What Happened to “Ocean Mist”?

I was perusing the new WordPress themes, wondering whether I wanted to change my theme. Ocean Mist has always been a favorite theme; I’ve returned to it regularly. Tonight, however, I accidentily gave it up, probably forever. 

I didn’t intend to give it up, but my finger brushed the wrong key as I was loading  “live preview” on one of the  themes. Suddenly, Ocean Mist vanished. I decided I didn’t really want to change my theme after all, so I looked for Ocean Mist but couldn’t find it in any of the lists of themes on the WordPress site. I “googled” it and found it as a download, so I downloaded it– the new, improved version!– but then I couldn’t figure out how to upload the theme into the blog, so now it’s really gone, and I feel a sense of loss.

 

Poking around the WordPress site, I realized that themes are going the way of other consumer goods—  more numerous but of poorer quality and higher price. Custom color options that used to be free on certain themes are now included in the Custom Design option that costs $30 per year.  “Custom header” now means (on some themes)  that you can choose from several pre-loaded headers but not upload your own. Free custom fonts went away years ago; I’m surprised I can still choose font color. Font size can be changes, sort of, but the limited choices don’t always work. I cannot figure out why this paragraph cannot be shrunk to fit its surrounding paragraphs.

I finally landed on Coraline, a theme I have used and liked, which still offers custom color backgrounds and fully custom headers–  free. I have since activated Fruit Shake, with the same custom header and (limited) custom background, my necessary minimum requirements. I’ll miss Ocean Mist, as I don’t think I’ll have the gumption to learn new computer maneuvers for awhile.  I’ll keep the downloaded file, just in case I run into a computer guru who would simply love to upload it for me. 

If I were knowledgeable about designing themes, I’d craft a Middle-Eastern  theme. Maybe someone will do it for me, and if it were gorgeous, and  infinitely customizable, I might even pay for it. 

The Saint Movies

Even before I became a Muslim, I was never Catholic. I knew very little about Catholicism or the lives of the saints, nor was I interested. Now, I am interested.

Several years ago, I stumbled across a movie entitled, “Papa Luciani.” This movie was available on-line via http://www.rai.it/, the Italian network. It was one of a handful of Italian language movies I could watch on-line as an exercise in improving my Italian. This biography of Albino Luciani, who became Pope John Paul I, engaged my heart and mind. The acting and photography was so excellent I watched the movie repeatedly. Not only did I improve my comprehension of Italian, but I learned about a most remarkable man who continued to inspire, years after he died under mysterious circumstances in 1978 the age of sixty-five years.

After digesting this film, I discovered another film biography of a Catholic saint, this one called, “St. Giuseppe Moscati,  Doctor to the Poor”.  Moscati was a physician whose compassion and bravery made an indelible mark upon the subsequent development of medical care. Many people have never heard of this man, who was declared a saint in 1987.                   

After seeing these two films, my motives for watching them expanded. Not only was I interested in improving my Italian, but also now interested in exposing my spirit to the examples of human beings whose lives of love and sacrifice transcended religious constructs. These saints lived using Roman Catholicism as a matrix because that’s what they knew. The ultimate verity of Catholicism, Islam, or even Buddhism, for that matter, does not matter. The messages in these films transcend the incompatibility of theologies. In fact, most of these saints endured harsh criticism and even torture because they did not adhere to the decreed set of contemporary (for their day) Catholic rules.

As a Muslim, I can appreciate these saints and take lessons from them, apart from ideological dogma that drags upon all organized religions. I am not interested in leaving Islam or embracing Catholicism, but I am always interested in the lives of people who exemplify the most simple and universal of religious truths:  Love each other.

I’ve since watched other “saint” films— all extremely well done artistically and philosophically– documenting the lives of the saints. Among my favorites are:

 

Bakhita

From Slave to Saint

 

Padre Pio, Miracle Man, starring Sergio Castellito, one of Italy’s most respected actors.

 

Saint Francis

(of Assisi)

 

Saint Philip Neri, I Prefer Heaven

This one made me cry.

I

 

St. Giuseppe Moscati

Doctor to the Poor

(and one of the most handsome actors!)

 

All are available at http://www.ignatius.com and http://www.amazon.com.

If any reader happens to see one of these movies, please let me know your thoughts about what you saw.

Progress in Photography

Well, six months have passed since my last post. I guess I’m in hibernation from blogging, but only because I delved more deeply into other interests, among them photography.

Following my last post– in which I related my discomfort with the local photography group– I studied their images of that railroad station, and I gained a decent respect for their knowledge and talent. I learned from them, without having to speak a word. Just studying their images taught me so much that I decided to walk with them again.

I not only walked with them again, I actually volunteered to organize one of the walks, which attracted quite a few people and yielded a wonderful variety of images. I met many new people, as each walk attracts people that did not attend the previous walk, and they accepted me as part of the group.

I still learn from them by studying their images, and my own work has improved as a result. I haven’t formed any new friendships, however– perhaps that’s asking too much– but I am eager to continue the activity.

Photography is a passion I couldn’t indulge when I lived in Riyadh. Back in the eighties, photography was considered “haraam”– forbidden!– and may still be considered forbidden by many Muslims. I didn’t dare take pictures of buildings or even landscapes, much less people, and I miss those photos I never took. We didn’t even have cell phones that could take the surreptitious image, and no Interenet on which to post the nonexistent pictures.

Bloggers, however, have taken up the slack, and have enhanced their blogs with lovely images of the places and people of the Middle East. I can only surmise that photography is somewhat allowed these days. Even Flickr offers quite a few groups dedicated to Middle Eastern and Muslim photography. I adore perusing these sights, and I send a silent, “Thank you,” to all people who are now allowed to photograph the scenes I was not allowed to photograph when I lived there.

My bucket list includes another trip to the Middle East, next time with my camera.

 

Outside My Comfort Zone

Recently, I attended my first and (maybe) last photo-walk with the local Flickr group. I had looked forward to this walk for a month. I wanted to meet people from whom I could learn things, in a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere. Photography is fun, but it’s not easy.
 
The venue was a small town railway station about thirty miles south of my home. I arrived on time, and introduced myself to the group of four women and five men all carrying cameras. We shook hands and exchanged names. Most of the group had met each other at previous photo-walks, so I expected they’d start talking, but they didn’t. The leader told us the route we’d walk, and the things we’d find interesting to photograph– a garage for the trains, a town square with some of the oldest buildings in the state, and an old-fashioned ice cream shop.
 
We started walking. The clicks of shutters made more noise than any of the few words that passed between the walkers. When they did speak, they made small talk, saying nothing about photography. No one asked anyone questions about anything. No one gave me the time of day.
Cameras of all kinds hung around necks. Some walkers carried full-frame cameras with L lenses. One man must have been strapped with six thousand dollars worth of gear. My own is a Canon 60D, a respectable machine that gives me a challenge. Those people knew what they were doing, but they didn’t talk about it. I was disappointed. I meandered off on my own, as is my habit when I’m supposed to be in a group. Eventually we all came together again, in front of a bar. No one had missed me, and sure enough, they had to enter the bar for a beer.
 
I hate bars, and I don’t drink.  I went in with them in hopes that a beer would loosen their tongues and they’d start talking about photography. Their tongues loosened, but instead of talking about photography, they talked about drinking! The bar owner got friendly and told us the history of the bar, and how it was used as a hotel one hundred years ago. He took us upstairs, where several rooms had been preserved as they might looked back in the hotel days. We all took pictures in the heat, and sweated.
 
Afterwards, we continued our walk around the town square. They conversed more, about inconsequential matters having nothing to do with either photography or their personal lives. I wanted to know more about them, especially about those who might have been professional photographers, but I didn’t speak. At this point, I was curious to know whether any of them would say a single word to me.  One did, to tell me that a local custard stand owner is now on record as supporting the legalization of marijuana.
 
I couldn’t wait to reach the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soothe my frustration with a Turtle. Surely then, when everyone was sitting, they’d talk about photography. They didn’t. They talked about those old rotary telephones we used in the sixties. The Turtle was also a disappointment. The caramel syrup was not caramel, but cheap, chemical butterscotch, and not much of it, thank goodness.
 
I ate it in silence. We threw our money on the table and walked outside into the heat. I said my phony, “goodbye-nice-to-have-met-you,” lines several times and headed for the parking lot. One other person headed there with me, as silent as the rest of them. Of course, I could have spoken to her, but by then, I felt as though I’d just spent two hours in the Twilight Zone. I restrained myself from running to the car.
 
During the next several days, most of the participants posted their images to the Flickr group . Every single one of their images was better than mine. Every one of those photographers knew how to use their equipment better than I did. Still wanting to learn from them, I looked for the EXIF data of their images. Several of them had chosen not to share their EXIF data. I had spent two hours with highly skilled photographers who didn’t talk about photography nor shared their technical data nor spoke to the new person– me– and yet, they all had seemed in good moods, happy enough to be doing what they were doing.
 
If an Arab had been amongst us, he or she would have gotten the life stories out of every one of us. None would have parted as strangers. I think, though, that this group’s  aloof attitude is typical of Americans. No one wants to invade the privacy of anyone else by asking personal questions or expressing interest that could be misinterpreted. Americans are touchy about their privacy and their independence.
 
Maybe they are behaving normally for Americans, however. I don’t know because I haven’t socialized with a group of Americans for thirty years. Maybe I am overreacting; it wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe it was me who exuded an air of aloof indifference; that, too, would not have happened for the first time.
 
I’ll continue to read, experiment, and improve my technique, but I’ll do my next photowalk by myself. If I overcome the sense of weirdness that enveloped me while walking with this group, I may walk with them again next month, to test the idea that they are simply geeky Americans, insular and provincial, but willing to open up when they realize I’m safe. We’ll see.

The “Bismillah”

One of the joys of living in Saudi Arabia was seeing Arabic calligraphy, especially the “bismillah” and other  renditions of  verses  from the Qur’an,  expressed artistically  in various media.  “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate” is a key phrase in Islam. It prefaces ritual prayer, and is said often throughout the day, to oneself or out loud, when embarking  upon a task.

I remember an outing to the desert with a group expats from  King Faisal Specialist Hospital, in which I worked. Our Saudi driver said it before starting the bus. He said it quietly, almost to himself.  After that, I noticed other Muslims saying it, often before doing something new or something that involved the well-being of others. I liked the phrase. It encompassed the best of intention, the realization that we act in faith, without  the assurance of  the consequences of our actions, and in the acceptance of whatever result followed.

I began seeing calligraphy everywhere, especially the bismillah, which always graced the letterhead of official stationery. In the suq, I saw wonderful wall hangings, some painted, some inked, some sewn with gold letters on black velvet.  Book covers in the Arabic section of bookstores showed dramatic, often shiny gold calligraphy, and I never could decipher the titles, even after I learned how to read Arabic. In the women’s cafeteria of the hospital hung a large panel painted in bold brush strokes of mauve, purple, blue, yellow, green, with flecks of gold and diamond-like textures that caught the ambient light.

I know nothing of the art or science of calligraphy. All I know is that seeing it pleases me immensely, fascinates my eye and  engages my heart. I won’t mind learning how to do it. Until and if I ever do, I’ll remain content with looking at it, especially at the bismillah.

Tagged: Bedroom Art

Tagged: Bedroom Art

imuslim tagged me:

http://imuslim.tv/2009/03/08/bedroom-art/

Here are my bedroom shots, but I must confess, the photos look better than the real thing!

These peacock feathers came from a cousin who keeps peacocks and llamas on her farm. I’ve always loved these feathers, maybe because they showcase my two favorite colors, “peacock” blue and emerald green.

IMG_1446_edited-1 

This plant stays in the house over winter, and I nurse it along, though it does not like staying inside. In two months I’ll be able to put it outside.

IMG_1448_edited-1

This lamp is next to my bed. What you do not see is a messy pile of books on the table. The object hanging from the lamp is a wooden shoe horn that belonged to my father. It seems to belong there; I haven’t moved it since my father died, and I actually use it to help me slip on new shoes.

IMG_1449_edited-1

This is my bedroom door. I close it at night, and I can see the clock from my bed. It makes a lot of tick-tock noise, but I don’t mind. I love the Arabic numbers. I brought this clock, and seven others (which I distributed to siblings) from Saudi Arabia.

IMG_1450_edited-1

Well, now I have the pleasure of tagging a few other people, and they are:

Hning, who might want to try picture taking as a viable alternative to writing, when she feels the need to “to say something”: http://hningswara.blogspot.com/

Susie, though she probably has better photos to take, of sculptures, sandstorms, and life on the streets of Jeddah, http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/

Carol, though there’s a good chance she doesn’t have time for the frivolities of bedroom art, http://americanbedu.com/

and Aafke, from whom I expect the most charming, engaging photos of all!), http://clouddragon.wordpress.com/

The rules are simple:
* Post one or more photos that were taken from within your own bedroom. The more interesting and artistic, the better!
* Then tag at least three others to do the same.
* Don’t forget to link back to the person who tagged you.

Amazing Circles and Other Oddities

Amazing Circles and Other Oddities

Several of my readers, most recently ~W~ and Safiyyah, have asked me how I make my circles and other creative images.  Honestly, I do not know. I can tell you how to start, but you must allow the image to take shape of its own accord. You must lose technique in the art. When I finally post an image, I cannot remember the sequence of steps that produced it.

However, with practice, I’m getting better at controlling the technique, choosing filters, effects, and colors to produce remarkable images. Here is how anyone can start:

A good photo editing program is essential. I use Photoshop Elements 6 and Microsoft Digital Imaging Suite.

A base photo is not so important. Any photo will do. A photo with good color and  contrast will be easier to transform, but the most interesting images result from poor photos that I would otherwise delete.

The easy way to get started is by making an Amazing Circle using dumpr’s automated technique:

http://www.dumpr.net/. You don’t need any software to use this technique; just plug in your photo.

When you tire of that, use the manual technique found on Flickr’s Amazing Circles group:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/amazingcircles/

The resulting circles are delightful, but you’ll soon tire of them, so then you must plug them into your photo editing software, and subject them to random filters and transformations, until you land on one you’d like to keep. The key here is to continue subjecting the resulting image to repeated filters and transformations, until you have an image that is far removed from its origin.

Then, you must adjust properties such as shadows, lighting, levels, brightness and color, on the Enhance menu of PSE. Then, think up a title and post the image to your Flickr account. That’s all there is to it!

Would you believe, that this:

IMG_1221

became this:IMG_1221_edited-1

became this:IMG_1221_edited-6

became this:IMG_1221_edited-8 ?