Sunbeam at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

St. Peter’s Basilica is the heart of global Catholicism and the main house of worship for the Catholic Church in the Vatican City, the tiny but influential nation-state located in beautiful Rome.

I took this shot in 2006. I had a basic point and shoot camera. The lighting as magical inside the massive building, which was designed by Italian architect Donato Bramante, in the early 1500s.

I first remember seeing a painting of the interior of the cavernous and enormous basilica at the St. Louis Art Museum as a kid. That painting, Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome, by Paul Panini Romae from 1731, was on my mind as I wandered in the sanctuary, with thousands of other visitors on a hot October day.

One of the lessons I took away from visiting St. Peter’s and the Vatican City was a simple one. Never underestimate the power of the Catholic Church.

Foxgloves finally arrive

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

We have had a wetter and cooler spring this year. That means the beautiful foxglove flower arrived late. I passed by this same spot last year, in May, when it was blooming last year. I repeated the shot. It is such an amazing plant. I love seeing them on roadsides and in scrubby, rocky soil. They are tough hombres as flowering plants go. They have toxins, but also pharmaceutical properties that have been harvested by the for-profit pharma sector. Nature is generous with beauty and medicinal plants. So I give thanks to the foxglove and nature.

Sellwood is the place to be, if you can afford it

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I live in the tony neighborhood of Sellwood, in southeast Portland. It is one of the whitest and most upper-middle-class areas I have ever lived in. Overall, I really like it here because of the many amenities I can stroll to by foot.

It is a safe place with an amazing walkability score, if you are into real-estate speculation. I love the local eateries, the nearby public library outlet, the pubs, the winery, the bakery, the New Seasons food store, the Wednesday farmers market, and access to the Springwater bike corridor that connects with north and east Portland.

So why the heck wouldn’t everyone want to live here, if they could afford homes at $750,000 or more? Why wouldn’t developers consider tearing down existing homes and rebuilding massive mega-houses, condos, and new apartments given the logic of real-estate development and the construction industry?

According to the website of the local neighborhood association, the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League, or SMILE, there are more than 30 projects underway in the Sellwood and Moreland neighborhoods.

In the past month it startled me how quickly a house can be torn down, trees cut, and land leveled for some medium and higher density projects. In some cases there are just McMansions that are testaments to the pure gluttony of excessive wealth, and we have those in this area. More are surely coming.

A lot of commercial building activity is taking place, in areas zoned for that. But the demolishing of a home is always jarring. The promotion of higher density development in the inner urban areas of Portland like Sellwood have also spurred a housing and rental crisis that saw Portland’s rent rise at the fastest rate in the country in 2016.

Density not Entirely Welcomed

There is an active, homeowner-driven backlash against higher density, often pitting middle- and upper-middle class homeowners against each other in some areas near me, notably the upscale Eastmoreland neighborhood, while other areas like my neighborhood are seeing the impacts of higher density during the past three years.

I overall support higher density, but I am deeply worried very little affordable rental housing stock is being built, further limiting the ability of lower-income and middle-income renters to enjoy what may soon be off-limits to many.

In the November 2016 election, city voters by a strong margin approved a $258 million bond to build more affordable housing, but it is not clear how those dollars will be spent long-term.

Just this week, Oregonian reported, “Renters, stretched financially and pushed geographically toward Portland’s outskirts and suburbs, loudly demanded solutions—joined in some cases by powerful business interests who saw the issue as a threat to the city’s otherwise growing economy.”

The paper said a typical two-bedroom apartment is now out of reach for most residents. Those are people very similar to me. The paper further noted, “The city’s concentration of struggling renters has only grown. Rents have climbed 30 percent since 2012.”

Meanwhile the bulldozers are clearing a few lots, and I can bet that most of the coming replacement units are not meant for those in my income bracket.

Pacific City, this week in color

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Pacific City, a quiet and beautiful coastal town located off Highway 101 and north of Lincoln City, is becoming one of my new favorite places. This week, I’ll publish a photograph of its iconic haystack rock in color. Last week, I shared my story and pictures in black and white.

With the arrival of hot weather in Oregon, tourist season at towns like Pacific City is full-on. Memorial Day weekend marks the start.

In addition to being a place where the wealthy have gaudy hilltop houses and second homes and condos, the community is also home to locals. They rely on those tourists and the wealthy.

When I arrived to Pacific City around 6 a.m. yesterday, I stopped at the gas station and met the colorful local scene of charterboart fishermen and their crew. These are the folks who take out fishing charter excursions. They were tough men, who used their bodies everyday of their working lives. Many smoked and most were friendly. It was an entirely different culture than my own, which leans to the visiting surfer outsider.

Even in small coastal towns you have at least three different cultures, the rich outsider who buys the real-estate with expensive ocean views, the transplant surfer like the guys who run the Moment Surf Co., and the longtime locals who works in tourism and fishing. I guess all of us have one thing in common, a love of the ocean and its bounty.

Surf’s up at Pacific City

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Pacific City is a beautiful coastal community about 25 miles south of Tilamook. It’s renown for the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. Among surfers, it has a very good reputation as an Oregon surfing beach. In front of Haystack Rock, just south of the cape, you’ll find lovely breaks that go left and right. Today’s surfing crowd included paddleboard surfers, short board riders, and long boarders. Everyone was catching nice waves.

After a difficult winter of getting pounded week after week at Seaside, mostly, I finally learned what a calm day and clean breaks can be like. I was able to ride more wave faces than I ever have. I even was able to lean back and ride a few waves through the foam, feeling the stoke and the balance of that classic pose of just going for a ride. Sunny, warm weather made things almost perfect.

My shots includes a few remaining surfers in front of Haystack Rock in the late morning and the early morning paddle surfers before I put in.

I also enjoyed meeting one of the many local fisherman. The beach is a popular put in and take out spot for charter fishing. My fishing friend had caught his quota of ling cod and rock fish.

When you’re done surfing, you can always go for a walk up to the top of Kape Kiwanda or grab a beer at the Pelican Brewing Co. and soak up the scenery.

 

It takes years to learn a beach

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

As a novice surfer, I still realize how little I know about the power of the ocean, particularly rip tides. Today, they felt like monsters pulling out from shore as the tide shifted and quickly changed between ebb and flow, and the water was sucked out of the main surfing cove at Seaside with alarming speed and force. I am breaking many rules still. I am not riding the rip out to the line up location. My dives are lousy, which is why I am not surfing near others. Also, I am choosing the wrong spots, because I do not trust my “fun board” in the rip.

Today I decided I will upgrade to larger board and start venturing out the best point at this beach, where most of the surfers sit, looking longingly to the west, waiting for their wave to roll in from the ocean and to the shore. Today’s morning crew understood the tide better than me and put in as I was leaving. My consolation prize, besides getting a few good rides, was seeing the morning light as it danced through the dark clouds and turned the ocean a translucent green. It was magical to be the only soul out there for a while.

Oregon surf style: single fins and VW Squareback

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I recently returned from a four-day surf trip to the central Oregon coast. The safari included visits to Florence South Jetty, Newport South Jetty, Agate Beach, and Otter Rock. I had the best rides at Florence South Jetty, but I think Newport South Jetty had the nicest reef bottom. I will come back.

Rudy Owens at Agate Beach

The real “scene” was at Agate Beach, a well-known break next to Yaquina Head on the north side of the port city of Newport. That is where I captured this iconic Squareback, loaded with two single fins. What a classic look.

A lot of surfers of all skill levels gathered for some nice waves on a Saturday morning, before the winds picked up and led to some rough pounding near-shore breaks that pummeled me for two hours.

I  enjoyed every minute and will return to Newport.

Rediscovering the Columbia River Gorge

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful river canyons in the United States, if not the world. It runs along the mighty Columbia River, with steep, forested basalt rock walls, forests, and peaks on either side in Washington and Oregon.

I never tire of visiting the place. I first came here in 1983, when I started college in Portland. I fell in love with the historic Vista House. It was built in 1916 on a rocky perch for that new breed of traveler called a road tourist. It commands has a magnificent, sweeping view up the river.

Nearby you can find multiple waterfalls that spill down canyons, including one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country, Multnomah Falls. Those two falls plunge 620 feet by the historic lodge that was completed in 1925.

Further upriver, you can spot the Bonneville Dam, created during the Great Depression as a works project to control flooding and generate cheap hydro power that supplies the Northwest region. Unfortunately, the dams on the Columbia like Bonneville Dam also decimated the salmon runs. Still the Bonneville Dam, at mile post 42 on the Gorge, is well worth a stop.

When I visited today with an out-of-town cousin, we saw one of the massive turbines on display in front of the visitors center. We also spotted some of the many now-resident sea lions swimming in the water just outside the spillway.

I came away refreshed and feeling blessed I have such an amazing piece of geology and natural beauty in my backyard. Be sure to give yourself half a day if you visit.

Renewal and Decay in The Grove

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

My trip to St. Louis in March took me into new neighborhoods, including the area known as The Grove. It is located along Manchester Avenue, in the south central section of the city. It is an excellent example of both decay and renewal in a city that continues to see its population decline to barely more than 300,000 from more than 800,000 six decades earlier.

I visited the area in October 2016 and drank beer at the popular brewpub called the Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. It is a trendy watering hole known to beer connoisseurs and travelers. Most never venture two blocks away to see homes that are shuttered and abandoned. In fact I saw several abandoned and beautiful old homes on Manchester Avenue less than 150 yards from the Chestnut, near the iconic electric sign announcing “The Grove” as you enter the business strip heading east. This dichotomy captured for me the struggles of trying to save a city that has been on the decline for more than half a century.

The Grove itself is located in the official Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood of St. Louis. Created in 2009, the Grove Community Improvement District has worked to restore the area. Its website boasts that urban decay has been licked along the main business district on Manchester: “Known for its diverse community, The Grove is home to several LGBT friendly businesses, several of which lead the initial wave of investment in the area, starting with Attitudes Night Club opening in the 1980s. In recent years, community members devoted to filling one vacant storefront at a time, have revitalized the district.”

When I drove through the area, I saw many homes from the early part of the 20th century in various signs of decay. I did not feel that safe having my car parked only one block off of Manchester on a calm spring night.

It’s a heavily industrialized area, next to interstates and rail yards, and home to industry along with commercial establishments. Many homes just two to four blocks south of Manchester were shuttered. There were visible signs to rebuild and restore many of these distressed buildings. They had the signs of the development firm Restoration St. Louis spray painted on plywood on entrances. Restoration St. Louis’ website boast of its efforts to preserve historic buildings through what it called “urban husbandry”–an expression I have never heard of before, which to my mind blends animal breeding with urban renewal. The firm also has plans to tear down and build new multi-story dwellings, similar to what one finds in high-density areas of West Coast cities.

I have little insider knowledge of the local politics and efforts to maintain the area and keep it going. One of the best resources I found is published by Mark Groth. He has  extensively profiled all of St. Louis’ 79 neighborhoods. His profile of Forest Park Southeast, on his website www.nextstl.com, offers a rich archive of images and a discussion of efforts to redevelop the area. He notes a few trends toward gentrification, such as an increasing white population and decreasing black population. He calls the area “up and coming.”

Groth’s work is wide-ranging and visually dynamic. It is far more accurate than the occasional parachute journalistic profiles of St. Louis, such as the one CNN recently ran in its story on Feb. 16, 2017, on the supposed rebound in St. Louis and Kansas City (St. Louis and Kansas City Bounce Back). Such reporting does a disservice. It denies the evidence plainly visible to anyone who drives a car through the city. It also downplays the complexities of addressing decades-old problems of racial divisions and redlining, de-industrialization, and policies that promoted suburban development at the expense of older urban communities like St. Louis.

Also See my first photo essay on The Grove, published on April 2, 2017.

 

 

Remembering Jerusalem on Easter Sunday

I visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in 2004. It was one of the most amazing experiences I can remember. I saw tension, conflict, and beauty in a land that is revered by three monastic faiths and billions of people. Here are a couple of shots I took in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the spot where reportedly Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.