Weekly photo challenge: Masterpiece

John Milton, I’ve read, completed his Masters degree at Cambridge in 1632 at 24 years of age and then moved back home with his parents for five years, where he worked on some of his best-loved writing.  But it wasn’t until 1645 that any of his poetry was published; the book was called Poems of Mr. John Milton, both English and Latin, compos’d at several times.

His poetry was not published again until 1667 at the age of 59 when he had been totally blind for 13 years and had been married 3 times, and after he had worked on the piece for at least 9 years. He was paid £5 for a print run of 1500 copies of his masterpiece, Paradise Lost.

Here’s an excerpt:

Now came still evening on, and twilight grey
Had in her sober livery all things clad;
Silence accompany’d; for beast and bird,
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests,
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung;
Silence was pleas’d. Now glow’d the firmament
With living sapphires; Hesperus, that led
The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon,
Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen unveil’d her peerless light,
And o’er the dark her silver mantle threw.

Last night I found this excerpt from Paradise Lost in my old school poetry anthology.  When I read the line ‘Now glow’d the firmament With living sapphires’, I remembered a 12th-century church ceiling that I recently saw in Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines in the Pyrénées-Orientales, France.  During the day the skylight produces a simulated moon shining in a starry midnight blue sky, and the patches no longer covered in paint resemble night clouds or constellations.  Even in this interior, the moon has thrown ‘o’er the dark her silver mantle’. The photo, left sitting on my computer screen and viewed from across a room, has fooled me more than once.

Click twice on the photo to enlarge it.

Ceiling, Saint Génis des Fontaines, Saint Génis, France
Vaulted ceiling, Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines Abbey, France

It does me good to read that a Cambridge Masters graduate worked on his writing for 35 years before producing a masterpiece.


Ailsa’s travel photo challenge: Tilted

Feluccas are traditional motorless boats that have been used for transport on the Nile River since biblical times.  From the photo below you’d have to agree that they are graceful whether their masts are tilted into the wind or tilted at rest on the beach.  The design is simple, a small wooden boat with a few cushioned seats around the sides, a table in the middle, and sails made from cotton or other natural fibres.

Today feluccas carry tourists and locals on peaceful pleasure boat trips along the Nile.  This photo is from my father’s World War two album and was taken in 1941 or 1942.  Aren’t the large creamy triangular sails ideal in black and white photography!

Felucca, Egypt, c1941
Felucca, Egypt, c1941

Ailsa came up with this theme for a photo challenge.  Check out an amazing tilted tree and other photos here.


Weekly photo challenge: The Golden Hour

When I read the weekly photo challenge to take a photo at the golden hour of sunrise or sunset, I thought, well, I already know about sunset light, so why not make an effort to study the light of sunrise.  But to do that I’d have to get up at sunrise on Sunday.  I had no intention of doing that.

Then, this morning at ten to seven, after six hours’ sleep, I woke to see my room suffused with pink.  At first I ignored it.  Too tired.  But I dared to open my eyes again a few minutes later and the light in the room was tinged with reddish purple.  I jumped out of bed and raced to find my camera, knowing that coloured light is fleeting.  You can see that I took the first photo at three minutes past seven – it took me that long to get ready for my cold back yard.

The official sunrise time was 7:10am, but Canberra was pretty in pink before that moment.  Not really a ‘golden hour’; more of a ‘rosy hour’.  When the actual moment came at 7:10, the pink glow had mostly gone, faded to grey.  It’s mid-winter here;  the temperature was about 6 degrees, a few degrees warmer than usual for this time of morning; the sky today is completely covered.  I know the sun was behind these rosy photos but I never saw it.

Sunrise, Canberra, 14th July 2013, three minutes past seven
Seven minutes before sunrise, Canberra, 14th July 2013, three past seven
Five minutes before sunrise, Canberra, 14th July 2013
Five minutes before sunrise, Canberra, 14th July 2013, five past seven
Exact official moment of sunrise, Canberra, 14 July 2013, ten minutes past seven
Exact official moment of sunrise, Canberra, 14 July 2013, ten past seven

I spy with my little eye

Marianne from East of Málaga asks
what can I spy
and what is my point of view?
I spy with my little eye
a window I can’t see through:

One of the stained glass windows by Leonard French in the National Library of Australia
One of 16 stained glass windows by Leonard French in the National Library of Australia
Bottom panel of a stained glass window by Leonard French, National Library of Australia
Bottom panel of a stained glass window by Leonard French, National Library of Australia

The glass is about 20cm thick, hand-chiselled and set into pewter-coloured concrete.  The artist is an amazing Australian, Leonard French, who made 16 of these windows for the National Library in 1967.  They are all visible from the foyer of the library through the interior plain glass walls of the café and the bookshop.  The windows on the side of the building receiving the morning sun are in warm colours, those you see here decorating the walls of the café.  On the other side of the foyer, the afternoon sun side, the colours are cool blues and purples filling two walls of the bookshop.  French had a philosophy that art should be accessible to the masses and not just for viewing, a philosophy which makes me happy every time I sit at a window table in the café (I’m a little less happy when they’re all taken.).  The chiselled edges of the glass are not sharp.  I know this because I like to stroke it.  The sun shining on the glass makes it glow and makes it warm to touch, but not hot.  A spirit-lifter.

As part of the photo challenge, Marianne suggests we recommend two blogs.  Two come to mind immediately:  The Wanderlust Gene and Covetotop.  Their blogs don’t just have interesting photos of faraway places, but more importantly for me they are well-written.  I’m always on the lookout for readable writers.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

If you’re living in Cairo at present, you’re probably feeling nostalgic for a quieter city with fewer people in the streets.  Here’s a photo to prove that your city was once more peaceful, well, at least outside this hospital.  And there was a world war going on!

With a theme like ‘Nostalgic’ I just had to return to my father’s war album.  I often think I’ve blogged about his best photos, but when I dig around it long enough I can still find a photo to match a challenge, especially this week when Cairo is undergoing yet more trouble and millions of people are in the streets. It’s the ideal time to post a photo taken in Cairo in about 1941.  My father wrote “9th BGH Heliopolis” under it, that is, the 9th British General Hospital in the suburb of Heliopolis, Cairo.

Postscript:  Thanks to Ahmad Omar (see his comment below) I now know that this was originally the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, opened in 1910, which became a hospital in both WWI and WWII and since the 1980s has been one of the Presidential Palaces where presidential offices are located.

9th British General Hospital, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
9th British General Hospital, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941  (formerly Heliopolis Palace Hotel)