Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Bird in a Jar

Sometimes I feel like an ambassador, or maybe an anthropologist. I feel like a foreigner moving into another culture where he may eventually be accepted, but will never really belong. I have “my people” and I love them dearly, but something about the others calls to me. Maybe it is just curiosity, pure and simple, that drives me. I don’t know what causes me to desire to understand different people, but the fact of the matter is that “why?” is irrelevant. I will continue to meet new people and experience new cultures, because it is impossible for me to do otherwise.

Tonight, as I drove home from a friend’s party, I began to think about the details of the experience. Who was there? How was the event staged? What did people drink? How did people interact with each other? What kind of music do these people listen to? Where do these people live? How educated are these people? What do these people do for a living? What expectations do these people place on each other? Etc.

I realized that this event was unusual. The people that I was with are part of a social microcosm that is remarkably different, but at the same time, remarkably consistent with other groups that I have observed over my short 22 years. This group, like every other group that I have encountered, is like a complex and unique organism that is worth understanding.

What was this group like? It would take me years to be able to answer that question. To understand someone’s world, you have to be a part of someone’s world. All that I can do at this time is make observations.

The scene is set in a historic house in a very nice part of town. The scent of burned cocoa emanates from spoiled organic fertilizer that has been spread throughout the garden. In spite of the broken air conditioning, about half of the guests are inside the old house. The people in the garden are mostly quiet, smoking cigarettes and drinking white wine and gourmet beer, while a few individuals carry the majority of the conversation. People talk about crazy art professors that the used to have, or the projects that they are currently working on. Most of the people here are mid to late 20s college graduates, Fine Arts and Liberal Arts majors.

Inside, life has centered on the kitchen where Walter, the owner of the house, has prepared delicious red beans and rice. Laura has just changed from the orange and white vintage floral dress that she probably bought at a thrift store into a casual grey T-shirt and slightly worn, green shorts. She invites me and Tim, a short, friendly looking gentleman with a very slight South African accent, to take a brief tour of the house.

The house is huge, with a central staircase leading to four rooms upstairs, and four downstairs. Laura’s room, A.K.A. the Dommer Suite, is at the top of the stairs. Her room feels like a boat, with blue walls and a slanted sealing. The walls are lined with bottles and jars, some of which contained preserved bugs and animals that she has collected over the years. On her dresser sits an old clock, draped with fake pig tails and enclosed in a glass case.

Laura’s world is the world of young, educated artists. These people feel relaxed and friendly, but they all seem to understand and live up to a certain social etiquette. Individuality is prized within this group, but obnoxious behavior and attention whoring seems to be minimized. These people seem to value education and art, but carry themselves with less pretension than other groups that I have been around.

I really enjoy the people in this group, but I don’t think that I have the social stamina that would be required to be a real part of their community. I think that I am just glad that their community exists. I do not think I could live in a world where everyone was the same.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tired and Impatient

I just got back from the beach, and I feel less rested than when I left. I love my family, and I am very glad to have spent so much time with them, but nine people in a small condo is a bit much.

Panama city was much more relaxing than orange beach because it was just me and my parents. Spending the day alone in Seaside was probably the most relaxing and fun part of the entire trip for me.

I still have not heard anything from Andrea, but I remain hopeful. She would be a lot of fun to do a shoot with, and besides that, I imagine that I will be ready to have a real conversation with someone by the time I get to Arizona.

Well, I am off to start preparing for my trip.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Feel Like Samantha Brown

Seaside, Florida is in the running for my favorite beach town, with its nearest competition being Chauita, Costa Rica, and Galveston, Texas. Seaside stands out from the rest for a variety of reasons. It is certainly one of the prettiest beaches around, but the beauty expands beyond the waves to include the beautiful architecture of the shops surrounding Central Square, and the adjacent neighborhoods. Seaside is a town designed for strolling, with miles of narrow brick streets, and shaded paths extending throughout the surrounding homes.

I may sound like an episode of the travel channel for the next couple of paragraphs, but there are three stores in Seaside that I believe deserve special recognition.

The first, and my favorite, is Sun Dog Books along with its upstairs counterpart, Central Square Records. Sun Dog Books is like paradise for me, in spite of being crowded most of the time. Their entire collection of books is located in one large room on the ground floor of what feels like a renovated home. Sun Dog Books definitely feels like a small, independent books store, and yet, in spite of their small size, their collection includes many of my favorite books and quite a few more that are on my to-read list.

The back stairwell of Sun Dog Books is lined with classic band posters and old records. The stairs lead into the second-story record shop which also happens to be one of the cheapest places to get a drink in town. For just $2.13 I enjoyed a large, iced, Jittery Joe’s coffee with plenty of sugar and creamer, and on top of that, they took a debit card which many of the street side vendors will not accept.

The main room of the record store has an extensive collection of CDs and vinyl records, and unlike many other record stores, their music is not packed so densely as to be a pain to look through. The back of the record store is an awesome lounge where I was able to access free Wi-Fi while I chilled in the air-conditioning for a few minutes.

My second favorite shop in Seaside is Fusion, a gallery of artistic blown glass that is truly amazing. The gallery has a spacious layout, and hosts the work of many fine artists. Pieces in Fusion range in price from about $30 to several thousand dollars for some of the most impressive works of art.

The third shop that I make a point of visiting is Quincy’s Shop, a combination art gallery/art supply store/toy shop. Quincy’s is owned by a New York artists, and the back part of the store is a small art gallery called the back door gallery, which hosts works by the artist, her family and friends, and other professional artists in the area. According to the manager, a local lady who has lived in the area since Destin was a fishing village, Quincy’s is gradually moving away from toys and art supplies, as it slowly converts into an art gallery.

How I Embarrassed Myself on the Beach

I met some really cool people as I cruised around Seaside today. The beach was packed with sunbathers and people enjoying all kinds of beach sports. I spent about 20 minutes watching a female surfer catching waves and attempting, with limited success, to teach her friend how to surf.

Apparently I was not the only one out to photograph some surfers this morning.

For those of us that can’t seem to manage surfing, there is always skim boarding.

I also noticed two girls playing a sport that I have not seen before. It is basically like Ping-Pong without a table and with a slightly larger ball and paddles.

I noticed that the two girls who were playing were speaking in Spanish. When I went to ask them where they were from, I found out that their names are Nicole and Tiare, and that they are from Chile. Tiare is a senior in college, studying fashion design, and Nicole already graduated with a degree in event planning.

It was cool to meet some new people, but the highlight of my day happened just as I was about to head back to Panama City Beach where I am staying. I left the beach, and hiked up a small hill to the tower that marks the beach entrance. As I was putting on my shoes, I noticed a couple having their pictures taken by a gorgeous photographer.

Something about this girl caught my attention, and I knew that I had to make a portrait of her. It is not every day that I see someone who makes me feel that way, and so I decided to ignore my usual myriad of inhibitions about talking to strangers, especially beautiful ones.

As I went to rinse the sand off my feet, the girl and the couple walked away down the sidewalk. I thought for a second that I had lost my opportunity, but I hurried to look for her anyway. I found her a couple of minutes later, walking into a little art/jewelry store. I hesitated at the door. Did I really want to approach a complete stranger and ask her to let me take her picture?

It only took me a second to make up my mind that this girl was worth it, so I gathered my nerve and asked her.

“Excuse me, I know this is kinda random, but do you mind if I make a portrait of you?”

“Um, Nooo… I mean, I don’t mind I guess.”

“That’s not random. She is a gorgeous girl.” The lady from the couple chimed in.

“That she is.” I said.

I moved her to a slightly better backdrop (unfortunately, I rushed too much and the backdrop was not perfect), and attempted to take her picture. Three times I apologized (I felt like a dork) because my lens would not auto-focus with us so close together. I backed into the corner and finally managed to take her portrait.

“This is Andrea by the way.” The lady said.

“And this is Andrew.” I said, embarrassing myself again.

I went on to find out that Andrea is a photographer and painter from Phoenix, Arizona. I left her my contact info, and I hope to hear from her soon, because I will be travelling near Phoenix on my road trip and I would love to do a photo shoot with her when I pass that way.

Regardless of whether or not I ever see this girl again, my experiences today have helped me to build the confidence that I will need to approach strangers throughout my journey. Hopefully this confidence will lead to many other photographic opportunities, as well as opportunities to meet and learn about new people.