Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grand Sand

I took this photograph on Sand Beach in Maine's Acadia National Park in late July of this year.

Some young Mennonite women were taking photos of themselves in front of the surf on a very foggy day.

I'm quite proud of it and am going to enter it in some photo contests. Has the look of a Winslow Homer painting, I think.

I like the juxtaposition of the timeless nature of the setting and the subjects with the fact that they are using a digital camera. I like the arch in the girl's back, too, as she tries to compose her own photograph.

I took it with my iPhone 4s, believe it or not. There is no filter or any special effects. Just some small cropping.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What It Feels Like When They Steal Your Bike

The author at Letna with Bike No. 3.

My friend Mark Baker wrote this for my other blog, Grant's Prague Bike Blog, but I thought the issue needed as wide an audience as possible, so I thought I'd post it here, too.

By Mark Baker

I saw a great video on bike theft recently on "The New York Times" website. According to the video, called "How to Catch a Bike Thief," police in San Francisco have formed a special unit to fight bike theft and employed some creative ideas to that end, including using "bait bikes" to lure thieves, hidden cameras, GPS devices, and social media.

For me, the most satisfying moment comes at the 1:20 mark, when through CCTV we see a thief make off with a bike, only to be wrestled to the ground seconds later by the police. The head of the bike-theft unit, officer Matt Friedman, chuckles while watching the thief go down hard. Sounds bad to say it, but I could probably watch that moment 50 times in a row and not get tired of it.

In the past decade or so living in Prague, I've lost at least six bikes to theft (to be fair, two bikes were stolen on trips to Poland, not in Prague). I long ago lost sympathy for anyone who would steal a bike for whatever reason, and would probably go to great lengths to try to catch a thief (even, perhaps, setting out a bait bike).

Trail of Tears

Many people don’t realize it, but finding that your bike has been stolen can set you off on an emotional roller-coaster ride. There’s the immediate surge of anger you feel toward the thief that actually seems good and healthy. That’s suddenly tamped down, though, by the realization that you’re never going to see the bike again. The prospect of recovering a stolen bike (here in Prague, and just about everywhere else) is nil. There’s no place for that anger to go and what felt like strength in the first moments, starts to feels more like impotent rage a couple minutes later.

There’s also the frustration (and boredom) of having to deal with the police and insurance company (if you’re lucky enough to have a policy) and all of the fruitless, pointless questions they ask. Make, model, color, serial number (who has that in their wallet?) This is just the start of the process. Where did you buy it? When did you buy it? Do you have the receipt? ("Yes, officer, right here in my pocket."). The police in Poland, on one occasion, even asked me to sketch out the bike on a piece of paper and
identify the angle between the crossbar and the down tube (45°? 35°? 65°??) On that occasion, the police kept me at the station for four hours filing a report -- without the slightest expectation they would ever catch the thief.

Then there are your friends -- your closest friends -- and their well meaning but maddening inability to understand your predicament.

Tell someone your bike’s been stolen and instead of sympathy you often get a barrage of questions: "Was it locked?" "Where did you leave it?" "How good was the lock?" "How long did you leave the bike unattended?" It’s as if they’re working on behalf of the bike thief and trying to find holes in your story.

(As a short aside, if you’re ever in the situation where a friend tells you his or her bike has been stolen, try hard not to make the first question, "Was it locked?" Of course it was locked. Simply say: "Sorry
to hear it. That’s really bad news.")

Maybe the toughest – and most unwelcome -- emotion is somehow related to the above. It’s the inward shame and nagging feeling that maybe you really did do something to enable the theft. "Of course that lock wasn’t strong enough." "I should never have parked the bike there." "What was I thinking?"
"What an idiot I was."

All these thoughts run through your mind over and over again, and inevitably lead you to the faulty, messed-up "realization" that somehow you’re complicit in the theft of your own bike.

It’s Not The Bike Owner’s Fault

Writing all this out now has been therapeutic and helped me to understand why, perhaps, I appreciated that "New York Times" video so much. In the video, Officer Friedman’s moral clarity is rare and refreshing in a way that possibly only a person who has lost a bike can really understand.

Simply by the way he talks and acts, you can see he knows that it’s NEVER the bike owner’s fault. It doesn’t matter where he or she parked the bike. It doesn’t matter if the lock was strong enough (or even possibly if the bike was locked at all). Theft is theft and honest people should be free to ride and park where they wish, without fear their bike will be stolen. It’s time to ditch the remorse and fight back.

Hear hear! What a welcome reminder, and I wish him and the San Francisco police department all the success in the world. I only wish now the police in Prague would get the memo (or at least see the video).

Mark Baker is a Prague-based journalist and independent travel writer. He’s co-author of the "Lonely Planet Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic." He’s been riding bikes in Prague for more than 20 years.


Bike 1 (no photo)
White Trek MB
Last seen: Betlemska 1, Prague 1, in 2000

Bike 2 (no photo)
Black Cannondale MB
Last seen: Cechova 20, Prague 6, in 2002

Bike 3
White/Black Specialized MB
Last seen: Lodz, Poland, in 2006

Bike 4
Blue Scott MB
Last seen: InterContinental Hotel, Prague 1, in 2007

Bike 5
Gold Kona Caldera MB
Last seen: Ve struhach 22, Prague 6, in 2008

Bike 6
Black Kona Caldera MB
Last seen: Plotsk, Poland, in 2011

Bike 7
Blue Specialized Rockhopper MB
Still have it. For now.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Farewell, Chicho

"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch." – Anonymous

Chicho died next to me on the bed on Saturday as we were both napping in the sun. His last anguished breaths woke me up and I was able to comfort him for a few seconds before he passed.

I had brought him home from the vet just a few hours before. The doctor had called to say his condition wasn't improving and suggested that it might be best to take him home, where he might feel more comfortable.

I didn't want him to die in a doctor's office.

Man, I really, really miss that old cat.

I'd been a dog person all of my life, but getting to know Daisy's two cats, and a few other strays along the way, changed my mind forever.

I could write more about Chicho, but I thought I'd let Daisy and Emma have the floor. I thought I'd also share a few photos of Chicho taken over the years.

Daisy wrote her wonderful eulogy for a Facebook post. Emma wrote hers through her tears as a sort of therapy in the minutes after Chicho died.

From Daisy:

We lost a very important member of our family today.

A few days ago, Chicho became lethargic and seemed to have trouble breathing. After a few unpleasant days at the vet, he came home this afternoon and breathed his last while lying on the bed in a patch of sunlight. Emma and Grant were with him.

He did purr today, and he also drank out of the toilet. I choose to interpret those things as meaning he lived his life to the fullest to the end.

Allergies mean Chicho is probably our last cat. Fortunately, he leaves a lot to remember him by.

A little bit of his history:

We got Chicho in 1999, when he was a kitten in a cardboard box at a pet market in St. Petersburg. We had already selected a "fancy" kitten, our beloved Zhenya, and they offered to throw in Chicho, a street cat, for free.

Despite his scrappy origins, he put together a distinguished CV.

I'm sure he's one of the few cats to take the Krasnaya Strela to Moscow, and he also holds a Russian (cat) passport, which we all know are currently in great demand in Crimea. Named after Salvadore Allende, his name made a graceful transition to the Czech Republic, where it also means "kitty."

To the last, he enjoyed his hobbies: eating, purring, winking, laser tag, meowing at the crack of dawn, scratching furniture, "thinking" outside the box, and engaging in ostentatious acts of relaxation.

To anyone who thinks cats are aloof and unloving, I'm sorry you never met Chicho. He loved people, belly rubs, and simply hanging out.

We're going to miss him a lot.

From Emma:


He was a well-loved pet and a family member. He was loving, hungry, kind, sometimes annoying, and very popular. I’ve never loved an animal as much as I loved Chicho. He’s been around my entire life, since before I was born.

Sure he could be annoying and nagging, but he was always there for me. He had a good life and a good death. I know that he’s still happy right now, wherever he is.

He will always be in my heart and always remembered.

Goodbye forever, Chicho.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Images Of Amsterdam

We made a return trip to one of our favorite cities recently -- Amsterdam. There's a great photo just waiting to be taken almost everywhere you turn -- from grandmothers riding scooters to some truly bizarre graffiti. Enjoy.

You can read about a guided bike tour we took outside of the city on my other blog, Grant's Prague Bike Blog, here.