small restaurant was a husband and wife team.  She cooked and he waited on customers.  They were Moroccan Muslims and the shop was passed down from his father.  A picture of his father hung in a high spot overlooking the restaurant.  Many shops hung a photo of a father, grandfather, or spiritual leader.

I ate at this restaurant twice, the first time when the owner stood in the doorway and tried to get passersby to come in.  The food was good and the husband and wife were nice to talk to.  The second time we were there, a Jewish Holy Man came in dressed in the traditional fedora, long black coat, and wearing a long beard.  The owner introduced him as his very good friend. 

When we finished eating and were ready to pay the check, I stood at the register with money in my hand.  The Jewish Holy Man motioned for me to approach.  When I did, he held out his hand to take my money.  I assumed the very good friend was going to accept payment in dollars, Israeli Shekels, or Jordanian Dinars on behalf of the owner while he was busy with another customer.  Instead, he took the money and put it in a bag.  I told him to give it back and he refused.

The restaurant owner came to see what was going on and talked to the Jewish Holy Man but he still didn’t say a word and refused to give the money back.  The owner was obviously upset with his very good friend and got more upset as he tried to get him to give my money back.

I could have fought the Jewish Holy Man and wrestled the money away from him or called the police.  I took the high road and told the restaurant owner there was no good solution.  My friend paid the bill because I didn’t have any money.  The restaurant owner was reluctant to take the money but we insisted.  The Jewish Holy Man robbed me of US dollars, Israeli Shekels, and Jordanian Dinars that I figured was worth about $50.

I hoped for a head and shoulder photo of an Orthodox Jewish man but wouldn’t have taken one without permission.  As we left the restaurant, I asked the thief if I could take his picture.  He shook his head no; so I took it anyway.  It pleased me that he didn’t want his picture made but there was nothing he could do when I took it.  I considered putting the photo in my photo gallery but I don’t want to see a photo of the thief again.

My one bad experience in Israel and Jordan – robbed by an Orthodox Jewish Holy Man in the Holy city of Old Jerusalem.  Let him explain that when and if he gets to Heaven.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 09 Aug 2018 02:52:30 GMT
Near the National Hotel and Herod's Gate Near National Hotel - Herod's GateNear National Hotel - Herod's Gate

I booked the National Hotel in Jerusalem for a stay in Israel.  I wanted a hotel that was in walking distance of one of Jerusalem’s gates, had good reviews, was in a safe area, and was a reasonable price.  When we arrived at night, I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.  The streets were crowded, dark, and narrow, cars were parked in every available parking place, people walked in front of moving traffic, signs were in English and Arabic, and Arabic graffiti was everywhere.  The hotel’s parking area was small and was locked up at night.

But, inside the hotel, floors were marble, the staff was courteous and helpful, and the room was cozy and quiet.  Breakfast every morning was wonderful – mostly vegetarian, cheese, tomatoes, olives, lunchmeat, tofu, pita, fresh fruit, Arabic coffee, and more – a half dozen tables full of everything you could want and more and breakfast was part of the already reasonable room rate.

Maid service was all males.

When you entered your room, you had to insert your key in a thermostat to turn on air conditioning and electricity.  Since we had two keys and a never ending need to charge batteries, we left one key inserted to run the electricity while we had breakfast.  When we got back to the room, the power was off, the key was gone, and there was a note saying it could be retrieved at the front desk.  At the front desk, I got the speech to never leave a key to have electricity running while I was gone and they gave me the key.  This policy makes sense to conserve the use of electricity.

In the daylight and in subsequent nights, we changed our minds about what seemed at first like an unsavory neighborhood.  Every morning schoolgirls passed on their way to an all-girl school.  We were very near the Tomb of Kings, Rockefeller Garden, the Museum on the Seam, the Awar Jerusalem College, Al Hayat Medical Center, St. George’s Cathedral, homes, hotels, and businesses. 

We struck up conversations with tourists, locals, Christians, Jews, Arabs, and Muslims and everyone was friendly and had interesting stories to tell.  Our favorite breakfast waiter seemed to be at the restaurant night and day.  He drove in every day from Hebron, Palestine, about 20 miles away, and worked long hours to feed his family.

Stores in the area had roll-down metal doors at night like what I’ve seen in New York City and other places and like what used to be in Nashville many years ago.  If shop owners didn’t have what you were looking for, they could direct you to a shop that did.

Night and day, we saw people walking in the area – old, young, couples, mothers pushing strollers.  Everyone passed you with a smile and a hello or nod.  A group of three very nice, hip looking, Americanized boys wanted to have their picture made with Americans and wanted to look at the picture but didn’t ask for a copy.

And the reason for booking this hotel?  Herod’s Gate was a short walk of only a couple of blocks.  Herod’s Gate is on the north side of Old Jerusalem and leads into the Muslim Quarter.  From there, it is a short walk to the Christian, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 07 Aug 2018 02:38:52 GMT
The Tomb of The Prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) The Tomb of the ProphetsThe Tomb of the Prophets The Tomb of the Prophets is an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives.  The catacombs are said to be the burial places of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. 

Jews and Christians visit the tombs of these prophets of the last three books of the Old Testament.  However, the authenticity of this site has been questioned, since the tombs are kokhim (rock cut) shafts which came into use only in the 1st century BC.

The entrance to the large rock-cut burial catacombs is on the western side, where a staircase descends and leads into a large, circular, central vault measuring 24 feet in diameter.  From it, two parallel tunnels, 5 feet wide and 10 feet high, stretch some 20 yards through the rock.  A third tunnel runs in another direction.  They are all connected by cross galleries, the outer one of which measures 40 yards in length.  Research shows that the complex dates from the 1st-century BC.

In 1882, the Russian Orthodox Church bought the location.  They planned to build a church at the site which aroused strong protests by Jews who visited and worshipped at the catacombs.

I found the Tomb of the Prophets on the Mount of Olives just where Israeli guidebooks said it would be.  One of the few roads I saw on the Mount of Olives came to a dead-end where signs pointed to the Tomb of the Prophets. 

A car pulled up and let two schoolkids out and they ran into the gate.  It became apparent that I might be at a religious shrine but I was also in someone’s front yard.  A short way into the property, steps went down a stone staircase into the tomb but a metal gate was closed and locked.  I took a couple of photos and left.

As I left, I saw something that was all too common in Israel.  An outside corner of the property was covered in trash.  Not cleaning up the trash seemed neglectful in the Holy Land, even at an apparently little-visited shrine.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 06 Aug 2018 22:42:07 GMT
Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) Dominus FlevitDominus Flevit Most of the structures, tombs and buildings, on the Mount of Olives are thousands of years old but there is a new Catholic Franciscan Church that was built between 1953 and 1955, within the lifetime of many visitors.  It is halfway up the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  Dominus Flevit, meaning The Lord Wept, was constructed in the shape of a teardrop symbolizing the tears of Jesus.

When Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, He wept as He looked down from the Mount of Olives and prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem.  

Enemies will “set up palisades (wooden fences) around you and surround you, hem you in on every side, and crush you to the ground”.  Within 40 years, in AD 70, Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled when Roman legions besieged Jerusalem and, after six months of fighting, burnt the Temple and levelled the city.  The dramatic view from the Dominus Flevit makes it easy to imagine what Jesus saw as He looked down on Jerusalem and made his prophesy.

Dominus Flevit was built in 1955 but stands on the ruins of a Byzantine church from the 5th century and in an area of tombs dating back as far as 1,600 BC.  It was designed by the famous Italian church architect, Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed the Church of All Nations and the Mount of Beatitudes.  It was constructed in the shape of a teardrop, with tear phials (vials) on the four corners of its dome.  Behind the altar is a much-photographed picture window overlooking Jerusalem.  The cross and chalice in its arch-shaped design focus not on the Dome of the Rock but on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Dominus Flevit is accessible by foot through a steep walkway from either the top of the Mount of Olives or from the bottom of the Mount of Olives near the Church of All Nations.  When we found Dominus Flevit, I was surprised to see it was behind 8-foot stone walls and the entrance was behind closed metal doors with barbed wire on the top.  I heard someone just on the other side of the metal doors and knocked to see if I could get their attention.  The door cracked open and I asked if we could come in.  The immediate question was, where were we from.  When I said the US, the door opened and we were allowed in.

That was the only church/shrine I encountered in Israel that was locked and the only one that asked where I was from before letting me in.  The reason was probably that the Arab/Israeli conflict is still going on at the Mount of Olives.  Arabs still destroy graves, attack mourners, and violate churches.  It makes sense to lock the doors.

When we got in Dominus Flevit, we found a small, beautiful church dedicated to the tears of Jesus.  The view from the courtyard was amazing.  There was a picture postcard view of the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem.  There was also a great view of Dominus Flevit’s next-door neighbor down the hill, the gold-domed Russian Church of Mary Magdalene (a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion); we would have paid it a visit but it was closed.  Another close neighbor was the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.

Dominus Flevit was very small but beautiful.  Not surprisingly, because of the 8-foot walls, locked metal doors, and barbed wire, we were the only visitors and were made to feel welcome.  The chapel’s picture window had a stunning view of Jerusalem.

As we were leaving, I was told the priest wanted to see us.  The church gets money from many countries in its collection plate.  He wanted to know if I would like to buy some US money that was in the collection plate but was harder for him to deal with.  He had coins taped up in one-dollar amounts and a few bills.  I bought them for the Israeli Shekels and Jordanian Dinar I had in my pocket and they opened the locked metal door for us to leave.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 06 Aug 2018 05:13:11 GMT
The Mount of Olives The Mount of OlivesThe Mount of Olives The Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet), just east of Old Jerusalem, was named for the olive trees that used to cover its hills.  It has been used for a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds about 150,000 graves.  In the book of Acts (of the Apostles), the Mount of Olives is described as the place from which Jesus ascended into Heaven. 

Jews have wanted to be buried on the Mount of Olives since antiquity, based on the Jewish belief that, when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

Jew­ish authorities have often objected to bringing flowers to the grave. There are Talmudic mentions of spices and twigs used in burial but the prevailing view is that bringing flowers smacks of a pagan custom.

In the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on visited graves.  The stones might be obtained by the mourner beforehand from a place of significance to the visitor and/or the deceased.  The visitor positions the stone on the grave using their left hand.  Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave.

Another story is that, at the end of days, God will raise the dead and they will help rebuild the temple.  The stones are there to help them rebuild.

The Mount of Olives contains a soft chalk and a hard flint. The chalk is is not a suitable strength for construction which is why the Mount was never built up and instead features many burial sites.

The Judean mountain ridge that runs for over 2 miles east of Jerusalem includes three peaks, the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, and the Mount of Corruption, so named because of the idol worship that once took place there.  The eastern side of the Mount of Olives is where the Judean Desert begins.   

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jordan annexed the Mount of Olives for 19 years and Jews of all nations and non-Jewish Israelis were barred from entering Jordan, including the Mount of Olives.  Jordanian Arabs damaged 38,000 tombstones, plowed the burial sites, made roads through burial sites, destroyed graves, including some of famous people, and destroyed graves to build a parking lot and a filling station.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, began restoration work and re-opened cemeteries for burials.

When we started climbing the Mount of Olives, we passed three young boys who were pulling heavy-duty pallet jacks and probably going to do work they seemed too young for, moving heavy supplies into Old Jerusalem businesses.  They wanted to pose for photos and wanted to see my friend’s cellphone photos and the LCD of my DSLR.  Young people often wanted to pose for photos with Americans.  They didn’t ask us to send the photos, even though they had cellphones, but they were very eager to look at the photos.

Climbing to the top of the Mount of Olives isn’t for everyone.  It is a steep climb and there are few places to stop and catch your breath.  You are climbing past a huge graveyard and thousands of years of history.  The top of the Mount of Olives is 262 feet above Old Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and offers a breathtaking view of the city.

And, at the top of the Mount of Olives, you can have your picture taken while sitting on a camel, if you hadn't already ridden a camel for two hours into the Negev Desert.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 05 Aug 2018 05:33:11 GMT
The Chapel of the Ascension (Ascension Rock) The Chapel of the Ascension - Ascension RockThe Chapel of the Ascension - Ascension Rock

The Chapel of the Ascension is a shrine located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  It is believed to be the place where Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection.  It houses a slab of stone, the Ascension Rock, believed to contain one of Jesus’ footprints. 

Ascension Rock is believed to display the right footprint of Jesus.  The section displaying the left footprint was taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Rock in the Middle Ages. Many believe Ascension Rock was the last place on earth touched by Jesus.

Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 326 and 328.  She identified a spot on the Mount of Olives as being the place of Jesus’ Ascension.  On her return to Rome, she ordered the construction of a sanctuary at this location.

Several chapels have been built but destroyed by invading armies.  The main structure of the current chapel is from the Crusader era.  The original chapel was open to the sky; the octagonal drum and stone dome are Muslim additions. The exterior walls are decorated with arches and marble columns. 

The site of the Chapel of the Ascension includes a Christian Chapel and a Muslim Mosque and minaret.  The Chapel is under Islamic jurisdiction.  It is surrounded by a walled courtyard because it is in a strategic location overseeing the city and was once a fortified monastery.

There are hooks in the walls of the courtyard that have been used by pilgrims to cover the yard with tents during the Ascension celebrations.

Unlike most religious shrines in Israel, the Chapel of the Ascension has an admission charge.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 04 Aug 2018 19:08:39 GMT
The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony)The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony), is a Roman Catholic Church located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, next to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It enshrines a section of bedrock, the Rock of Agony, where Jesus is said to have prayed, along with the Garden of Gethsemane, before his arrest and crucifixion. 

Two previous churches were built on this site – the first small church was abandoned and the second was destroyed by an earthquake.  The present church was built between 1919 and 1924 around the Rock of Agony where Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion.

The coat-of-arms of twelve countries that donated to the church’s construction are incorporated into the ceiling, each in a separate, small dome, and into the interior mosaics.  The crown around the Rock of Agony was donated by Australia.  These multi-national donations give the church the Church of All Nations.   

The interior is in semi-darkness, keeping with the somber nature of the location, relieved only by subdued natural light filtered through violet-blue alabaster windows and the ceiling is a deep blue to simulate a night sky.  The stars in the dome are surrounded by olive branches reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane.

There is a large mosaic in each of the three apses.  From left to right, they represent The Kiss of Judas, Christ in Agony being consoled by an Angel, and The Arrest of Jesus.

On the triangular area at the top of the façade, there is a mosaic that depicts Christ as the mediator between God and mankind on whose behalf he gives his heart which an angel is shown receiving into their hands.

On Jesus’ left, there is a throng of lowly people; on his right, there is a group of the powerful and wise.  At the top of the façade there are two male, horned deer with a cross in between them. 

Beneath the mosaic, there are statues of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Earlier in the day, I couldn’t approach the Western Wall without a yamaka to cover my head.  When I entered the Church of All Nations wearing a ballcap, I was told to take it off.  Religion can be so confusing.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 04 Aug 2018 04:17:13 GMT
The Garden of Gethsemane The Garden of Gethsemane - PeaceThe Garden of Gethsemane - Peace The Garden of Gethsemane is the garden where Jesus prayed while his disciples slept the night before His crucifixion.  It is just outside the walls of Old Jerusalem at the foot of the Mount of Olives and just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem.  According to the New Testament, the Garden of Gethsemane was a place Jesus and his disciples often visited which allowed Judas to find him and betray him on the night of his arrest.  Gethsemane means, literally, the oil press. 

Disciples, Mark and Matthew, recorded that Jesus went to a place called the oil press (Gethsemane) that was well known to Jesus and the disciples because it was close to the natural route from the Temple Mount to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany.  Disciple, Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, arrived with a multitude of soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus.  Judas identified Jesus by the prearranged signal of a kiss he gave to Jesus. 

According to the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, Gethsemane is the garden where the Virgin Mary was buried and was assumed (taken) into heaven after her dormition (falling asleep or death) on Mount Zion. 

In 1681 Croatian knights of the Holy Order of Jerusalem bought the Garden of Gethsemane and donated it to the Franciscans, a religious order within the Catholic Church.  Today, it sits within the grounds of the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations.

Eight ancient, gnarled olive trees growing in the garden are among the oldest known to science and, according to Italian carbon dating, may be 900 years old.  All the tree trunks are hollow inside so the central, older wood is missing and couldn’t be carbon dated in the Italian tests.

In 1982 the University of California carried out carbon dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated as 2300 years old.

Many believe the trees are the same trees that sheltered Jesus on the night before his crucifixion and they are still producing olives and oil is still being pressed from those olives. When olives are harvested each year, the oil is pressed for Gethsemane’s sanctuary lamps and the pits are used to make rosary beads, given by the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land to notable pilgrims.

The present Gethsemane trees, however, were not standing at the time of Christ. The historian, Flavius Josephus, reports that all the trees around Jerusalem were cut down by the Romans to make siege equipment before they captured Jerusalem in AD 70.

Gethsemane olive trees are possibly descendants of one that was in the garden at the time of Christ. This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree.

The Garden of Gethsemane is very small, about 3/10 of an acre.  The garden’s 8 ancient olive trees are behind a fence of iron tracery with Byzantine motifs.  The fence is around the perimeter of the garden and prevents visitors from walking the paths between trees.

Young local boys stood at the entrance to the garden and sold maps.  Commerce is everywhere in Israel. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 03 Aug 2018 21:50:45 GMT
The Western Wall The Western Wall & The Temple MountThe Western Wall & The Temple Mount The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and the gold-domed Dome of the Rock.  For Muslims, it is the site where the Islamic Prophet Muhammad tied his steed, al-Buraq, on his Night Journey to Jerusalem before ascending to paradise from the Temple Mount and constitutes the Western border of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Muslim name for the Temple Mount).

Because of Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Western Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray.  The Temple Mount, the Holy of Holies, the Holiest site in the Jewish faith, lies behind it.  

Of four retaining walls, the Western Wall is closest to the Temple Mount which makes it the most sacred site recognized by Judaism outside the Temple Mount.  It is commonly believed to have been built around 19 BC by Herod the Great.

The term Western Wall and its variations are used for the section traditionally used by Jews for prayer; it has also been called the Wailing Wall, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples; according to Jewish law, you are obliged to grieve and rend your garments upon visiting the Western Wall and seeing the desolate site of the Temple.  The term, Wailing Wall, is not used by Jews and increasingly not used by many others who consider it derogatory.

After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Eastern portion of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, was occupied by Jordan and Jews were completely expelled from the Old City, including the Jewish quarter, and Jews were barred from entering the Old City for 19 years, effectively banning Jewish prayer at the site of the Western Wall. This period ended on June 10, 1967 when Israel gained control of the site following the Six-Day War. Three days after establishing control over the Western Wall, the Moroccan Quarter was bulldozed by Israeli authorities to create space for what is now the Western Wall Plaza.

When you approach the Western Wall, you are given a mandatory kippah (yamaka or skullcap) to cover your head.  Male visitors are allowed on the left side as you face the wall.  An area is fenced off to the right side for females.  The area for males is about twice as big as the area for females as can be seen in one of the photos in my Western Wall gallery.

The Western Wall is constructed with large stones on the bottom and smaller and smaller stones as the Wall rises; the largest stones are under ground level.  It is traditional that notes asking for prayers are stuck in the cracks between stones.  Greenery grows out of some cracks in the wall and birds made a home where one stone was recessed into the wall.

In this technologically connected world, I saw more than one person taking selfies at the Western Wall.  Even though I was holding my DSLR, that seemed out of place.

As a life-long Southern boy, I only encounter traditional Jewish attire when visiting NYC or Israel but I’ve always been curious about the clothing’s origin, religious significance, and meaning.

Clothing plays a significant role in Judaism: reflecting religious identification, social status, emotional state, and even the Jews’ relation with the outside world.  Rabbis teach that maintaining distinctive dress in Egypt was one of the reasons Jews were worthy of being rescued from servitude.

Some Orthodox Jewish visitors to the Western Wall wear large, round, fur hats called shtreimels, most often worn on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.  There are variations of shtreimels and those in the know can discern which Hasidic (Ultra-Orthodox) group a person belongs to based on the type of headwear worn and other nuances in dress.

Orthodox Jewish men also wear black fedoras (hats) and long black coats that were stylish in Europe 100 years ago.  Orthodox men often wear black suits, and many Hasidic men wear suits that are reminiscent of the style Polish gentry wore in the 18th century when Hasidic Judaism began.  As with many religious explanations, many claim the Polish gentry connection isn’t true.

Old Polish laws banned Jews from wearing clothes made of expensive materials and decorated with jewels, chains, or appliqués of gold, silver, or precious stones. 

The traditional dress of Jewish men in Poland was unusual because it was black, a color rare in Polish attire. Women’s clothing was most often brown but sometimes black.

Men’s long beards were permitted.

Jews were forbidden to wear more than two gold rings on weekdays, three on the Sabbath, and five on holidays. 

There is a Halakhic requirement (a collection of Jewish religious laws) that males wear prayer shawls.

Orthodox men and boys wear payots (sidelocks or side-curls) based on an interpretation of the Biblical injunction against shaving the corners of the head.

Biblical law prohibited mixing linen and wool in a single garment

Biblical and state laws once determined how Jews dressed.  Trends and state laws have changed but many Orthodox men still dress as they did in 18th century Poland.

And, finally, there are Western Wall cats.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 02 Aug 2018 02:07:59 GMT
The Tower of David - The Citadel The Tower of David - The Tower of PhasaelThe Tower of David - The Tower of Phasael The Tower of David (The Citadel) is a walled, medieval fortress within the walled city of Old Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate on the west side of Old Jerusalem and is the highest spot in Old Jerusalem.  The fortification, surrounded by a moat, was built as defense against an expected invasion from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  Construction began with the Hasmonean kings in the 2nd century BC.

Despite being called the Tower of David, the Citadel has no connection to King David. The roots of this mistaken identification date back to the Byzantine period when early Church fathers misinterpreted Josephus Flavius’ writings and attributed a tower from the time of Herod, the Tower of Phasael to King David. 

The Tower of Phasael (named by Herod in memory of his brother) was also known as the Hippicus Tower.  There were three towers; the other two were named for Herod’s friend and general, Hippicus, who had fallen in battle, and for his favorite wife, Mariamne.

When Old Jerusalem was razed in AD 70, all three towers were left standing by the Romans in order to show off the strength of the fortifications the Roman Army had to overcome.

The Citadel was gradually built up under Muslim and Crusader rule and acquired the basis of its present shape in 1310 under the Mamluk sultan, Malik al-Nasir.  Suleiman the Magnificent later constructed the monumental gateway in the east that you enter through today.

The minaret (a tall, slender tower in a mosque with a balcony from which a muezzin calls Muslims to prayer), a prominent Jerusalem landmark, was added between 1635 and 1655, and took over the title of the Tower of David in the nineteenth century.  The name can now refer to either the whole Citadel or the minaret alone.

Of the original Tower of Phasael, some sixteen courses (horizontal layers) of the original stone ashlars (cut masonry) can still be seen rising from ground level and smaller stones, in a later period, added significantly to its height. 

A minaret, built in 1635 by the Ottoman Empire’s Turkish rulers, was added onto a mosque which had been active in the Citadel during the Mamluk period. The minaret is mistakenly known as the Tower of David and is a symbol of Jerusalem.

Today, the Tower of David is a popular venue for benefit events, educational gatherings, craft shows, concerts, multi-media sound-and-light performances, and for its dramatic view of Jerusalem.

You enter on the east side of the Citadel via a bridge that spans the moat to the inner gatehouse built by Suleiman the Magnificent.

A surprise to me was that Chihuly Glass named Yellow Chandelier hung in the entryway.  Dale Chihuly is a world-famous, currently working, American glass sculptor whose works are considered to possess outstanding artistic merit in the field of blown glass.  Chihuly, the subject of many documentaries, wears an eye-patch over one eye due to losing an eye in an auto accident.

Chihuly’s most famous installation is a huge blown glass ceiling display at the registration area of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  He has also had displays at Union Station in Tacoma, WA, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, GA, Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville, TN, the Denver Botanical Gardens in Denver, CO, and the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR.  What a surprise to see Chihuly Glass in a medieval Citadel in Jerusalem.

A one-of-a-kind model created in 1872 by Hungarian pilgrim Stephen Illes depicts Jerusalem as it was in Illes’ time and is unique both for its many details and for the fact that it documents the city’s appearance prior to the significant changes it underwent in the 20th century. The model immortalizes the Jewish Quarter before it was destroyed in 1948.  Forgotten for 64 years in the attic of the Geneva Public and University Library, it was rediscovered in 1984.  In 1985, the model was transferred to Jerusalem and restored and is now exhibited on permanent loan at the Tower of David Museum.

A sculpture of two warriors on horseback outside the Tower of David is of Richard the Lionheart, King of England, and Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria and leader of the Muslim armies during the Crusades.

There was a calmness inside the walls of the Tower of David that contrasted with the street life of Old Jerusalem.  The courtyard was beautifully landscaped with desert greenery.  School children were attending an outdoor lecture in the courtyard.  There were museums related to the Tower of David, several different walking tours, and special events were always going on.

The ramparts, defensive walls with a high walkway around the Tower of David, command a breathtaking 360-degree view of Jerusalem: the Old City and the New City, the Four Quarters (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian), the new neighborhoods, the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea in the distance.  The Ramparts around Old Jerusalem are longer but the view from the Tower of David Ramparts is much higher and has the best view of Jerusalem.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 01 Aug 2018 03:02:08 GMT
The Negev Camel Ranch The Negev Camel Ranch - OasisThe Negev Camel Ranch - Oasis I always wanted to ride a camel but passed up a few opportunities to pose for a photo while sitting on one on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  From Nashville, I researched and booked a two-hour camel ride into the Negev Desert at the Negev Camel Ranch.  That wasn’t easy – the camel ranch got the wrong date, the wrong number of riders, and the wrong length of the ride.  It took several emails over several days to get it straightened out.  When I got to the Negev Camel Ranch, I believe I saw what the problem was.  Two Bedouins were sitting on pillows presumably reading emails about booking a camel ride or booking housing.  No pencil and paper to write anything down.

The Negev Camel Ranch cares for, raises, and sells riding camels, and it offers camel tours, desert hospitality, and lodging.  They sell camels’ milk cosmetics and camels’ milk ice cream.

The Negev Camel Ranch was established in 1986, over 30 years ago, in the Eastern-Negev, along the Northern Incense Route, near the ancient Nabatean city of Kurnub-Mamshit.  It is halfway between Be’er Sheva and the Dead Sea in the Negev Desert in Southern Israel between the Maktesh Hagadol (Big Crater) and the Maktesh Hakatan (Small Crater). 

The camels people ride were all females because they have better dispositions.  They were trained from birth to carry humans and they were very gentle and forgiving of human ineptitude.  The camels kneel down so you can get on them but they are still pretty high off the ground.  When a camel stands up with a rider it is pretty easy on the rider but we were warned to push forward on a kind of saddle horn (pommel) when the camel sat down.  That didn’t make sense to me until later.

These camels were dromedaries, Arabian one-humped camels, and can be 6 feet tall at the shoulder.  The camel’s hump is another foot higher and a saddle goes over the hump which puts the rider about 7 ½ feet off the ground.  When I was mounted on top of the camel, I got the uneasy feeling, that if she fell, I would fall 7 ½ feet to the ground and might have a 1,000 pound camel land on me.

The saddle could accommodate two riders; when there was only one rider, that rider sat on the back side of the saddle.  There were stirrups and the saddle horn looked similar to a bicycle’s handlebars, not like a horse's saddle horn.  The camels were tethered together one by one behind the leader.  It reminded me of a Wal-Mart horse riding machine but I was riding a camel for two hours into the Negev Desert.  Each camel had a saddlebag that contained a bottle of water for the rider.

The camel caravan was five riders long – the lead Bedouin rider, a young German couple, me, and my friend Kenny bringing up the rear.  Another Bedouin rider rode free from the caravan and could go quickly to any rider who needed help.  That help was not needed on this ride.

In research, before I got to Israel, I learned that T.E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O'Toole in the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, got seasick when riding a camel.  The gait of a camel is quite different from that of a horse; they rock back and forth.  As an ounce of prevention, I took a motion sickness pill, Dramamine, before my ride.  After the fact, I don’t think it was really necessary, but the rocking motion of the camel was almost hypnotic and could make some riders seasick.

As we rode into the desert, we were up and down hills, in gullies, and through areas that were covered with loose sandstone and rocks that would have made me slide and fall if I were walking.  My camel stepped cautiously and never lost her footing.  A couple of times, I rubbed my camel’s head to say good ride.

One thing that surprised me was that a camel never passes a shrub without taking a bite.  I remembered the earlier demonstration in Wadi Rum where our guide, Atieq, rubbed dried shrub leaves in his hand and produced small amounts of water.

Our two-hour camel ride took us along the Northern Incense Route with a view of the Nabataean city Mamshit, Hitann Wadi, Yamin Plain, and Machlik Wadi.  Again, the air was very humid, but the sun could be deceptive.  Our camel guides and all riders wore long sleeves in layers – protection from the sun, wind, and the insects I never encountered.

A little better than halfway through our ride, the camels recognized a familiar resting stop.  When a camel decides to lie down, the front legs are on the ground first and that movement is pretty rugged for the rider.  A camel guide yelled at me to push forward on the saddle horn.  Then I understood.  Pushing forward didn’t control the camel but it made me lean back to keep from falling off the camel headfirst.  I was holding on to my camera with both hands before and not holding on to the saddle horn.  Just in time, I didn’t fall but learned a camel riding lesson.

The second surprise was how the backside of the camel went down.  It was as slow and gentle as the front end was rough.

The rest stop was a sort of oasis with some of the few trees we passed and a bit more vegetation.  It was a familiar, welcome rest stop for the camels.

Similar to how camels’ legs were tied together in Wadi Rum to keep them from running, a soft, thick rope was tied to keep the camel’s foreleg and upper leg together.  If the camel tried to stand, and they did, the tied leg would prevent them from standing.

When we were almost back to the Negev Camel Ranch, we saw a couple of desert homes with more than the usual desert vegetation.

When we arrived back at the coral, the camels sped up a bit and were obviously happy to be home.  My camel waited to sit down until after one of the other riders took a photo of me on camelback.  When the camel’s front legs went down, I was prepared and pushed forward on the saddle horn.  I rubbed the camel’s head again as I left. Thanks for a good ride.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 29 Jul 2018 13:07:36 GMT
Aqaba, Jordan Aqaba - Egyptian FriendsAqaba - Egyptian Friends After two wonderful days in Jordan at Petra and Wadi Rum, we headed back down the Desert Highway to Aqaba, the Bride of the Red Sea.  Aqaba is the only coastal city in Jordan, an otherwise landlocked country, and the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba at 150,000 people.  It has been inhabited since 4,000 BC.

Aqaba plays a major part in the Jordanian economy through tourism and trade.  Its strategic location and proximity to copper mines made it a regional hub for copper production and trade in the Chalcolithic (copper age) period.  Its proximity to Petra and Wadi Rum places Aqaba in Jordan’s Golden Triangle of tourism.  Its access to the Gulf of Aqaba makes it Jordan’s only port.  Aqaba's location at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea between the continents of Asia and Africa, has made its port important over the course of thousands of years. 

The Great Arab Revolt's Battle of Aqaba, depicted in the film, Lawrence of Arabia, resulted in victory for Arab forces over the Ottoman (Turkish) defenders.

The road from Wadi Rum to the Desert Highway is little more than a gravel road.  The Desert Highway is paved but passes through areas where goats roam the highway.  Signs in Arabic gave me little clue about the area.  We passed an occasional mosque and a guarded checkpoint.  A small fishing boat was displayed in a fenced area like a shrine but I have no idea of its historic significance. 

Aqaba looks like any mid-sized city with shops, hotels, and recognized America fast food restaurants.  The tour could have taken us right to the border to Eilat, Israel, just across the Red River, but they built in a 3 hour stay in Aqaba so we could shop in the duty-free stores and add to the Jordanian tourist economy.  Fair enough.

The highlight of the stay in Aqaba, to me, involved workers who were on a lunch break.  A little explanation.  When I was at the Sea of Galilee in 2008, I passed a man who was sitting on a boulder and fishing.  That story is in my blog about the Sea of Galilee.  When I asked if he was catching anything, he shook his head no and put his fingers to his lips while he said, speak.  Don’t speak?  Fishermen often don’t like talking near their fishing spot.

I walked up to Calpernius and, as I walked back past an old car, I saw that fisherman and his wife cooking fish for dinner in a can on a Bunsen Burner.  He motioned for us to sit down and join their dinner.  I realized that what he was saying when I first passed him was that he couldn’t speak. 

His car was old and beat up and looked like he and his wife might have slept in it.  They were wearing dirty clothes.  Here was a man who wasn’t fishing for sport; he was fishing to feed his family.  He had next to nothing but he was willing to share it with strangers.  I thanked him and said we had to get to Acre by sundown to shoot a lighthouse and didn’t have time.  No, they didn't understand English.  I’ve always regretted that I didn’t sit down and visit for 5 minutes with a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee who showed me the most spiritual moment of the entire trip.

So, when I passed a group of workers sitting on a pallet in an alley between two buildings on a lunch break in Aqaba and they motioned for me to sit down and join them, that’s exactly what I did.  One of the workers went for drinks and brought drinks back for me and my friend.  I sat on a cinder block – fell off once while holding my camera and camera bag – and ate the usual pita and hummus.  One of the workers even reminded me I was holding the pita wrong and should hold it folded over to spoon the hummus up.

I quickly realized that the workers only knew a few words of English between them but that didn’t stop them from laughing and having a good time, especially when they had to help me up after I fell off the cinder block with my camera.  They were workers from nearby Egypt.  They were obviously finishing construction on one of the fast food restaurants we never got to.  We asked if they were painting.  They didn’t understand.  Sheetrock?  They didn’t understand.  Drywall?  One man said, excitedly, we do.

When lunchtime was over, we stood up and the workers and I looked at each other like we couldn’t just walk away but we had no words in common.  I reached my hand out and shook hands with each man before they went back to work.  I took a few photos of my new friends and my friend from KY. 

You don’t need a common language to meet new friends and have a lunch you’ll never forget.  I still wish I had joined the fisherman and his wife for 5 minutes at the Sea of Galilee.  Live and learn.

The border crossing back into Israel was less complicated than entry into Jordan and we were off for more Israeli adventures.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 28 Jul 2018 06:33:43 GMT
Wadi Rum - The Valley of the Moon Wadi Rum - CamelWadi Rum - Camel Wadi Rum, also known as The Valley of the Moon, is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan, 37 miles east of Aqaba along the Desert Highway from Petra to Aqaba.  It is the largest Wadi (valley) in Jordan at 278 square miles.  Wadi Rum is Arabic for Sand Valley; Wadi means valley and Rum means sand, especially light sand that can be carried by wind.

It was named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2011 and is a protected area.

David Lean filmed much of his 1962 Oscar winning Best Movie, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, and Omar Sheriff, in Wadi Rum.  Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, O’Toole’s character, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), is sent to Arabia to find Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and serve as a liaison between the Arabs and the British in their fight against the Turks and the Ottoman Empire. 

In 2015, The Martian, starring Matt Damon, won a Golden Globe Best Picture Award, seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Damon won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and was nominated for several awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor.  In this movie, Wadi Rum’s desolate features portrayed the surface of Mars.  The Martian is about an astronaut who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars. The film depicts his struggle to survive and efforts to rescue him. 

Many more movies and documentaries have been filmed in Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures, including the nomadic tribe, the Nabataeans, since prehistoric times.  Wadi Rum is the site of petroglyphs etched into the cave walls depicting humans and antelopes dating back to the Thamudic times.  The village of Wadi Rum consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents, concrete houses, and four-wheel vehicles.

Wildlife is plentiful but most are nocturnal and seldom seen in the desert sun.  There are birds, reptiles, insects, buzzards, steppe eagles, snakes, lizards, geckos, agamas, beetles, scorpions, and small furry animals like gerbils.  Wildlife has various ways to protect itself from the sun during the day.  Some hide under rocks or bury themselves in the sand.  Beetles walk on tiptoes to keep their bodies off the hot sand.

The plants you see most are short, woody shrubs - white saxaul, jointed anabasis, and hammada salicornica.  They provide an important food source for Bedouin goats and camels.  Camels won’t pass a shrub without having a bite and woody shrubs are great for starting a fire to cook food.  Shrubs that look dead are living, growing, and contain minimal moisture

After a long day in Petra, the tour bus drove us down the Desert Highway and dropped us off at a road that led to Wadi Rum.  Atieq, our Arabic guide to Wadi Rum, met us in a pickup truck and took us to the Bait Ali Bedouin Campsite.  Atieq was wearing the traditional Arabic headdress (keffiyeh) and long white robe (thoub) that provide protection from the sun, wind, and sand.  Atieq, like many Arab desert dwellers, was covered from head to toe.

Atieq picked us up at Bait Ali Camp the next morning for a long tour of the Wadi Rum desert.  Our transportation was a Toyota pickup – a favorite of Middle Eastern countries – that had two benches in the truck bed for about 8 people.  We had 4 people, my friend, Kenny, me, and a German mother (Christine) and daughter (Anne).  We saw Christine and Anne at the Jordanian border crossing and again in Petra.

Atieq drove us miles into the Wadi Rum desert and it was like being on another planet.  There were large stretches of sand and mountains of sandstone and granite.  Our tire tracks and footprints were the few signs of humanity.  There were no settlements but occasional powerlines strung across the desert.  In all this desolation, I saw a goat herder attending his flock of about a dozen goats.

And then, I ran into many free roaming camels.  I approached them and they seemed to have no fear of humans.  I learned that these were domestic camels that were branded and just allowed to roam.  Camels are very fast so, if the owner wanted to coral them, they might just run away.  Their front legs were tied together with a soft rope that allowed them to walk but not run.  It’s a beautiful thing to see free roaming camels in the open desert.

Atieq said he would answer any questions.  Yes, Jordanians can have more than one wife; he has two.  Everyone gets along and they like the arrangement. 

Way out in the desert, Atieq decided it was tea time.  In the shade of the pickup truck, we sat in the sand and Atieq gathered dry shrub to make a fire for the hot tea.  Atieq rubbed the leaves of one shrub in his hand and moisture appeared.  It wasn’t much but apparently enough to keep a camel or goat alive.

Tea time in the desert.  What a nice end to an other-worldly day in the Valley of the Moon.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 26 Jul 2018 22:02:09 GMT
The Bait Ali Bedouin Camp - Wadi Rum, Jordan Bait Ali CampBait Ali Camp

After a long day in Petra, I booked the Bait Ali Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum.  I wasn’t sure how rustic Bait Ali would be – sleeping under the stars, sleeping in a tent, sleeping next to camels and other livestock? 

Bedouins are historically nomadic desert dwellers who herded camels, goats, and sheep to find water and better grazing but, in recent times, many have settled down in permanent encampments.

On the bus ride to Petra, I saw many modern Bedouin encampments.  Instead of tents that could be easily torn down and moved, camels, goats, and sheep, the permanent encampments are a few living quarters of questionable construction enclosed by low, concrete fences around the encampment, presumably to keep livestock in and strangers out.

Part of the reason these permanent encampments have increased is that many governments would like to wipe out the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle.  Syria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, and Libya have tried to turn Bedouins into settled citizens.  They want to seize lands that Bedouins have historically controlled and claim the migratory encampments are illegal settlements.  In addition, Bedouins of old never paid taxes or filed government forms.  Even disputes within the tribes were settled by the tribe and not by the government.

Since Jordan relies so heavily on tourism, there are many Bedouin camps that are permanent, modern, and appeal to tourists.  Bait Ali is one of those camps – a commercialized version of a Bedouin camp that honors Bedouin traditions in food, customs, etc.  It is a huge operation that is a camp and rest area (oasis) built in the Bedouin Arabic tradition blending naturally into its desert surroundings.  Bait Ali can house as many as 300 people in permanent tents, small dwellings with no heat or air conditioning, and larger air-conditioned dwellings with more amenities.

When my friend and I arrived late in the evening, we found we were the only two guests in that off-season day but we were greeted with a very large Arabic dinner of pita, hummus, olives, hot tea, etc., all vegetarian.  My friend who ate at every McDonald’s in Israel, didn’t eat a bite.

After dinner we were shown to our bungalow, number 22, which was a stucco building just large enough for two beds and a shower.  It was described as a small chalet with fan.  The beds were concrete slabs with a pallet lying on them – no box springs.  There was electricity but no TV, no air conditioner, and no heat.  The fan wasn’t needed or used.

The desert was very arid and daytime temperatures didn’t seem hot but the sun was constant and might have fooled you into getting burned.  The nighttime desert temperature was a different thing.  It got down to the low 60s and I piled on two or three thick stadium blankets to keep from freezing.  I could see the nighttime light through cracks in the ill-fitting door.  In the morning, it was still too cold to take a shower.

We were greeted with another big meal – a breakfast that included pita, hummus, eggs, labanne cheese, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, butter, jams, cornflakes, and milk.  Olive oil with zaatar was available.  Zaatar is a spice blend of related Middle Eastern herbs from the genera origanum (the same genus as oregano but a different species), calamintha, thymus (thyme), and satureja (related to rosemary and thyme).

Lunch could include traditional meals such as magloube (an upside-down meal of roasted vegetables, meat, and spiced rice), capse, mansef (lamb, rice, and yogurt sauce), and bukhari (rice and spices).

Dinner could include oven zerb (BBQ) with at least 8 appetizers including  salads, dips etc.  A sweet was either fruit in season or Arabic sweet of some kind.

A shisha (or hookah) was a single or multi-stemmed instrument for vaporizing and smoking tobacco flavored with molasses and other flavorings whose vapor or smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation.

A lady stopped to talk to us and I asked her to sit down and join us for breakfast.  Her name was Susie and she was British.  She came to Jordan as a young schoolgirl and fell in love with the country and with a Bedouin (?) man she married.  They were the owners of Bait Ali.

Susie said most of the Bedouin cooks, waiters, and maintenance men lived on-site and they were like one big family.

Susie likely had the country’s only parrot that spoke Jordanian with a British accent.

Looking around in the daytime, there was a wall around the huge encampment.  Palm trees were everywhere and it looked like small palm trees were being cultivated on the edge of the property.

Bait Ali was also beginning to do desert farming to grow organic produce that would be included in salads and other meals.

At the main entrance gate, a sign said Bait Ali Camp in English and Arabic.

In the registration office, you could buy a few mementos and other items but a sign said no credit cards were accepted – only cash.

A billboard outside of the office advertised horse rides, swimming pool, climbing, and hiking.  Balloon rides, buggy safaris, and Jeep tours were also available.

An old biplane sat within the walls.  I’m not sure if it still flew.  Probably not since I didn’t see access to a runway or an open desert runway.

There were many indoor and outdoor settings for gatherings.  The largest was a 3,000-seat outdoor amphitheater – the first private amphitheater in Jordan.

Bait Ali caters to weddings (large and small), birthdays, promotions, concerts in the 3,000-seat amphitheater, and other gatherings.  It also hosts movie crews that can be based out of Bait Ali.

Bait Ali has traditional Bedouin tented areas, modern showers and toilets, bar facilities, and plenty of room for camping, whether in the tents already on site or for motor caravans. 

There are also terraced areas with zerb ovens.  A zerb (or zarb) oven is a traditional Bedouin way of cooking food underground in the dessert.  A hole is dug in the sand.  Wood is burned until it is embers and the embers are place in the hole.  Meat, chicken, goat, or sheep, is cut into small pieces and marinated.  Vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cauliflower, eggplant and sweet peppers are prepared and the food is covered with palm leaves and cooked underground.  I'm sorry I missed the vegetarian version of that meal.

Nearby Bait Ali Mountain is accessible from the property and gives you a great view of Bait Ali and Wadi Rum and a great place to stargaze. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 23 Jul 2018 23:03:09 GMT
Petra, Jordan Petra - The TreasuryPetra - The Treasury

Petra is the most visited tourist site in Jordan and tourism is the main source of income for Jordan.  Tourist numbers peaked at about one million in 2010 then declined due to regional instability.  In 2017, tourist numbers were back up to 600,000.

Petra is believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, 9,000 years before the time of Jesus.  It was originally known to its inhabitants as Raqmu and was the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom.  

The Nabataeans were a nomadic Bedouin tribe who settled Raqmu, now known as Petra, and a string of oases that made up an ancient caravan trade route. 

Nabataeans roamed the Arabian Desert, moving with their herds to wherever they could find pasture and water.  They were particularly skillful in harvesting rainwater, agriculture, and stone carving.  

The ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis.  The area is visited by flash floods, and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods using dams, cisterns, and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought and enabled the city to prosper.

Nabataea was conquered by the Roman emperor Trajan in AD 106 and annexed to the Roman Empire.  Nabataeans were converted to Christianity during the Byzantine Era.

Once the center of a thriving caravan trade route, Petra's importance declined as sea trade routes emerged and after a 363 earthquake destroyed many structures and crippled the vital water management system.  The population diminished from about 20,000 to just a few Bedouin nomads until Petra was rediscovered in 1812 by Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The name Petra is a derivative of the Greek word petros meaning stone or rock.  In 1845, John William Burgon described Petra in a poem as a rose-red city half as old as time.  Rose-red described the color of the sandstone canyons of Petra.  Since Burgon’s poem, Petra has often been called the Rose City.

In October 1917, a revolt of Arabs in Petra was led by British Army officer T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) against the Ottoman regime.  The rebellions, with the support of British military, were able to devastate the Ottoman forces.

On December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.

I wanted to go to Petra on my first trip to Israel but the journey seemed long and difficult.  If you want to visit Bethlehem, Palestine, you really need to join a tour; it is ill advised or forbidden to drive a rental car from Israel to Bethlehem, Palestine, even though the distance is only a few short miles.  If you want to visit Petra, Jordan, you really need to join a tour and the journey is about 200 miles and takes a couple of hours one way.

I expected Petra to be an isolated canyon surrounded by nothing but desert but Wadi Musa (the valley of Moses) is a town of 7,000 people, hotels, restaurants, mosques, businesses, and homes that lies just outside of Petra.  The prophet Moses passed through the valley and struck water from the rock for his followers at the site of Ain Musa (Moses' water spring or Moses' Well).  The Nabateans built channels that carried water from this spring to the city of Petra.  The Tomb of Aaron, supposed burial site of the brother of Moses, is on nearby Mount Hor.

From Wadi Musa, it is a long walk into the canyons of Petra.  You walk a mile before you are really in the canyons.  Horseback Bedouins ride beside you and try to get you to pay for a ride into the canyons.  We were warned that adult and juvenile Bedouins could be relentless in trying to sell their services or goods.  One Bedouin on horseback followed me a long way and insisted that I should ride even though I kept telling him no.  I finally turned my camera toward him and took a photo.  He said, “no photos”.  I said, “no sales pitches” and he left to pursue another potential customer.

Fellow travelers were so besieged by Bedouin salesmen that they eventually got in their face and yelled no.  The salesmen were used to very stern no answers and that didn’t phase them.

One young Bedouin boy, probably 8 years old, followed me and tried to sell postcards of Petra.  He started by asking $5 for the postcards.  When I said no, he asked for $3 and eventually got down to $1.  He noticed that the Arabic headdress (keffiyeh) I was wearing was loose and offered to tie it very tight and very well.  I asked how much that was going to cost.  He said, whatever you want to pay.  I said, what if I buy your postcards for the first price you mentioned and you retie my keffiyeh. That was a deal.

He had me sit down in the middle of the walkway and he did a great job of retying my keffiyeh.  I ran into the boy several times while I was in Petra.  He didn’t try to sell me anything else but he shook my hand and introduced me to other young Bedouin salesmen as if we were old friends.  For that day, we were.

The walk through Petra was miles long.  I passed poor, small, or uncompleted carvings in narrow sandstone canyons.  The Siq, literally the shaft, is the main entrance into Petra.  It is a dim, narrow gorge, in some points no more than 10 ft. wide, and goes approximately 3/4 of a mile and ends at Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) which is believed to have been the mausoleum of the Nabatean King Aretas IV in the 1st century AD.  Its construction involved hired Greek architects.  It became to be known as Al-Khazneh, or The Treasury, in the early 19th century by the area's Bedouins who believed it contained treasures.

Most people are familiar with The Treasury a scene in the 1989 movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Archeologists have discovered that large Petra carvings like The Treasury were carved from the top down.  At the highest point of the carvings, scaffolding was built into the sandstone and, when that layer was completed, the scaffolding was lowered so the next level could be carved. 

The Petra Theater is an AD 1 Nabataean/Roman theater carved mostly out of rock that seats approximately 8,500 people was positioned to bring the greatest number of tombs into view.

Along the Siq and other Petra pathways, you pass horses, horses and buggies, camels, and donkeys. There are refreshment stands and there are trinkets for sale.  And there are the ever-present Bedouin salemen, adult and juvenile. 

The wind in the canyons blew up an occasional sandstorm.

I passed a Bedouin musician playing a homemade, rebab, single-string, Arabic folk violin for tips.  His granddaughter, I suppose, sat next to him.  They were both dressed from head to toe, she in colorful Bedouin clothing.  I’m sure he got more tips with her sitting beside him but I felt sorry for her and wished she had been playing like any young girl.  The look on her face said that she wished the same thing.

After a day in Petra, I relaxed, contemplated the day, and ate hummus, pita bread, and hot tea at one of the many restaurants in Wadi Musa.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 19 Jul 2018 14:35:07 GMT
Eilat, Israel to Petra Jordan Welcome to the Hashemite Kingdom of JordanWelcome to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

I arranged a two-day tour to Jordan before I left the U.S.  There are two places where you can cross the border into Jordan from Israel to go to Petra.  I chose to cross at Eilat, Israel. 

Eilat is a port town and resort town in the Southern Negev Desert of Israel just across the Red Sea from Egypt.  It is at the southern end of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aqaba and is famous for its beaches, coral reefs, nightlife, and desert landscapes. 

Eilat is the southernmost city in Israel, about 200 miles south of Jerusalem and is on the border of four countries – Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.  It is amazing to stand on the shore of the Red Sea and see four Middle East countries with such varied histories and in such varied current states.

Eilat is in the Negev Desert and can get quite hot despite cooling winds from the Gulf of Aqaba.  The median maximum temperature in July is 111 degrees Fahrenheit but the record temperature in July is 118.  It was much cooler when I was there.

Neighboring countries have invaded through Eilat in the past so Israel built the Israel-Egypt barrier, a steel barrier equipped with cameras, radar, and motion sensors along the country's southern border.  I took a couple of cellphone photos of the bank of the Red Sea at Eilat, a stone's throw from Egypt, where metal wires roped off the surf and a sign said no passage.  Another sign warned, in several languages, that this was a no swimming zone.

You can get a visa on the day of travel to Jordan but I chose to get a visa before leaving the U.S.  I sent an application form, visa fee, date and reason for travel (tourism), length of stay, and my passport to the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

A friend asked, what if the promised turnaround is delayed and you don’t have a passport before your trip?  No need to worry.  After a call from the Jordanian Embassy to clarify something on the application, I got the passport and visa back in record time.

I booked a basic hotel for the night before entering Jordan.  The hotel had about 12 rooms but no front desk.  You had to check in before some evening hour.  I let them know when I expected to arrive but I arrived early and couldn’t get in the hotel; the door was locked and no one was there.  I didn’t know the hotel sent me email on the day before the booking with further instructions about checkin.  Phone calls and texts worked well in Israel but email was very spotty and I didn’t get the message.

A couple who also booked the hotel arrived and couldn’t get in.  I called the number that was posted on the front door and the owner/manager came to let us in.  He gave a tour of the room and hotel and answered questions.

I didn’t see anywhere to park.  The manager said there was a public park about a half mile away with free parking.  I asked if I could park there for several days while I was in Jordan.  Yes.  I worried about the security of parking for days in a public space that was busy during the day but almost empty at night.  I had no choice.

The next day, a man in a pickup truck picked me up for a ride to the Jordanian border at Aqaba.

At the border crossing station in Jordan, you are welcomed to the Hashemite Kingdom by a huge portrait of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the 41st-generation direct descendant of Muhammad.  Hashemites are members of an Arab princely family claiming descent from Hashim, the the great-grandfather of Muhammad.  Abdullah's father was King Hussein who ruled Jordan from 1952 until his death in 1999 when Abdullah became king.  The Hashemite family has ruled Jordan since 1921.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan got the name Jordan because it is bordered on the west by the Jordan River.  The Dead Sea is also part of its western border.  Jordan is a landlocked country, except for a small shoreline on the Red Sea at its southern tip in Aqaba.  Its neighbors are Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

At the border crossing station, there are the usual customs checkpoints, metal detectors, duty free shops, and opportunities and time to buy food and mementos.  One area was fenced off and looked like it housed prisoners.  An elevated guard station, unoccupied as far as I could tell, looked like it belonged in a 1950s prison movie.  Signs in Arabic or Hebrew gave me no clue about the area.

A sign warned that there would be a $98 fine (70 JOD – Jordanian Dinar), paid in cash, if you stayed in Jordan fewer than three nights.  Jordan welcomes tourism, is very hospitable to tourists, and wants you to stay a few nights.  The border crossing town of Aqaba, just across the Red Sea from Eilat, is a place where you are encouraged to stay a while, eat, buy things, and spend money.  Tourism is big business in Jordan.

We were loaded onto a bus in Aqaba for the 85-mile, two-hour trip to Petra, Jordan.  The trip took 2 hours along the Desert Highway and the King’s Highway.

The first thing I noticed was what I didn’t see.  Southern Jordan has very little vegetation.  It is a desert and is sparsely populated.  Buildings, the occasional public buildings, homes, and small businesses, are mostly ramshackle with façades of buildings in usually undecorated, unpainted stone.  Convenience markets – I didn’t get to stop – appeared to have rooms added as needed with no thought of consistent architecture or building codes.

Jordan is known for its governmental stability and hospitality toward refugees.  Not only is it considered one of the safest countries in that region but it also has managed to keep terrorism out of its borders.

Jordan is a major medical tourism destination.  According to the World Bank, Jordan is considered the best healthcare service provider in the Middle East and patients come from all over the world.

Of the 9.5 million population of Jordan, 4 million, 42% of the population, live in the northwest city of Amman, Jordan’s economic, political, and cultural center, about 160 miles east of Jerusalem.  About 2.1 million Palestinian refugees, 1.4 million Syrian refugees, and thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees live in Jordan.  The dominant religion is Sunni Muslim at about 95% of the population.

Southern Jordan is sparsely populated, barren dessert, and barren mountains with little annual rainfall.  Copper, magnesium, phosphates, potash, and shale oil are natural resources but are not a big part of the economy.  Jordan has the 5th largest oil-shale reserves in the world, which could be commercially exploited in the central and northwestern regions of the country.  Forests cover about 2% of Jordan - the international average is 15% - making it one of the least forested countries in the world.

The Disi Aquifer in the desert of Southern Jordan supplies water for Jordan, including Amman and other large Jordanian cities.  Only a small part of the Disi Aquifer lies under Jordan; most of the aquifer lies under Saudi Arabia which also pumps water from the aquifer.  Jordan is the world's second poorest country in terms of water resources per capita and scarce water resources were diminished by the influx of Syrian refugees.

The view along the route to Petra was starkly beautiful but i wondered how people lived in this desolate area.  It reminded me of poverty-stricken places in other countries, including the US.

In the open desert, a man herded goats and a person with a child on their shoulders was followed by a donkey with cargo bags.  Only light construction was going on and the workers were covered from head to toe in the unpredictable desert climate.

Homes and businesses were surrounded by old tires, cars that no longer ran, broken chairs, and all things broken down and discarded.  There was no vegetation growing around properties, only dirt, sand, and rocks.  Fences made of unpainted concrete blocks enclosed many properties.

Bedouin tribes used to be almost 100% nomadic, migratory people; the term Bedouin comes from an Arabic word that means desert dweller.  In recent years, Bedouins have become less nomadic and have settled in camps that include several dwellings surrounded by a concrete fence that keeps strangers out and keeps goats and other livestock in.  There are about 4 million Bedouins worldwide and many live in Israel and Jordan.

I would have stopped at one of the convenience markets on the route but the tour bus only stopped once and that was at a large gift shop that had a brightly painted, deteriorating exterior that seemed designed to appeal to foreigners. 

On the several tours I had to join in the Holy Land, tourists were warned not to buy from vendors we passed on the street but to wait until the tour director took us to a place where it was safe to buy.  That was also a place where the tour director got a kickback from the gift shop.  When we arrived at our "safe" Jordanian gift shop, we were greeted outside the front door by two Jordanian girls who offered cups of hot tea with a smile.

Sales people followed customers around the store and suggested purchases.  A keffiyeh, an Arab headdress designed to protect the wearer from the heat and sand of the desert, was priced at about 10 times what it sold for in Jerusalem.  If you complained about the high prices, you were told that profits from the store helped local children.  I bought a keffiyeh at a high price, mostly in anticipation of need and partly because it made me look touristy cool.

My first Jordanian meal, typically Middle Eastern, consisted of many variations of hummus, salads, olives, carrots, pita bread (also known as Arabic bread), and tabbouleh (finely chopped parsley with tomatoes, mint, onions, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper) - all vegetarian.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 08 Jul 2018 21:31:13 GMT
The Dead Sea The Dead SeaThe Dead Sea On many trips to the Dead Sea and the Dead Sea area, I took the advised, safer, rental-car-legal route from Jerusalem that avoided the shorter route through Palestinian territory.  It is a 120 mile, 2-hour trip.

The Dead Sea is south of Jerusalem but I traveled westward on Highway 1 toward Tel Aviv, southward on Highway 6 within 8 miles of the volatile Palestinian Gaza Strip where Hamas rockets are routinely fired into Israeli territory, through Be’er Sheva, eastward on Highway 60 and Highway 31 through the Negev Desert (Negev is from a Hebrew word meaning dry), past Bedouin encampments, ancient dwellings, and downhill for miles to the Dead Sea, Masada, and the resorts of Ein Gedi.

As you travel through the Negev Desert, signs tell you how far you are below sea level until you reach the Dead Sea, 2 ½ miles below sea level, the lowest point of land on earth.

The Negev Desert landscape is barren and you never know what you will see.  I passed a stack of 100s of barrels that might have once contained oil or industrial waste, abandoned cars pushed down into desert valleys, free-roaming camels, a nuclear test facility, sparse flora and fauna, and young Bedouin boys smiling as they rode donkeys or fine looking Arabian horses while wearing sandles.

There is a popular phrase that says Israel has three seas: The Red, the Dead, and the Med (the Mediterranean) but the Red Sea is a saltwater inlet of the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are lakes, not seas.  Only the Mediterranean qualifies as a sea.  Still, the phrase, Israel has three seas: The Red, the Dead, and the Med is catchy and appears on many t-shirts. 

When you get your first look at the Dead Sea from the Negev desert above, the view is stunning but, in several trips to the area, I never saw anything but a drab, hazy sky, no glorious sunrise or sunset.

The Dead Sea was formed in the Jordan Rift Valley in a fault called the Dead Sea Transform Fault.  It is an endorheic lake, meaning it has limited drainage and that it normally holds water and allows no outflow.

The Jordan River is the main source of water that replenishes the Sea of Galilee and then the Dead Sea.  As in many other parts of the world, the Sea of Galilee is in danger.  Water has been diverted for human use and for agriculture and the Sea of Galilee’s level is in an unsustainable downward trend.  That has diminished the amount of water that can replenish the Dead Sea.

From Ein Gedi south and to the west, the Dead Sea is in Israeli territory.  Above Ein Gedi and to the north and west, it is in Palestinian territory.  To the east, it is in Jordanian territory.  

The Dead Sea is about 1,000 feet deep and is the deepest hypersaline lake on earth.  It is almost 10 times as salty as the ocean.  Its salinity makes a harsh environment where plants and animals can’t flourish.

Ein Gedi was one of the world’s first health resorts and was used as a health resort by Herod the Great who also inhabited nearby Masada. 

The Dead Sea is 31 miles long, north to south, and 9 miles wide, west to east.  Most of the shoreline of the Dead Sea is in Jordan.

The Dead Sea has provided a number of products, including asphalt for nearby Egypt’s mummification, potash for fertilizers, and salt and minerals for cosmetics.  Industrial evaporation pans harvest potash and other minerals in berms that stretch out into the water.

A plaque in Hebrew on a humanoid statue says “Meir Nahner:  Engineer and pioneer.  One of the first employees of the Potash Factory was one of the initiators and establishers of the Dead Sea dams.”  Thanks to Jennie for the translation.

The Jordan River is the Dead Sea’s primary inflow and there are no outflows.  The Dead Sea’s level is falling quickly, about 3 feet a year, because not enough water is being supplied by the Jordan River, because of evaporation in the hot climate, typically 104 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August, and because of low rainfall, less than 2 inches a year.

In 2018, Jordan is building the first phase of a Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance project that will bring water to neighboring countries and carry brine to the Dead Sea to stabilize the water level.  The first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

My biggest regret after many trips to the Dead Sea is that I didn’t get to visit an Ein Gedi resort where you cover your face and body with mineral rich, dark, Dead Sea earth and swim in the Dead Sea which is so saline that you float on top of the water.

The best I could do was to wade in the Dead Sea because I didn’t want to get a locker to store my clothes and camera.  Next time.

People of all shapes and sizes were swimming, wading, and otherwise enjoying the day.  One young boy was in his underwear and was accompanied by his grandfather.

The big surprise was how thick and mucous-like the water was.  There was a public water hydrant to wash off but washing was more difficult than washing off ocean water.

In this area, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with Sulphur and fire and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction.  On the eastern side, the highest visible peak is Mount Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land.  Further south stands the fortress of Machaerus, where Herod Antipas imprisoned and then executed John the Baptist.  On the western side, from north to south, are Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave, and Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada.

The Dead Sea, surprisingly, has its own McDonald’s.  McDonald’s were everywhere in Israel.

Unlike recent blogs, most of the Dead Sea photos in my gallery are from 2008.

And finally…the term, the Dead Sea, never appears in the bible.  The ancient Hebrews called this body of water the Sea of Salt.  Other ancient names include the Sea of Solitude, the Sea of Arabah, and the Asphalt Sea. The Crusaders called it the Sea of Satan.

By whatever name, it was a spectacular site.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 13 May 2018 03:03:38 GMT
Masada End of Snake PathEnd of Snake Path Masada, one of Israel’s best-known and most popular tourist attractions, is a fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated mesa.  It is located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth’s land, 1,300 feet below.  The Dead Sea is 2 ½ miles below sea level.  Masada means fortress and it’s easy to see that it would have been a very difficult fortress to conquer in the first century AD.


Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mesa and fortified Masada in case of revolt between 37 and 31 BC.  The eventual siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, in AD 73, ended, by legend, in the mass suicide of 960 people, Sicarii rebels, an extremist Jewish splinter group, and resident Jewish families hiding there.  Only 2 women and 5 children survived.


As with many stories in Israel, there is a conflicting report.  Contemporary Jewish historian, Titus Flavius Josephus, wrote that Judaism prohibits suicide so the defenders drew lots and killed each other down to the last man who would be the only one to actually take his own life.  If true, that story makes me wonder if murder was considered a lesser sin than suicide. 


There are two routes to Masada from Jerusalem. 


The shortest trip from Jerusalem to Masada is about 65 miles, takes about an hour and a half, and goes through some parts of the West Bank that are controlled by Palestine.  Route 1 and Route 90 take you eastward into the West Bank toward Bethlehem and then south to Masada and the Dead Sea.  Israeli citizens are forbidden to enter Palestinian controlled areas and car rental companies ban that route.  I did take a cab for most of that route with no consequences but that’s a long story.


Route 6 takes you westward toward Tel Aviv, south to Be’er Shiva, and then eastward to Masada and the Dead Sea.  The trip from Jerusalem is about 110 miles and takes about 2 hours.  This is the route I took for many rental car trips to the Masada/Dead Sea area on two Israeli trips.


As you get closer to Masada and the Dead Sea, you go steadily downhill past many signs that tell you how far below sea level you are.  I passed camels on a distant hill, Bedouin campsites, an unexpected McDonald's, and a young boy happily riding a donkey.


On my first trip to Israel, I made 3 or 4 failed attempts to see Masada.  On the 1st trip, I was met at the gate by a guard with an assault rifle and a revolver.  He said one word – closed.  I made note of the closing time and got there the 2nd time only to hear closed again.  I believe it was Shabbat and Masada closed early.  The reason I couldn’t get in the 3rd and 4th times escapes me but I left Israel without seeing Masada.


On my 2nd trip to Israel, Masada was at the top of my list and I had Masada’s open and closed times in my schedule.  My research said you could take the cable car up the side of Masada or take the Snake Path, a barren, winding trail to the top of Masada that you could hike before daylight to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea.


When I got to Masada, before sunrise, I was told you couldn’t hike the Snake Path until Masada opened at 8 am and sunrise would be over by the time you made the hour to hour and a half hike to the top of Masada.  I took the Cable Car for a 3-minute ride a half mile up to Masada.


As someone who often chases sunrises and sunsets, I can tell you sunrises are most often fickle.  Sunrise over the Dead Sea, or what was left of it, was very drab and hazy.  Next time.


Masada was built as a fortress by Herod the Great.  He built two palaces for himself, lodging for an elite group, storehouses, barracks, an armory, and cisterns to capture rainwater. The top of Masada was 1,800 ft. by 890 ft.  A 4,300 ft. long, 13 ft. high casemate, a fortified double wall, surrounded the mesa.  During the long siege of Masada, some people lived within the double walls of the casemate. 


There were always several tours going on that you could tag along with.  I joined a couple of English speaking tours and heard descriptions of structures and names of people who lived at Masada.  As usual, I don’t remember much of what was said.


After 2 or 3 months of siege, the Romans used 15,000 men, 9,000 soldiers and 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war, to build a circumvallation wall to contain inhabitants of Masada.  Then, they began construction of a siege ramp against the western face of Masada, the side that faces away from the Dead Sea, and they moved a battering ram up the siege ramp to get past the casemate walls.    it was amazing to know that people lived at Masada about 37 BC and the Roman siege took place in AD 73.


And last, even at Masada, you exit through the giftshop. 


Speaking of BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini – in the year of the Lord), in my research, I found that the reference to Christ or Lord is considered offensive by many, including the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), Wikipedia, schools, and in academic settings.  They have substituted the terms BCE (before common era) and CE (common era).  At the risk of being politically incorrect…again, I will continue to say BC and AD.


I hope you enjoy my photos from AD 2017 and a few from AD 2008.


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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 05 May 2018 14:47:00 GMT
Haifa - Bahá'í Hanging Gardens Haifa - Bahá'í Hanging Gardens, 16x9Haifa - Bahá'í Hanging Gardens, 16x9

One of the most visited religious sites in Israel isn’t Christian, Jewish, or Muslim but is part of the relatively new Bahá'í religious faith; it is the Bahá'í Hanging Gardens in Haifa.  Although heavily visited, the Bahá'í Hanging Gardens are off the radar of most followers of other faiths.


The Bahá'í faith is monotheistic and one of the newest of the world's major religions. It was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in Iran in 1863 and has 7 million followers.  The Bahá'í faith teaches the essential worth of all religions and rejects racism and nationalism.


Well known followers, past and present, are the rock duo Seals & Crofts, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, singer Vic Damone, Brazilian jazz singer Flora Purim, Perry Mason’s Barbara Hale (Della Street), and actress Carole Lombard.


Bahá'u'lláh declared himself a prophet similar to Jesus and Mohammed.  Bahá'u'lláh’s Bahá'í faith was rejected in his native Iran (Persia) and he was imprisoned in several Ottoman Empire prisons.  He died in a prison in Acre, Palestine (now Israel), 9 miles across the bay from Haifa.


The Bahá'í Hanging Gardens in Haifa are also known as the Terraces of the Bahá'í Faith.  They are one of several Bahá'í locations in Israel, including the Hanging Gardens in Acre, that are on the World Heritage List.


The Bahá'í Hanging Gardens are one of the most picturesque scenes in Israel.  They stretch a half mile up the side of Mt. Carmel, cover 50 acres, and overlook busy downtown Haifa, Israel, the Haifa Bay, and the Mediterranean Sea about 8/10s of a mile away.  They are an oasis in the middle of a chaotic, modern city.


Architect Fariborz Sahba began work in 1987 designing the gardens and overseeing construction. The terraces were opened to the public in June of 2001.


The gardens are linked by a set of stairs flanked by twin streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges.


The gardens include the Bahá'í World Centre, shrines, and the graves of some members of the Bahá'í holy family.


The photo above is my favorite from this trip to Israel and it was the most difficult image to capture.


I arrived in Haifa near rush-hour and parked at the top of Mt. Carmel.  The walk down to the base of the gardens included a series of wooden steps that were just outside of the gardens and passed through residential neighborhoods.


A four-lane road divided by a median ran from Haifa bay up to the base of the gardens. Rush-hour traffic was very heavy and a roundabout passed by the base of the gardens.


I set up my tripod in the median between four lanes of traffic jam and shot an HDR series.  Each exposure had to be shot when there was a break in the roundabout traffic and when human traffic in the gardens permitted.  After an hour or so, I got the series for one HDR image I shot of the gardens.


At the end of the day and the end of my shoot, the Bahá'í Hanging Gardens closed and I didn’t get on the property – next time.


There are two photos with different aspect ratios in my gallery.


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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 01 May 2018 16:46:35 GMT
Nazareth - Pigeons Israel has some of the worst drivers I’ve seen anywhere and Nazareth has the worst drivers I saw in Israel.  I wanted to shoot more photos of the traffic and the drivers in Nazareth but I was too busy trying to save my life and the life of my passenger and parking was very limited.

Traffic was worse than in any major American city and worse than Tokyo; cars thought nothing of being inches away from the sides, front, or back of my rental car; cars pulled into traffic if they could clear a bumper and dared you to hit them; and pedestrians thought nothing of stepping in front of moving traffic.  Almost every car I passed was banged up on all surfaces.  No surprise.

The newer city of Nazareth was on the top of a mesa and was filled with large brick and mortar stores and shoppers that could have been in any large city except that almost all signs were in Arabic.  I passed a group of demonstrators who were on a flatbed truck with bullhorns shouting out their grievance or their cause in Arabic – I had no idea what they were for or against but they were loud and assembled a large sympathetic crowd.

The old city of Nazareth, by contrast, was in a natural bowl that sat much lower than the mesa; you had to drive downhill to get there.  There was one major shrine in the area, the Basilica of the Annunciation, a beautiful Catholic shrine built around the grotto (cave) where the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she would give birth to the son of God, Jesus.

Old Nazareth was in stark contrast to the new Nazareth at the top of the mesa.  Traffic wasn’t as death-defying; stores were smaller and were run by one person or just a few people, and there was an obvious catering to tourists.  There were no demonstrations.  Food was sold in street-side stores with no front wall.  In this city, 25 miles south of Lebanon, that was 70% Arab, every person I met was as friendly and outgoing as citizens of small-town southern America are known to be.  There were tourists from all over the world speaking many languages but I didn’t see one person I could identify as American.  I guess more Americans than me were warned not to go to Nazareth.  It was their loss.

This blog has a link to photos of Nazareth pigeons.  In the childhood home of Jesus, the scenes in these photos contrasted with the bustling new city of Nazareth on the mesa and with the nearby Christian Catholic shrine.

A shop owner came out of his store for what I assume was a daily feeding of pigeons and the pigeons were waiting.  He threw feed on the brick covered side-street and a large flock of pigeons was happily fed.  Most store signage was in Arabic except for one sign that said Coca-Cola Zero and an English sign advertising shawarma (grilled lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, or other meat) and falafel (chickpeas aka garbanzo beans).  Arabic and English graffiti were on the electrical and phone boxes on the side of the store.  Electrical wiring was very third-world, dangerous looking, and typical of Israel.  The steps to the store and the sidewalk in front of the store were Jerusalem stone.

Pedestrians walked on by the pigeon feeding frenzy.  One grandmother with bright red hair and her grandson paused to watch the scene and the grandson walked into the middle of the pigeons scattering pigeons everywhere at the end of their meal.  This was a scene I didn’t expect to see in the childhood home of Jesus but it seemed a more likable and appropriate scene than the chaotic traffic in the new Nazareth on the mesa.


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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 28 Apr 2018 07:11:31 GMT
Nazareth – The Nazareth Market (Bazaar) Nazareth BazaarNazareth Bazaar

Just outside the Christian church, the Basilica of the Annunciation, there is a very busy Nazareth Market.  A more accurate name and one that connects better with antiquity is bazaar.  The word bazaar comes from a Persian (Iranian) word for a permanent location where many goods are sold.  They are not brick and mortar stores like malls but minimally constructed marketplaces with no real front wall.  Their goods spill out into the walkways, displayed in plastic buckets and containers that can be pulled back into the store at closing time.  Bazaars are seen all over the world today but are most popular in the Middle East.

A souq or souk is a similar marketplace or commercial quarter in Western Asian and North African cities.  The names bazaar, market, and souk refer to the same experience.

Bazaar vendors sell a wide variety of goods, including olives, nuts, freshly squeezed juice, pomegranates, citrus, bananas, melons, meat, candy, cooking utensils, comic books, clothing, beads, and Nazareth and religious souvenirs.  Every square inch of bazaar stores is covered.  The Nazareth Bazaar sells just about everything a Nazarene needs for daily living and also, because of proximity to the Basilica of the Annunciation, sells Christian, Jewish, and Muslim tourist mementos. 

Vendors are small businessmen and stores are often manned by one person.  If there are no customers, the vendors stand by the entrance and try to entice people to come in and look at their goods.

In this 90% Arab and Muslim town, obvious Westerners like me couldn’t have been treated better.  One Arab Muslim lady tried to get us to come in her store.  We said we weren’t interested.  She saw we were eating grapes we bought from another vendor and she said, give me those.  She walked to the back of her store with the grapes and asked us to follow.  She washed the grapes off at her sink and gave them back - a grandmotherly thing.  We saw acts of kindness and humanity like this all over Nazareth, Israel, and Jordan.

We struck up conversations with many Arabs, Muslims, Jews, and Christians across Israel and Jordan.  Some were tourists from all over the world and some were local citizens trying to make a living to feed their families.  And some were young boys who just wanted to have their photo taken with Westerners.  They didn’t ask for a copy but they did seem overjoyed to view the photos on the camera’s LCD. 

Many people left us with a short prayer for peace.  One older Jewish shop owner wearing a suit and a yamaka (Yiddish spelling: yamulke) apologized for his poor English but managed to leave us with three slowly, carefully pronounced English words – I Want Peace. His English message came through loud and clear.  I want peace, too.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 28 Feb 2018 20:19:01 GMT
Nazareth - Basilica of the Annunciation 2008, Nazareth - The Basilica of the Annunciation, Mary's Grotto2008, Nazareth - The Basilica of the Annunciation, Mary's Grotto

Nazareth is widely believed to be the place Jesus grew up although some scholars believe he may have been born in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem and may have grown up somewhere other than Nazareth.  Historic locations in the Holy Land are often subject to interpretations and beliefs after thousands of years.

I don’t know of any information that doesn’t agree that the Virgin Mary was visited in her grotto (cave) by the Archangel Gabriel and told she would give birth to Jesus but there are two churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church, that claim the site of the grotto was in slightly different places and built shrines in those places.  The most famous shrine and the one that is most accepted as accurate is the Roman Catholic Church’s Basilica of the Annunciation.

Something I probably didn’t know before this trip or didn’t remember.  If you see a large cross with the horizontal and vertical lines of equal length and four smaller similar crosses in the junctions created by the large cross, that is a symbol for the Roman Catholic Church.  You’ll see that symbol all over the Holy Land.

Generally, the Roman Catholic Church designs beautiful shrines and churches, builds them well, and maintains them well.  Other Christian churches often don’t design beautiful shrines and churches, don’t build them well, and don’t maintain them well.  That’s just an observation I saw over and over.  I won’t name names here because it is only my observation and probably doesn’t really matter to a person’s beliefs.  I’m sure the vast monetary resources of the Roman Catholic Church make them hard to compete with.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church had different ideas about where Mary’s Grotto was and where Mary’s Stream or Mary’s Spring was.  They each built a shrine near the other church.

The location of Mary’s Well or Mary’s Stream has been documented for years.  In 70% Arab Nazareth, the bus lines that used to announce you were at Mary’s Stream now announce that you are at the Nazareth Stream.

Mary and her mother lived in a grotto or cave.  She was near an underground spring that was the only source of water in the area.  A well was built over the spring and Mary drew water from the well.  The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary while she was drawing water and told her she would give birth to Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Church built a huge, beautiful basilica or shrine around the grotto, the stream, and the well.  Mary’s grotto is on the bottom floor and down below ground level and the dome of the basilica can be seen two or more stories above.  An altar is on the second floor with a view of the basilica dome above.

While I was on the floor where Mary’s grotto is, I could hear a choir singing on the floor above.  I only remember that they weren’t singing in English.

I heard many languages in the basilica – Spanish, French, etc. – but didn’t hear anyone speaking English.

I wondered why many Christians in America and Israel said Nazareth wasn’t safe.  Bethlehem has a Muslim majority and has been in Palestinian control since 1995 and you would never hear a Christian telling you Bethlehem is not safe.

As I thought about this, I wondered.  No one knows where Jesus lived as a child or even, for sure, if he grew in Nazareth.  There are no actual records.  Joseph’s carpenter shop and his tomb may be in Nazareth but the reports don’t seem 100% sure.

The major Christian religious draw to Nazareth is the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of the Annunciation.  The Virgin Mary is a dominant figure in the Catholic religion, not so much for Southern Baptists or other non-Catholic Christian religions.  That could be why I saw so many European and South American Catholics.  But where were the American Catholics?  The Holy Land is a mysterious place.

On the second floor of the basilica, where the altar is, you can look down on the first floor or look up at the basilica dome.  The room is full of natural echo which is good for the choir but not so good for the priest.  His voice echoed long after he stopped talking.

There was beautiful artwork inside and outside of the basilica.  There were mosaics from many world countries that told the story of Mary and Jesus in their local styles.  There were statues of the Virgin Mary and other prominent Catholics.

The basilica was pristine.  There were many more visitors than I saw in Capernaum but there was no trash anywhere.  As it should be.

Outside, against a wall near the Nazareth Market, a blind man was in what I don't think was sackcloth but reminded me of it with a wooden stick for a cane.  He looked more like someone I would expect to see in Calcutta than in Nazareth.  He didn’t say anything but I thought…alms for the poor.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 31 May 2017 03:46:26 GMT
Nazareth 2008, Nazareth, The Road Up to Nazareth looking south to the Jezreel Valley2008, Nazareth, The Road Up to Nazareth looking south to the Jezreel Valley

Before my first trip to Israel in 2008, several friends who were very familiar with Israel told me the city wasn’t safe for Americans.

One night, we were resting in our favorite spot, a hookah bar – drinking coke but not smoking hookah – in the Armenian section of the Old City of Jerusalem just inside the Jaffa Gate.  A couple of young men wanted someone to take their photo.  They had a barely adequate camera so I took a photo with my camera and emailed it to them that night.

The two young men asked questions.  Where were we from?  How long had we been in Israel?  Where had we been?  They asked if we were going to Nazareth.  I told them it was not safe for Americans.

What?  Who told you that?  We’re from Nazareth. People visit Nazareth from all over the world.  You must go to Nazareth.  We never saw the two young men again but the next day we went to Nazareth. 

Nazareth is the capital and largest city in the northern district of Israel.  It is the largest Arab city in Israel and the population is 70% Arab.  Nazareth is about 15 miles west of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and about 26 miles a little southeast of Haifa.  It is about 90 miles north of Jerusalem.

When you approach Nazareth from the Jezreel Valley, to the south, you see a mountain or mesa rising out of flatter land; Nazareth was settled on the mesa.  The rise in elevation is so steep the road has to snake up the mountain rather than go in a straight line.  When you get to the top of the mesa, the Old City of Nazareth was settled in a natural bowl that is a lower level than the surrounding land of the mesa.

Nazareth was the childhood home of Jesus.  In the time of Jesus, the population was about 400.  The heathen residents of Nazareth tried but failed to push Jesus to his death from a cliff at Mount Precipice.  A 100-foot statue of Jesus has been proposed for Mount Precipice in commemoration of that event.

Today, this childhood home of Jesus is full of mosques and minarets for the 70% Arab and Muslim population.  Jews and Christians are in the minority.  

I was warned by Americans and Israelis that Israel has bad traffic and bad drivers.  I drove all over Israel and I think Nazareth is the biggest danger for drivers.  Traffic is dense, especially in the new city, and drivers are aggressive.  They will pull in front of you if they can clear your bumper.  Pedestrians will also walk in front of cars.  Traffic was bad in 2008 but it was much worse in 2017.

In some areas, storefronts and signs were mainly in Arabic.  In areas where there were more tourists, more signs were also in English and Hebrew.

The streets were full of shoppers, tourists, shop owners, and students.

There were many streetside fruit stands where you could buy oranges, grapefruit, grapes, bananas, melons, or pomegranates.  My favorite was a mixture of fresh squeezed orange juice and pomegranate juice.

In many places, you could buy bread you watched being made that looked like small pancakes.  It didn’t look like the bread you dip into hummus in a typical Mediterranean meal: it looked more like bread you’d eat by itself or with other food rolled up inside.

Israelis like unpackaged food.  There were unpackaged spices, nuts, seeds, candy, etc. everywhere.  What was most striking were the large burlap bags full of spices that were on the curb.  I wondered how the health department could approve food sitting on the curb that was open to rain, mice, and other scavengers.  Customers filled plastic bags with as much or as little of each food as they wanted.  Things might be changing because I saw fewer burlap bags full of food sitting curbside on this trip.

I saw bad-for-you food bars with fried food, sausage, and other meat but they were less plentiful.  Even those places had fresh fruits and vegetables and hummus.

There are American fast food restaurants all over Israel, including Nazareth - Pizza Hut, McDonald's, etc.  McDonald's employees 4,000 people in Israel, mainly teenagers.  It seems a shame to go to Israel and eat at McDonald's but some people do.

I didn’t see many smokers in Israel but I did see one large display of cigarettes for sale.  There were no customers.

Luffas and whisks were displayed on a post on the curb.

Nazareth is impoverished but has many high-tech software companies.  It is sometimes called the Arabic Silicon Valley.

I saw a store owner feeding probably 100 pigeons that are happy, regular customers.  A couple of pedestrians watched or joined in.

Finally, I saw cacti with sabra fruit, reminding that Nazareth is almost a desert.  Cacti with sabra fruit are part farmers’ pest and part national symbol.  They were introduced to Israel centuries ago to develop a dye industry. 

Today, in the Hula Valley, about 15 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, an aphid from Central America is killing the cacti and sabra fruit.  The aphid invasion is limited to the Hula Valley, for now, but the Central American aphid has no predators in Israel and the fear is that the problem will spread to all the cacti and sabra fruit in Israel.  Pesticides are a temporary fix but introducing the aphid’s natural predators may have unintended consequences.  A reminder that one lifeform may be dependent on another or made extinct by another. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 30 May 2017 15:16:32 GMT
Akko (Acre) 2008 - Akko - Akko Light (Acre Light) looking across Haifa Bay toward Haifa2008 - Akko - Akko Light (Acre Light) looking across Haifa Bay toward Haifa

When we left Capernaum in 2008, we drove 35 miles west to Akko in northwest Israel on the Mediterranean, about 10 miles south of Lebanon.  I wanted to arrive in Akko about sunset to get a photo of its lighthouse on the Mediterranean Sea.

Akko (aka Acre) is on the northern bay of Haifa and the population is 95% Arab but includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Baha’i.  It is one of the holiest cities of the Baha’i faith and attracts many Baha’i visitors.  It is one of the oldest cities on earth, continuously inhabited for over 4,000 years, since the bronze age.

The name Akko (Acre) comes from a Canaanite word that means border and probably refers to the city being on the northernmost Israeli border.

Akko has a natural Mediterranean port and is steeped in medieval Crusader history.  It was a major point of entry for commerce and when the Crusaders invaded what is now Israel.  There is a long list of people and countries who conquered and occupied Akko.

The Crusades began in 1,095 AD and Roman Crusaders built a fort along the shoreline of Akko.  The Citadel (a prison) was built over the fort by the Ottoman Empire and was used the 1930s and 1940s as a prison to house Jewish and Arab prisoners.  There was a prison break in 1947 and 214 Arab prisoners and a few others escaped.  There is a monument near the Citadel to those prisoners.

The Akko Light or Acre Light is an active 33’ black and white, concrete lighthouse in Haifa Bay in the southwest corner of the city’s ancient walls.  It was first built in 1864 at this location and the current lighthouse was built in 1912.  It is closed to the public but stairs go from the lighthouse base down to the sea.

The fort stretches along the coast to the Akko lighthouse.  We walked a mile or two by the fort to the lighthouse and I got a few photos.  I shot to the south and you can see Haifa on the other side of the Haifa Bay.  You’ll see two structures toward the right side in Haifa, one lit in green.  Those two structures are nuclear plants.

It was a long walk from where we parked, past the fort at sunset, and to the lighthouse where I got my photo, but going back was a different matter.  We had to walk past the fort after dark.  From the seashore, there is the fort, then a street, a green area, and then housing that reminded me of NYC.  The apartments were several stories high, looked like they had been there for a long time and might not have air conditioning, and they all had fire escapes where people were just hanging out.

In the green area between the apartments and the street, many people were cooking with Bunsen burners, playing games, talking, etc.  And…Akko is 95% Arab.  I told Kenny not to look too American, as if we had that control, and not to speak unless he had to, and then, to speak softly so not many would hear him. 

Kenny was trying to quit smoking but not doing so well.  He had a cigarette but no light.  We passed a low fence that had a Bunsen burner that was still lit.  As Kenny was leaning down to light his cigarette, he looked at the crowd and shouted, in his most country, American, Lexington, drawl...I’m just going to light my cigarette.

A young Arab who was probably 18 years old jumped up immediately and ran toward us with something shiny in his hand.  I thought I was about to bleed and/or die - a knife, a gun - in a 95% Arab city. 

The young man got within feet of us and pulled the shiny object up.  It was a cigarette lighter and he was offering to light Kenny’s cigarette.  After the cigarette was lit, he held the lighter in the palms of his hands and bowed as he offered it to Kenny as if it was a sword or a valuable item.  I don’t think he spoke a word of English.  At first, Kenny said no but then he accepted the lighter and thanked the young man. 

Another memory of people from different cultures who speak different languages and have different religions sharing a moment of kindness.  There were many such moments in Israel.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 25 May 2017 18:08:15 GMT
Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, Capernaum Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, Sunrise on Ron BeachSea of Galilee, Tiberias, Sunrise on Ron Beach

After a few hours’ sleep, we got up at 4 am to drive the 2 hours, 110 miles, from Jerusalem to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee before sunrise to scout and shoot a sunrise photo.  I found out later that the place I picked for a sunrise photo was Ron Beach, part of the Ron Beach Hotel.  How appropriate.

Tiberias is north and a bit east of Jerusalem but you can’t drive straight to Tiberias or you would be passing through Palestine’s West Bank.  You have to go west of Jerusalem, almost to Tel Aviv, north about 20 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea, through a few toll roads, just north of Nazareth, and finally, east to Tiberias.

Tiberias is the largest city on the Sea of Galilee.  It is on the west side, halfway from the northern and southern shores.  It was named after the 2nd Roman Emperor, Tiberius.  Tiberius, the emperor, and Tiberias, the city, are spelled differently.

Tiberias’ population is mostly Jewish.  It is considered a holy city but tourism, including Christian tourism, spas, and fishing are a big part of the economy.  The lake is low-lying and the surrounding land in Tiberias and much of the area rises from the lake.  The drive into Tiberias is downhill and the land you see on the eastern side of the lake is mostly Syria.

After I got a sunset shot, we went to the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee to Ramot while waiting for the gated community of Capernaum to open.  The greens and yellows were so unusual I took a few photos.  My GPS and map tell me we were in Ramot, Syria.  I didn’t see any border signs and didn’t see many people.

Capernaum, spelled locally as Capharnaum, was a very small fishing village in Jesus’ time on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee with a population of about 1,500 people.  It is about 30 miles northeast of the small, mountainous town of Nazareth, where Jesus was born. 

Capernaum is where Jesus first preached, first performed miracles, healed a man who was lowered through the roof, and turned local fishermen into his disciples.  He preached the Sermon of the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount in Tabgha, about a mile away.  The very small town of Capernaum had a very large role in the history of Christianity.

Jesus selected Capernaum as the center of His public ministry in Galilee after he left Nazareth but He also formally cursed the city saying "you will be thrown down to Hades!" because of its lack of belief in him as the Messiah.

Today, Capernaum is owned and maintained by the Franciscans, founded by Frances of Assisi and part of the Catholic Church.  You enter a gate to Capernaum.  A statue of the Apostle Peter is there.  The ruins of the Apostle Peter’s home are there with a large structure for study and research built over it.  There is a church nearby and visitors to Capernaum were singing under the sky.

One thing I can’t forget is the amount of trash along the gated shoreline.  I saw paper plates and plastic forks and all manner of trash.  Some of the trash looked like it had been there for months.  This is a gated location owned and maintained by the Franciscans.  It would take 5 minutes at the end of the day to walk along the shoreline and pick up trash.  Names and initials, in various languages, were carved into the leaves of aloe plants.

The trash all over Israel was hard to accept, especially in the Old City.  Israel and Jerusalem need to make trash the unacceptable crime it is, especially in the country’s most significant holy sites.

The Sea of Galilee is not a sea; it is a lake.  The Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Kinneret by Israelis, the Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias, is a freshwater lake fed partially from underground salty streams but mostly from the Jordan River on its northern end.  The Jordan River flows out of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead, Sea, about 88 miles away.

The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth; the Dead Sea is the lowest lake of any kind on earth and is a salt water lake.

The Sea of Galilee is oblong, lyre-shaped, and runs north and south.  One of many names for the lake is thought to be a Hebrew word for lyre.  The lake is about 33 miles in circumference, 13 miles wide, and 8 miles long.  You can stand on the shore and see the shoreline of most of the lake.

The Sea of Galilee is a major source of water in Israel.  Water use has lowered its level and the salt level has increased.  Israel has plans, including desalinization in other areas that will be designed to reverse that trend.

The lake is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and yet, the Dead Sea which receives water that exits the southern end of the lake can support no life.

The Sea of Galilee was formed by the African and Arabian plates and is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes as the balsamic rock and large boulders attest.

I was surprised by the large boulders on the northwest shore that made it very difficult to walk along the shoreline.  The lake is low-lying, the lowest freshwater lake in the world, and the winds can be very dangerous.  At one time, 10’ waves washed up on shore at Tiberius and this was on a lake, not a sea.  Windsurfing is popular and a windsurfing rental store was very near Capernaum.

We left Capernaum and went to Tabgha, about a mile away and saw the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter where Jesus reaffirmed Peter as chief among the apostles.  The church contains a projection of limestone rock in front of the present altar which is venerated as a Mensa Christi, table of Christ.  According to tradition, this is the spot where Jesus is said to have laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles and where He told Peter to "feed my sheep" after the miraculous catch, the third time He appeared to them after His resurrection.

Many people asked me, after my 2008 trip, if I felt a spiritual connection to the Western Wall or other Israeli landmarks.  Not as they expected but one event that happened at the Sea of Galilee stands out above the rest.

As I mentioned, I was surprised that the Sea of Galilee was very windy, so much so that windsurfing is a popular sport.  The wind blew so hard, it blew dust into my eyes.  You can see in my photos that the water surface was very choppy.  Two windsurfers and a tourist boat, probably from Tiberius, were on the lake.  Jesus boats, designed to look like they were made in the time of Jesus, carried tourists from Tiberias on Sea of Galilee tours.

Big rocks or small boulders were all along the west side of the lake and the terrain was not easy to walk.  We were north of Tiberius, the largest town on the lake.  I could see Capernaum on the northern shore and I walked toward it.  

I passed a man who was sitting on one of the boulders fishing.  A photo of him is in my gallery because you can’t see his face.  I asked if he was catching any fish.  He put his fingers to his lips, shook his head no, and said speak in a raspy voice.  I was being told not to speak and scare the fish away – a warning that was common from fishermen.

We walked on up toward Capernaum.  One small building on the way had a little activity.  I went in and their main business seemed to be renting windsurfing boards.  They also sold soft drinks and snacks.

When we left the area, we chose to walk back to the car on a road very close to the shore because the shore was so rugged.

When we approached an old car along the way, I saw a man and a woman sitting beside it.  As I had seen in other places in Israel, they had what looked like a Bunsen burner with a large tin can on it.  They were cooking fish.

I recognized the man as the fisherman I passed on the way to Capernaum.  He sort of grunted and motioned for us to sit down and join them and I realized he couldn’t talk.  When I passed him and he shook his head no, touched his lips, and said speak, he wasn’t telling me not to speak; he was telling me he couldn’t speak.  I’m not even sure if he spoke English or if the word he said on the shore in a raspy voice was speak.

This man and his wife probably lived in the old car they were sitting next to.  Their clothes were shabby and dirty and their hands and faces were dirty.  He wasn’t fishing for sport; he was fishing to feed his wife and himself.  He had nothing but he was offering to share what he had with us.

That was my religious moment in Israel more than the Wailing Wall or the places that are said to be where biblical events happened.  I'm still touched by people over places.

We were going to Akko (Acre) on the Mediterranean, where Romans invaded what is now Israel and where they built a fort and where there was a lighthouse.  We wanted to be there before sundown so I thanked the man and his wife and we left.  I still regret that we didn’t take a few minutes to sit down and visit with them.

We didn’t join the fisherman and his wife but this was my favorite story from my 2008 trip to Israel.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 25 May 2017 03:53:07 GMT
Jerusalem - The Southern Ramparts

The Bethlehem tour director told us we would be picked up at the National Hotel – picked up in a truck and they were late – and dropped off at the end of the tour at the Old City’s most popular gate, the Jaffa Gate.  That would have been nice.  We were actually dropped off about a mile from the Jaffa Gate with no instructions about where the gate was.  Not so much as, it’s that way.  Much of the distance was uphill.  Once they have your money and they’re done with you…they have your money and they’re done with you.

Just inside the Jaffa Gate, you can pay to climb stairs and walk the ramparts.  Walled cities and castles have ramparts for a reason.  Ramparts can see attacks coming, look down on attackers, and shoot arrows through slots in the wall with little fear of an arrow making it through the slot to them.  The ramparts are at the top of the wall and circle the Old City. 

The Old City has two ramparts, north and south.  The north rampart, the longest, was closed for repair but the south rampart was open and promised great views of the Old City.  Other than a couple of great views, I saw a side of the Old City that was unflattering.  I saw backyards filled with trash.  It’s shocking that Israel, especially the Old City, had so much trash and that it didn’t seem to bother anyone.  It would take 5 minutes a week to pick up some of this trash that looked like it had been there for months.

The southern ramparts were the shortest walk, about 40 minutes, longer when carrying a 25-pound camera bag up and down steps making the walk more strenuous.  Ramparts walks, the sign says, are too difficult to be recommended for everyone.

Today, there are guidelines for how high steps should be and how long the vertical run should be.  The general rule in the US is 7-11 (a 7” rise and 11” run).  More exactly, no more than 7 ¾” for the riser (vertical) and a minimum of 10” for the tread (horizontal part of the step).

These common-sense standards were obviously standardized after the ramparts were built.  Many ramparts steps were a foot higher or more making the walk much more difficult.

I got many shots of the Abbey of the Dormition, also called the Basilica of Assumption (dormition), just outside the gate on Mount Zion near David’s tomb and the Zion Gate, very near the Last Supper.  Photoshop removed trash just inside the gate as it did in many Israeli photos.

The Benedictine Abbey is the site where the Virgin Mary fell into a deep sleep – where she died.  Dormition, in the Orthodox Church, refers to the death, or end of life, of the Virgin Mary.  Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and scripture often use the euphemism dormition instead of death.

The site of the Abbey was worth the ramparts walk.  It has a bell tower and is surrounded by an old cemetery.  If a cemetery can be beautiful, it was beautiful.

Out of respect for David’s tomb and the Last Supper, the Abbey’s bell tower was built where it wouldn’t cast a shadow on those sites, even though that made the bell tower not directly accessible from the Abbey.

The Dormition Abbey, along with other Christian sites, has been the target of occasional vandalism as a form of price tag attack by extremist Israeli youths.  Price tag attacks, aka Mutual Responsibility, are acts of vandalism by Israeli youths aimed at Jewish fundamentalist settler youths, the Palestinian population, Christians, left-wing Israeli Jews, Arab–Israelis, and the Israeli security forces.

It’s easy to forget that people live in the Old City.  This gallery has one of many photos of Jerusalem rooftops.  Clothes are often hung up to dry.  It’s probably difficult to retrofit these old buildings for washers and dryers.  It’s enough that they can have electricity, phones, and internet.

Satellite receivers and shortwave receivers are also on rooftops along with wiring that looks like spaghetti.

I saw what looks like oil drums, usually black, on rooftops all over the Old City, Jerusalem, Palestine, and Jordan.  I asked about them and many people said they were indeed oil drums.  They had no answer when I asked why and how they were used.

The reason is, what I thought might be an oil drum, is a Dood Shemesh, aka a Dud Shemesh or the Dude, a solar water heater.  Dud (often spelled dood) is a Hebrew word for kettle or caldron and shemesh is a Hebrew word for sun.  Those two words make a Dood Shemesh a water heater.

The Dood Shemesh was invented by Dr. Harry Zvi Tabor, an English-born Jew who died in Israel in 2015.  Tabor’s Dood, invented in 1955, used Israel’s Mediterranean sun to heat water on rooftops.  It was most often painted black, a color that produced hotter water.

The Dood Shemesh has saved the Israeli economy tens of billions of shekels in electricity costs, as well as significantly cutting air pollution.  It can be seen on hundreds of thousands of home and business rooftops in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and other middle east countries.  You’ll see more Dood Shemesh photos in my future Israeli galleries.  They were everywhere.

When we exited the southern ramparts near the Western Wall, we were exhausted from climbing up and down steps.  A taxi driver said he would take us to the bottom of the hill.  We said we were going to the Western Wall and he said it was closed.  It is open 24 hours a day and never closes.

We told the driver no but he kept insisting we ride in his taxi.  We only wanted to go to the bottom of the hill to the Western Wall.  My tired friend finally agreed to a taxi ride down the hill.

The taxi driver tried to “chat us up” and become our best friend.  All Holy Land hucksters do that.  He said he’d take us to the home of the shortest man in the Bible.  Research says he must have been talking about Zacchaeus.  Sorry, but I could care less.  We said we didn’t want to go but he said he was taking us there anyway.  Not far.

Holy Land hucksters will not take no for an answer.  Whether they’re trying to get you in their taxi or in their store, selling you something you don’t want, selling rides on camels, selling postcards, etc.  One huckster was trying to sell me something and kept selling after I said no emphatically 6 or 8 times.

Finally, I took his photo.  He got upset and said, no photo; I don’t like.  I said, no sales pitch; I don’t like.  That got rid of him.

The taxi driver drove us toward Jericho, Palestine 15 miles away in the West Bank heading toward the north end of the Dead Sea.  I objected and he said, not far.  15 miles is not the bottom of the hill.

I was unhappy about traveling many miles to a destination I didn’t want to go to and unhappy about being an American in the West Bank of Palestine.

Kenny felt very uncomfortable and the buddy-buddy conversation stopped.  He told the driver he was uncomfortable and to turn the taxi around.  The driver refused until 3 or 4 demands and an escalating unhappiness.  By the time we got to the National Hotel, the taxi fare was about $100.  Pretty good turning a ride down the hill that we didn’t want to take into a $100 taxi fare.

The last photo in this gallery was taken outside the Old City walls but on the same day.  It was taken at Observation Mountain on Mount Scopus.  Mount Scopus has one of the best views overlooking the Old City but, sadly, I was turned the wrong way to see it.  The photo I got was looking into the northern Jerusalem valley – still impressive.  The Old City was south of this location.

Mount Scopus is less than 3 miles northeast of and overlooking the Old City.  Because of its view, it has often been used through the ages as a base for attacking the Old City. 

In times when Jews were not allowed to enter the Old City, they went to Mount Scopus to see it.  It is part of a ridge that includes the Mount of Olives.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was built on Mount Scopus so it wouldn’t conflict with Christian locations on the Mount of Olives.  Other universities, hospitals, government buildings, cemeteries, and a botanical garden are also on Mount Scopus. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 22 May 2017 22:09:16 GMT
Bethlehem 2008, Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Location where Jesus was born2008, Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Location where Jesus was born

Bethlehem is in Palestine, not in Israel.  You can’t just drive the 5 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem because there is a border crossing; Bethlehem is on the West Bank of another country – Palestine.

Most people go to Bethlehem as part of a tour.  An Israeli bus with an Israeli tour guide, usually part of a religious tour, picks you up and drives you across the border to Palestine.  In our case, the pickup was a truck that backed down the one-way street to the National Hotel entrance, picked us up, and delivered us to a bus.  We were dropped off at the end of the tour, not near enough to the promised Jaffa Gate.

The first time I took the trip to Bethlehem, we stopped in a remote location in Palestine that looked like a murder scene in a TV movie.  No homes or buildings were nearby.  Trash was everywhere.  Large chunks of concrete were covered with Arabic graffiti.  The wall between Israel and Palestine was nearby.  There was no traffic.

Another bus came to that location and our 30 or so people moved from the Israeli bus to the Palestinian bus.  A Palestinian, Christian tour guide took us to Bethlehem and to the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born.  You’ll hear the phrase “said to have” a lot in the Holy Land.  The locations where biblical events took place were determined more than 300 years after the time of Jesus by people from another country.  Some locations change throughout the years.  Some events have more than one designated location.

The Israeli and Palestinian sides of the border look very much the same except that you see Palestinian Police and Palestinian Soldiers in Bethlehem and you see Palestinian Banks, etc.  It is an unusual site for Americans to see 18-year-old Israeli Army men and women with assault rifles in Israel.  It is even more unusual to see young Palestinian police and soldiers with assault rifles in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is a tourist city that attracts a lot of English speaking people so many buildings have signs in Arabic and English.  Western influence is everywhere – in a billboard advertising the Arab Idol TV show, in t-shirts, in English logos and slogans, and in western stores or copies of western stores.  Christian crosses are also prominent.

I wanted to sneak a photo of a young Palestinian Policeman with an assault rifle sitting in a chair in Bethlehem.  I was far enough away to get a secret photo but he heard or saw me take the photo.  I thought I might get a negative reaction but he smiled and waved at me.

Constantine the Great was a Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD.  Constantine was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman Army officer, and his consort, Constantine’s mother, Helena.

Constantine converted to Christianity, the first Roman emperor to do so, ended the widespread persecution of Christians and legalized Christianity in Italy and Roman lands.  Constantine was a powerful Roman Emperor.  Constantinople, now Istanbul, was named after him and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on his orders.

In 313 AD, his mother, St. Helena, also converted to Christianity, traveled to the Holy Land with Roman financial backing, to locate holy sites by consulting with local Christians, religious writings, and local traditions.

In Sunday School, long ago, images showed Jesus being born in an above-ground barn surrounded by lots of farm animals.  But the place in the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born is an underground grotto or cave with little room for farm animals. 

The exact spot where Jesus is said to have been born looks more like a fireplace and is marked with a 14-point silver star which was stolen for a time in 1847 leading directly to French involvement in the Crimean War against Russia.  The silver star's 14 points represent the 14 stations of the cross and it is engraved with the words, Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est-1717 (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary, 1717).  The fabric around the location changes but the 14-point metal star remains the same.

Grottos, aka caves, play important roles in Holy Land history.  Many important events or discoveries happened in grottos.

A Greek Orthodox church was built directly over where Jesus was born.  You have to go down steps into a very small room to see the grotto or cave. 

The Church of the Nativity was originally built by order of Constantine the Great and his mother, Helena, in 327 AD over the grotto or cave where Jesus was said to have been born.  It was destroyed by fire in the Samaritan revolts in 339 AD and rebuilt in 565 AD.

The Church of the Nativity is administered jointly today by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Syriac Orthodox church authorities. All four maintain monastic communities on the site and there have been repeated brawls among monk trainees over quiet respect for others' prayers, hymns, and the division of floor space for cleaning duties.  The Palestinian police have been called at times to restore peace.

The Church of the Nativity sits directly above the grotto or cave where Jesus was born.  I included a favorite photo from 2008 of a Greek Orthodox priest studying directly over the grotto.

The Church of the Nativity looks medieval and forbidding.  The colors and lighting are dark.  It is cluttered with what I call ticky-tacky – metal chandeliers, tapestry, intricately engraved metalwork, incense, candles, icons, the faithful’s beads and relics hanging from icons, hanging incense burners and candle holders, 7-point metal stars similar to the 14-point metal star on Jesus’ birthplace, a wooden poor box decorated with Hebrew writing and a painting, hanging globes, and robed priests or monks.  Ticky-tacky.

The church was undergoing restoration when I was there in 2008.  It was still undergoing restoration in 2017.  Scaffolding was everywhere but no one was working.  Paintings are being restored but no one was working.  A Constantine 4th century mosaic floor rediscovered in 1934 is partially uncovered as it was in 2008.

The building has endured a lot.  There was a fire and a siege and, of course, time.  I get the feeling that money is short and restoration will be slow.

From the first floor of the Church of the Nativity, you have to walk down steep, narrow steps to the grotto or cave where Jesus was born.  The room can accommodate maybe 10 or 15 people comfortably, 30 or 40 uncomfortably.  On this trip, I never made it down the steps but I put a couple of photos in my gallery from 2008.  Every time I thought I might have a chance to get in line to go down the steps, I saw 100 more people come in the front door.  I was a wide profile with camera and camera backpack.  

There are two big differences in the days, 9 years apart, that I was in the church.  There were more people on this trip and everyone had a cellphone, selfie stick, headphones, etc. or all of the above.  You could barely see the scene for LCDs.  I got the feeling everyone was posting to Facebook at the same time.  I talked to one Filipino lady with a selfie stick.  I was close enough to her to see the selfies she was shooting.  80% or 90% of the image was of her and the rest was the scene.  The scene was unrecognizable. 

You could buy incense or candles to burn near the steps that go down to the grotto or cave where Jesus was born.  A short time after I was there in 2008, I saw news photos of the Beatles’ Paul McCartney lighting incense there.

The Church of the Nativity looked cheap and overdone, not like one of the most revered places in Christianity.  It reminded me of a badly decorated oriental restaurant or gift shop.  There are two churches in the area of the grotto, the Church of the Nativity and the Church of St. Catherine in an attached but separate structure under the same roof.

The Church of St. Catherine was built in 1347 under the auspices of the Catholic Church and has been remodeled several times.  It displays beautiful, more modern art.  It is well designed, well built, and well maintained.  Many people say it is the direct opposite of the Church of the Nativity.  For better or worse, they are right.

On the way back to the checkpoint, a densely packed Israeli city on the West Bank was pointed out.  It wasn’t there on my last trip.  In spite of world and US condemnation, Israel continues to build settlements on land recognized as Palestinian land in the West Bank.  Yes, I’ve heard arguments on both sides.  I only know that Israeli West Bank settlements are a major point of disagreement between Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the world.

There is an Israeli fence that separates Israel and Palestine.  One of our bus riders asked the driver to make a stop there.  The famous British graffiti artist, Banksy, covered a portion of the wall with his graffiti.  It is a world-famous place I’ve heard about on the news.  The driver gave us one minute to shoot there and a tour bus was blocking much of the area. 

Banksy is also involved in a nearby hotel.  Each room is decorated with his graffiti.

Banksy’s identity, name, photo, etc. are unknown.  It is speculated that Banksy might be an individual, a man or woman, or a group of undetermined size.  Banksy is a graffiti artist, political activist, and film director.  Banksy’s satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 20 May 2017 21:41:33 GMT
Jerusalem - National Hotel National HotelNational Hotel

Eight years ago, because I’ve traveled internationally a bit, my friend Kenny asked me to talk his girlfriend into going to Israel with him.  He had frequent flyer miles for the airline tickets and was eager to go.  She thought Israel wasn’t safe.  A lot of people say that.  I told her I would go to Israel sooner than I’d go to many places in the United States.  She wasn’t swayed.

When we met two or three times later, we had the same discussion.  I’m sure she was tired of hearing my opinion and said, “if you think it’s so safe, you go with him”.  I said I would.

Weeks or months later, Kenny reminded me of that conversation and asked if I was serious.  I was serious.  Because his girlfriend still wouldn’t go to Israel, Kenny booked a flight months down the road and asked me to make all the other arrangements.  In 2008, we went to Israel.

We rented a car and an Israeli GPS and, except for one trip to Bethlehem, Palestine where we needed to join a tour, we saw Israel from one end to the other on our own in a rental car.

Friends in the US and a new friend in Israel said we were crazy to rent a car and GPS and be on our own.  Maybe so but we had an unusual trip that took us all over Israel and made memories that will last a lifetime.

This time, rather than getting a hotel a 20-minute cab ride from the Old City of Jerusalem, I wanted a hotel within walking distance of the Old City and one with a free breakfast and free parking.  I booked the National Hotel in East Jerusalem, a five-minute walk from Herod’s Gate, on the north side of the Old City, one entrance into the Muslim Quarter.

I rented a small car and bought an Israeli memory chip that displayed in miles rather than kilometers for my Garmin GPS.  No more confusion when the GPS says you should turn in 50 meters and you have to do the math to convert 50 meters to feet.

We drove directly from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to the National Hotel in Jerusalem and got there after dark.  My first thought was that I’d made a bad mistake.  The area around the National Hotel looked like a war zone.  Graffiti, mostly in Arabic, covered shuttered storefronts and walls. 

The graffiti seemed to be some tagging, some decoration, an often thought of satanic pentagram, stencils, social protests, and some politics – pretty much the same as graffiti in the US.  Graffiti in red, green, black, and sometimes white was written by Palestinian sympathizers.  The color of the Palestinian flag is red, green, black, and white.  One large graffiti in English said Lesbiam (their spelling), Gay, Bi.

Cars were parked on every inch of both sides of the narrow streets and people were walking everywhere.  We could see the 5-story National Hotel but it was on a one-way street going the other way.  Drivers were passing the street and then backing down the street to the hotel.  That was the local method of getting to the front door of the National Hotel.  Go past the hotel’s street and back down the short, one-way street to the entrance.

After several passes near the hotel, we saw the parking lot.  It was a very small lot with a metal door that locked it up at night.  It was covered with graffiti and nearly full.  I tried to see where we would park if that lot was full but had no luck.  I wondered how we would get in the lot after it was closed or out of the lot after it was locked up.  Those concerns were never a problem.  If you arrived late or left early, a desk clerk quickly opened and shut the gate.

We parked and walked to the hotel entrance and everything looked different.  The sidewalks were Jerusalem stone.  There is a law in Jerusalem that Jerusalem stone, pale limestone, dolomite, and dolomitic limestone, must cover buildings and, apparently, sidewalks.  That gives the Old City and Jerusalem its distinctive look.  Synagogues, churches, and other religious building all over the world use Jerusalem stone to emulate the Old City and the Wailing Wall.  There are over 650 quarries around Jerusalem, some beneath the Old City itself.

If you see an aerial view of the old city of Jerusalem, you will see Jerusalem stone.  If you see and aerial view of Tel Aviv, you will see mostly light colored, unadorned concrete. 

In 1947, the United Nations agreed to create an Israeli state in land that used to be Palestine.  Jewish and Arab leaders agreed but the tension between Jews and Arabs has never lessened through the years.  The aggressive building since introduced unadorned, light colored concrete as the archeological thumbprint.  Concrete was quick and easy to build, no adornments meant lower cost, and the light color kept buildings cooler in the hot Mediterranean climate.  The population of Israel grew from 800,000 in 1948 to close to 9 million in current times.

Wiring, electricity, phone lines, the internet, and plumbing are a nightmare in much of Israel, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Many buildings were built before electricity, phone lines, the internet, and indoor plumbing existed.  Conduits and bare wires run on the outside of many buildings, retrofitted when the need occurred.  Bare wires routed on the outside of buildings are common but ugly.  Air conditioners were mostly afterthoughts that were mounted outside of buildings.  

The hotel was very nice, the staff was attentive and courteous, and our room was small, well decorated, stocked with every needed item, and quiet.  Each day, we were given small bottles of Dead Sea products – shampoo, lotion, etc.  When you entered your room, you had to insert your door key to turn on most of the electricity.  Remove the door key and there is no, or little, power.  If you left the room with one door key still powering the electricity, the male maid – all maids were male – would take your key to the front desk and leave batteries not being charged.  You could pick up your key at the front desk if you listened to a lecture about your indiscretion.  Power has been, and probably still is, very expensive in Israel.

The next morning – very early – the streets were almost empty.  Tour buses lined up in front of the hotel, ready to take travelers on religious tours.  Young schoolgirls passed by on their way to an all-girl Muslim school around the corner.  One friend back home seriously asked the question.  “Did you see any Arabs or Muslims?”  Yes, there are Muslims and Arabs in Jerusalem. 

Another friend worried about what he thought was a high Israeli murder rate.  I found the murder rate per 100,000 in his home state was twice Israel’s murder rate, one of the lowest in the civilized world, and the murder rate per 100,000 in St. Louis was 30 times the murder rate per 100,000 in Israel. 

I was surprised but what I found out backed up my statement that I’d go to Israel before I’d go some places in the US.

Number of murders per 100,000

Israel – 2.4

Kansas – 4.4      

United States - 5

Chicago – 16.02

New Orleans – 45.17

Baltimore – 51.14

St. Louis – 60.37 (the US murder capital per 100,000)

If you don’t want to be murdered, go to Israel, not the US and especially not to St. Louis as I did a couple of months ago.

Parking in Jerusalem, and around the National Hotel, can be very difficult or impossible.  Israeli curbs are painted alternate colors: red and white mean no parking, blue and white mean parking is OK.  Sort of but don't count on it.

Parking by a blue and white curb is free after about 6 or 7 pm but some locations are for residents only; this is indicated on a yellow post at the beginning of the sidewalk and only in Hebrew.  Ask a local and hope they speak English.  

To park by a blue and white curb, you have to get a ticket from a vending machine which may be a block away but there are no more vending machines in Tel Aviv. 

There is a small pink square with a number saying which zone it is allowed, probably in Hebrew, but the system is too complicated.  Locals use a smartphone app called Pango or electronic cards called EasyPark, also complicated. 

Paid parking is usually from 8 am to 6 or sometimes 7 pm.  The signs will tell you unless they are in Hebrew only as many are.  Paid parking ends at 1 pm on Shabbat.  You mean I could have parked by a blue and white curb for free on Shabbat? 

You are advised to park and pay in a lot but lot attendees are few and can be surly and unconcerned about your plight.  I found one such person.  The parking lot attendant shortage is said to be due to the situation in Gaza.  I parked in a lot in Tel Aviv rather than taking a chance on guessing the legality or illegality of the painted curbs and Hebrew signs. 

When I tried to leave, the parking attendant would only accept cash, no credit cards.  I asked to be directed to a store where I could change American $20 bills to pay the $9 parking fee.  Everything was closed.  Shabbat.  The surly, unconcerned attendant only wanted Israeli Shekels, Palestinian Pounds, or Jordanian Dinars.  She didn’t know the exchange rate for American Dollars.

I scraped together various small currency denominations – Shekels, Dinars, and Dollars – and showed the parking attendant my smartphone app that displayed the current exchange rate for American Dollars to Israeli Shekels.  Otherwise, we would have spent another day in the Tel Aviv parking lot.

Every breakfast at the National Hotel was a feast.  There were 5 or more tables of food.  An attendant could make any variety of omelet or egg dish you wanted.  There was fresh fruit.  There were fruit juices.  There were many varieties of cheese and meat.  There were olives.  There were breads and cereals.  There were many varieties of hummus (chickpeas aka garbanzo beans) and falafel.  There was individually brewed regular coffee or very strong, very small cups of Arabic coffee.

Our favorite waiter seemed to be in the restaurant anytime night or day.  He was a Muslim who went home every night to nearby Palestine.  He worked long hours to support his wife and children.

When the area around the National Hotel started waking up, the metal doors that covered storefronts were opened to reveal many kinds of stores, privately owned, usually run by one person and, as in the Old City, stocked with more goods than you would think they could get in the store.  They specialized in clothes, electronics, snacks, or just about anything you might want. 

I needed a few adapters from 220 volts to 110 volts.  I stopped at an obviously wrong store and asked the owner where I could find adapters.  He went out on the street and gave me good directions to a store about two blocks away.

I found the electronics store.  It was run by a man, probably 80, who was reading a newspaper, was nicely dressed in a suit, and apologized for his limited English.  I assumed he was Arabic but he might have been a Jew.  He quickly found exactly what I needed.  And then, he gave us small cups of freshly brewed Arabic coffee to go.

As I was leaving, he put his hands on my shoulder and struggled with his English to say a heartfelt phrase, “I want peace” as if I had that power.  I want peace for him, too.  Days later, at the Garden of Gethsemane, one olive tree had rocks in front of it that spelled out Peace.  I thought of the old man.  At his age, he’s seen Israel from 1948 on.  Yes, I wish him and everyone peace.

The streets around the National Hotel were full of people night and day, couples, individuals, old people, young people, schoolgirls, tourists, and every walk of life.  We talked to locals and tourists from all over the world, Muslims, Arabs, Christians, etc.  We met a lot of nice people who wanted to talk about all sorts of things.

After many days at the National Hotel, Kenny and I agreed it was a great place with a wonderful breakfast that we’d stay at again.  International reviews rated the National Hotel as excellent.  It was.  The neighborhood, at first scary at night, was a neighborhood of schoolgirls and schools, churches, colleges, small shops of every variety, the Rockefeller Archeological Museum, the Garden Tomb, the French School of Biblical and Archeological Research, the WF Albright Institute of Archeological Research, Social Security, and the Department of Justice.

The National Hotel restaurant or meeting room on the first floor was always full of women in burkas.  The 3rd-floor restaurant was full of international travelers from all over the world.

I had breakfast one morning with a very young girl named Sarah who found me and my camera fascinating.  I took her photo and took another photo of Sarah when I met her in her stroller on the streets of Jerusalem.  I had conversations with a lot of people – Arabs, Jews, Bedouins, Muslims, Christians, etc. – from all over the world and they were all very nice to talk to.

People often wanted to have their photo made with an American and wanted to see the photo.  A group of young boys near the National Hotel looking like NYC rockers with their hair piled high, wearing distressed jeans and t-shirts with English slogans, asked me to take their picture.  They were very polite and patiently let me move everyone into better light.  They loved their photo but no one asked for it to be emailed, even though one of the boys had a smartphone. 

I only met one man – a Jerusalem, Jewish Holy Man with a long beard and the typical black hat, black trenchcoat, and round glasses – who brazenly stole about $40 from me.  The owner of a restaurant introduced this man as one of his best friends.  When it came time to pay my bill and the owner was busy, the Holy Man motioned for me to give him my money.  I thought I was paying my bill to the owner’s good friend but he pocketed my money and wouldn’t give it back.

After the Holy Man stole my money, I asked him if I could take his photo.  He said no.  I told him I was taking it anyway and I did.  You won’t see him in my gallery because I don’t want his face on my website.

The restaurant owner, a Moroccan Muslim, was appalled at the theft and angrily confronted his Holy Man friend.  My choices were to physically fight the old man who refused to give my money back, call the police, or let it go.  I let it go, paid the restaurant owner, and assured him this was the right thing to do.  So much for preconceived notions about who is good and who is evil.

I’m writing this blog, especially for Kenny and me to remember, but for anyone else who wants to read it.  I’ll break my time in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan into smaller blogs and galleries instead of one very long blog and gallery.  I’ll also include a few cellphone photos and favorite photos from 2008.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 19 May 2017 10:15:30 GMT
Gatlinburg Fires

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 816 square miles of TN and NC and is the most visited US national park.  For most visitors, Gatlinburg, TN is the gateway to the Smoky Mountains.  After months of drought in the area, two teenage boys, 15 and 17, threw lit matches on the ground that started the devastating Gatlinburg wildfires.  Fourteen lives were lost in the fires, more than 17,000 acres burned, and 2,000 structures were damaged or destroyed.  Downtown Gatlinburg was on fire and access to the area was limited to firefighters and emergency crews for days.

I visited Gatlinburg to check on a couple of friends and, hopefully, to shoot photos of the fire damage.  A Gatlinburg friend drove me to areas that weren’t off limits – there were checkpoints and a 6pm to 6am curfew – and I saw many homes and rental cabins that were burned to the ground.  Cars were gutted by the fires.  Trees and power lines were down.

In the randomness of any disaster, some structures were burned to the ground while the neighboring house was untouched.  Some fences were burned but the home was untouched; other homes were burned but the fence was still standing.  An additional church meeting structure was destroyed but the church was untouched.

I saw some emergency crews dealing with power and phone lines but didn’t see one person trying to salvage belongings from their homes.  The fires were so devastating there was nothing to salvage.

What survived the fires was brickwork, metal, and, most notably, stone chimneys. 

The most used construction was a few feet or entire walls of concrete blocks, aka Breeko Blocks or cinder blocks.  Those walls were covered or continued with wood that didn’t survive the fires.

In the center of what used to be homes, there were metal chairs, a satellite TV dish, duct work, metal roofs, computer chassis, air conditioners, a filing cabinet, washing machines, a bathtub, etc. 

Outside homes there were metal railings that used to be attached to burned wooden steps, bear-proof trash cans, stone walkways, a metal birdcage, gutters and downspouts, a child’s wagon, a bicycle, etc.

Cars were sitting on their rims, their rubber tires burned off.  Dashboards, steering wheels, bumpers, grills, and seats were gone.

Aluminum car grills melted.  Steel melts at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and aluminum melts at 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit so the steel parts of a car would be intact while the aluminum melted.  I have a couple of photos of molten aluminum that flowed down a hill and solidified after the fire. 

I first became aware of search codes, those bright orange spray painted Xs and codes, after hurricane Katrina. 

The International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have developed codes for displaying information about searched building, cars, and other structures.  Those codes let others know the results of a search.

Search codes were on many Gatlinburg buildings, cars, and other structures but few used the full range of available codes.  Sometimes, just a simple X let others know a search was conducted.

The FEMA Search Code starts with a large X, about 1 or 2 feet tall, that divides that area into four quadrants at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock.

In the 12 o’clock quadrant, search teams enter the date and time of the search.

In the 3 o’clock quadrant, abbreviations for hazards are listed.  For instance: NE means no entry, RATS means rats are present, EX or EXT mean the exterior survived, and F/W means food or water are present.

In the 6 o’clock quadrant, the number of live or dead victims is listed.  LB means live bodies were found, DB means dead bodies were found, 0-0 means no survivors and no dead were found, 2-1 means 2 survivors and 1 dead were found.

The 9 o’clock quadrant identifies the search team.  In the Katrina hurricane, NOPD meant the search team was the New Orleans Police Department. 

The Gatlinburg search teams didn’t always follow the FEMA Search Codes but more often just used a simple X.

I didn’t see one search code that indicated a death but I did see one home that had a large X with no codes on a car.  On the nearby house's wall, an arrow pointed to two Xs.  I assume that arrow was to alert other search teams to those locations but I don’t know if the Xs indicated that people died there.

You may have seen an image similar to the first image in my Gatlinburg Fires gallery.  Two thirds of a sign on the Parkway that directed people to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center was burned and someone placed an American flag in the place where the sign was missing. 

Some chimneys left standing had a fireplace where the first and second floors used to be.

I saw a few smoldering fires – smoke and no flames but still dangerous.  I shot photos in a welcome, near constant light rain.

The Banner Baptist Church on Beech Rd. appeared to be undamaged but an adjacent small building I assume was built as an add-on was burned to the ground.  Metal chairs still stood in the building.  I walked through the thick white ash of the building to get a photo of the building in the foreground and the church in the background.  When I walked out of the building it felt like an inch of white ash was stuck to my shoes and I left white footsteps on the sidewalk leading back to the church.

A distribution center was set up in a large building that used to house American Bandstand.  An image of Dick Clark was still on the side of the building.  People affected by the fire could get food donations and other supplies there. 

In the parking lot, there were trailers that housed disaster relief organizations, insurance companies, Tennessee Command and Communications, and Disabled American Vets.  The parking lot was full of vehicles with out of state tags.  In these days of divisiveness, it’s encouraging to see how people can work together to help their neighbors or people they don’t know.

And finally, I met a friendly, alert service dog that preferred a straight on shot over a profile that showed his Service Dog vest.  I don’t know if he served a purpose in disaster relief but he was certainly a handsome dog.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 11 Dec 2016 01:04:09 GMT
Tootsie's Christmas Decorations Tootsie's Christmas DecorationsTootsie's Christmas DecorationsTootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville’s most famous Country Music bar, has expanded in recent years, just like Nashville. Tootsie Bess (Hattie Louise Bess) bought the bar location in 1960 and the original name was Mom’s. She was surprised, maybe shocked, when a painter painted the bar purple but decided to rename the bar Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
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Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville’s most famous Country Music bar, has expanded in recent years, just like Nashville.

Tootsie Bess (Hattie Louise Bess) bought the bar location in 1960 and the original name was Mom’s.  She was surprised, maybe shocked, when a painter painted the bar purple but decided to rename the bar Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. 

Tootsie’s connection with Country Music came about because performers on the Grand Ole Opry could walk out the door of the Ryman Auditorium, in between Opry spots, into an alley, and into the rear entrance of Tootsie’s.  Classic Country songs were written at Tootsie’s, deals were made, beers were consumed, musicians were hired for road gigs, and stories were told.  Young hopefuls still perform for tips while trying to break into the lucrative mainstream Country Music business.  Occasionally, a successful artist will return to Tootsie’s for an unannounced or ballyhooed performance. 

Early customers were a who’s who of Country Music: Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, and many others.

Tootsie was famous for using a hatpin to poke troublemaking customers and, at some point, Charley Pride gave her a jeweled hatpin.

Tootsie had a cigar box behind the counter that was full of IOUs she collected when she gave food and drink to those who couldn’t pay.  At the end of the year, Opry artists would pitch in and buy back the unpaid IOUs.

Tootsie died in 1976 and was buried in a purple gown in a purple casket with an orchid in her hand.  Many famous Country artists and musicians were at the funeral and Connie Smith sang some of Tootsie’s favorite hymns.

Tootsie’s celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.  The name of the bar is still Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the color is still purple.

The walls of Tootsie’s are covered with photos and album covers that have been there for decades.  You’d have to know where to look but a very small photo of my brother Larry and me from long ago is on the wall.  It was, at one time, in the covered bar top.  When they replaced the bar top with one that was larger, they hung the old bar top on the wall behind the second story bar.  Being on the wall of Tootsie’s is ironic because we were never drinkers, preferring to cross the street to a Lower Broadway restaurant called Linebaugh’s where the non-drinkers ate inexpensive, mostly bad food, and Marty Robbins played the pinball machine.  Even though we didn’t drink, the shortest route to Linebaugh’s was through Tootsie’s so we have Tootsie’s memories, too.

Today, Tootsie’s has a second-floor bar and a third floor that has a new Lower Broadway favorite open-air, rooftop bar.

The rooftop of the enclosed part of the third floor is now home to oversized Christmas decorations: snowmen, a bear, a soldier from the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, etc.  I think Tootsie would be proud.

In the photo at the link below, you can see the sloped roof of the Ryman Auditorium in the upper left-hand corner.

There's only one photo in this blog but you can click below to see the photo in full screen.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 30 Nov 2016 16:14:20 GMT
Greenwood Cemetery - City of the Dead Greenwood CemeteryGreenwood Cemetery

There is an unusual, unforgettable fact about New Orleans; because New Orleans is built on a delta, the dead are buried above ground.  The water table in the New Orleans delta is just a few feet below the surface and caskets buried at what would be a normal six-foot depth would be under water and would occasionally rise out of the ground.

Early New Orleans settlers buried their dead in shallow graves to get coffins above the water table to keep them from rising to the surface.  When that didn’t solve the problem, they tried placing stones on the buried coffins to keep them down.  Those solutions didn’t work either so they began burying their dead in tombs that are above ground.

New Orleans may have the only above ground cemeteries in the US.  I don’t know of another one.

New Orleans cemeteries of above ground tombs look like miniature cityscapes with tombs that look like houses with slanted roofs and have been called Cities of the Dead.

Greenwood Cemetery opened in 1852 on City Park Avenue in the Navarre neighborhood of New Orleans and is less than 4 miles northwest of the French Quarter. 

At the end of Canal Street, there is an area called the Cemeteries.  When you get off the Canal Streetcar, you’re standing at the apex of a triangle of three cemeteries.  To the left is Cypress Grove, to the right, Odd Fellows’ Rest, and across City Park Avenue from the streetcar terminal is Greenwood Cemetery.  Greenwood and Cypress Grove are two of the oldest cemeteries in the city. 

When you approach Greenwood Cemetery, you can’t miss several large monuments, including a 46-foot memorial to the Firefighter's Chartable Association featuring a six-foot statue of a fireman, a neo-Gothic design that was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s monument in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a 1912 memorial and tomb for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.  That tomb, a tumulus, is a mausoleum where the burial vaults are covered by an earthen mound.  A majestic statue of an elk stands guard on the top of the earthen mound.

Greenwood Cemetery was established by the Firemen’s Charitable and Benevolent Association after their success with Cypress Grove Cemetery.  By building entire cemeteries, the Firemen’s Charitable Association could sell plots for gravesites and tombs to those with means and generate the revenue needed to bury firefighting heroes who couldn’t afford the burial sites.  Over 600 Confederate soldiers are also interred at Greenwood.

Greenwood Cemetery utilizes small lot sizes (6 feet by 9 feet) and is one of the city’s largest cemeteries in volume.  Many families buy double lots or larger.  There are about 20,500 lots with on average 1,000 interments each year.  The entrances to Greenwood are decorated with 5 memorials, but aside from this, most tombs are arranged to provide maximum occupancy so architectural or landscape beautification is placed at a lesser priority. 

Greenwood Cemetery has grassy walkways and streets and street signs like any city and maps to guide you to a specific tomb.  Early in my visit, I helped one older couple navigate to a friend or loved one’s tomb.  I saw few family and friends, many cemetery employees taking care of the tombs, and only a couple of photographer tourists like me.

The oldest Greenwood tombs were built over 160 years ago and the construction methods and condition of the tombs varies.  Basic building materials range from small to large roughhewn stone to polished marble.

Most gravesites are literally tombs but it looks like some sites have coffins buried beneath several feet of built up earth with some of those plots covered with crushed stone.  Some tombs are adorned with Mardi Gras beads in the spirit of New Orleans.  On holiday nights, votive candles on tombs light the way for friends, family, and visitors.

A few steps lead up to most tombs with statuettes and flower urns on the steps to discourage visitors from climbing the steps.  Some walls and doors have elaborate carved figures, including a carving of two near life-size angels, but most doors are engraved with the names of the departed.  Most tombs are topped by stone crosses.

Some tombs are surrounded by iron fences that have rusted and corroded through the years.  The exterior of one tomb is badly corroded iron.

Tombs are for family burials.  I saw so many names on many tombs that I wondered how they could contain that many caskets. 

The dead are first entombed in caskets.  By local law, you must wait a year and a day before adding a second person to a tomb.  When a previously deceased family member has been dead for two years, the remains of that person can be moved to a burial bag and placed at the side or back of the vault.  The coffin is destroyed and the vault is now ready for a newly deceased family member.  

If a tomb has no more space while waiting for two years to move a family member out of a coffin, local cemeteries are equipped with temporary holding vaults and the newly deceased family member is moved into his or her final resting place when space can be made in the tomb.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina left Greenwood Cemetery under water and they are probably still recovering from the damage Katrina caused.  The pieces of one engraved tablet from the 1800s were laid out on a piece of marble like a jigsaw puzzle that will never be put together again.

There are 42 cemeteries in New Orleans.  Some of the cemeteries attract muggers and are not safe, especially if you visit them alone.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 21 Oct 2016 05:42:45 GMT
The Great Race- 2007

I shot The Great Race in 2007 and had a photo gallery on a previous website.  Since then, hundreds of people – OK, one or two people – have asked about that photo gallery so I decided to put it up again.

The Great Race, started in 1983, is an annual cross-country race where entries can be antique cars, vintage cars (currently pre-1972), muscle cars, or hot rods.  The route changes each year. 

In 2007, the 4,000 mile, 14-day endurance race started in Concord, NC and the finish line was in Anaheim, CA.  Each day, there was a predetermined lunch stop and an overnight stop where locals could admire the cars, talk to the drivers, and take photos.

I’ve shot The Great Race a few times around the country but the 2007 race that made a lunch stop, appropriately, at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville was set up to give the best photo ops.

It's amazing that cars made as early as 1910 still run and it's more amazing that they can compete in a 4,000 mile race when many of the cars are open to the elements and even the enclosed cars have no air conditioner.  Seventy-two cars started the 2007 race but only 57 endured torrential downpours, hail, desert heat, and steep mountain climbs to finish the race.  

If you want to compete in The Great Race, there are regional rallies and qualifying races for eligibility, and there are many rules.  An entry fee of $5,500 per car includes registration for one driver, one navigator, and two support crew members and each entry is allowed one support vehicle.  Additional support crew members can be added for a fee of $250 each.  

Each competing car is allowed to carry pens, pencils, scratch pads, race information supplied by The Great Race, one analog time-of-day watch or clock, one analog wristwatch each for the driver and navigator, one stopwatch, an AM-FM radio, one analog tire pressure gauge, one analog compass, one analog altimeter, one analog thermometer, one non-radio intercom system allowing communication only between driver and navigator which requires a wired or tube connection to function; i.e., helmets with microphones and earphones, and one cellphone for emergency use only.

Items that can't be carried in the competing car are clocks or wristwatches with stopwatch functions, digital speedometers, maps, charts, tables, pace notes, course materials from prior Great Race Events, any calculating device, timing device, measuring device, recording devices, telescopes, binoculars, cameras with telephoto lenses, and similar optical devices, any GPS, any laptop, tablet, iPad, etc., and any other electronic device which has a digital clock or digital display.

Sounds like the bottom line is...if grandpa didn't have it, you can't have it.

There seems to be a real camaraderie among race participants that are connected by real families and race families.  Most of the participants in The Great Race are retired grandfatherly types but women and children also participate as navigators or crew.  The 2007 winner of The Great Race was a 1928 Ford Model A Boattail Speedster and the $25,000 cash prize went to 15-year old Charlie Wheeler and his uncle Bob LaBine.  I'm sure the 15-year old will always remember when he and his uncle rode 4,000 miles in an almost 80 year-old car and won the big prize.


Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 14 Oct 2016 23:12:05 GMT
Caddo Lake - Uncertain, TX Sunrise on Caddo LakeSunrise on Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake [kad-oh] straddles the Texas and Louisiana borders; half the lake is in East Texas and half is in West Louisiana.  Shreveport, LA, about 30 miles southeast of Caddo Lake, is the closest big city. 

A number of small towns could lay claim to being home of Caddo Lake but I like to think its home is Uncertain, TX because I spent more time there, found the best but limited access to the lake there, and because…who wouldn’t like a town named Uncertain.

Uncertain has a population of about 150 and is located on the shore of Caddo Lake.  It got its name from surveyors who were attempting to survey the border between TX and LA but discovered they were uncertain about which side of the line they were on when they began surveying.

Uncertain has a number of buildings that bear its name, including the Uncertain Flea Market, the Uncertain Inn, the Uncertain General Store, the Uncertain Tavern, and the non-denominational Church of Uncertain which is not a church of agnostics, as the name implies, but, according to a sign by the roadway, a church “Where God is Lord”.  Thanks for that much needed clarification.

The Caddo Lake area is flood prone and many of the homes and trailers near the lake are on stilts to protect them from rising waters.

Uncertain was the filming location for two swamp movies, Curse of the Swamp Creature in 1966 and Shark Night 3D in 2010. 

The Caddo Lake area reports hundreds of Texas Bigfoot sightings each year and the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, located in nearby Jefferson, TX, stages a conference each autumn with multiple field trips into the backcountry to search for Texas Bigfoot.

Caddo Lake is a 25,400-acre lake and wetland bayou that supports dense vegetation, 189 species of trees and shrubs, 75 grasses, 42 woody vines, 216 kinds of birds, 90 fishes and reptiles, and 47 mammals.  Mayhaw fruit is collected from the lake to make a jelly that is considered one of the finest in the world.  Forty-four of Caddo Lake's native species are either endangered, threatened, or rare.  Wildlife include waterfowl, alligators, turtles, frogs, snakes, raccoons, minks, nutrias, beavers, squirrels, armadillos, and white-tailed deer.  Caddo Lake is one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the United States.

Caddo Lake was named after Native American Indians called Caddoans or Caddo who lived in the area before they were forced into a Texas reservation and then into Indian Territory in 1859. 

An old Caddoan legend says the Great Spirit warned a Caddo Chief to move his village or the earth would swallow it.  He ignored the warning.  Not long afterward, the Chief was leading a hunting party a great distance away when the ground began to shake violently and, when he returned to his village, the Chief discovered it had sunk beneath a lake that never existed before.

According to another legend, Caddo Lake and West Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake, both cypress swamps today, were formed by the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes but most geologists say Caddo Lake was formed, gradually or catastrophically, by the Great Raft, a 100-mile logjam on the Red River in Louisiana which flooded the low-lying basin that is now Caddo Lake.

I wondered why Jefferson, TX, the largest town in the area and the County Seat of Marion County was so far from Caddo Lake and its once booming riverboat economy.  Several lakeside towns, including Jefferson, TX, had thriving riverboat ports on the lake until the Great Raft logjam was cleared, lowering the lake by 10 feet and destroying the East Texas ports and their riverboat industries.

When oil was discovered beneath the lake, the world’s first over-water drilling platform was built in Caddo Lake in 1911.  The oil industry soon left for nearby areas that had more oil and were easier and cheaper to drill.  They left Caddo Lake more polluted than when they arrived.

Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant on the shores of Caddo Lake also polluted large portions of the surrounding wetlands until its closure in the 1990s.  Most of the former plant site is now a federal wildlife refuge.

I love the beauty and unusual diversity of cypress swamps.  In Caddo Lake, bald cypress trees that typically grow at water’s edge or in shallow, still waters are draped with Span­ish moss and tower over the maze of bayous, sloughs, and ponds.  What makes Caddo Lake different from other cypress swamps I’ve visited is giant salvinia which threatens the life of the lake’s indigenous flora and fauna and threatens the local tourist attractions of fishing and duck hunting.

Since 2006, Caddo Lake has been taken over by the non-indigenous, Velcro-like, free floating, aquatic fern known as giant salvinia that is native to Brazil and was accidentally introduced into the lake by boaters.  Salvinia doubles in size every 2 to 4 days and kills off aquatic life below the surface.  It grows best in still waters and Caddo Lake is its perfect habitat.  Salvinia has virtually killed fishing in the area and fewer lily pads and other indigenous aquatic plants survive. 

Salvinia damages aquatic ecosystems by outgrowing and replacing native plants that provide food and habitat for native animals and waterfowl.  It blocks out sunlight and decreases oxygen concentrations to the detriment of fish and other aquatic animals and, when plant masses die, decomposition lowers dissolved oxygen still further.

Caddo Lake is still a duck hunting destination but fewer ducks stop at the lake.  You will still see duck blinds in the lake and hear the shotguns of duck hunters but I’m sure they find fewer targets.  I heard many shotgun blasts but I didn’t see one duck.  For migratory ducks, Caddo has become a fly-over lake. 

The images in my Caddo Lake gallery are deceptive.  What looks like a flat, green, grass-covered meadow where many cypress trees grow is actually a lake covered with salvinia.  It would be easy to make a step close to the shore onto what you see as land covered with green foliage only to sink into the lake below the salvinia.  I avoided that mistake.  I included 4 short videos in my Caddo Lake gallery taken when I boated over the salvinia covered lake to show the lake's deceptive look.

The Caddo Lake Salvinia Eradication Project is evaluating multiple methods of salvinia eradication.  Biological, chemical, mechanical, and other means have been tried.  Beetles that normally eat salvinia were brought in but the beetles couldn’t survive the cold Texas winters.  Herbicides are in use but must not be too effective because the lake is still covered with salvinia.  The worst salvinia proliferation is on the Louisiana side of the lake because Louisiana is still committing all available funds to recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

It is illegal to transport giant salvinia on boat trailers or boat motors so boaters have to wash their boats down before leaving the lake to reduce the chance of contaminating other lakes with salvinia.  This is actually standard policy for boaters, wading fishermen, or any ecosystem conscious person or thing that enters a lake or river.  Cross contamination can happen easily but can be very difficult to eradicate. 

Caddo Lake is home to owls, alligators, eagles, migratory ducks, egrets, and other birds.  I saw one snake sitting on top of salvinia in the lake and a handful of egrets from a great distance.  One morning, I went to Caddo Lake State Park with my long 500mm lens because I heard it was the best place to spot egrets and migratory birds.  I stayed a couple of hours and didn’t see one egret.

Caddo Lake was a stopover on my return trip to Houston.  After looking at maps, I drove to Uncertain, TX before sunset but, even with 3 GPS systems – a Garmin dash-mount, a laptop GPS, and a cellphone GPS – the sun went down before I could see Caddo Lake except through private lakeside properties. 

I got up early the next morning and spent 2 hours driving every remote road that ran alongside the lake with the same results as the night before.  I finally found a boat ramp in Uncertain that got me to the edge of the lake with a very limited view of the lake.

I asked a man taking cellphone photos at the boat ramp about the best access point to take photos.  He was a local man named Tim Gulk and he said most of the lakeside land was private property and there weren’t many places where you could actually see the lake.  I asked if there were boat tours and there were.  After more conversation, Tim said he’d go home, get his boat, and take me out on the lake.

In my travels around the US and around the world, I’ve been lucky to meet local people who went out of their way to make my trip a great memory and Tim contributed to another memorable day.  He’s not a tour guide, he’s in the concrete business, but he went home to get his mud boat, a mudder, a flat bottom boat that has a shallow draw and seems to be favored in my trips to the sometimes shallow Okefenokee Swamp, Reelfoot Lake, and Caddo Lake. 

Way back in the lake, Tim shut the motor down and the only sounds I heard were an occasional duck hunter’s shotgun blast and sounds from a nearby army base.  Another earlier sound was one loud, hot-rodded motorboat that kicked up rooster tails, the water spray that is kicked up high in the air behind a motorboat.  How utterly inappropriate in a cypress swamp.  The few other people on the lake were in motorboats and noiseless canoes and kayaks. 

We spent several hours on the lake where I shot most of the images in my Caddo Lake gallery and where Tim told me the history of Caddo Lake.  It was a great day.

Don’t miss the four short cellphone videos in my Caddo Lake gallery that follow the photo of my lake tour guide, Tim Gulk.  They show how it feels to boat over what looks like a grassy field but is actually a salvinia covered lake.

Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 04 Oct 2016 22:00:37 GMT
Norway Norway - Unn Cathrin Looking Down at Geiranger FjordNorway - Unn Cathrin Looking Down at Geiranger Fjord

Here’s another gallery of photos from all over Norway in addition to my blog about the Heddal Stave Church.  This blog explains some of the photos you’ll see in the gallery.  There is a link to the photo gallery at the end of this blog.

The first photos in this gallery were taken in Lofoton, an archipelago on the Norwegian Sea in the far northwest of Norway.  I traveled to Lofoton with my friend Arne Benoni who was playing a show there.  Lofoton is way above the Arctic Circle, about 100 miles northeast of Iceland, but the climate is temperate because of the warm Gulf Stream waters.

Lofoton has rugged mountains, beautiful fjords, inlets, seashores, and large areas of virgin land.  It is home to sea eagles, cormorants, and millions of other birds, otters, moose, the world’s largest deep water coral reef.

The famous Moskstraumen (Malstrøm) system of tidal eddies is located in western Lofoten and is the root of the term maelstrom which means a powerful whirlpool in the sea or in a river.

Lofoton is home to Norway’s best cod fisheries.  Cod migrate south from the Barents Sea to spawn in Lofoton.

Circular structures in the water just offshore are salmon hatcheries.  What looks like wooden outdoor clotheslines are for salmon drying and curing.  Salmon are butterflied and hung over the wood lines to dry and cure in the sun.

And Lofoton is also famous for its midnight sun.  For much of the year, the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon; at other times, it dips just below the horizon only to reappear minutes later.  At midnight, I could have walked out in a field and read a newspaper in the midnight sun…as long as it was an English newspaper.  At various times during my stay, I saw children playing in their yard at midnight; the sky looked like daytime.

Some of the first images in my Norway gallery were taken at midnight in Lofoton.  It not only didn’t get dark, the sky and its reflection on the water became one, giving the scene a surreal look.

On my first day in Lofoton, our hostess asked if I’d like to take a morning hike up the Ladies’ Mountain Trail.  I was hoping for a hike that was a bit more challenging but said yes.

I set out with a DSLR and a 25-pound camera backpack and I was wearing street shoes.  The hostess and I both used ski poles for balance.  I found out later how important that was.

The Ladies’ Mountain Trail turned out to be quite a challenge.  Although there were no actual steps, the next place I could place my foot was often 2 to 3 feet above where I was standing.

In addition to the huge steps that weren’t steps, I found wherever I placed my foot was one of three surfaces: solid land, a mossy bog that slid as soon as I put my foot down, and volcanic basalt.  I fell many times while my hostess looked back and asked if I needed help.  Real men don’t ask for help.

At the top of the mountain, there was what looked like a Mason Jar with a small book and a pen inside.  We opened the jar, got the book out, and I signed my name to prove I had been there.

I looked down on the fishing village where I was staying, tired but proud that I made it up the Ladies’ Mountain Trail.

Somewhere at the top of the mountain, we shooed buzzards away from a sheep that had been reduced to bones.  Time to keep moving so the buzzards wouldn’t think I was their next meal.

I thought the hike down the mountain would be easy.  Wrong.  It was almost a bigger struggle than going up the mountain.  For the entire hike down, my toes were pushed painfully to the front of my street shoes.

I had a Norwegian breakfast after the hike that consisted of cheese slices, berries, thawed butter, caviar in what looked like a toothpaste tube, shrimp salad, chicken salad, Italian salad, bread, and coffee.  You’d be surprised how good cheese slices, berries, thawed butter, Italian salad, bread, and coffee taste when you’re a vegetarian who is exhausted from hiking the Ladies’ Mountain Trail.

When you get out of the big cities like Oslo, you see how connected most Norwegians are to the sea.  There are small fishing villages everywhere.  There are large and small pleasure craft, cruise ships, and seagoing commercial ships.  Dramatic bridges rise high over the fjords to let tall vessels pass beneath.

Car or bus travel in Norway involves navigating winding roads, land tunnels, under sea tunnels, and ferries, and having to stop occasionally for a cow or goat to get out of the road and let you pass.  After a long day’s drive, I was driving home and my friend encouraged me to speed up.  We were approaching a ferry that would make its last run at midnight and, if we missed that ferry, we’d be stuck where we were until morning.  I sped up and, when we got to the ferry, its gate was already up and it was ready to leave the dock.  They kindly lowered the gate and waited for us.

You’ll see sod roofs all over Norway.  Winters can be harsh and the sod is good insulation.  Grass and flowers take root and it’s not unusual to see a goat grazing on a roof.

Norwegian barns are typically two-story barns, just like in the US, but they have a unique way of getting animals or farm equipment to the second floor.  They build dirt and grass covered ramps up to the second floor.  Ingenious. 

I traveled from Lofoton to Sandefjord which is 75 miles south of Oslo.  From Sandefjord, I traveled to the Heddal Stave Church, a church built in the 1200s, which is the subject of a previous blog.

Then, I traveled to Molde and Midsund on the west coast in Møre og Romsdal county.  Midsund is an island just off the coast from Molde and is only accessible by ferry.

The Molde Jazz Festival, a big annual event, was going on and my friend Unn Cathrin was performing.  Artists who appear at the festival range from big name US artists like Stevie Wonder to Norwegian jazz and pop artists, to solo musicians, including an accordion player, a banjo player, African drummers, a one-man band playing a banjo and a bass drum strapped to his back that was played by a cable tied to his foot, a father/daughter bass, drums, guitar, and harmonica band, and a South American Indian playing a flute.

Unn Cathrin’s father, Kjell, took me to Ona Island, a small island, population 40, with two lighthouses.  The older, red Ona Lighthouse, built in 1867, sits on Onakalven cliff, the highest point on Ona Island.  There are four ferries a day to Ona Island but we got there in a small, private fishing boat.  Ona is a 28-mile boat ride from Molde and Midsund.

Ona Island has been populated for centuries because of its proximity to fishing grounds further out in the Atlantic Ocean.  Residents of Ona Island have traditionally made their living from the sea but the population has dwindled and several pottery workshops have taken up residence to sell their goods to tourists.  Ona Island has a small café, lodging, a cemetery, and beautiful, desolate beaches. 

On the beach, a bicycle is tied to a wooden structure by bungie cords.  A sign tells the visitor, in Norwegian, that the small beach is a coastal gem that has many visitors and visitors are asked not to use the beach as a toilet.  They need to get that message to the seagulls.  The bicycle is free to use to transport you to a toilet at the other end of the island but you are asked to return the bike after using it.

I traveled to Geirangerfjord, the most visited and most beautiful fjord in Norway.  To get there, you drive up a long, winding mountain road.  When you get to the top of the mountain, you can see Geirangerfjord below.  The photo at the top of this blog shows Unn Cathrin looking down at Geirangerfjord, two cruise ships, and the small village of Geiranger at the end of the fjord where the Geirangelva river empties into it.

The steep mountain walls of Geirangerfjord leave few habitable areas for fishing villages or farming.  It is predicted that parts of the mountain will eventually fall off into the fjord and cause a tidal wave in Geiranger.  The Norwegian disaster movie, The Wave, available on Netflix, imagines a rockslide that causes a tsunami that leads to the destruction of Geiranger.

Just around the bend from Geiranger, there is a very tall waterfall called Seven Sisters.  It is seven waterfalls that are very close together.  You only have to see a cruise ship navigating past Seven Sisters to see how big it is.

Directly across the fjord from Seven Sisters is an equally tall waterfall called the Suitor, so named because it is said to be trying to impress the Seven Sisters across the fjord.

There is a very remote house built about halfway up Seven Sisters and the occupants were in trouble at one time for not paying taxes.  The only access to the house was a ladder that could be pulled up when the tax collector came to collect.  I’m not sure how that story ended but my guess is that the tax collectors won.

When we left Geiranger, we took two of Unn Cathrin’s girlfriends, Valerie Bollmann and another friend who worked at Geiranger, to Molde where they caught a bus.  The drive was three hours plus many stops along the way and a ferry or two.  Unn is Norwegian, Valerie is Swiss, and the other girl is Czechoslovakian. 

All three girls speak several languages and, when we stopped to eat, they were in the middle of a conversation that ended abruptly when they all looked at me for a reply and then they broke into laughter when they realized the question they asked wasn’t in English, the only language I speak.

On my last day in Norway, we went to Atlanterhavsveien, the Atlantic Ocean Road or the Atlantic Road.  The Atlantic Road is 5.2 miles long and connects the municipalities of Averøy and Eide through an unsheltered archipelago that faces the Norwegian Sea.

The Atlantic Road was first proposed as a railway line in the early 20th century but that idea was abandoned as impractical.  Instead, the Atlantic Road began construction in 1983 and was completed in 1989.  Eight dramatic bridges connect the road.  The Atlantic Road, bridges, and volcanic rock are a great aerial photo op and are often used to film car commercials and movies.

During winter months, the Atlantic Road is closed because storms make it impassable.  During construction, the Atlantic Road was hit by 12 hurricanes.

Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 22 Aug 2016 05:03:04 GMT
Heddal Stave Church - Norway Norway - Heddal Stave ChurchNorway - Heddal Stave Church

Norway’s Heddal Stave Church in the Notodden municipality in Telemark County, about 80 miles southwest of Oslo, was built in the early 1200s, the 13th century, more than two centuries before Columbus sailed to America, and still holds church services every Sunday and other events during the week.  Heddal is one of 28 Stave Churches still standing in Norway and is Norway’s largest and most beautiful but not its oldest Stave Church.

Legend says, 5 men wanted to build a church in Heddal.  One of the 5 men, Raud, met a stranger who was willing to build the church if one of 3 conditions was met before the construction was finished: fetch the sun and the moon from the sky, forfeit his life-blood, or guess the name of the stranger.  Raud agreed.

The church construction was nearing completion in 3 days and Raud wandered in the fields near Heddal wondering what the stranger’s name could be.  Then, he heard a beautiful female voice singing:

Hush-hush little Child,

Tomorrow Finn will bring you the Moon and the Sky.

He will bring you the Sun and a Christian Heart,

so pretty Toys for my little Child to play a Part.


Raud guessed that the stranger was a mountain troll named Finn and he could avoid having to fetch the sun and moon from the sky or forfeiting his life-blood.

When the stranger met Raud in three days to present him with completed Heddal Stave Church, Raud said, “Hey, Finn, this pillar isn’t straight.”  Raud had guessed Finn’s name completing one of the 3 conditions as promised and, thereafter, Finn, the mountain troll, could not stand the sound of church bells and moved his family far away.

A Stave Church is a medieval, wooden, Christian church building that was once common in northwestern Europe.  Most of the surviving Stave Churches are in Norway.  Both Christian and pagan traditions were practiced at Haddal. 

The name Stave comes from the building’s structure of post (a vertical column or pillar) and lintel (a horizontal beam) construction.  The load-bearing vertical pillars are called stav in modern Norwegian. 

The vertical stave pillars are constructed from ore-pine, a cured pinewood that is the heartwood of prepared old-growth mountain pines.  The trees had their branches removed and were left to stand for 5 or 10 years or longer causing the resins to bleed upward and out through the cut branches and making the heartwood more resinous and less likely to rot or burn. 

More than one piece of wood was used to construct the pillars and the pieces were joined together with a woodworker’s butterfly joints.  Heddal was built with 12 large pillars and 6 small ones.

To maintain a Stave Church, it is continually covered with a tar that smells like creosote, an oil based or wood based tar.  In the past, because no scaffolding could be attached to a Stave Church, workers with mountain climbing skills painted the churches with brushes soaked in tar.  Today, scaffolding and ladders are carefully placed to give workers access to the church without damaging it.

Given the history and origin of Stave Churches, I suspect wood based tars were first used and may still be in use today.  When I visited the Heddal Stave Church, the strong smell of tar reminded me of treated railroad ties and tarred roads.

The pillars in the Heddal Stave Church reminded me of a ship’s mast.  Norwegian Vikings built their ocean-going ships of oak and pine and covered them with tar to preventing rotting. Many Viking skills used in shipbuilding, joinery, and wood preservation went into the building of Stave Churches.  Although the Vikings used iron nails in shipbuilding, no iron or metal nails were used in the construction of Stave Churches.

Viking ships had pagan wood carvings of animals and dragons that were painted or covered in gold and silver.  Human and animal gargoyles and Christian crosses are carved into the door portals, eaves, and rooftop of the Heddal Stave Church.  The door portals have more modern metalwork and metal locks.

Heddal is a triple nave church but the interior is smaller than you would judge from the outside because the construction is a box within a box.  There is a corridor of several feet between the outer wall and the inner wall.  That space was used for insulation and also to store weapons.  Church members would arrive with weapons and had to store them in the corridor before entering the church. 

I would have loved to shoot photos inside the church but a sign said photography was forbidden and, not seeing anyone to ask for permission, I followed the posted rules.

The interior – walls, floors, pews, chairs – of Heddal, like the exterior, is all wood and is very dark.  Intricate wood carvings are everywhere.  Some of the carvings are pagan before Heddal became a Christian church. 

The Bishop’s Chair was carved in the 17th century from a pillar with pagan symbols of the Viking, Sigurd the Dragon-slayer, and was later reworked into a Christian parable about Jesus and the Devil.

Some of the wood on the wall was painted with floral designs of roses in the 1600s that painted over images and symbols from a time when Heddal was a Catholic church.  Heddal is now Evangelical Lutheran and part of the Church of Norway.  About 80% of Norwegians are Lutheran. 

A sign with replaceable numbers, made of wood as I remember, shows last Sunday’s attendance and other church vital statistics.  The church membership was about 500 and the last Sunday’s attendance was a few hundred.  Like rural Appalachian mountain churches in America, women sat on the pews on one side and men sat on the other side.

Baptisms, weddings, and other services can be held at Heddal but not funerals.  The door is not wide enough to get a coffin through.

The cemetery by Heddal looks ancient but I couldn’t find a tombstone older than the 1800s.

Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 23 Jul 2016 12:51:43 GMT
The Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee Swamp is a shallow 438,000-acre peat-filled wetland that straddles northern Florida and southern Georgia.  It is the largest blackwater swamp in North America and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974. 

The name Okefenokee is an Anglicization of the Itsate-Creek Indian words oka fenoke which mean water shaking.  The swamp was formed over the past 6,500 years by the accumulation of peat in a shallow basin on the edge of an ancient Atlantic coastal terrace, the geological relic of a Pleistocene estuary.

Longtime residents of the Okefenokee Swamp, referred to as Swampers, are of English ancestry and, due to relative isolation, used Elizabethton phrases and syntax common in England and Colonial America well into the 20th century.

The St. Marys River – correct spelling has no apostrophe – and the Suwanee River both originate in the Okefenokee Swamp.

When I think of the Okefenokee Swamp, two things come to mind: the Stephen Foster song, Swanee River, and the cartoon strip, Pogo.

Stephen Foster, the 1800s American songwriter, wrote a minstrel song for the New York blackface group, Cristy’s Minstrels, called Old Folks at Home which was better known as Swanee River. In minstrels, it was also known as Swanee Ribber.

In minstrels, the song was sung in the dialect of a black slave who was longing for the old plantation.  The lyrics have changed through the years to eliminate racially offensive words and the black slave dialect. 

Stephen Foster asked his brother for river name suggestions for the first line of Old Folks at Home.  The 1st suggestion was Mississippi’s Yazoo River and the 2nd suggestion was South Carolina’s Pee Dee River.  Then, Foster’s brother searched an atlas and found Suwanee River.  Foster liked the name Suwanee but purposefully misspelled it as Swanee because a 2-syllable name fit the melody better.

Stephen Foster never saw the Suwanee River but the song, Swanee River, stimulated tourism to the Suwanee River and the Okefenokee Swamp.  Old Folks at Home, aka Swanee River, is the Florida state song.

The Stephen C. Foster State Park, near Fargo, Georgia, is the primary entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp.  In addition to swamp tours, and canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat rentals, there many activities, including hiking, archery, fishing, birdwatching, lectures, etc.  Cabin and campsite rentals are available.

When I think of the Okefenokee Swamp, I always think of Walt Kelly’s comic strip, Pogo, which was set in the Okefenokee Swamp.  The main characters were Pogo the possum and Albert the alligator.  Pogo was published from 1948 to 1972 and was an intelligently written mixture of humor, social and political satire, puns, and wordplay directed at children and adults.  My first knowledge of swamps and the Okefenokee came through the eyes of Pogo the possum, Albert the alligator and a large and ever changing cast of animal characters.

Through a friend, I was connected to Marty Johnson at Oke Trailmasters in Fargo, Georgia.  Marty is a Swamper, a swamp guide, who has spent most of his life near the Okefenokee swamp.

Marty’s love for the Okefenokee and his vast knowledge contributed to a wonderful day in the swamp.

As a city boy afraid of being eaten up by mosquitos and other insects, the night before the swamp tour, I bought several recommended sprays, creams, and other products.  Marty’s advice was to buy a jar of pickles and drink the juice.  I did.  I don’t know which remedy worked but I didn’t come back with a single mosquito bite.  The alligators came close but they didn’t bite either – must have been the pickle juice.

There seemed to be two kinds of boats in the swamp: canoes and flat bottom boats with a shallow draw.  Draw means the depth of the boat’s hull that is underwater.  In shallow water, that is an important consideration.

Some boats were man-powered by oars and some had very small outboard motors.

We were in the swamp for much of the day so we were in a flat bottom boat with a small motor.

The reflection on a blackwater river is as bright or brighter than the image it is reflecting.  When the boat is bobbing in the water and you don’t see any terra firma, you can easily become disoriented.  When you’re sitting low to the water, alligators are only a few feet away and that seems too close until you see that’s too close for the alligator, too, and they swim away.

Alligators in the Okefenokee are smaller than the ones in the Everglades but they can still bring down a deer.  If they kill more than they can eat in one meal, they park the rest under Lilly pads and return later for another meal.

The Okefenokee is home to as many animal critters as a Pogo cartoon strip.  Red rings around trees mark the home of endangered woodpeckers.  The male birds peck a ring of holes around the tree trunk below the nest where the female is raising young birds.  The ring of holes serves two purposes: sap oozes from the holes and makes a slippery surface for predators trying to climb the tree and the female can feed on the sap that is close to her nest.

The Okefenokee is a cypress swamp.  Cypress trees are at home in the water.  The base of the tree is swollen to several times the diameter of most of the trunk and cypress knees grow out of the water around the tree.  Spanish moss hangs from many of the cypress trees.

In the 1800s, logging companies harvested so many cypress trees, the Okefenokee Swamp was in danger.  Railroad tracks were laid to support the logging industry and a canal was built in a failed attempt to drain the swamp.

Today, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a National Natural Land mark, is federally protected, and the swamp, the cypress trees, the alligators, birds, and other animals are doing well. 

They outlived the Pogo comic strip that ceased publication in 1972 when newspapers shrunk the size allotted to comics making Pogo’s dense dialog and complicated artwork – for a comic strip – hard to read.  You can Google Pogo comic strip for a taste of one of the greatest comic strips of all time.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 09 Mar 2016 07:53:29 GMT
The Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo was established in 1906 and is now home to over 3,500 animals of over 500 species.  Nashville has a nice, young, expanding zoo but Memphis has been in the zoo business for over 100 years and has my favorite zoo in the south.  The animal exhibits place the animals close to visitors with minimal barriers making the zoo very photographer friendly.

There is a wide range of animals from giant pandas to polar bears.  On this visit, I spent most of my time photographing the big cats and a tiny langur monkey named Raven and her mother Tanah who are pictured above.

Raven is a 2 month-old Francois langur, an Asian-native monkey named after the French Consul in China who discovered the species. Langurs are known for their distinct facial markings – their faces are completely black except for the two white strips of fur along both mandibles from mouth to ears.

Langurs are small animals. Males typically only weigh up to about 16 pounds and females weigh up to 12 pounds.  Langur babies are born with bright orange heads and their color changes to black as they mature. Langurs are folivorous, meaning they eat leaves almost exclusively. 

Raven received her name because her birthday was near Halloween and also to continue the superhero theme of the names of other langurs previously in the troop: Vicki Vale, Jean Grey, and Bruce Wayne. 

Raven was a never tiring ball of energy and wore Momma Tanah out.  Papa JayJay was nowhere to be seen.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 24 Dec 2015 14:21:02 GMT
Old Car City - White, GA

Old Car City is a family owned and operated business 50 miles northwest of Atlanta on I-75 and about 3 miles north on Highway 411.  It was started by Walter Lewis as a junk yard in 1931 a couple of years into the Great Depression when shade tree mechanics had to keep old cars running since they couldn’t afford to buy new or newer cars.  Walter Lewis’ son, Dean Lewis, is the current owner.  He was born in the junk yard.

Old Car City claims to have over 4,000 cars on 34 acres that cover 6 miles of trails populated by mostly American cars manufactured from 1918 to 1972 but no later.  Dean Lewis calls late model cars throwaway junk.  His cars are “American Iron”.  A sign says Old Car City is “the world’s largest knowd old car junkyard”.

Since Old Car City was once a junk yard, many of the cars are missing engines, transmissions, trunk lids, hoods, and other parts that could be harvested to keep another car running. 

Some of the cars have been there for 60 years.  Dean Lewis calls a few of the cars flowerpots because trees have grown up where the engine used to be or in the middle of the car’s body.  Some trees lifted cars off the ground as they grew.

The acreage is wooded and the cars and pathways are covered with the orange, brown, and reddish colors of fallen leaves, and pine cones and needles from the tall Georgia pine trees.  Car paint is faded or turned to rust adding to that color palette.

Another color palette comes from the light that filters though the canopy of remaining leaves and pine needles giving it a soft green cast, a thin green patina covering the cars’ rusted metal, chrome bumpers, glass windows, and tires, and moss that covers fabric seats, wood, and other places where more moisture can be held.

One mystery I saw over and over is tracks on the cars that look like Christmas ribbon candy.  The tracks spiraled back and forth for short distances.  I suspect these tracks were made by a worm.  I found references to worms making spiral tracks but couldn’t find a photo of those tracks for comparison.

There are warning signs and warnings painted on cars telling you not to smoke.  The thick layer of fallen leaves, pine cones, pine needles, and broken tree limbs make the 34 acres a tinderbox just waiting for a dropped cigarette or a lightning strike.

Old Car City is home to cars, vans, school buses, tractors, and bicycles.  Some effort was made to organize the cars.  One path is marked General Motors Blvd. to help you find that replacement part for your General Motors vehicle but the organization system wasn’t always adhered to.  School buses, vans, tractors, etc. can be found in many places.  Transmissions, engine blocks, a bathroom sink, and a cash register lie in unexpected places.  A couple of pathways use gutted transmissions to mark the way.

Dean Lewis doesn’t use the term junk yard but prefers calling Old Car City a 34-acre piece of art that features antique vehicles.  It is definitely a place of memories where you might find a car a younger you, your dad, or your grandfather drove.  I heard more than one person, old and young, excitedly point out a car from their past.  To them, the car with no engine, broken windows, and covered in rust, a green patina, and moss was more than junk.  I found a couple of cars from my past, too.  I didn’t see an orange VW bus as it is today but as it was when Dad drove one just like it.

Walking down the trails, the smell of Georgia pines is refreshing.  The only sounds in this rural area are birds, the crunch of leaves, pine cones, pine needles, and fallen tree limbs underfoot, chimes made from hubcaps and exhaust tailpipes, and the nearby out of tune New Cass High School band rehearsing on their football field.

Old Car City is billed as a Photographer’s Paradise but at least one sign says it is a Photogaphers’ Paradise and that was after new paint was added, I suppose, to correct another even more egregious spelling error.  Photographers (or photogaphers) might be Old Car City’s paradise.  Admission, if you don’t take photos, is $15 (cash only); if you take photos, it is $25 (cash only) – an added $10 photographer fine for taking photos that give Old Car City free advertising. 

Because of the complexity of modern cars, shade tree mechanics and junk yards are in decline.  The modern junk yard is called an automotive recycler and is computerized to help you find the right part, has to deal with tougher land use laws, and has specialists to deal with electronically reprogramming some parts.

Dean Lewis says business is better now than when he sold recycled car parts.  A big part of that business is thanks to photographers who travel from all over the country and all over the world to shoot photos of “American Iron”.

Old Car City has been getting a lot of media coverage lately from CBS’ Sunday Morning, The New York Times, Hot Rod Magazine, and more.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 12 Nov 2015 14:16:16 GMT
Gatlinburg - Fall 2015

My Gatlinburg spies called to say fall colors were at their peak.  I was there two days later but a rainy, windy day knocked a lot of the color off the trees.  Still a worthwhile trip.  I believe all images were shot with my new Nikon 24-70mm, f/2.8, VR lens.

All images were shot in or near Gatlinburg.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 08 Nov 2015 00:44:10 GMT
Cheekwood - Jaume Plensa, Awilda & Irma Cheekwood - Jaume Plensa, Awilda & IrmaCheekwood - Jaume Plensa, Awilda & Irma

Jaume Plensa is an internationally known Spanish sculptor, born, educated, and working in Barcelona, who uses conventional sculptural materials (glass, steel, bronze, aluminum, cast iron, resin, and paraffin wax) and more unconventional media (water, light, sound, and video), and frequently incorporates text in his works.  He has over 30 installations that cover the globe.

Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, built by the Maxwell House Coffee fortune, had indoor displays and 9 large outdoor displays by Plensa in an installation called Human Landscape.  The individual pieces of the display, like much of Plensa’s work, are about the human form. 

My favorite piece in the Human Landscape installation is Awilda & Irma.  It is the central piece of the installation, attracts the most attention, and Plensa considers it his most beautiful work.

Awilda & Irma, designed for Cheekwood in 2014, is an open, stainless steel, mesh, outdoor sculpture of two heads that allow light and the surrounding landscape to be part of the work.  The sculpture appears to float in the middle of a Cheekwood pond in the Robinson Family Water Garden making water part of the experience. Each head is 13 feet tall and weighs 1,300 pounds.

During the day, you can see through the sculpture and it has a subtle presence.  At night, lighting gives it a glow that dominates the landscape.

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 17 Oct 2015 08:13:00 GMT
The Bang This Twins The Bang This TwinsNashville has always had more than its share of characters and they keep coming, attracted by fame, fortune, the music business, and, sometimes, just a little attention. I was doing a video shoot of an artist at Oktoberfest in Nashville’s Germantown district when the Bang This Identical Twins magically appeared. I usually see them on Nashville’s Lower Broadway but I have the feeling they will go wherever crowds gather and wherever there are likely to be cameras.

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Nashville has always had more than its share of characters and they keep coming, attracted by fame, fortune, the music business, and, sometimes, just a little attention.  I was doing a video shoot of an artist at Oktoberfest in Nashville’s Germantown district when The Bang This Identical Twins magically appeared.  I usually see them on Nashville’s Lower Broadway but I have the feeling they will go wherever crowds gather and wherever there are likely to be cameras.

The Twins always wear matching outfits right down to, in this appearance, cowboy hats, sunglasses, belts and buckles, cargo pants, sneakers, matching hairdos and facial hair, and ever changing t-shirts emblazoned with their slogan – Bang This.

The Twins will break into a synchronized dance when there’s music in the air and there’s always music in the air in Nashville.  They play to pretty girls and cameras.  For some unknown reason, when a pretty girl or a guy tries to dance with them, they move away.  When they saw me shooting DSLR video, I was one of their targets.  I shot a cellphone video of most of their synchronized dance.

The Twins never solicit donations like many buskers and street performers do.  I’m not sure what Bang This success would mean to them – certainly not a record contract; maybe yet another YouTube video or an appearance in some tourist’s Nashville photos and videos.  Maybe just making a pretty girl smile when she looks at them.

I’ve never heard the Twins talk except for one line they speak in unison in a very country dialect at the end of a synchronized dance, “If you don’t bang it, somebody will.”

After I filmed the Twins’ synchronized dance, my attention turned back to my DSLR video.  Then, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around.  It was one of the Twins wordlessly handing me a small scrap of paper with the words Google Bang This scrawled in pencil.  Great PR, Bang This, you made my blog.

Nashville characters come and go, spreading wonder, smiles, and quirky memories during their time in the not-the-big-time spotlight.

There was the Mutt & Jeff pair of Big Junior and Muscles who were granted backstage access to the Grand Ole Opry when it was at the Ryman Auditorium near Lower Broadway and were loved and protected by all the Opry artists. 

Big Junior was a big, strong, highly suggestable man who worked for Purity Milk and was said to carry two huge metal milk containers when it took two other employees to carry one.  Muscles was a scrawny street person who rarely spoke and wore several pair of pants to keep warm in the winter while selling newspapers on the street.  He was always welcome to get out of the cold backstage at the Ryman.

Jerry Rivers and Don Helms, two of Hank Williams Senior’s band, were playing with walkie talkies at the Opry when Big Junior heard a voice that no one else claimed to hear.  Jerry or Don, on the distant walkie talkie, convinced Big Junior that he was the long deceased Hank Williams and he was sending St. Peter down in a golden chariot to pick Big Junior up at a corner on Lower Broad.

When Jerry and Don left the Opry about midnight, they saw Big Junior still standing on the Lower Broadway corner waiting for St. Peter in his golden chariot.  They could only convince him to go home when Hank Williams spoke again from the walkie talkie telling Big Junior there was a mistake and it was another Junior whose time was up.

And then, there were the Thompson Twins.  They were from Michigan or some northern state and they gained attention by standing around on a Music Row street in 100-degree summer heat wearing matching full-length fur coats and fur hats.

I realize, other than their visual presence, I know nothing of the Bang This Twins – where they’re from, where they live, what they did or do for a living, what Bang This success would mean to them – and I’d like to know more.  The next time I run into them, I plan to talk to them and learn more about their lives.  I’ll report whatever I learn on this blog.

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 14 Oct 2015 20:13:49 GMT
Mary's River Covered Bridge - Chester, IL

Mary’s River Covered Bridge is a beautiful, well maintained, bright red covered bridge that crosses over Little Mary’s River 4 ½ miles northeast of Chester, IL on highway 150.  It was constructed in 1854 and was in continuous service for 76 years until 1930.  It was closed to traffic in 1930 when another bridge over Little Mary’s River was built.  It is currently open only to pedestrians.

The bridge was originally part of an 8 or 9 foot wide planked toll road over swampy land from Breman to Chester.  A road in Chester still bears the name Old Plank Road.  The planked road and covered bridge were designed to handle wagon and ox cart traffic carrying agricultural goods to the Mississippi River at the port of Chester.

The bridge is 86 feet long, 17 feet 8 inches wide, and has a vertical clearance of 12 feet. It was constructed using native white oak timber, hand hewn throughout, and used the Burr Arch design with double arches on either side of King posts. The structure rests on its original stone abutments and with the exception of the floor, floor joists, roof, and siding, all of the original timber remains. The first roof lasted 45 years.  The floor has been replaced several times.  Steel channels have been placed under the lower chord for support.

The bridge was acquired by the State of Illinois in 1936 for the purpose of preservation and a small picnic area was built at the bridge site.

Mary’s River Covered Bridge is currently the only covered bridge in Southern Illinois.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 15 Sep 2015 07:36:03 GMT
RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival - Bell Buckle, TN Bell Buckle, TN is a small town 50 miles southeast of Nashville on the way to Chattanooga with a population of 500.

One name origin legend says that early white settlers came upon a tree with a cowbell and buckle carved in it by Indians to warn white settlers away.  A more believable legend says the cowbell and buckle were carved by surveyors to mark the area as good pastureland.  A nearby creek was named Bell Buckle Creek and the town later took its name. 

The Bell Buckle area was settled in the early 1800s.  The Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad built a rail line through Bell Buckle in 1852 and a railroad depot was built in 1853.  The town of Bell Buckle incorporated in 1856.

Bell Buckle became the major stockyard between Nashville and Chattanooga and enjoyed its greatest prosperity around 1870 when the population grew to more than 1,000.  After the railroad boom ended, the population dwindled to 300 in 1960.  Of today’s population of 500, about 15% live below the poverty line but Bell Buckle has many well preserved Victorian homes.

For a town of 500, Bell Buckle has a large voluntary fire department that serves the area with 5 fire fighting vehicles: a 1998 pumper, a 1974 pumper, a 1968 pumper, a 1994 medical truck, and a 1950 classic white pumper that was retired in 1996.

The Webb School, a college preparatory boarding and day school has been in Bell Buckle since 1886. 

Bell Buckle’s past was rooted in the railroad, stockyards, cattle, and horses but today it is best known as an arts and crafts and antique destination.  Its short main drag, Alley St., parallel to the Nashville & Chattanooga rail line, is populated by less than a dozen storefronts that house antique shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. 

A large quilt is painted on the parking area in front of the shops.  The most iconic image of Bell Buckle is a colorful mural on a building that depicts scenes from Bell Buckle’s past and present.  Another mural shows John Lee Smith, aka Big Smo, glaring at you with a barn and sunset behind him.  Big Smo is a Warner Bros. Country artist who owns Big Smo’s Kuntry Store in Bell Buckle.

If you’re hungry, there are restaurants, a tea room, coffee shops, and pies, fried pies, fudge, ice cream, banana splits, milkshakes, cobbler, and, of course, RC Colas and Moon Pies.  You can’t walk 10 feet in Bell Buckle without having another opportunity to buy a Moon Pie.  RC Colas are a little harder to find.

The annual RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival draws thousands to tiny Bell Buckle every year.  Everyone knows what an RC Cola is but many people not lucky enough to be from the South don’t know what a Moon Pie is. 

In 1917, a Chattanooga baker asked a Kentucky coalminer what kind of snack he would like to eat.  The coalminer asked for a graham cracker and marshmallow cookie dipped in chocolate.  The baker asked how big it should be and the coalminer looked up at the night sky and framed the moon with his hands.  And Moon Pies were born.  They are still made by the Chattanooga Bakery in Chattanooga, TN.

The original Moon Pie was 4” in diameter with 2 graham crackers, a marshmallow center, and they were dipped in chocolate.  You can still buy the original size and flavor but Moon Pies are also made in vanilla, strawberry, and banana versions.  A Mini Moon Pie is half the size of the original.  A Double-Decker Moon Pie is the same diameter as the original but has a 3rd graham cracker cookie.  They also come in lemon and orange flavors.  Moon Pie Crunch comes only in peanut butter or mint.  A Salted Caramel flavor was introduced in 2014.

There is a Southern custom, born out of poverty, of eating Moon Pies with an RC Cola.  This inexpensive combination acquired the nickname “the working man’s lunch”.

Big Bill Lister had a popular song of the 1950s called Gimmee an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.

There are many Southern events that celebrate Moon Pies.

An annual Moon Pie eating contest is held in Bessemer, AL.

Newport, TN holds an annual Moon Pie Festival.

A Moon Pie eating contest was started in Oneonta, AL by Wal-Mart when they discovered they had ordered too many Moon Pies.

On New Year’s Eve, Mobile, AL drops a 12 foot banana flavored Moon Pie to welcome the new year.

Moon Pies became a traditional “throw” (an item thrown from a parade float into the crowd) of Mardi Gras krewes in Mobile, AL in 1956.  Other Mardi Gras krewes followed along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Slidell, LA has the westernmost krewe to throw Moon Pies.

The annual Bell Buckle, TN RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival is the biggest event in Bell Buckle.  In addition to the Alley St. stores, there are an equal or greater number of vendors selling everything from college sports team items, Mennonite honey, fudge, peanuts, jewelry, and other goods.  A young Mennonite quartet sang Gospel music near their family's honey stand.

In the Alley St. storefronts, you can buy antiques, quilts, baskets, nick-nacks.  Signs say, “We buy junk and sell antiques.”

And in spite of spotting one or two t-shirts from previous years, you couldn’t buy a t-shirt anywhere in Bell Buckle during the RC Cola & Moon Pie Festival.  How am I supposed to prove I’ve been there and done that if I didn’t get the t-shirt?  Oh, yes…photos.

Visitors brought many dogs and one pet miniature pig the owner claims and hopes will only grow to 40 pounds – or was that 400 pounds.

People came dressed as Abraham Lincoln and, of course, an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.  A parade started late and didn’t last long.  It consisted of the Marine Corps League carrying the American flag and Marine Corp flag, 2-wheel and 3-wheel motorcycles, Abraham Lincoln, Miss RC Cola and Miss Moon Pie, the Bell Buckle 1950 retired white pumper firetruck, farm machinery, and Nashville TV news and weather reporters.  

Across the railroad tracks from the Alley St. storefronts, I was drawn to a 2-story shotgun building (deeper than it is wide) with two unearthly, alien looking sculptures in front of it.  I asked about the building and found out it was occupied by a sculptor.  The sculptor is Russ Faxon, a fine art bronze sculptor who created two famous music business sculptures in Nashville – the sculpture of Chet Atkins commissioned by Bank of America that is installed downtown at 5th and Union and the sculpture of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl commissioned by Gaylord Entertainment that is installed in the Ryman Auditorium, former and sometime home of the Grand Old Opry. 

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 22 Jul 2015 07:27:55 GMT
Blue Sea Holly - Cheekwood, Nashville Blue Sea Holly - Cheekwood, NashvilleBlue Sea Holly - Cheekwood, Nashville

I shot this image of blue sea holly, a type of eryngium, at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville on a too sunny, too muggy, too hot southern summer day.

Blue sea holly is a silver-blue annual perennial herb known by many names: eryngium, eryngo, sea holly, blue sea holly, and big blue.  Though it borrows the name, it is not a holly. 

Well-known British garden enthusiast Ellen Wilmott loved sea holly so much she always kept some seeds in her pocket. If she came upon a garden she considered to be boring, she scattered a few sea holly seeds and moved on. When the seeds sprouted in all the places Miss Wilmott visited, the plant became affectionately known as Miss Wilmott's Ghost.

I would call blue sea holly a thistle.  It has spiny leaves and a spiny, bulbous, dome-shaped umbel that makes it deer proof.  Deer might get a mouthful of blue sea holly once but never again.

Although native to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and Iran, in the Americas, eryngium is most prolific and diverse in South America.  It is a hearty plant that tolerates drought, wind, salt sprays, and sandy soil. It is most at home in grassland areas but can be seen in rocky and coastal areas as well.  And it is a very popular addition to flowerbeds, floral arrangements, and wedding bouquets.

Blue sea holly thrives in full sun and moist, sandy soil with good drainage but its long taproot that goes deep in the earth to seek moisture allows it to survive poor soil conditions and drought.  Because of its long taproot, blue sea holly doesn’t transplant well but is easily grown from seed.

It is a great plant for difficult environments and, when planted on the perimeter of a garden, will help deter deer.  It will also attract butterflies.

Variations of eryngium are used as folk medicine in Turkey, to relieve scorpion stings in Jordan, and as an anti-inflammatory treatment in many parts of the world.

The roots can be used as vegetables; young shoots and leaves can be used as an asparagus-like vegetable; and it is used as a spice and sometimes called spiny cilantro or coriander because it is easily mistaken for those spices. 

Look but don’t touch.  Like deer, you may have a bad encounter with blue sea holly’s spiny leaves and spiny umbel once…but never again.

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[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 17 Jun 2015 07:33:00 GMT
Steel City Jug Slammers - Lower Broad, Nashville

I took the Music City Star train to Riverfront and LoBro (Lower Broadway) in Nashville to walk around and test a camera when I saw a band of 6 mostly tattooed, buskers (street performers) across the street at the not open for business 219 Broadway.  I was intrigued by the look and sound but only took one photo across 4 lanes of traffic and planned to see them up close on the way back to the train.  Later, when I crossed the street and headed back, the band was on a break.  My loss.

When I looked at the photo I took, I found the band was a jug band called Steel City Jug Slammers from Birmingham, AL – aka Steel City.  They are used to busking and playing small venues in Birmingham, Nashville, and around the country but have also appeared on PBS’ Prairie Home Companion out of St. Paul, MN.

Steel City Jug Slammers can best be described as a Leon Redbone-ish, early 1900s, Delta blues, juke joint, jug band that just plays fun music.  Their choice of instruments is eclectic and born out of the poverty of another era.  There is a 4-string plectrum style banjo (not a 5-string like Earl Scruggs played), 2 guitars (one a low priced Harmony starter guitar from long ago), a Kazoo, a mandolin banjo (tuned with double strings like a mandolin but with a banjo resonator), a washtub bass (a single wire string attached to a #5 washtub as a resonator on one end and a stick on the other end that is pulled taunt to change pitches), and, of course, no jug band would be complete without a jug that is blown into to produce pitches. Steel City Jug Slammers has at least 2 jug players.

Check out She’s Long Gone, Steel City Jug Slammers’ latest video shot partially in front of The Peanut Depot on cobblestoned, Victorian, gas lamp lit Morris Avenue in Birmingham where peanuts are still being roasted in 100 year old roasters with no oil or preservatives – a fitting setting for Steel City Jug Slammers.

She's Long Gone - Steel City Jug Slammers



[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 11 Jun 2015 12:07:00 GMT
The Downtown Presbyterian Church - Nashville, TN The Downtown Presbyterian Church - Nashville, TNThe Downtown Presbyterian Church - Nashville, TN The Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, formerly named the First Presbyterian Church, is designated a National Historic Landmark for good reasons, including its historic value and because it is one of the country’s finest surviving ecclesiastical examples of Egyptian Revival architecture.

The church was built in 1816, burned down in 1832, and was rebuilt that same year.  The second structure also burned in 1848 and was rebuilt as the present day church.  As of today, congregations have worshipped there for 200 years.

The present day sanctuary was designed by William Strickland who also designed the Tennessee State Capitol. 

Egyptian Revival architecture was widely reported on in Western publications at the time the sanctuary was commissioned and was used in the building's construction.  A winged sun on the edifice represents the pagan Ra the Sun God – an odd ornament for a Christian church.

Regardless of the juxtaposition of pagan and Christian symbols, the now named Downtown Presbyterian Church is a Nashville and national treasure.  The sanctuary is a tableau of three dimensional columns and painted, two dimensional backdrops in vibrant, warm colors and Egyptian themed geometric patterns.  The dimly lit interior makes it hard for a camera to capture the beauty of the sanctuary the eye can see.

In 1858, a decade after the church was rebuilt for the second time, a pipe organ was installed at the rear of the sanctuary.  During the Civil War, the Union Army occupied the church and everything, including the pipe organ, was removed.

After the Civil War, restitution was made to the church and, in 1913, the current pipe organ was installed.  It had 37 ranks, 2,130 pipes, and also had a chime system and echo organ installed in the balcony.

The organ was renovated in 1972 and again in 2008.  The latest renovation included re-leathering 250 manual motors and updating the internal parts of the echo organ.  The organ now has 40 stop actions, 20 pedal borrows, and 85 large and small pedal pouches.

The shiny metal pipes of the pipe organ tower over the dais in the sanctuary and add drama and a modern element to the Egyptian scene.  The pipe organ and choir perform each Sunday and an annual pipe organ recital draws people from all over the country.

When the Downtown Presbyterian Church was still known as First Presbyterian Church, Andrew Jackson, later President Andrew Jackson, was a member.  After then Major General Andrew Jackson’s decisive victory over the British in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans, the State of Tennessee presented him with a ceremonial sword on the steps of the original church.

Tennessee Governor James K. Polk was inaugurated in the second, smaller sanctuary in 1839.

In the 1860s, the present church building was seized by Federal forces and served as a military hospital during the Civil War.  It temporarily became Nashville's Union Hospital No. 8 with 206 beds.

The church was used by Nashville's citizens as a refuge from the floods of 1927 and 1937, by soldiers during the Second World War when soldiers on leave slept there by the thousands, and presently, as an active social ministry to the less fortunate. 

In 1954, the then named First Presbyterian Church congregation decided to move to the suburbs and the downtown church faced possible demolition.  The church building was sold to members who wanted to continue to worship at the old, historic site and, in 1955, the name was changed to the Downtown Presbyterian Church.

As an urban church, the primary ministry of the Downtown Presbyterian Church today is helping the homeless.  The church houses The Contributor, a homeless advocate newspaper, founded by a Downtown Presbyterian Church member, that seems to be sold at every Nashville intersection by the “homeless or formerly homeless”.

The church also houses Open Table, a non-profit, interfaith organization that helps place the homeless in permanent housing.

The morning I shot the image of the sanctuary, I passed a line of people waiting to enter a side door to The Contributor office.  And then, I opened the wrong door and entered a room where many homeless people were eating and using computers, I suppose, to access the internet.

For over a decade, the 3rd floor of the church has been a place for artists.  Art is created there, currently by 8 artists, and there are regular art exhibits and an annual Art Crawl.  The artists give back by donating time and energy to the homeless ministry and hosting the Hodge Podge Lodge, an art camp for kids.

The church is also a meeting place for Alcoholics Anonymous. 

And, finally, the church is a wonderful place for a wedding.  You don’t have to be a member to secure a wedding date but you do have to apply online and post a deposit.  I’d love to shoot a wedding in the church's Egyptian Revival sanctuary with the 100 year-old organ playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Richard Wagner’s popularly named Here Comes the Bride.

The Downtown Presbyterian Church is a beautiful place with an important place in Nashville history and a heart for the Nashville homeless and downtrodden of today. 

My next visit will be to hear the choir and pipe organ on a Sunday morning.

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:35:42 GMT
Sadieville, KY  

Sadieville is a unique name for a picturesque, hilly, historic Kentucky town about 30 miles north of Lexington, KY and about a third of the way along the route from Lexington to Cincinnati, OH.

During the Civil War, the area that became Sadieville was a horse refresh station on Eagle Creek where riders would swap for a fresh horse and continue their journey.

The Cincinnati Southern Railroad (CSR) built a railway through the area in 1876.  A post office was established on the CSR railway in 1878 and was named Sadieville after a prominent local resident, Sarah Martha “Sadie” Emison Pack.  The city of Sadieville was incorporated in 1880.  Because of its position on the CSR railway, it quickly became a post-Civil War railroad town, the largest US market for shipping yearling mules and colts, and a shipment center for Central Kentucky agricultural products.

Between 1917 and 1920, Julius Rosenwald, a German-Jewish immigrant’s son who was a founder, part owner, and president of Sears, Roebuck & Company, and well-known black educator, Booker T. Washington, built thousands of what came to be called Rosenwald Schools for black children across the rural south. 

Building funds were raised in the local communities to promote collaboration between black and white citizens and Rosenwald matched the amount raised.  The Sadieville Rosenwald School was built at a cost of $2,500 using architectural plans from the professors at Tuskegee Institute.  It is the only Kentucky Rosenwald School still standing in its original location.

The Sadieville Rosenwald School and the Sadieville Historic District are on the National Register of Historic places.

In 1941, Sadieville resident Robert H. Brooks was the first US Armed Services casualty or World War II and the main parade ground at Ft. Knox, KY was named Brooks Field in his honor.

It’s hard to ignore Sadieville’s history as a railroad town.  A sharp s-curve under a railroad bridge leads immediately to the block-long Main Street downtown area and past City Park where a Cincinnati Southern Railroad caboose is on display. 

A sign with a picture of a steam locomotive welcomes you to “a historic Cincinnati Southern rail town”.  At the height of Sadieville’s railroad boom, the population was about 900.  Today, diesel trains still barrel through but have no reason to stop and the population has dwindled to fewer than 300 people.  Frequent trains pass through the downtown area at cruising speed with a deafening rumble and shake that reminds you of a time when the trains used to stop here.

There is ample parking downtown but few visitors.  I walked around taking photos and talking to friendly people in the post office and recently reopened general store with an antique LaFayette luxury motorcar parked out front.

The driver of a passing car rolled his window down and said, “You must own the car with Nashville plates.”

A young Amish couple said hello.

Another young couple pushed a baby in a stroller down a steep hill to meet their school-aged daughter’s school bus.

A Heinz 57 dog walked with purpose to a leaf filled curb, used his nose to cover a bone or other prize for later, and walked on with a confident swagger.

Life goes on in Sadieville.

The few downtown businesses and public buildings were mostly closed with signs in the windows announcing the days and hours you might find them open.

The newly built and newly painted City Hall contrasted with older buildings with peeling paint, broken windows, and yards scattered with debris.

The three taverns from the heyday of the railroad town are closed but the Amazing Grace church is open on Sunday.

Just outside of downtown Sadieville, there is a mixture of old, decaying structures and new homes.  There are rural roads that lead through beautiful landscapes.  Every driver or pedestrian waves as you pass by.

I love small towns with character and stories to tell like Sadieville, KY.  You have to get off the interstate to see them but this is where most of America lives.  

Click here to see more photos...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 19 Mar 2015 11:42:21 GMT
Cowan, TN Steam Locomotive #1 Engine #1 - Steam Locomotive - Columbia Type (2-4-2) - 1920 Cowan Railroad Museum - Cowan, TN - March 2012Engine #1 - Steam Locomotive - Columbia Type (2-4-2) - 1920 Cowan Railroad Museum - Cowan, TN - March 2012

Steam Locomotive #1 is on display at the Cowan Railway Museum in Cowan, TN, a small town of fewer than 1,800 inhabitants about 50 miles northwest of Chattanooga, TN and 12 miles west of Monteagle, TN which, at 2000 feet, is the highest Cumberland Plateau elevation on I-24 between Nashville and Chattanooga.

The small steam locomotive was built by the Whyte System in 1920 and designated as a Columbia Type (2-4-2) locomotive.

Under the Whyte notation for classification of steam locomotives, 2-4-2 represents the wheel arrangement of two leading wheels on one axle, four powered and coupled driving wheels on two axles, and two trailing wheels on one axle. This locomotive type is sometimes called Columbia after an earlier locomotive of the 2-4-2 arrangement.

It was formerly a tenderless, tank-style locomotive.  A tender or coal-car is a railcar hauled by steam locomotives that carries its fuel (wood, coal, or oil) and water.

This locomotive was later converted with the addition of a small homemade tender and the removal of the side or saddle tank (the water tank carried above the boiler of some steam locomotives). The oversized cab formerly contained a small coal bunker at its rear.

This 2-4-2 locomotive is a very rare make and was first owned by Mr. William Elliott Dunwady, owner of the Cherokee Brick Company in Macon, GA, about 1920. 

It was especially suited for the brick company's needs and pulled six yard side cars loaded with clay from the clay pits to the foundry.  The locomotive's engine size was limited for two reasons:  it did not pull great weights and it had to be small to function on the Cherokee Brick Company line.

About June 1, 1964, Mr. Walter, former president of the National Railroad and Historical Society, purchased the engine from the Cherokee Brick Company.  Mr. Walter had it rebuilt and reworded by the Charleston, SC Chapter of the National Railroad and Historical Society.  The little engine was used to pull thousands of people in many South Carolina functions.

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga acquired the locomotive and sold it to the Cowan Railway Museum in 1979 where it has been on display since then.

It was last run in the early 1970’s.  The engine was repainted in 2008.

Although Steam Locomotive #1 no longer runs, you can stand in the little engine’s cab as the big diesel-pulled freights come roaring through Cowan, TN on the now busy CSX line.  You’ll get the feeling of another era from the vibration as you hear the powerful pushers approaching with speed to hit the 2-mile, 2% grade up to the Cumberland Mountain Tunnel that passes southbound through the Cumberland Mountains.

Today, since the loss of a couple of sustaining businesses and a dwindling population, Cowan is struggling to find its place but it is a wonderful small town to visit, just 12 miles off I-24.

If you’re inspired to visit Cowan, don’t miss a great cabinet maker/woodworker’s shop in the small downtown and a surprisingly good, locally owned, nicely decorated Italian Restaurant, Sernicola’s, just across the rails from the Cowan Railway Museum.  Sernicola's owners are the second or third generation of Italian immigrates who came to America in 1922 to escape the political pressures of Mussolini's dictatorship.  They use family recipes and get new inspiration from their trips to Italy.  They had just returned from Italy when I was there. 

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sat, 07 Mar 2015 09:52:08 GMT
Marathon Motor Works

There is an old red brick building you can see from the Interstate when traveling through the western urban area of Nashville. 

It is a massive, block-long, two-story building and has a brick tower in the center that rises to four stories – two stories above the main structure.  Bricks have fallen off the tower, windows are broken, and it is open to the elements. 

The remains of a smokestack that I believe was once twice its current height has a small tree that has taken root and grows out of the top of the smokestack.

A water tower is covered with graffiti and graffiti covers the back of the building.

This building looks like a classic location for a daring and dangerous photography trend called UrbEx (Urban Exploration) where photographers gain access, legally or not, to an abandoned building and take High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos of the building’s decay.

But this building is not abandoned and has a history even many Nashville residents who pass by it regularly are not aware of.

The main building was constructed in 1881 as The Phoenix Cotton Mill, aka The Nashville Cotton Mill.  By 1910, the building was vacant.

The next tenant was Sherman Manufacturing, a Jackson, TN company started in 1874, sold in 1884, and renamed Southern Engine & Boiler Works. They produced gasoline engines and boilers. 

In 1906, Southern Engine produced its first automobile under the name Southern.  When it was learned that another company was manufacturing a car named Southern, Southern Engine renamed their car Marathon in honor of the 1904 Olympics.

In 1910, Southern Engine bought the Phoenix Cotton Mill building and built Marathon Motor Cars there from 1910 until 1914 when bad management caused them to go out of business.

The building remained open with a small number of workers producing parts, presumably for Marathon Motor Cars, until 1918, and then, sat empty until 1922 when Werthan Bag purchased it to manufacture cotton bags.

After more changes in ownership and periods of disuse, Barry Walker, a Jackson, TN native, purchased the building in 1986 and spearheaded the Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of The Phoenix Cotton Mill/Marathon Motor Works building.

The Marathon Motor Works building is one of many buildings in a 4 block area that comprise Marathon Village.  Most of the buildings were built between 1881 and 1912 and are in a constant state of renovation and repair.

The gentrification of business properties in urban neighborhoods is often led by the artistic community – artists, musicians, etc., looking for affordable rental property. 

Today, the building emblazoned in caps with the name MARATHON MOTOR WORKS and the surrounding 4 blocks of Marathon Village are home to artists, galleries, sculptors, painters, print makers, architects, graphic designers, film production companies, recording studios, advertising agencies, photographers, a radio station, an antique store, a distillery, and supporting coffee shops and a health club.

The 1881 bricks in the Marathon Motor Works building look like they were molded by hand; they are not uniform shapes like modern bricks.  There are areas where you can see old and new brick side by side for comparison – repaired areas and new walls.

The support beams in the Marathon Motor Works building are roughly hewn, not machine milled.

The second floor has wood flooring, probably from the 1800s – worn and patched but beautiful.

The ceilings are so high a few rooms were added between the floor and ceiling with staircases leading up to them.

Modern wiring for phones, internet, etc., is visibly suspended from the ceiling and run in every direction beside plumbing lines.

There are sculptures in the halls made from old auto parts.

A chandelier is made from old tires and new bulbs with large filaments that are made to look old.

An ad for a cylinder reboring jig hangs on the wall and the jig is nearby.

Marathon ads and posters decorate the walls.

An open air courtyard is bordered by the back wall of the building and a wall that no longer supports a roof.  The courtyard can only be accessed through the building.

A plaque put up by the State of Tennessee commemorates the time – 1914 to 1918 – when Marathon Motor Cars were made in the building.

I saw a lot of people heading to a first floor, street access business and stopped someone to ask what was going on.  The answer was American Pickers.

I haven’t seen the History Channel’s American Pickers reality TV show but the most often asked question I get from out of town visitors is about its location.  I can finally tell them it is in the Marathon Motor Works building.  Well, not exactly.

American Pickers was created by Mike Wolfe who works out of his home base store, Antique Archaeology, in Le Claire, Iowa.  A second Antique Archaeology store is in Nashville in the Marathon Motor Works building. 

The store was small and very crowded but I got a few photos.  Typical for Nashville, a band was performing in the store and a three-neck pedal-less steel guitar was one of the treasures for sale.

 Click here to see more images...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 09 Jan 2015 08:06:07 GMT
Gatlinburg Rivers

These images were taken at two of my favorite rivers in the Gatlinburg area – the Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River near Pittman Center, TN and Little River in Townsend, TN.

The Middle Fork of the Little Pigeon River in these images is in Greenbrier, a valley within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that is surrounded by several of the tallest peaks in the Appalachian Mountain chain, including the 6,593’ Mount LeConte.  Greenbrier is about 9 miles northeast of Gatlinburg.

Cherokee Indians were the first inhabitants of Greenbrier.  Benjamin Christenberry Parton, who survived a gunshot wound to the head during the Civil War, arrived in Greenbrier sometime in the 1850s. Benjamin Christenberry Parton was the great, great grandfather of Dolly Parton.

Little River runs through the small town of Townsend, TN, about 22 miles west of Gatlinburg.  Townsend is one of the major gateways to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Cade’s Cove, the park’s most popular tourist destination that attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.

Townsend is much smaller and less touristy than Gatlinburg – unlike Gatlinburg, you can get from one end of Townsend to the other in way less than an hour.  One of the major Townsend summertime attractions is tubing down the Little River; the river was full of people on brightly colored rented tubes.

Except for a few tubing photos, all images were shot with Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND variable neutral density/circular polarizing filter.

Click here to see more images...

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 01 Jul 2014 01:25:00 GMT
Louisville Mega Cavern Mega QuestMega Quest

This is a long post with a link to more photos at the end.

When my brother and I were kids, family road trips were long (before the interstate), dangerous (two-lane winding roads), uncomfortable (before auto air conditioning), and boring (before FM radio, cassettes, CDs, and smart phones).

Our break from the boredom of road trips came when we saw the next series of Burma Shave signs or the next series of billboards that announced a cave ahead.

Caves were always a mixture of excitement and disappointment.  “This natural formation looks like bacon and eggs”.  Oh, really.  That’s all you’ve got.  Bacon and eggs?  Really?

Luray Caverns in VA, Ruby Falls in TN, Meramec Caverns in MO, and Mammoth Cave in KY were well advertised and well-known.  Louisville Mega Cavern may be well-known to Louisville natives but, 180 miles away in Nashville, I haven’t found anyone who was aware of it, even though they may have driven over it thousands of times.

Mega Cavern is a huge, privately owned, man-made cavern that was excavated in the 1930s to quarry limestone.  Its 17 miles of corridors sit under all 10 lanes of the Watterson Expressway, the interstate 264 southern loop around Louisville, the Louisville Zoo, and businesses, including Wendy’s.  Mega Cavern has or has had many lives.

Its original purpose was to quarry limestone.  Limestone is used in architecture and in the filtering process for Kentucky’s large bourbon industry.

During the cold war, Mega Cavern served as a secret nuclear survival bunker that could house 50,000 people.  A priority list was maintained that included soldiers from nearby Fort Knox, Kentucky politicians and VIPs, and famous Kentuckians.  Colonel Sanders was on the privileged list; but the average Kentucky citizen wasn't.

For a time, Mega Cavern maintained a nuclear fallout shelter survival pantry but, as the food aged, it had to be removed and replaced.  The nuclear survival pantry was eventually discontinued.

Today, limestone is still being quarried.  A company is producing large squares of limestone – about 4’ x 4’ and about 2” thick – for use in upscale restaurants and architecture.

Storage is a big business for Mega Cavern.  Anything that can be stored is there – boats, motorhomes, business records, amusement park rides, etc.  Large cargo containers that are seen on tractor trailers, trains, and cargo ships are stacked on top of each other – contents unknown to the visitor.

The State of Kentucky and City of Louisville store salt for snowy roads.  When I was there, the salt supplies for Kentucky and Louisville were depleted.

Mega Cavern is a dump – a recycle center, a landfill.  Landfill material built up the floors in many areas.

Mega Cavern is classified as a building because its limestone supports are five times as strong as require for buildings. It is the largest building in Kentucky.

And it is a green building.  It stays at a constant temperature of about 60 degrees without air conditioning or heat.  Trash is recycled by worms.

In the traffic areas of Mega Cavern, the limestone walls are painted white to help light the area with lower wattage lights.

Louisville Mega Cavern, the tourist attraction, was unveiled in 2009.  There are at least four entrances that can carry two or more lanes of traffic plus the entrance for Mega Cavern visitors.  The first thing you see after a long walk from the parking lot to the visitor entrance is a large underground room with tables and chairs.  A gift shop is at one end of the room and Mega Quest is at the other end.

This 16,000 square foot room, through Mega Events, can host up to 250 people for dinner and up to 350 people for meetings.  It is available for rent for corporations, schools, churches, etc.

Mega Quest is a well-constructed aerial ropes obstacle course with suspension bridges, ladders, cargo nets, mini zip lines, cat walks, etc. – 76 rope elements in all.  It is a popular European import that is part mountain climbing and part caving and gives the illusion of danger while being perfectly safe for ages 5 to adults.

You wear an orange helmet with a caver’s red light and a safety harness that is attached to thick metal cables.  The height of the course ranges from ground level to about 15 feet.

Kudos to the lighting director.  Mega Quest is awash with soft hues of reds, greens, blues, yellows, magentas, and cyans as red helmet lights move throughout the course – beautiful to look at but hard to photograph well.

How big is Louisville Mega Cavern?  Big enough that it houses Mega Cavern’s newest attraction.  Mega Zips – up to 2 hours of zip lines and two challenge bridges – is advertised as the world’s only underground zip line.  Yes, advertised.  Mega Cavern seems to have mounted an advertising campaign for Mega Zips that is sure to attract more visitors. One mom told me she brought her daughter to Mega Quest after seeing a Groupon offer.

Mega Zips has no photo ops other than the end of the zip line near Mega Quest where returning zippers zip into a red net.  I met with a very helpful manager who told me he would not recommend taking an expensive camera on the zip line.  Advice taken but, on my next trip, I’ll go on the zip line without my camera.

Mega Tram is an hour long tram ride through Mega Cavern.  It is fascinating but tacky and is the one part of Mega Cavern that should be and could be brought up to the modern standard of Mega Quest and Mega Zips.  It’s as if the tour guide’s dialog, the staging, and the lighting were created in the 1950s and never changed.

At one point, the tram stops and a short film from the Eisenhower era talks about the prospect of nuclear war and nuclear survival.  The film should segue into footage about current nuclear threats but it is stuck in the 50s.

At another stop, cheesy department store mannequins with bad wigs wearing 1950s leisurewear stand in the middle of camping gear – about 6 people per acre – to simulate life in the cavern after a nuclear attack.  It could only be tackier if one of the mannequins was Colonel Sanders.

Mega Tram depends on lighting but could use the talents of the person who lit Mega Quest.  The lighting is often a single, harsh, white, too bright light at ground level that casts shadows of department store mannequins on the cavern walls.  Tacky.

At one stop, the tour guide pointed out a natural formation that, if you used your imagination, looked like an Indian princess.  Oh, really?  It looked like bacon and eggs to me.

And here’s a modern, green, different kind of tacky.  Since Mega Cavern is a green building, trash such as paper towels from the restrooms gets recycled by worms.

At the worm recycle tram stop where newly delivered trash sat waiting its turn in unrecyclable plastic bags, the young tour guide told us that survivalists – possibly surviving a nuclear attack – are trained to eat worms and he educated us about the fine art of eating a worm.  You don’t choose a wiggler.  You don’t chew the worm; they are bitter.  You just swallow them as quickly as possible.  Right.

Then the tour guide looked through a shoe box on top of the trash, selected a worm, and ate it.  But before he ate the selected worm, he put it under a light and inspected it.  You don’t want a bit of dirt on your worm dinner.

Eating worms seems to be the job requirement for tour guides.  Since tours run every hour, a tour guide can snack on 5 or 6 worms in the course of a day.  And someone has to restock the shoebox with good worm candidates each day.  I wonder if they'll put those jobs on their resumes.

But, even with all the tackiness of the Mega Tram, it is an hour well spent.

And finally, each Christmas, Mega Cavern is transformed into Lights Under Louisville with 2 million lights in over 850 30 minute drive-through, underground Christmas displays.

Louisville Mega Cavern has something for everyone and, with their new advertising campaigns, may be on the edge of wider discovery.

Click to see more images.

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 01 Jun 2014 15:24:39 GMT
Tennessee Renaissance Festival - 2014

Here are a few portraits from the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.  I call these random drive-by shootings.  You spot your subject and have seconds to shoot.  Sometimes the subject will slow down or stop but often they are on the move.

All or most of these were shot with a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8 while testing 3D focus tracking on my new Nikon D800.

Click to see more images

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 26 May 2014 17:58:01 GMT
Thunder Over Louisville - 2014

Thunder Over Louisville is an annual airshow and fireworks event that has been part of the Kentucky Derby Festival since 1990.  Thunder attracts between 600,000 and 800,000 people to Waterfront Park on the Ohio riverbank in downtown Louisville where riverboats including the Belle of Louisville are docked.

The Thunder airshow starts at 3 pm and goes until 9 pm when the fireworks begin.  This year’s airshow didn’t include as many aircraft as the first Thunder I saw but it was still impressive.  The main attraction was an hour long demonstration by the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic flight squadron flying six F/A-18 Hornets in amazing synchronized maneuvers.

Other military, corporate, and private aircraft ranged from biplanes to the F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter.

Click to see more images

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:52:46 GMT
Mission San Juan Capistrano Mission San Juan CapistranoMission San Juan Capistrano Mission San Juan Capistrano is California’s best known Spanish Catholic Mission.  It is about 60 miles north of San Diego where Europeans first came ashore in present day California in 1542 at Point Loma.  The Mission is roughly halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles and about 4 miles inland near the San Juan Creek, aka the San Juan River, the Mission’s source of water, which flows into the Pacific Ocean.

The Mission was named for Giovanni da Capistrano, an Italian “warrior priest”.  The site of San Juan Capistrano was first settled in 1775 but abandoned for a time due to unrest in the indigenous population – mostly Juaneño Indians – then, finally settled in 1776.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was abandoned later in 1775 after Indians killed one of the missionaries.  Before they left, the missionaries buried the two Mission bells to keep them safe.  When they returned a year later, they dug up the bells.  I have a photo in my gallery that I believe is of those two original Mission bells.

It is no surprise that Spanish Missions look like forts.  Missionaries were foreign conquistador invaders and their presence meant the future was grim for California Indians and North American Indians in general.

I heard a quote that was attributed to California Indians – “When the Missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’  We closed our eyes and, when we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

I traced that quote to Desmond Tutu’s 2004 book Desmond Tutu: A Biography in reference to European Missionaries in Africa but it is reported that Tutu borrowed the quote that had been around for many years – maybe from California Indians.  Whatever the origin, the quote fits the early European settlement of California.  California Missions existed for unequal parts of soul saving and real estate acquisition. 

But I wasn’t at Mission San Juan Capistrano to look at its religious or historic past from a modern day perspective but to take photos of its architecture, adobe structures, masonry, doors, windows, and floors that fascinated me on my last visit.

The Great Stone Church, a European style structure, was laid out in the shape of a cross with six vaulted domes was the only church in Alta California (California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Western Colorado, and Southwestern Wyoming) made of sandstone instead of adobe.  It was designed and under construction by expert Mexican stonemason Isídro Aguilár when an earthquake in 1797 cracked the rising walls.

Repairs were made but Aguilár died six years into the project and the chapel was completed by padres who didn’t have Aguilár’s stonemason skills and their Indian workers.

The church was completed in 1806 only to be leveled in an 1812 earthquake that killed 40 Indian worshipers.  One wall remained that reveals the church’s crude masonry, probably the handiwork of Indian labor, which certainly doesn’t rival the masonry of Incan Indians.

The Great Church was never rebuilt and services were moved to Serra Chapel, named after Father Junipero Serra whose statue standing in front of a cross with a young Indian boy is in the Mission’s Sacred Garden.  Serra Chapel is California’s oldest standing structure.  It was built in 1782 and, after its interrupted use as a granary and storeroom, is still used for religious services.  The altarpiece in Serra Chapel was hand-carved from 396 individual pieces of cherrywood and overlaid in gold leaf in Barcelona and is estimated to be 400 years old (a photo of Serra Chapel is in my gallery).

Among the adobe and sandstone structures, a sturdy but incongruous brick bell wall was built between the ruins of The Great Church and the Mission’s first chapel.  The wall overlooks the Sacred Garden where Father Junipero Serra’s statue stands, holds the four bells salvaged from the ruins, and supports the wall of the ruins of The Great Church.

The Mission is famous for the annual springtime Return of the Swallows from their winter home in Argentina which inspired hits by both The Ink Spots and Glenn Miller in 1940 of the song When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. 

In 1910, D.W. Griffith filmed Two Brothers starring Mary Pickford at the Mission.  Mary Pickford married actor Owen Moore in the Mission Chapel.  A contemporaneous painting by Charles Percy Austin after Father John O’Sullivan performed the ceremony shows the wedding taking place in front of the ruins of The Great Church.

California’s first vineyard was at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779.

I walked around the Mission for about an hour before exiting through the gift shop – I didn’t buy the t-shirt or adobe brick house kit.

Click to see more images

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Sun, 02 Feb 2014 08:46:45 GMT
Point Loma - San Diego Lighthouse StairwellLighthouse Stairwell Point Loma – loma is Spanish for hill – is a hilly San Diego peninsula that defines San Diego Bay; the bay is on Point Loma’s eastern side and the Pacific Ocean is on the western side.

In 1542, Point Loma was the landing place of the first European expedition led by Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to what is now known as California.  It is where California began.

High atop Point Loma you overlook the city of San Diego, the San Diego Bay, military bases, and the Coronado peninsula, home of the Hotel del Coronado, a magnificent wooden Victorian hotel built in 1888 and still a premiere San Diego destination. 

The old Point Loma Lighthouse, a two-story lighthouse built in 1884, is on the southern tip of the peninsula, 422 feet above sea level, and can be seen all over San Diego. 

Because the lighthouse was often not visible to ocean traffic in the fog and clouds, a new lighthouse closer to sea level and below most fog and clouds was built on Point Loma in 1891.  The old lighthouse is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is open to the public.

Just down the hill from the lighthouse, there’s a sculpture of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to discover Point Loma and California.  The lighthouse and sculpture are both within the Cabrillo National Monument.

I had 30 minutes to shoot the lighthouse and was determined to get a shot I missed when I was last at Point Loma seven years ago – the Point Loma Lighthouse stairwell.  It isn’t easy to shoot the stairwell when there is a steady stream of traffic but I finally got a couple of shots I like.  One of those images is in this blog. 

My friends and I left Point Loma and went across the San Diego Bay to the Hotel del Coronado where I shot a sunset image of Point Loma.  I was lucky to capture two military jets in the sunset returning to the naval base in the San Diego bay.

Click to see more images


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 31 Jan 2014 00:13:36 GMT
Wonders of Flight Near the top of everyone’s bucket list is the wish to take a ride in a hot air balloon.  Hot air balloon rides can be costly but now you can experience a balloon thrill at a reasonable price in tethered balloon rides that are cropping up all over the country.

Aerophile, a French company, has installed their “tethered gas balloons” all over the world, including Las Vegas, Branson, San Diego, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Pigeon Forge (Gatlinburg).

The Aerophile installation in Pigeon Forge is called Wonders of Flight.  The balloon is 100’ tall and rises to a height of 500’.  In place of the normal wicker basket that holds 4 or 5 passengers, an Aerophile balloon has a donut shaped metal basket that can hold 30 passengers. 

On the day I was there, the balloon installation was about 3 weeks old and they were limiting flights to 6 passengers.  I felt like I was beta testing a hot air balloon – if this works, we’ll put 30 passengers in it.  We were asked to disperse the weight more or less evenly around the donut basket and not to move around or shake the basket.

The basket is surrounded by netting to discourage jumpers, I suppose, and make photography with a large lens hood difficult.  Although the balloon is tethered, there is a pilot to control the ascent and descent, keep passenger under control, and warn of a couple of bumps that are part of the ride.

The view, even at 500’, is very nice but I won’t check hot air balloon off my bucket list until I do the real thing.  I’ve been told one of the surprises for first time balloon riders is that there is little or no wind; the wind doesn’t pass by you but pushes you along.  In a tethered balloon, you do feel the wind and, even on a relatively calm day, the balloon is bounced around a bit.

Ground control has a computer screen that displays weather information for riders and another for the people who decide when it isn’t safe to fly.  I asked the pilot what the no fly parameters were – wind speed, gusts, lightning potential, etc. – and got an evasive answer that either meant he didn’t know or didn’t want to talk about it.

There are a lot of tie down cables but I imagine strong winds might require that the balloon be deflated.

The tethering cable is very thick and goes through the donut hole in the basket.  It looks like there is redundancy in a lot of cabling but there is only one tethering cable and one tethering cable connection and anything can break.  I wanted to ask the pilot what the emergency plan was in case the cable broke but I didn’t think he’d want to talk about that possibility.  I guess, if the cable broke, we’d be in Winston-Salem in about a week.

For more photos, go to:

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Fri, 27 Sep 2013 05:57:48 GMT
Row-Loff...More Cowbell Drum and percussion literature for high schools and colleges used to be dull until the wild and crazy guys at Row-Loff Productions came along in 1990. 

With backgrounds in marching bands, national production shows, touring with big name artists, studio recording, and advertising, Chris “Crock” Crockarell and Chris Brooks developed drum and percussion literature that was fundamentally solid yet hip and entertaining.

Row-Loff’s advertising campaigns often include two bearded hipsters in sunglasses, bandanas, and purple pinstriped suits.  Like Clark Kent and Superman, Crock and Chris and the purple suited hipsters are never seen at the same time.  That's curious.

I shot a photo for Row-Loff’s new advertising campaign.  At the end of the day, we arrived at MTSU’s band room where The Band of Blue’s wall of tubas hang and instruments of every kind are neatly organized.

Crock and Chris stood in while we blocked the shot and the purple suited hipsters showed up fashionably, rock star late.  My shooting position was about 8 feet up, on top of lockers that weren’t meant to hold a photographer and camera.  As I climbed the ladder, one of the purple suited hipsters said, “I think it will hold.”  That's comforting.

The purple suited hipsters took their position in the middle of marimbas, tympani, gongs, congas, and a very small cowbell – more cowbell, please!  They were accompanied by two duck decoys and a yellow plastic parrot that still had its price tag attached.  After the shoot, an announcement was made that the purple suited hipsters had left the building.

See a few more photos at:

For more about Row-Loff Productions, go to:

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Thu, 26 Sep 2013 18:46:11 GMT
Dolly Parton Show - My People My friends Malcolm Link, Eddie Wilson, and Steve Hembree have been part of a Dollywood show for years that features Dolly Parton’s family.  The show used to be under a covered pavilion, The Back Porch Theater, but exposed to the heat, humidity, and smoke from the Dollywood Express, a narrow gauge steam engine that passed close to the pavilion. 

Dolly has completely revamped the show for 2013, moved it into the 500 seat Dreamsong Theater, and renamed it My People from a line in one of her songs, My Mountains, My Home.  The Dreamsong dressing rooms are spacious, have a common kitchen and living room complete with a large screen TV and decorations Dolly had a personal hand in.  Musicians never had it so good.

Everyone involved in the show is rightfully excited about My People and Malcolm, Eddie, and Steve have been asking when I was going to make the trip to Pigeon Forge to see it.  I finally got there last weekend when I was in Gatlinburg to shoot a wedding.

The show starts with Dolly, projected on a very large screen, reading a letter she wrote to her parents when she moved to Nashville in the early 60s.  She told them not to worry about her and not to send her money.  She was singing, writing, and making a little money and she was OK.

For almost an hour, Dolly was on the large screen behind her family members and the band.  She sang songs and interacted with family members as if she were on a live remote feed.  Steve played a solo acoustic guitar intro on one song, Dolly started singing at the appropriate place, and the band joined in later.  When a family member or band member talked to Dolly from stage right, she turned to stage right to answer.

My People is an entertaining show that is full of the Dolly songs and storytelling you’ll hear in her live concerts.  Dolly poured a lot of labor and love into the show and the video and it is a unique experience.  It is destined to become a Dolly fan favorite.

Regular family members are Dolly’s sister, Cassie Parton, her brother, Randy Parton (not there when I saw the show), her cousins, Debi Jo Hess and Dwight Puckett, and her nieces, Jada Star Andersen and Heidi Lou Parton.

Sisters, Stella, Frieda and Rachel, and brother, Floyd, aren’t regular members of the cast but drop in occasionally.

The band is Shane Gay (bass), Lonnie Roland (drums), Eddie Wilson (keyboards), Steve Hembree (guitar and band leader), and Roger Helton (guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin).

Non-family members, Malcolm Link, Tammy Glissen, Jimmy Bryant, and Christine Smith round out the group.

The attached photo shows Shane Gay, Steve Hembree, Malcolm Link, Eddie Wilson, and Lonnie Roland.  For more photos, go to:


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 24 Sep 2013 00:02:34 GMT
TrueGrain from Grubba Software There’s a new tool in my bag of photography tricks – TrueGrain from Grubba Software.  After a week of testing, I had to have it.

TrueGrain has been around for a while so I’m late to the party.  It simulates the look of film stock and film grain for digital photography and is often rated as the best at that task. 

The principal software developer is Gus Grubba, a fine art photographer and veteran of the computer graphics industry.  Martin Doudoroff, Grubba’s associate, is also a veteran of the computer graphics industry and a cocktail expert with a website called CocktailDB.  Photographers are a very diverse group of individuals.

TrueGrain doesn’t’ replace my favorite B&W conversion software, Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2, it just adds to it. 

Silver Efex Pro 2 does it all – tonality, brightness, contrast, structure, Nik’s local adjustments using its Control Point technology, color filters, film simulations, grain, color sensitivity, levels & curves, toning, paper hue, vignetting, image borders, etc.  It is widely regarded as the best B&W conversion software out there and has an impressive number of film stock and grain simulations.  Adding a few more excellent film grain simulations from TrueGrain won’t hurt.

TrueGrain does one job – film simulation, especially film grain simulation – and does it very well.  Yes, you can add color filters and do a few other tricks but TrueGrain, as the name implies, is mostly about simulating the film grain of classic films.

TrueGrain made high resolution drum scans of 16 classic film stocks and more are promised to be on the way.  The film’s Spectral Response, Dynamic Range, and Film Grain are scanned and can be adjusted separately.  The Dynamic Range can be attenuated – made less contrasty – and the image resolution and grain intensity of the Film Grain can be adjusted.

You can choose from 6 different Wratten color filters that were very popular in the film days – for instance, a red filter to darken skies - and you can choose one of 6 film stock scans at sizes from 110 to 6x8 or enter custom settings.

Grubba Software is looking into making TrueGrain a Photoshop plugin but, right now, it is a stand-alone app.  No problem.  After adjusting the color image in Photoshop, you save a Tif and open it in TrueGrain.  The processed image is saved as a Tif.  There is no toning capability but you can open the Tif in Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro 2 for toning or further processing.  Color or IR film is not supported at this time.

The attached photo is an early test of a simulation of Kodak Tri-X Pan 400 at 200 ISO with a Wratten 58 Green filter added.  Photographers who jumped onboard in the digital era may see noise but film photographers will see the true grain old film photographers often miss in digital.

When TrueGrain was introduced, it cost $300 – maybe why I didn’t buy it before – but now it is only $49 and you may be able to find a discount code. 

For more in-depth informaion and sample images, visit the Grubba Software website:


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 11 Sep 2013 00:41:11 GMT
Balloons, Tunes & BBQ, Bowling Green, KY Balloons, Tunes & BBQ in Bowling Green, KY is a United Way sponsored annual festival an hour away that hosts about 20 hot air balloons – far fewer than the 750 balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest balloon festival, but enough balloons for interesting photo ops. 


The problem with attending many balloon festivals is scheduling – a Fly-In that was supposed to happen shortly after sunrise in Bowling Green didn’t happen until hours later, possibly because of morning fog; a Hare & Hound balloon race departing from the event site at the Bowling Green airport started several hours before the announced time.  The Balloon Glow started on time, shortly after sunset, and was worth a couple of days of little sleep, lots of driving, and lots of time to kill in between events.


Balloon pilots can’t just take off and change course until they reach their destination; they have to study wind directions and speeds at different altitudes.  The Albuquerque box, the three-dimensional space balloons fly in, is more predictable than in other areas and gives Albuquerque more predictable navigation.  Weather in other areas of the country isn’t that predictable.


There are several events common to balloon festivals.  A Fly-In is when all balloons depart from a location miles away, pass a designated checkpoint, drop a red marker close to a target, and travel on to arrive at the event.  It’s amazing that most of the 20 balloons arrived at a designated location at the Bowling Green airport.  All balloon pilots aren’t that lucky.  One balloon landed in the middle of a cemetery across the street from the Bowling Green airport.


In a Hare & Hound race, one or a couple of balloons, the Hare, depart from the event.  The remaining balloons, the Hounds, follow the Hare and prizes are awarded for the balloon that lands closest to the Hare.


Balloon Glows happen just after sunset.  On a signal, all balloons light their burners and the balloons light up like lanterns.  Balloon Glows only happen for a few seconds at a time but are one of the magic moments of a balloon festival.


Tethered Rides allow the public to ascend a few hundred feet in a tethered balloon.


Unlike the Albuquerque event where attendees have unlimited access to walk up to balloons and even lend a hand, at Balloons, Tunes & BBQ, attendees’ access to balloons is roped off but still close enough.


Ballooning is an expensive sport and requires corporate sponsors, investors, teams of people to transport, set up, and track balloons.  Balloon teams are made up of investors and families.  Every ballooner I talked to was passionate about their sport and willing to share their love of ballooning with the inquisitive public.


As much as I liked Balloons, Tunes & BBQ, I probably won’t be back next year.  When I arrived for the last event, the ticket seller told me “no professional photography”. 


The night before, John Ford Coley performed and there was a no professional photography rule.  The already anti-photography paranoia shifted into high gear recently when unflattering photos of Beyonce performing at the Super Bowl appeared online and she banned professional photography at her concerts.  Never mind that 10,000 cell phone stills and videos are still allowed.


I explained to the Balloons, Tunes & BBQ ticket seller that I was aware of the ban on photographing entertainers but I was only photographing balloons.  Same answer – no professional photography of balloons.  I wonder which balloon complained about unflattering photos.  “He made me look overinflated!”


Banning professional photography of balloons is stupid.  Blogs like this, accompanied by decent photos, are free advertising for balloon festivals and I doubt that a single ballooner would say don’t take a photo of my balloon.  A number of photos in my Balloons, Tunes & BBQ gallery were taken outside the event.


Stupid rule or not, it’s Balloons, Tunes & BBQ’s festival and they can make whatever rule they want and I exercised my right to leave without paying the $10 parking and $6 a head entrance fee.  That’s my “no banned photography” rule.


By the way, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta allows and encourages professional photography and has balloon photography contests each year.  If Albuquerque is too far away, there are hundreds of balloon festivals all over the country and all over the world. 

More photos are here:

Balloon Glow

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 09 Sep 2013 11:11:56 GMT
Beale St. – The Withers Collection & Clenora Hudson-Weems Here’s a blog for photographers and/or music people.  That’s me – a photographer and/or a music person.

On a recent failed attempt to photograph the candlelight vigil at Graceland on the 36th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death – who knew the candlelight vigil happened the night before the anniversary – I wound up my night on Beale St.  For me, that’s not a drinking and partying night but a photo op night.

The busiest blocks of Beale St., beginning at B.B. King’s and stretching several blocks, are cordoned off and heavily policed these days.  You don’t get on Beale St. without passing the inspection and possible frisking of half a dozen Memphis policemen.  I passed.

Down at the lower end of the cordoned off section of Beale St., past the acrobats, bar bands, street performers, beer, barbeque, and revelers, I saw a quiet gallery of B&W photos.  I went in, gave a donation, and saw the Withers Collection, an amazing gallery of photos by African American photographer Ernest C. Withers that covers 60 years of the civil rights movement, Memphis music, the Negro baseball leagues, Beale Street, Memphis history and politics plus African-American social life.

Withers was an Army trained freelance photographer who traveled with Martin Luther King and also covered the Emmett Till murder trial and other major events in civil rights history.  His B&W photos of the segregated South of the 50s and 60s were published by many national newspapers and magazines.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out what camera Withers used.  I finally found an image of Withers standing next to his 1950 Ford “Woodie” holding a 4x5 Speed Graphic with a flash attached.  As suspected, Withers wasn’t of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Leica school but of the newsman’s 4x5 “F/8 and be there” school – shoot with a wide depth of field by flooding every corner of the scene with a flashbulb the size of a lightbulb.  All or most of the Withers images I saw had a wide depth of field and were shot with flash.

Many of Withers’ images were familiar to me.  He and his camera were there when history was being made and there are over a million images in his collection.  The Withers Collection on Beale St. is a worthwhile stop for history buffs and photographers.

Ironically, in 2013, several years after Withers’ death, the FBI confirmed a suspicion that Withers had been a paid informant from 1952 to 1978, reporting on civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King.

Who knows what information Withers divulged and why.  As a freelance photographer who accumulated over a million images in the days of expensive film and processing, Withers, especially in his early photography days, may have been playing the FBI for film and flashbulb money.

Big newspapers, then and now, tried to get photos from local photographers for little or nothing.  Withers would sell photos to a Chicago newspaper, for instance, but retain the rights to sell the photos to other publications after a period of time.  Since you can’t tell the pictorial story of the civil rights era well without at least a few of Withers’ images, the photos must be very valuable now.

In the middle of all the civil rights photos, I saw a photo of a young African American baseball player winding up on the pitcher’s mound.  I recognized him from a distance.  It was Charley Pride before he left baseball for the army and later a Country Music recording career.

Charley played for the Memphis Red Sox from 1953 to 1958 except for a break in 1954 when he was with the Birmingham Black Barons.

An unconfirmed story says the struggling Memphis Red Sox traded Charley and another player for a team bus.  The army interrupted Charley’s baseball career and his Country Music career started with Snakes Crawl at Night in 1966.

When I asked one of the Withers Collection employees about Withers’ history, I also said, by the way, you should know Charley Pride’s name is spelled wrong under his photo.  It is spelled Charlie but should be Charley.

The employee looked doubtful so I said I was a friend of Charley’s and that’s the way he spells his name but, don’t take my word, look it up online.  When Charley was born, his parents named him Charle - a name of German origin that means free.  The name on the birth certificate was erroneously spelled Charley and the name and spelling stuck.  The employee told me I needed to talk to Charley’s cousin who was in the gallery.

I was introduced to Clenora Hudson-Weems, Charley’s cousin, and we had a long conversation about Charley and many other subjects.  Clenora is an interesting person and a great conversationalist.  She told me she is part African American, and part American Indian (Creek).  One online photo shows her in Indian braids and I can definitely see her resemblance to Charley.

Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems is an author, lecturer, and is Professor of English at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO.  She coined the term Africana Womanism.  She is quoted as saying, “Africana Womanism is a term I coined and defined in 1987 after nearly two years of publicly debating the importance of self-naming for Africana women.”

The term Africana Womanism has given birth to Clenora’s books and lectures and to a movement that helps African American women define themselves.

Clenora's pioneering work on Emmett Till include 4 Till books, videos, etc. and her 1988 Ford Doctoral Dissertation (University of Iowa) was the 1st to establish Till as a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.

Clenora, another lady from the Withers Collection, and I posed for a photo and I snapped the photo of Clenora that is attached to this blog with my camera still set for Beale St. night scenes.  How unprofessional. Clenora Hudson-Weems

The next time you’re in Memphis, you should stop by the Withers Collection on Beale St.

You’ll see some great, historic B&W photos and you may get to meet a fascinating lady, Clenora Hudson-Weems.

And I’ll bet, by the time you get there, Charley Pride’s name will be spelled correctly.


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 02 Sep 2013 06:48:31 GMT
Taylor Grocery - Taylor, MS Taylor Grocery & Restaurant is one of those local color destinations you hope to find on the road.  It's about 9 miles southwest of Oxford, MS in the small town of Taylor.

The owners say, "If you use a GPS, there is a good chance you'll wind up in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere."  When I went to there, the rural road to Taylor ended suddenly with barricades and Road Closed signs with no suggestion about a detour.  I made a best guess and stumbled on an unmarked parking lot that was so busy it required a parking attendant to line cars up in some logical order.  The fact that the parking attendant was a well-dressed, older gentleman added to the ambiance of arriving at Taylor Grocery.

Taylor Grocery & Restaurant was built around 1889 and hasn't seen a paint brush since then.  It seems to be held up by multiple layers of signatures and sayings you'll find scribbled on every square inch of the building.  It was originally a dry goods store and has had a couple of incarnations through the years, including a general store, a barber, and periods of vacancy.  It is now "that catfish place" but the menu also includes fried pimento cheese balls.  No, I didn't try the catfish or fried pimento cheese balls but can recommend the peach cobbler.  Fried pimento cheese balls?  Really?

A large George Dickel bottle on a rope closes the front door in case you forget - a Rube Goldberg solution probably dreamed up by the man who emptied the George Dickel bottle.  A sign says "Eat or we both starve."

The restaurant is only open four hours a day from Thursday through Sunday and closes if Ole Miss alumnus Eli Manning has a game day.  Customers range from Ole Miss students to old folks.  They don't take reservations and they won't seat you until your entire party is present.

The entertainment is a singer who plays acoustic guitar and a man who plays electric guitar.  The band plays for tips.

Taylor Grocery isn't a stand-alone building; it's a complex.  Next door, there is an equally dilapidated building that looks abandoned until you notice a sculpture in the window.  The local sculptor is William Beckwith who teaches sculpture at Ole Miss.  His work has been exhibited in Splashlight Studios and Frank Marino Gallery, New York, Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Louisiana Word’s Fair, New Orleans, and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC.

The next time you're near Oxford, MS, get off the main road and pay a visit to Taylor, MS and the Taylor Grocery & Restaurant but go on Thursday through Sunday unless Eli Manning has a game day and don't expect to be seated until your entire party is present.  Try the fried pimento cheese balls and give me a review.

More photos at:


[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Tue, 27 Aug 2013 16:04:05 GMT
Tupelo, MS - Elvis' Birthplace The anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16th has become Elvis Week where tens of thousands of people from all over the world make a near-religious pilgrimage to Graceland, Elvis' home in Memphis.  Around midnight, a line of thousands of Elvis fans carrying candles walk up to Meditation Gardens where Elvis is buried and there is a midnight ceremony.

I was at the candlelight vigil years ago and always wanted to go back.  It is a great photo op and I enjoy talking to people and finding out why so many traveled so far to be there.  For me, it was just a 200 mile trip down I-40.  I left on the morning of August 16th and, when I got there, I never saw so few people at Graceland.  Then, I found out the candlelight vigil was on August 15th, the day before the 36th anniversary of Elvis' death and the candlelight march ended on midnight of the 16th.  The pessimist would say I was a day late; the optimist would say I was 364 days early.  Next year...

I was disappointed that I missed a great photo op but I decided I'd make a first-time trip the next day to the birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, MS, 100 miles southeast of Memphis.  I was surprised to find a micro-Graceland in Tupelo. 

There is the two room shotgun house Elvis was born, lit by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.  When Elvis was born, I don't think the house had electricity and, even now, there is no indoor plumbing.  A multi-thousand ton air conditioner sits in the back of the building - an addition for Elvis fans who don't really want to see how Elvis lived in the sweltering heat of an August day. 

Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, borrowed $180 from his employer in 1934 to build the house with the help of his father and brother.  Elvis was born in the house a year later on January 8, 1935.  Elvis' identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn.  Vernon Presley later defaulted on the $180 loan and lost his house.  The house sits in the same place it was built.  In 1935, the location would have been the poverty stricken outskirts of Tupelo.

The first church Elvis attended was originally at another location but has been moved just up the hill from the Presley home.  It was an Assembly of God Pentecostal church with one room.  It had wooden floors, walls, and ceiling and uncomfortable, unpadded wooden pews, and was lit by bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  Like the Presley home, in the 30s and 40s, there was no air conditioning.  It was in this church that Elvis acquired his life-long love of Gospel music and Gospel quartets.

Between the Presley home and the church on the hill, there is a garden with benches.  The centerpiece of the garden is a lifesize bronze statue of 13 year old Elvis in overalls, carrying a guitar.  The statue stands at ground level as if you were just encountering the young Elvis.

When the Presleys, Vernon, Gladys, and Elvis, left Tupelo to move to Memphis, Vernon had a 1938 Plymouth sedan.  The Birthplace doesn't have the original car but has a car of the same make and model.

And you can't go anywhere without exiting through the gift shop.  The Birthplace gift shop is the largest building on the property.  It has a theater where a movie runs throughout the day, a museum, Elvis t-shirts, photos, keychains, license plates, cup holders, a miniature likeness of the Presley home, etc. - everything the Elvis fan needs to remember their visit. 

As I was standing in line to buy a t-shirt with a photo of the birthplace home on the back, I saw an Elvis looking man ahead of me carring the Epiphone version of the Gibson J-200 that Elvis was often photographed with.  I asked if I could take his picture and he was happy to pose.  He had a humble-as-Elvis personality and, like many Elvis lookalikes I've talked to, had no illusions about what he was doing.  He said he wasn't an impersonator but did a young Elvis tribute show.  He was proud that his guitar player and bass player played vintage instruments from the Scotty Moore and Bill Black era and he sang into a vintage mic - the Shure 55 "Elvis Mic".

The young Elvis was Harold "Elvis" Schulz.  Check him out at his website at:

When  I left Elvis' birthplace, I headed to downtown Tupelo and the Tupelo Hardware store.  In 1946, Gladys took 11 year-old Elvis to the hardware store to buy him a bicycle.  Elvis saw a 22-calibre rifle he wanted.  Gladys wouldn't buy Elvis the gun but instead bought him his first guitar for $7.90.  I'd say that investment paid off.

The last few images were shot around Tupelo and include The Lyric Theater and the old courthouse.

There is a photo of Elvis' birthplace in this blog.  For more images, go to:

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 26 Aug 2013 15:46:18 GMT
Memphis Zoo I stopped by the Memphis Zoo hoping to get a few gorilla portraits.  The Lowland Gorillas were very cooperative.  At one point, four gorillas seemed to be vying for the camera.  I posted a few favorites of gorillas and a couple of other animals here:

Here's my favorite gorilla portrait.

Memphis Zoo - Lowland Gorilla

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Mon, 19 Aug 2013 12:53:31 GMT
Ronny Light Photo Blog - Whatever crosses my path Welcome to my Photo Blog.  I'm a Nashville photographer who shoots weddings, portraits, CD covers, events, and images of whatever crosses my path.  This blog will be about...whatever crosses my path.

I'm a Nikon shooter from the FTN film days and love the transition to DSLRs.  Some of my favorite photo tools are fast Nikkor lenses, Really Right Stuff brackets, Induro Tripods, Think Tank bags,  the PocketWizard ControlTL system, Photoshop, the Nik Collection of software plugins, lighting scenes with small Speedlights, Singh-Ray filters, the Minolta Color Meter iiif, Eneloop batteries, Maha battery chargers, first class photo fulfillment labs, and many light modifiers, gels, and other toys that make images better and make photography fun.

I love shooting weddings.  There's nothing like sharing the happiest moment of a couple's life and capturing memories that will last them a lifetime.  And when you're a wedding photographer, you get to share those happy moments many times a year with different couples.

I love shooting portraits - finding the best in a face and making people relax and forget the camera so you can capture a little bit of their soul. 

And, I love shooting a wide variety of subjects - old cars, Renaissance festivals, street scenes, landscapes, mountain streams, butterflies, and...whatever crosses my path.  I'll post some of those images on this website and I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.

[email protected] (Ronny Light Photo) Wed, 14 Aug 2013 11:02:37 GMT