Random Musings – Vol 3 (Travelling off the beaten track)

Enjoying an arancina (rice ball) and a beer in a square in Siracusa.

I tend to be a bit of an extremist when it comes to travelling. I avoid things I label as tourist traps like the plague, even at the expense of missing out on some obvious land marks. I’ve been to Paris three or four times, yet I’ve never gone to the Eiffel Tower. I visit London regularly, but I’ve never been to the Big Ben and in my holidays in Rome I never ventured towards the Vatican (and the Sistine Chapel), even though I would like to rectify the latter the next time I spend some time in The Eternal City


As an independent traveller who goes abroad regularly you become somewhat cynical. This brings about a lot of advantages. When we visited New York last year we visited all the “right” places but did spend some time to see some of the more obvious landmarks. We walked across Central Park and crossed Brooklyn Bridge, we bought tickets to the Empire State Building and stared in awe at the lights in Time Square. We only did those after getting lost in Chelsea and the meatpacking district, eating ethnic food in Greenwich Village and walking across Harlem.

Our overall intention is to get to live life as a local would. Eating with the locals, seeing the places they would visit and understanding the basic differences and similarities. I cannot understand how someone could travel half way across the world to eat the same food they’d eat at home (especially if it is some mass-produced drivel).

As someone living in Malta (which is very touristic) I realise that 90% of what tourists visit are simply what we think should appeal to them. We think that they want to see all the quaint women dressed in medieval clothes, eat “traditional” food and spend time visiting the wonders we have on the island. Are they worth a visit? Yes – for sure – and I can understand how a first-time visitor might want to see some of them. Do these tourists learn anything about the Maltese people or how we live our lives? No they don’t.

The million-dollar question, however is, do they want to? Did they travel to see the people or did they come over to see our natural beauty, our pre-historic temples, our medieval churches and stunning Grand Harbour?

On a recent holiday we were travelling with people who can be classified as “gullible” travellers. I must admit that for the first time ever I felt that travelling that way has its appeals too. I never expected it, but we saw things that I would never have ventured on my own because I would have dismissed them as tourist traps. It set me thinking that with so many people doing the same thing, there must be some appeal to it after all.

On an earlier trip last year, for example, in which I was travelling with my wife, her parents and brother, we took a horse and carriage ride. It was also something we would never have dreamed of taking but once on it both my wife and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

My verdict? I’m still not certain what to think of it. First of all I am a firm believer that everyone should take holidays for whichever reason they believe works for them. If I want to spend two weeks on a beach I should be allowed to (I don’t want to!) but if my idea of a holiday leaves me more tired than before I left, I should be allowed to do so too. Everyone has their own goals and we each relax in different ways.

By simply following the obvious tourist trail you will definitely miss out on a lot. It is practically impossible to find out what the country and its people are like that way. On the other hand, if you avoid all touristic spots possible, you can miss out on major marvels which attract so many people in the first place.

I’d go for a hybrid.

(#9 of 366 X 2012 project)


Morbid Circus Act

I must admit it. I am intrigued by the double murder that happened on the first morning of the year. Just for the sake of anyone not living in Malta, this horrific happening does tick all the right boxes in terms of morbid fascination. I have watched countless* episodes of C.S.I and don’t think I have ever seen anything similar.

Essentially, what seemed to be a home invasion/ robbery gone wrong turned out to be something which is at yet uncovered. In summary, though, the details we do know are:

  • Person A somehow entered the penthouse of person B at around 6.30am on New Year’s day.
  • Person B was in bed with his wife in a room with their twin babies, who was sleeping.
  • The next fact we know is that both person A and person B were found dead of stab wounds in the kitchen of the apartment.
  • Both men appeared to have killed each other, and the only weapons used were two steak knives from the apartment’s kitchen.
  • The wife and children were (physically) unharmed and the wife said she remembers the husband saying something along the lines of “not in front of my kids”.
  • Person A is a young man who had spent the night working in a bar, then in another bar until he was asked to leave.
  • Person B, who is married to the daughter of one of Malta’s most powerful businessmen, spent the evening at home with his family, drove his parents home and headed in for an early night.

There was very little hard evidence released officially to the press and most of the rest of the information came from Person B’s father-in-law.

The second part of the nightmare, however, started the following morning in what passes for press on this God-forsaken island. First of all everyone raided both people’s Facebook profiles for pictures – including one of Person B with his twins in his hands.

Next the conjecture started. I can fully understand that the whole population turned into Horatio Caine for the week, but the press should have had enough sense to only report what was actually happening.

The police said they ruled out robbery, The Times (of Malta) interpreted that as “Person A went into the house with the intention to murder.”

MaltaStar, in some of the worst English to hit the internet, suggested that the men were in a relationship. No sources, just that.

Another Maltese newspaper suggested the wife was involved, claiming that she must have finished off the intruder.

Where has journalism gone? Where are the good old days of only publishing a story when you have one? Where is the respect for the families of the deceased? Why does the Maltese dedicate hundreds of column inches and hastily produce TV programmes about the event when there is absolutely no clarity into it?

It is natural to be intrigued by such a horrific event – and I can understand why people would want to know the truth as soon as possible. This, in fact is why CSI is exciting to watch, but in CSI we get closure at the end of the day, usually forty minutes after the “murder”. If people cannot see the difference between fact and fiction, then I think we need to start educating them.

The press, for starters, should be the ones to be advocating caution and restraint. But then again caution and restraint does not push stats up – so expecting this to change any time soon is an impossible dream.

On a separate, but related note, I was shocked by the level of English being used in Maltese papers nowadays. I remember a time when at the very least The Times had impeccable grammar and was relatively free from mistakes. In my research for this post I stumbled upon some of the worst English I have ever read (though not from The Times, to be fair).

*Gosh, I attempted a quick count there and it was shocking too – around 600 episodes if you include C.S.I. Miami and C.S.I. New York.

(#6 of 366 X 2012 project)

Random Musings – Vol 2 (HDR Photography)

HDR Clouds
A classic example of total HDR overkill.

I remember seeing my first HDR photo – it was a cityscape which just jumped out at you from the screen. At the time HDR was still a relatively new phenomenon and definitely not as overused as it is today. I had no idea what the difference was, I could not fathom how the photograher managed to fit in all that range of colours into one photo.

I had already dabbled a bit with multiple exposures within the same photo, but it had been purely out of need to have an interior shot with the view from the windows well-exposed. The only time I had ever overlaid multiple pictures, however, was when I was still shooting in slides and used to try it out for fun – coming to think of it I should try the technique out again in PS one day.

The concept of extending a photo’s dynamic range is, quite frankly, stunning. The result, when done well, is usually far superior to the normal equivalent.

As with everything else, though, there is a caveat. HDR is often overused or used in the wrong situations. To a certain extent one can compare it to makeup. If a pretty woman knows how to apply makeup to herself she can make her look even more impressive – but the real skill lies in applying it well and in being as subtle as possible with it. If she applies too much of it she will end up attracting far more attention to the makeup itself than to her face and its beauty.

HDR photography is similar. Some of the nicest HDR photos I’ve ever seen needed a second look to realise that they were HDR. When you look at a photo and can immediately see that it has been overedited I feel that some of the beauty is lost. It might be more impressive at first sight, however I often realise that the colours that HDR afford the picture are overriding my senses and I can’t really see past them.

HDR used well
Beautiful use of HDR - adds to the photo's dynamic range without making it look fake. (C) Christopher Bruno/ Flickr


Random musings – Vol 1 (alcohol/ photos)

Random image from Flickr, by michaeln3
Random image from Flickr, ©michaeln3

Thinking about “City of God” – the oh-so-amazing Brazilian crime film released about a decade ago – set me thinking about the power of photos but more importantly about people’s base reactions when placed in front of a camera.

Have you ever been in a night club where someone was going around taking photos of the crowd? With the exception of some shady individual who is probably there without the knowledge of their better half, the minute someone sees a camera they start grouping up friends to pose for a photo. Everyone joins willingly. In certain cases they might even stop the photographer to make them take photos of the group, even if they don’t know them and have no idea of how they will get the photos from them.

Try this out in a place where everyone is sober and the scenario changes completely. Most people freak out when you point a camera at them without context (some freak out even if you know them and ask politely!).

I’m not really sure where this is going, however could it be that deep down everyone wants to be seen, however without alcohol (or peer pressure) to lubricate the situation most people feel too shy to be seen in a photo. Is it simply a question of self confidence (along the lines of approaching someone from the opposite sex more easily if facilitated by alcohol)?