I’ve found that I have a routine when I go to new countries. I gravitate towards three things: churches, playgrounds, and cemeteries. The simple things. The staples. And always with my camera.
I’m not a religious man at all but I appreciate all places of worship, especially if it’s really old and has character. Those super churches in Dallas don’t cut it. Even if I don’t really get what’s going on inside of these places, I can appreciate what it means to those that do, and it’s powerful. Most of the churches I’ve seen in Europe are older than my country.
I don’t particularly love children I’m not legally obligated to love, but I love seeing the simple playthings parks offer in other countries. The ones abroad tend to be simpler and much more dangerous. I guess the playgrounds I grew up with were simple as well. Slide, merry-go-round, see-saw, swings, and maybe a jungle gym. Now they’re all fancy and safe. No wood because of splinters. No metal because it gets hot. Just colorful plastic things for American kids these days. No need for an imagination!
The apparatus I liked the most at the playground next to the double spire Church in Växjö (built in the 12th century) was this spider looking thing that was eight feet off the ground. It was like a big circle and had about four ropes hanging down equidistant apart. At the end of the rope was a seat for one or two kids to sit on. Theoretically if four children the same weight each occupied the seats, it would be completely balanced.
The thing rotated as well, so while the kids were trying to balance, a dad would be pushing them around clockwise. Of course these kids didn’t all weigh the same and some kids wanted their own seat while others tried to get three on one. The result was much like a see-saw. The heavy side hit the ground while the lighter side was about eight feet up in the air. It didn’t look safe at all. Every now and then it’d be balanced and they seemed bored with that. A big kid would invariable grab a rope and make everyone else fly into the air, only to let go and have them crash down. It looked like a challenge from Survivor or maybe The Hunger Games. I was hoping to get some good shots of carnage, but I wasn’t so lucky. A few people did wonder why I was taking photos of little kids and giggling creepily.
The cemetery was serene and beautiful. The tall tombstones cast exaggerated shadows across the freshly cut grass among the weeping willows. It was a fantastic place to rest in peace. I slyly took a few pictures but stopped whenever I saw someone.
I never know the protocol for taking photos in foreign cemeteries. I’ve been yelled at and once we were stricken with a Maori curse that ended up destroying three peoples’ cameras, iPods, and computers. Apparently we were disrespecting the ancestors, though we didn’t mean to, we just thought it was breathtaking. Stupid, misunderstanding Maori ghosts!
I love how heightened my senses get when I’m somewhere new. When I’m in Austin, New York, or London (my normal stomping grounds) I tend to walk about like a stoned zombie. I don’t even have to think in these places, much less notice anything interesting. In random little towns in the south of Sweden however, everything is switched on. I ponder and appreciate every little thing and can’t get enough. I honestly can’t think of too many times when I’m happier. I really wish I could find a way to turn these first-morning walks into a career. I could write and photograph mornings like this for the rest of my life. Any takers?
My book Straight Guy in the Queer Skies is now available as is my Locations NYC app to help you wander around New York anonymously, like a lost puppy, the way I like to wander around bizarre exotic towns that I don’t even know how to pronounce.