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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?

Alcatraz

Well hello there. It’s been a while. Life Work took over for a few weeks there. It’s been nearly two months since we arrived in San Francisco, and I’m finally getting round to sharing pictures from our first morning. Knowing that our body-clocks would have us up at some ungodly hour, we decided we might as well make the most of it and book ourselves onto the first ferry over to Alcatraz (yep, we went full-on tourist). Han had read that this was the only way of getting a good look around without crowds of people everywhere… We turned up at the pier to board the ferry with the sun already high in the sky and shining brightly. I had expected to creep straight onto the ferry, accompanied only by a few sleepy crew members. Bwahaha! I amuse myself sometimes. Instead, we found a fully-fledged queue already snaking its way back and forth through a waiting pen. Hundreds of people. What kind of crazy people get up so early to visit an old prison??! Us, right, I know. But not everyone there could have the excuse of jet-lag. What is wrong with people? Anyway, we joined the end of the queue and shuffled along, much like prisoners used to do, I imagine, when they had big heavy chains linking their ankles. Except we were forced to stop momentarily to stand in front of a big green screen and smile manically at a teenager with a fancier camera than mine. This, by the way, is a practice I have never understood. You have the actual thing right there. You’re about to go and visit the actual thing. And yet the powers that be think that you will spend even more money than you already have to buy a really bad picture of yourself super-imposed over a fake backdrop of the thing you’re about to see. Why would you do that? I mean, obviously, lots of people do otherwise they wouldn’t do it anymore, but I don’t get it. If I really want someone else’s picture of the thing I’m about to see with my own eyes, I’ll buy a postcard. At least the postcard won’t have my ugly mug on it. The mysteries of the world, eh. Fascinating. Anyway, Alcatraz. It used to be a prison, don’t you know?On the way there… We walked across the city in the early morning light. Up one side (nearly breaking our leg muscles in the process) and down the other (wheee!). As we walked and wheezed, we came across some kind of marathon. People actually RUNNING up those hills. Them, the people who actually buy the green screen photos, and all the people who weren’t suffering from jet-lag but got up anyway to catch the first boat to Alcatraz: special kind of crazy.Above right and below: the only pictures I managed to take from the boat. Not because there weren’t many opportunities to capture more beautiful scenes, just because I find it really hard to keep my camera stable whilst simultaneously lunging to grab a three year old determined to jump overboard. A concern not listed among most lists of technical challenges facing the novice landscape photographer.Above left: you see Amélie, yes? Now look a little higher: do you see the gull? His name was Mike and he was EVERYWHERE. I think, maybe, he might once have been good friends with one of those famous Belgian messenger pigeons that played such a crucial role in the second world war (true story: look it up) and, recognising us a fellow Belgians, decided to follow-us around just in case we knew Bob (his mate the messenger pigeon). Unfortunately, we were unfamiliar with Bob.Oh if only these shades could talk! They would tell you that they were bought just minutes before we boarded the ferry to Alcatraz and were treasured all the way to the island as the coolest things on earth ever. Then they were put down on a bench right at the bottom of the hill, right where we got off the boat, and only remembered about an hour later when we had climbed right to the top of the hill in the sweltering heat. They’d tell you how I ran all the way down the hill again, in flip-flops, just on the off-chance I might find them (their owner helpfully not having enough vocabulary – or memory – to tell me where he’d left them)  and in the hope that they hadn’t already been swiped or crushed or carried away by Mike. They’d tell you how they were then carried all the way back up the hill and reunited with their owner who looked at me as if to say “oh there you are. What took you so long?”. If only they could talk, but they can’t. Oh well… I guess you’ll never know.

Above left: Mike hiding in the bushes, pretending to be a statue. You’re fooling no-one Mike. Above right: Mike and his posse. Dude’s got backup.
The views from Alcatraz are astounding. You start to think that it can’t have been all that bad staying there. And then you walk into the prisoners’ yard (top right) and realise that the most they would have seen were these walls. Knowing there was all that sea and space out there and never being able to see any of it: that would drive me crazy. I’d probably start naming gulls and talking about them as if they were people.
Above left: Amélie completing the Junior Ranger book. Charlie didn’t really even try but they sweetly let him take the oath anyway so he could have his Junior Ranger badge. Only problem was: him trying to repeat the oath was hilarious and gave Amélie the giggles. So the poor Park Ranger ended up with one child talking nonsense while the other laughed so hard she could hardly breath. Hanno and I had wandered off by this point, pretending we had nothing to do with either of them. They got their badges.Have you noticed how Charlie looks like he’s holding something in nearly all of these pictures? It’s a microphone. Or a pretend one anyway. We had been welcomed to the island by a Ranger with a microphone and Charlie thought this was BRILLIANT. He spend the rest of the day finding podiums to stand on, holding an invisible microphone to his mouth and shouting gobbledegook at the top of his voice. Above: Mike’s sworn enemy, Felicity. Amélie made me take her picture because she was so beautifully framed by the branches. Clever girl. Foul-mouthed bird though. I’m with you on this one Mike.The view of San Francisco from Alcatraz. Sigh! I love San Francisco! Annie and Justin: I’m SO jealous. You’re going to love it (and fit right in)! Please say hi to Mike when you get there.

26 May 2014 - 8:48 AM annie - eeeee! San Francisco photos! you had me cracking up the whole post! do you know we're going to freak out (appropriately) at the first sight of Mike?! ps. 30 mins later and I've imagined the entire anniversary shoot in my head and now its moved to a reunion shoot in SF. they call me a dreamer... but I'm not the only one.. ;)

27 May 2014 - 4:44 PM Ingrid - San Francisco..so close but yet so far. It's one of the places on my USA list that I have somehow managed not to get to. Loved these..and your writing..I always feel as if I can hear your voice..the tone and it makes me laugh. So glad you shared these..xxoo

28 May 2014 - 7:08 AM ralph - I adore every single one of these. I remember seeing a bunch on the back of your camera when you showed me in Portland - but seeing them here in all their glory is simply amazing. SO good Cass. I love Charlie with his pretend microphone, and Amelie with her perfect poses every time. And goodness that morning light in CA, and Alcatraz! Gah. XO

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