Back from Manila

I can't blog just yet. I arrived from Manila two days ago and I am currently prepping for a talk on Monday. Film is already in the lab while my CF cards are still in the camera bag waiting to be downloaded. In the meantime, I wanted to share this image. I took it while I was waiting to board the plane back to San Francisco. More to come soon.

Waiting to board. Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Manila, Philippines/ ©Stella Kalaw


Aix de Provence, France. 2009. / ©Stella Kalaw

Food is on my mind as we fly out to Paris. Weather forecast calls for overcast skies for the week with slight chances of showers on some days. Hmm—open shade makes for good pictures and who knows how a break in the clouds will affect the scene? Hopefully, we are inside a museum or sitting in a cafe when it pours. Umbrellas in the luggage? check. It's been twenty some odd years since I last visited Paris so I am excited to rediscover it again. Then we're off to Budapest to visit my brother. This time, I am looking forward to riding the metro and exploring the city on foot. Margaret Island, Szechenyi Baths and the Hungarian House of Photography are on the list. Stay tuned for stories and photographs when I return.

Wandering: Cannes

Cannes proudly wears a deep affinity with cinema on its sleeves and visual references were seen everywhere in the city. There was a black and white portrait of French actress Catherine Deneuve plastered on the side of a local bus. I noticed a row of tiny director's chairs etched on the glass that wrapped around a bus shelter next to a portrait of American actor Gregory Peck on Boulevard de la Croisette. On the grounds of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, I found several hand prints from famous European and American actors and directors located along the Esplanade Georges de Pompediou. On top of the bus station close to Hotel De Ville, a trompe l'oeil fresco entitled Cinema Cannes featured 34 faces from the city's cinematic heritage. Inside a restaurant, a photo mural of George Clooney and Brad Pitt wearing black ties was used as a themed backdrop for a special event.

On Rue des Frères Pradignac, located between Le Croisette and Rue de Antibes, I stumbled upon Ciné-Folie, a comprehensive bookstore on cinema that also sold movie memorabilia from the festival. Framed Posters hung on the walls while several boxes of postcards covered the top of the glass shelf directly across the front door. I randomly chose a box to browse and Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" instantly appeared from the stack. I bought it out of nostalgia for the movie. I found a bench on the same street, wrote the postcard to a friend about the lucky find and dropped it in the mail.

A gentle breeze blew from the ocean as we neared Boulevard dela Croisette- the main artery for tourist activity in Cannes. The light sweater I wore was just right for the stroll. The branches swayed from the palm trees that lined the boulevard while the sun held itself at a perfect angle casting a warm glow on the fine sandy beaches and the luxury hotels, boutique shops, restaurants and apartments facing the ocean. Jaguars and Ferraris sat on traffic along side buses, bikes, motorcycles and pedestrian. A number of large trucks were parked near the beach. Crews rolled out dollies shuttling audio and lighting equipment from the truck to the tents that were temporarily erected for special events tied to the convention while caterers wheeled carts filled with trays of hors d ouevres. Blue chairs dot the walkway, most where empty but a few were occupied by men and women huddled together in conversation and a sprinkle of locals and tourists basking in the afternoon sun.We saw dogs playfully sniffing each other as they crossed paths while conventioneers sat on the ledges while typing on their Blackberries. Instead of tanned bodies and parasols covering every square inch of the beach, a few boys played soccer on the sand, a juggler threw wooden shaped bottles in the air and a few romantic couples sat near the ocean.

Cannes also boasts of having over 700 name brand stores mostly concentrated on the boulevard and on Rue d' Antibes which runs parallel behind it. The boutique shops such as Dior, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton faced the ocean. People carrying shopping bags still abound inspite of the sagging global economy. Women wore high heeled boots and carried designer handbags while strolling with their friends and their perfectly groomed dogs. Gentlemen in dark suits were transfixed at the titanium cell phones at Vertu's window display. As we approached the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the same red carpet where celebrities and directors stood during the Film festival were replaced by a sea of men wearing dark suits and convention badges around their necks. Beside the convention center was an empty parking lot situated in front of Vieux Port where luxury yachts were docked. We walked further down the harbor until the sun dipped in the horizon and the sky turned purple and pink.

At Marche Forville the following morning, I bought fruits from an elderly lady. She smiled from a far and pointed at the plate of sliced clementine oranges in her stall. I walked over, took a small bite and the sweet juice poured down my fingers. "Trois, madame." I said.

I grabbed a packet of tissue from my back pack and wiped my hand while she added one more orange in the bag to round the total to one euro. I wandered around the open air market mentally reading the french signs and trying to guess the english translation of the locally grown produce or fruit on the table spreads.

A few blocks over, I headed to Rue Meynadier- a pedestrian street where the best selection of specialty foods were found. This turned out to be my favorite place in Cannes. It was a feast for the eyes and for the stomach. I went to Ernest and bought a slice of chocolate mousse, tried a pan au chocolait at Paul's and sat in an outdoor cafe sipping a cafe mocha while observing the locals and tourist go about their way. I marveled at the food packaging designs of specialty cheeses, chocolates, cakes and olive oil bottles sold in the local stores along the street. Late afternoon, I stopped by a boulangerie and bought a cheese and spinach quiche and another piece of pan au chocolat for dessert. My last stop was at a grocery store to pick up a liter of bottled water before heading back to the hotel.

Teddy is safe

© Stella Kalaw

I was unpacking my camera, lenses, passport, etc. from my backpack and was about to store it away in the hotel's safe when I saw "Teddy" taking up half the space. "What is he doing here?" I asked my sister. She laughed at my perplexed reaction.

Two years ago, my niece brought "Pinky" a stuffed toy shaped shark, to Beijing. They left her in the hotel while they toured the city. When they returned that evening, they found Pinky's fur was coming off and the stuffing was protruding from a tear in her body. My niece was devasted and cried so hard. They had a hunch that the housekeeper must have stuck Pinky in the washing machine and when my sister brought it up to the manager on duty, he refused to accept responsibility. They offered to sew her up instead. Now, every time they travel, Teddy must be in the safe. I smiled. It was good to know someone in there was watching out for my stuff too.

Driving Stories

© Stella Kalaw

Backing out of the parking space seemed to be the easiest thing to do since I own a manual transmission car in the Bay Area. I mean, how complicated could it be, right? My first instinct was to press down on the stick and then shift to R. The car jolted forward. I did this several times. No luck. I could feel the sweat forming down my back. I took a deep breath."No worries. Just take your time," my sister assured me. I paused and tried to think. The only analogy I could come up with was the difference between racking a Canon vs. a Nikon zoom lens. Pull the lens barrel towards you with a Canon to zoom in while Nikon does the opposite thing. Could this analogy translate to my dilemma? So, I pulled the stick shift and moved it to R. Voila! Problem solved.

At St. Paul De Vence, I got stuck exiting a parking garage. When I drove out, I stared at the ticket machine trying to figure out where to stick my credit card but there was only one slot which I assumed only took the paid ticket. Luckily, there were two lanes so I was able to leave my car in one while other patrons could pass in the other. I ran to what looked like the parking office. I cupped both hands and peered through them into the window. I saw an older gentleman at his desk. I walked in the door. "Excusez moi, Monsieur..." He looked up. I showed him the ticket and a euro bill. "C'est automatique..!" He replied. I turned my palms up and shrugged my shoulders. He pointed at the exit and I knew the building had a few floors. I signaled with my hands.. 1, 2 or 3? He signed back with 1. "Merci." I said. I turned the corner, located an elevator, and searched for the ticket machine to pay. I felt like I was competing in the Amazing Race trying to find the next clue except Phil, the host, would not be standing at the exit to inform me that I won a trip. Once I was done paying, I raced back to the car, took a few seconds to catch my breath, then inserted the ticket in the slot. Ah, freedom!

I stopped at an automatic toll booth to pay for my ticket heading back to Cannes. I reached inside my pocket for the coins that I previously counted before I left Vence and dropped them in the (very large) basket. The barrier did not go up. I looked at the machine and it told me I lacked .10 euros. A line of cars was starting to form behind me. I reached again inside my pocket and felt the missing coin. I threw it in haste and missed. Oh, s**t! I could not believe it! I saw it bounce and heard it land on the road. I scrambled to find more coins. After a few minutes which felt like an hour, a lady wearing an orange vest approached me. "Bonjour, Madame." she said. I was able to produce (2) .5 euros to show her but the machine would not take anything less than .10 euros. She smiled and exchanged them for me. She dropped the coin in the basket."Ahh, merci, Madame!" I said and pressed hard on the gas pedal.

Le Suquet

© Stella Kalaw

My sister took me to dinner at Le Suquet, a narrow uphill cobblestone road lined with local restaurants located in the old town of Cannes. Tea lights glowed from the tables and warmed the tiny interiors. Fresh floral arrangements decorated the entry ways and flower beds hung on the outdoor decks. Menus and specials of the day were handwritten on glass doors. "Bonjour," the waitstaff greeted us as we passed by.

We did not have a particular place in mind so we walked and glanced at several menus until we reached the end of the street. We were looking to do a pre-fixe dinner so it was a matter of finding a combination that suited our taste. We finally picked Le Marais. While most establishments served a salad for an appetizer, Le Marais offered a pan fried foie gras glazed in apricot and prune sauce. The description was enough to whet our appetites and to get us through the door.

We approached the front door and the maitre d' promptly seated us to a quiet corner inside the restaurant. We went over the rest of the selections. I picked a dish with a medley of meats: magret of duck, beef filet, and shoulder of lamb served in a bed of mashed potatoes and green beans while my sister chose scallops with eggplant risotto and cream. We also ordered a half bottle of locally made red wine to pair with our meal.

I could not remember the last time my sister and I had this extended bonding time together without distractions except of course, for the occasional buzzing of her Blackberry in her purse. In the middle of our conversation over the delicious foie gras that we slathered on slices of freshly made baguette, I could not help but reminisce our teenage years. She would gently wake me up after coming home from parties in the wee hours of the morning. I sat across from her in bed where she confided her joys and heartaches. I listened, in great detail, to many stories about the intricacies of her social interactions between friends, her relationships and how she dealt with adversaries. All that experience has really helped her build confidence and has molded her into a self-assured and successful bank executive closing deals and interacting with senior colleagues in her field today.

We finished our meal with two desserts: three kinds of chocolate truffles and a nougat drizzled with mango and strawberry sauce. We were very pleased with the portions that we felt full but not stuffed. On our way back to our hotel, we strolled along Rue D' Antibes looking at the window displays of local retail shops. We then made a wrong turn and ended up following a longer route uphill to our hotel. We joked about expending the dinner we just consumed doing this unexpected hike. We were laughing by the time we slipped the card key in the door.

Traveling Again

Usually, my siblings and I meet every April for my niece's birthday. However, my sister invited me to come with her to an annual convention she attends in Europe. She asked me four years ago but the timing was not right then. She says it is her early birthday gift for me. I could not pass it up. So, we are gathering together and celebrating birthdays ahead of time. I will not be posting for a week but as always, I will be sharing stories and photographs when I get back.


My brother and I had planned to make it back to his apartment before dark but the strong downpour prevented us from taking the two hour trip back to the city. We were hoping the rain would stop but it continued throughout the evening. We decided it was best to stay overnight rather than take the risk of getting lost in the region. We had to drive along a winding road through the woods in complete darkness before reaching the main highway. We were visiting Eva, one of my brother's colleagues from work, who had a family cottage in Rynartice-- a small town in Northern Bohemia close to the German border.

Earlier that afternoon, we sat in her backyard surrounded by lush greenery. We drank white wine and ate local delicacies and desserts. We had Cocoska (similar to coconut macaroons), Korbacik ( Slovakian string cheese) and apple streudel. One of her close friends also brought a bottle of home made Slivovice-- a clear and potent spirit made out of plums from Moravia. She poured some in a shot glass and urged us to try it. I took a small sip and instantly felt a burning sensation as the alcohol made its way down my throat. I was about to gag but I shook my head, closed my eyes and swallowed hard.

The rain disrupted our meal so we quickly moved indoors. Later, a few more of her friends arrived and joined us at the table. As the evening wore on, beer and wine continued to flow and the group of friends spoke more Czech and less English. At that point, my brother and I were lost in translation. We politely excused ourselves, and went upstairs to the bedroom. We slept in the same clothes we wore during the day.

The next morning, I stayed in bed waiting for my brother to wake up. From the window, I could see that the rain had disappeared. The interior of the room was filled with antique furniture. Yesterday, while giving us a quick tour of the house, Eva told us that the Czechs were prohibited to travel outside of the country during the communist era so the cottage served as their weekend retreat. Summer and winter vacations were also spent there. Knowing this bit of personal history made it seemed as if time stood still in the room. Somehow, I felt grateful for the opportunity to be there. I suddenly had the urge to photograph and make a record of it.