Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Campaigns / USA

Volunteer supporter of Obama

The elections for the new president of the United States are only a few days away and it is very interesting to me to observe the whole thing directly where it happens - in the US.

I was surprised that I didn't see a single portrait poster beside the street with Barack Obama or John McCain on it. In Germany there are big displays with grinning photoshopped maroons all over the place when it comes to election.
Here I only saw little signs with 'Obama / Biden' or 'McCain / Palin' in some courtyards of private homes. They have the same colors for both parties and there's not even the name of the party on it. Obviously the name of the party isn't needed because in the US it's only about Democrats and Republicans and I don't know whether there are parties like the 'Naturgesetzpartei' (Nature Law Party) or the 'Grauen Panther' (Grey Panthers, a senior party) in the states.
In Germany every party have stupid slogans on all posters like 'Deutschland zuerst' (Germany first), 'Sozial ist was Arbeit schafft' (social is what creates employment) or other wisdoms like that. Here it's just 'McCain' - bam - done. Only on some Obama signs it says 'Change'.
Actually it reminds me of some of the homeless people that asked me for 'some change'.

San Francisco seems to be occupied by the Democrats because there are little booths with Obama buttons and shirts on the streets but not a single one for McCain. An ex-colleague from San Francisco told me that the city is quite liberal.
The parties sell little merchandising things in the streets to raise money for the election campaigns. For me it would be unthinkable to buy a T-shirt with Guenther Beckstein on it (ok, that guy is history now) or a button saying 'I vote for Roland Koch'.
I talked to the guy on the photo above and he was very passionate and convinced by Obama.
He made me doing my first political statement in my life: I bought a button with 'Obama 2008' on it. It is now on my backpack.

McCain/Palin, 'United we Stand', 'Remember the Towers and Pentagon', 'God Bless America' / Sierra Nevada, California

The countryside seems to be not that clear. If one simply counts the signs in the gardens it is McCain country. Having a McCain right beside a sign with 'Remember the Towers and Pentagon' and 'God Bless America' looked so strange to me that I had to stop my car an take a photo. Again: Unthinkable in Germany.

'Merchandising'-booth for Obama, San Francisco

One week ago two girls addressed me in the streets showing me some forms. They worked for a school project and wanted me to register for the election. Of course they stopped their attempt after I told them that I am not an US citizen. We had an interesting conversation afterwards about the election processes in Germany and the US. They were very surprised to hear that in Germany it isn't required to register for an election because you get your registration card automatically via mail.
To me it sounded awkward that every US citizen has to register for the election just to be able to perform one of the most basic rights like voting. If one wants to prevent as many people as possible from going to the ballot booth that's the way to go.

Right now it seems as if Barack Obama leads the polls with double digits. I really hope he will make it. Eight years with an Republican president are more than enough although I have to admit that even John McCain seems to be a much better choice than the current president. But that's not that difficult, is it?

Toronto Pavement, Part 3 - The Old Lady and the Pavement Flower / Canada

Imagine a few people standing in Toronto at the waterfront waiting for the ferry boat to a little island in Lake Ontario. One of them is an old lady. She is constantly moaning and seems to be very grumpy. A tourist stands nearby.

Old Lady: The ferry boat is late again.
Tourist: So we can at least enjoy the nice view to the island a little longer.
Old Lady: But look at all the ugly condos-buildings near the water. They destroyed the whole waterfront.
Tourist: I think it is still nice.
Old Lady: They also removed the benches here at the ferry terminal. Seniors like me have to sit.
Tourist: Do you see the boat over there? I guess it is our ferry. Only a few more minutes.
Old Lady: Some time ago the whole place was full of flowers. Now it is only concrete and asphalt.
Tourist: So you would like to have flowers here?
Old Lady: Of course. Look how ugly it is without flowers.
Tourist: Ok, give me a minute.
[Tourist knees down and draws something on the floor with a piece of chalk]
Old Lady: What are you doing?
Tourist: Be patient.
[Tourist stands up]
Old Lady: Oh, you painted me a flower. That's nice. A chalk flower.
[Old Lady forgets to be grumpy and starts smiling]
Tourist: Do you think the place is less ugly, now?
Old Lady: Yes, I do think it is a little nicer now. By the way, I am Gina. I go to the island several times a week to feed two horses and a donkey in a little park. Do you want to join me?
Tourist: Of course, I want to. My name is [...]. Nice to meet you.
[The old Lady and the tourist enter the ferry boat and the pavement flower hopefully stays there until the next rain].

Toronto Pavement, Part 2 - Sidewalk Breaks / Canada

Who says that the sidewalk is only for walking? If it is a sunny day it can be perfect for just sitting down and having your lunch break.
After the big big city Sao Paulo it felt completely different to be in Toronto. Everything was much more slow and relaxed. The sidewalk wasn't the living room for street kids but only the canteen for some workers. It was like an inverse culture shock.
In addition I was able to joke with the construction workers a bit because the language barrier wasn't that high as in Brazil - although my strong German accent.

PS: Did you notice the pig on the helmet of the worker on the left?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Toronto Pavement, Part 1 / Canada

I am pretty sure the duck felt like the king/queen of the world after walking through the wet concrete.

I spent only a few days in Toronto on my way to San Francisco. Canada is not on my travel list this time because it would take much more time.

For a reason I don't understand my Toronto experience was about pavements and sidewalks. I like to look down to the ground and watch for small things lying on the floor. Therefore I decided to see Toronto not by the usual way of looking up (e.g. at skyscrapers) but by keeping my eyes down.

Nice idea but more difficult that it seems - at least for me

Trans-gender? Trans-lucent? Trans-parent?

Life is good - even for a gully

The stains looked like a smiling sperm. I didn't add eyes or mouth, it was just stains. Do sperms have a funny life by default?

One more method of advertising. I do like the album 'Parachutes' much more than the new one

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wheelbarrow Taxis, Brazil

When a pushy taxi driver runs after you because he wants to convince you that his car is the only taxi in the world it isn't that spectacular in a country like Brazil.
If the guy pushes a wheelbarrow with the word 'TAXI' on it maybe it is a little bit special - at least it was for me.
I spent a few days on the little island called Morro de Sao Paulo in Brazil.
On the island there are no cars or streets but only sandy paths. Therefore all goods were carried with donkeys or with wheelbarrow taxis.
Whether I was responsibly for his little nap because I preferred to carry my backpack on my own instead of using his service is beyond my knowledge.

Although the island is very touristy I loved the fact that there's beach everywhere and you simply lie down wherever you feel like it.
Sleeping in the sand, reading, sipping coconuts and watching some muscular guys practising Capoeira on the beach were pretty much all activities I did during my days on Morro.

As far as I remember I never went to a beach party before and although my attempts of dancing barefoot in the sand were ridiculous compared with the Brazilian guys (yes, you're right my dancing es even ridiculous compared to a centipede trying to grind a cigarette) I enjoyed chatting next to the dark water with some Brazilian music in the background and an (non-alcoholic) cocktail in front of me.

The painting on a shop window was claiming that I am on 40%. Hmm, 40% of what?
I had only days with more than 90% on Morro de Sao Paulo.
Ok ok, I am talking crap. The painting was announcing a sale with "TUDO 40%" and I was shooting only a part of the window. Is this really cheating? Probably it's the same if you take a photo of a beautiful beach without the ugly German tourists at the edge, isn't it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Handstands in Las Vegas

After lots of days with no Internet access or activities more attractive than sitting in front of a computer the blogging guy is back.
I have lots of things to tell and tons of photos to share but this time it is only a short note that I am still alive.
Currently I am in Las Vegas (and I think it is horrible) and in an hour I will drive towards the Grand Canyon. It seems as if I'm more into great landscapes than slot machines.

The next days I will try to catch up with some photos from the last weeks.

What I want to share with you right now is not a photo but a song.
Yesterday while strolling through Las Vegas I was sitting on a bench below a huge huge huge LCD screen and an ad for iPod Nano was running in an infinite loop. The song within the ad managed to sneak into my head and I hummed it the whole day.
I am pretty sure that I will connect the song to stupid theme hotels like 'The Venetian' or to millions of flashing lights my whole life. I call such things 'songs with attachment'.

The song is nothing sophisticated but you never know what song makes it to a 'song with attachment'.
This one is called 'Bruises' from the band 'Chairlift' and is about the bruises one makes by doing handstands for another person.

Here is the video. Maybe it beams you to Las Vegas, too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Concrete God in the Clouds

Hey, this is Rio de Janeiro. Finally. After 27 hours on the bus I made it. Actually only 23 hours were planned. The rest was a gigantic traffic jam and an inspection of our bus by the police. The buses coming from the border to Paraguay (my starting point Foz do Iguacu is near Argentina and Paraguay) are frequently used vehicles for all kinds of smuggled goods. The police checked every single bag from every single passenger (except the ones from the few European looking folks) and found - guess what - nothing. But not because there wasn't anything illegal but just because my co-passengers got a hint 15 minutes prior to the inspection and moved hundreds and hundreds of smuggled lipsticks to plastic bags and out of the bus. Obviously the bus driver was involved. I didn't know what was going in the beginning on but finally all the puzzle pieces fitted together after I talked to a Brazilian guy.

But this is not what I wanted to tell you. This posting is about a concrete god on a steep hill. I guess everyone has seen photos of the giant statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro called 'Cristo Retendor'. It was really like the statue watched over the city.

On one day I went up the Sugar loaf and the view to the mountain with the statue on top was hidden in clouds. From time to time the mist unveiled the monument and sometimes it was like Jesus was hovering in the clouds. Magic moments.

The next day the weather was sunny again and I went up to the concrete Jesus. I'm not sure what I liked more: the stunning view over Rio de Janeiro including the Sugar Loaf and the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema (where I stayed) or the nuns doing sightseeing and trying to take photos from each other in the gesture of the statue. Actually I think I liked the nuns a bit more.

Nun Fun

The Sugar Loaf

Cristo Retendor

Again I was amazed of the fact that funny little animals running around everywhere.

Random Wild Animal

By the way: The idea to build such a huge statue came from a catholic priest in the 19th century. He requested the money from pricess Isabel but she refused. Finally the statue was financed by donations in the early 20th century (source: Wikipedia).

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Elevator in Us

Obviously it was only an "e" that fell off the sign but I liked the new meaning much more.
The thought of a kind of mind-elevator in my head is sometimes just appropriate for me.

Such a inner-elevator would be responsible to lift me to the next level in life. Sometimes it is out of order or it just left and I have to wait and wait for the next one. Most of the times the waiting period is very long.

From time to time - and that's even worse - I am confronted with signs like the one on the photo that try to convince me that there is no elevator for lifting our minds at all.
Well, I do believe in my little elevator theory - regardless of all signs.

Stupidly I don't have any schedule for the elevator in me and I don't have a friggin' clue how to repair it when it is broken.
Any hints are appreciated.

By the way: I saw the sign in Canada at the Niagara Falls and I will show you some more photos from this nice place soon.

Waterfall Math - Brazil and Argentina

This is only a small part of the falls and the big one is not even on the photo

Image a big waterfall and a few smaller ones. Add some jungle and a few furry animals.
And now multiply all with 100.
The result could be a bit like the Waterfalls of Iguacu on the border of Argentina and Brazil.

I went there joining a bus ride from Sao Paulo of 22 hours - it's not as bad as it might sound because the public bus system in Brazil is brilliant and the main bus terminal in Sao Paulo is five times bigger than the main railway station in my hometown Nuremberg and it has more than 80 platforms.

The falls stretch over several kilometres and I spent two full days to explore them - one day from the Argentinian side and one from Brazil.
It was a little adventure of its own to cross the border to Argentina using the public bus because the bus doesn't wait for you when you jump off at the border to get your stamp in your passport. So you sit in no mans land alone (and the sun is setting) and hope that there is a next bus.

Well, it was worth it. Ooooh yes, it was.

Wandering above and beside the falls with the constant roar of the water in your ears and clouds (and I really mean clouds) of yellow butterflies around me was one of the best experiences of nature I ever had.

A nose bear

The waterfalls of Iguacu are one of the seven nature wonders of the world and also world heritage from the United Nations.

Addendum on Oct. 26th: Here is a short movie I shot at the Argentinian and the Brazilian side of the falls:

Lonely Planet Packages

Today I sent home the first load of Lonely Planet Guidebooks and fridge magnets.
In the meanwhile I am in Toronto/Canada and a book about South Africa or Brazil is of only limited use here and I want to have a few kilos less in my backpack.
Of course I could simply throw the stuff away but I'm too sentimental to lose all my little comments, the marked places and the filthy edges.
In the post office there was a man with a beard like Moses himself and he helped me a lot although he smelled like an alcohol container at 10AM in the morning. I told him that air mail isn't necessary and the several weeks a boat would need are just perfect for the package.

It was one of the strangest shopping experiences to enter a book shop in Sao Paulo/Brazil as a German guy to buy a guide book about Canada.
On the one hand I felt very decadent but on the other hand like the king of the world because I really dared to start my little adventure journey.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Little Differences, Part 1 - Public Transportation

One thing I love about travelling is the little difference in mastering the all-days-life. Every big city might look similar on the first glance but as soon as you start exploring you might struggle with a lot of small hurdles.
Let´s talk about public transportation. In Johannesburg there are literally thousands of white mini vans as a kind of inofficial collective taxis. You jump in and some other new passenger gives you some coins. You add your own coins and hand the money from passenger to passenger towards the driver and yell something like ´five eight fifty one nine´. This means that five passengers want to pay eight Rand fifty and one has to pay nine Rand. It took me a while to figure this out. I never understood how to find out the price.
The passenger beside the driver is always the one that has to deal with the change (regardless if he likes it or not). Some minutes later your change is wandering back from passenger to passenger to you. If you want to jump off it´s inpolite to say ´please stop´. The correct phrase is ´short left´ or simply ´after robot´.
The most struggeling thing is that none of the white vans has a sign with the destination on the outside. You stop the van with a gesture. But be careful, just waving your hand might be wrong because every gesture means a different destination. Lifting one finger means ´Please stop if you drive to central Jo´burg´, one finger down means something else, fingers crossed means Soweto, showing four fingers means Auckland Park and so on. If the driver stops after he saw your gesture you know that he is heading towards your desired destination.
The maid of my guesthouse explained this to me because otherwise I would have been completely lost.
Oh, I forgot to mention that most of the vans have very loud african music and most of the passengers bang their heads during the ride. Very funny.

Now let´s have a quick look to the public transportation in Brazil. No african music, no guestures but big busses with the destination printed on the outside. Good, just as in Germany.

Well, not really. You can stop the bus by waving any gesture but it will not stop if you want to get off. In Germany we have little red buttons inside the bus and you show your wish to stop by pressing them. I found not a single button in the whole bus and needed one more lesson of ´learning by observing´. I saw a passenger pulling on a wire that run under the ceiling of the bus.
Well I noticed the wire before but thought that it was simply the cable for some loudspeaker mounted in the lazy brazilian way. I wouldn´t have dared to pull on a speaker cable.
It turned out that the cable is connected to a switch indicating that someone wants the bus to stop.
In addition there are little turnstiles beside the man collecting the fares. Every passenger has to pass this torture tool. All (and I mean really all) turnstiles in all of the busses are very very narrow and hard to twist. I am not very fat and was hardly able to enter. I always felt pity (and a little bit of fun) whenever a thick person entered the bus and fought with the turnstile for several minutes with a line of several more passengers waiting behind. Why the heck don´t they use bigger turnstiles?

More differences to come.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Captain McAllister and the Brazilian Girl

Today I stumbled into an arts project of a local painter in the city of Salvador. The artist prepared a very big screen and invited the people of Salvador to paint something on it. He does it in several cities in Brazil and afterwards there will be a sort of exhibition in a museum.
After my talk with him he invited me to draw something, too.
Because of my former colleague Volker I am able to draw one face from the Simpsons TV-show: Captain Horatio McAllister. Volker forced the whole team to practise painting this face and, well, everyone did.
Volker, this McAllister in Brazil is especially for you and if he makes it into an museum it just because of you.
What I liked even more than painting was the little Brazilian girl next to me. She worked very concentrated but liked to pose in front of my camera.

Do you see my pirate captain?

The initiator of the project. I don't even know the name of the artist.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

12 Millions - Brazil

It is amazing how simple it is to jump from one continent to another. Eleven hours on the plane and it was not Africa any longer but South America. Please don't mention the ozone layer because I feel guilty.
My stopover in South America is Brazil and I landed in Sao Paulo.
Although I knew that it's a big city I was very impressed and scared by its size.
From the top of a scryscraper one could see hundreds and hundreds of high apartment buildings. Almost the whole skyline consisted of apartment scryscrapers. It looked so completely different to other scylines like e.g. New York.
Actually it is quite obvious because there are 12 million people living in Sao Paulo and they need a place to stay and most of the places looked very humble and ugly.
The chapters in the Lonely Planet books for South Africa and Brazil about dangerous cities sounded very similar for Johannesburg and Sao Paulo. Actually it was very different to stroll through both cities, though. In Jo'burg the rich and the poor were very well divided into fenced luxury compounds for the ones with light skin and very poor townships for the ones with dark skin. In Sao Paulo the rich and poor are mixed. I saw very poor Favelas right next to the shiny headquarters of big companies.

It was new and confusing to me seeing street kids for the first time. The were just living on the pavement on their own without anything and some of them were not older than 6 or 7 years. Life is really unfair to gift one (like me) with the luck of being born in a rich environment and refusing the kid in Sao Paulo the very basic needs.

The city was by far too brutal for me and I fled after one day to the small city of Foz do Iguazu ('only' 700.000 inhabitants).

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that only very few people speak English here and I don't speak a word Portuguese. Not even in the hotel guys in Sao Paulo spoke English. At least I could re-use the few pieces of spanish that are still in my head. It sounds a bit similar to Portuguese and ensured that I booked the bus tickets for the right date.

Breakfast Place Hierarchies - South Africa

The location can turn a simple meal into something very special.
A breakfast in hurry before you leave to work is better than nothing. A breakfast in a nice restaurant is much better.
A breakfast with fresh deli food from that nice restaurant enjoyed outdoors halfway up the Table Mountain in Capetown with a stunning view, sunbeams in your muesli and fresh air is the best possible option.
That mountain really fascinated me. Very very steep with a very very flat top and very near to two oceans.
It will be hard to find a better place in the next years and almost impossible to find better company.

Stadium Deadlines - South Africa

From the window of my hotel room in Capetown I had a nice view to the construction site of the soccer stadium. They build it completely new for the Soccer World Cup 2010 and it's located directly on the ocean. Actually the stadium has to be ready next year for the Confederations Cup.
I saw the construction sites in Soweto and this one in Capetown and I really doubt that the South Africans will make it in time. It looks like complete chaos from the outside. A few weeks ago Sepp Blatter, the boss of FIFA was here and according to the newspapers he was pleased by the progress. I think he probably was simply not that scared as half a year ago.
Well, it only depends on the definition of 'done'. Something will be declared as 'finished'.