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A new year, with much to do!

20 Jan

Dear friends. A delayed welcome to 2012. 2011 was certainly exciting, rich, and unpredictable. Christine and I have high hopes with solid foundations that 2012 can only be equal, if not better, and are very much looking forward to whatever and where ever will come.

So what have we been up to? In December, I finished my final semester of classes at UVU, and Christine nearly the same. It was busy, with us both working and taking heavy university loads, but we managed to get quite a bit done. Between our return to the US in August and December, we had photos from Half Day Around shown in half a dozen galleries and events around Utah. We had a gallery party to show locals what we had been up to, were featured by multiple news papers, and spoke at a university international event after being interviewed on film for a highlight of active students. We also released our first trailer, targeted towards university students who would also have read about us.

In terms of the film itself, we have been working primarily on transcribing and translating the endless video footage captured on our adventure. We have been fortunate to have the help of many Russian/English-speaking volunteers to help in this area. While it is taking some time, doing so will streamline the editing process and ease subtitle work.

And all the while we have been working on sending out post cards to keep in contact. So far we have sent out over 100 of them, and still have more to go! (We have gotten word from a few of you whose postcards were lost in the mail. Please let us know if this happens, as we will want to send another.)

Also, if your address has changed from the one given to us, and we still need to send you Half Day Around paraphernalia please send us a message with your current location and a note if you think it will change again. This will help us greatly.

For those of you wondering about the film, which I would guess is most of you: My hope is that I will have a close to final version out by June. This will then be test-screened with various film-enthusiasts and university connections to help us further improve the edit. Anyone of you who want to participate in initial screenings, in person or via the web, send us an email. We would love to have your help in this. For everyone else, we will release trailers and teasers periodically as well.

For those of you wondering about choosing your prints: We are working on a website where you will be able to view and choose the photo you would like. This way you will be able to see many of our photos that never appeared on the blog, and choose whichever ones you connect with most.

I believe that is all for now. As always, thank you, thank you, thank you again and again.

Tree and Christine

Searching for Inspiration

30 Jul

Kazan at sunset, looking towards our campsite from the other side of the river.

I think all journeys somehow naturally contain a difficult lull that always seems to come at a crossroad. It is that mythical moment when two travelers, dehydrated weary and worn from months of moving their feet, arrive at a dusty intersection with three signs: Backwards, Nowhere, and Nowhere. All that can be done is the setting-down of each heavy pack to gaze, but nothing in sight gives a ready indication of which ‘Nowhere’ could lead to somewhere. Maybe both eventually will, but there is no telling. The combination of low spirits and a severe lack of clear strong choices is a potent poison. In rock climbing it is called the crux: a move or section of a climb, often coming well into a route when one’s muscles are already fatigued, that is particularly difficult. Every movement is more precarious and each decision is harder to make. Sometimes the crux is only difficult because of its timing.

 

Kazan has been strange to us. We came here over one month ago and found our journey’s internal forces impatiently hurrying us along with nagging shoves. And so we moved. We returned here with the same purpose, and this time successfully made our way to Kamskiye Polyany (which I still have yet to write about, I know).

We left there, though we enjoyed our time and felt we could have done more work, because we did not wish to strain the generosity and over stay the welcome of so many wonderful people who opened their homes for us to eat elaborate home-made food, bathe, and lay down our heads for a moment. Russians are generous and loving people to their guests, which makes for a difficult debt for low-budget travelers with which to keep up. We must be careful not to abuse or forget it.

Back in Kazan we have run into a few problems. We don’t know where to go, and we don’t know where to stay. 1) We now have less than three weeks before we hurdle ourselves back across the Atlantic and onto our native soil, and the pressure to return with a beautiful documentary. 2) As of yet, we have not heard back from our busy friends in Baikalsk about a private factory tour. 3) Christine still needs to leave the country for one week in order to meet her visa requirements upon our departure. 4) We have one more specific town of interest to visit, but it is back on the other side of Moscow making it best left to be done once we are already in that area. Logistically, we also can’t spent two weeks there. 5) Here and now is a saturated travel time in Kazan, and we cannot find consistently reliable accommodations within our budget. Finding a bed to sleep in has become so difficult and time consuming that before we’ve realized, an entire day has been spent finding a place for just one night. The next day, this cycle repeats and we’ve had little chance to plan our next move.

Further, I have my own illogical and distracting reason for wishing to stay here in Kazan for two more days, however unrealistic and impractical doing so may be.

 

Backed into this strange corner of simultaneously having not enough and far too much time, we have taken up living in a tent. It was cheaper than spending a night in a hotel and promises future use, though it does mean getting rid of more personal items and gifts to make room in our backpacks. We found a little paradisiacal and secluded spot of beach with a beautiful view of the Kazan Kremlin and Mosque, where the sand is soft and the shade is cool. It should be a good place to think and write.

 

Our stable roof {Крыша!} and fortress against the incredible might of Russian mosquitoes , with the Kazan Kremlin behind it.

 

Our options, as we have recently discussed them, amount to this:

-We hitchhike down to a city in the Samara region south of us called Smyshlyaevka [Смышляевка] which is sort of a monogorod of 7,300 and contains a very large aircraft graveyard. The settlement is based around a large airport that, through various years, was used for passenger airline access to nearby Samara and later military activities. I can’t seem to find what it is used for now other than the graveyard and an aircraft club. From there I could head to Ufa and visit my friends while Christine clears her visa in Ukraine, then we would head to Moscow and Pikalevo, and home;

-We stay here, trapped forever in limbo;

-We start making our way to the Black Sea and attempt to pass through as many monogorod as possible along the way, spending only a few hours in each to take some pictures and video for a montage sequence. Christine’s visa requirements are taken care of by being in Ukraine. I think this option has been removed due to impracticality and time limits;

-We head west of Moscow and up north to the Murmansk region, and do a montage there. Christine could clear her visa in Finland, then we could visit Pikalevo on the way back to Moscow.

 

For whatever reason, none of these options rings a bell of confidence. Backwards, Nowhere, and Nowhere. Soon the moment will come, though, when we must re-don our packs and head towards that mysterious, unknown somewhere. Perhaps all we need do is catch up on writing a few postcards, and then take that proverbial first step for the great winds of life to carry us away and give us direction again.

Salt Lake to San Antone

7 May

Written Thursday May 5, 2011

Just 60 miles outside of San Antonio, Christine and I are nearing the close of our third day of travel. Tuesday saw us an appropriately awkward farewell from Provo. We were delayed by unforeseen bureaucracy from Christine’s university, which elongated our goodbyes. Goodbyes, in my opinion, are typically unpleasant by nature and therefore not something I care endure any longer than necessary. Prior to that my alarm came, of course, too soon into a morning after a night of expected anxious restlessness. Though intellectually I knew that I needed a good night’s rest over packing and re-packing my bag, preoccupation is a complex issue. And so I spent the night debating the vitality of each item to make its way into my bag of treasures again and again. Every time the size and weight seemed too much and the contents too few.

 

Equipment: 1 Video Camera, 1 Shotgun mic, 1 Lavalier mic, 1 Audio recorder, 1 Digital SLR with a 16-35mm lens, 1 35mm Film SLR with 2 lenses, 1 tripod, 1 home-built steady-cam, 25+ various batteries,  Too many chargers and cables, but each with a frustratingly unique purpose, A tiny photo/video editing computer, 2 portable hard drives, and a bundle of memory cards.

Personal Items: 1 bag of toiletries, 1 pair of shorts, 5 pairs of underwear, 7 pairs of socks, 4 shirts, 1 swimsuit, 1 small towel snatched from a ubiquitous cheap motel swimming pool, a sleeping bag, 3 books (one, a dictionary), and 1 map of Russia

On top of that I have the pair of pants, underwear, shirt, hoodie, and flip-flops I wore out the door.

 

Calling it a bag at this point seems to undermine the true function of this particular bag at this particular time. After all, given the full scope of contents and role, it feels more correct to call it my home; The only consistency until I step, timidly I imagine, back to the familiar soil, grass, carpet, and embraces of what I’ve left behind. My shelter. My space. My hope. All contained in this bag of a home…and I love it.

Wednesday was spent in the collage-cities of the Phoenix valley. It was encouraging to see that many of the half-built shopping centers, apartment buildings, and houses of 2007 are now newly finished or at least nearly so. Not so encouraging was the unusually high number of houses for sale, foreclosed, or abandoned per block just in driving around. In parallel, as one might expect, nearby shopping centers were similarly barren.

I was shocked to find that the very shopping center mentioned as the “usual collection” where the northern intersection of the Loop-101 and the I-17 occurs to be one of these stricken former shop locals. The movie theater and a pair of restaurants made up the majority of still open businesses where once at least two dozen had been.

 

By recommendation, we also ventured out to some of the outskirt towns that had been hit particularly hard. One particularly bad vantage point contained an unobstructed view of at least 5 abandoned homes within a 360 degree view. Video of that later.

 

 

 

One shopping center we found was entirely devoid of businesses. It was in a good location right across the street from a reasonably sized neighborhood on the east side, some gas stations and a Lockheed aircraft facility of some sort across from the Goodyear Airport to the south. I’m curious about it’s utterly vacant state.

 

 

Anyhow. I am finishing this post a day and a half late for which I apologize. It is also late at night now and we have an early start tomorrow to procure a few last-minute items (such as a pair of shoes and a compression sack for my sleeping back because I ripped the last one). So I bid you all good night.

 

Tree

What Stays and What Goes

3 May

Today we leave Provo for nearly four months.  Beginning in Provo, down to San Antonio where we will split, Tree working from Seattle to New York and I straight to Moscow where I will find him at an airport at the end of the month.

Just a few days ago, I was informed that due to a lack of business, the leaser of my new house was not getting a paycheck.  Therefore upcoming rent would have to be paid through acquiring debt and if the next paycheck didn’t come either, she would have to move.  In the meantime I would have to move out just incase she couldn’t make it while I was gone.  In the meantime as in the five days before I left, three of which I would be in Seattle.  Just the story we set off to document, now quickly crashing into my own life as I took one car load to the dumpster, another to a donation center, and the last bit into boxes to store until I return to Utah to deal with them.  My life dream of being able to fit everything I own in my car becoming a reality as I take what I can grab and run.

I have lived 2 ½ months out of a backpack and about to stretch that personal record to 4.  Why cannot I just make that bag my only bag of belongings?  I came out to Utah with three suitcases.  It baffles me to see that those three suitcases has turned into three car loads full of materials I can’t seem to throw away.

It’s interesting how when you get to a point where you have to walk away what becomes important and what gets left by the wayside. Those trinkets and necklaces that have been saved since I was a child are now too heavy or compiled together just take up one more box full of stuff that cannot fit in my allotted car space.  A new meaning has been realized for the term “economy car”.  Years of safekeeping things and they end up in the donation pile.  A single earring from a set that once was my grandmothers, a necklace purchased in Croatia, the last slip of paper a best friend wrote on before we stopped talking nearly two years ago.  Sometimes I think of those things and wonder if there really wasn’t enough space or if I could have squeezed one more small ring into a box.  Do you pack the things you absolutely cannot live without first and throw away the rest without looking?  Or do you painfully sort through everything and pick out the bad parts and try to take the rest?  It’s the choice to make between if there is a fire or if you were moving back home after college.  But what about when you are walking away from your home?  There was never an assembly about that in school.  We never had eviction drills.

I sit here in self-pity then realize, this is exactly what I am going to document.  Apparently it is not enough for me to just read about it, but I get to experience it first hand.  Naturally, not as bad as those we will be talking to as I’ve only been out of the house for five years and haven’t acquired that much.  Nor do I have a family.  Nor has my career been shattered.  I have simply had some plans fall through a few days before I take off and now get to move into a friend’s garage, in hopes that something will turn up in the next four months so I am not a permanent fixture in that garage.  At least I have that as an option, and that’s better than nothing.

 

-Christine