Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sunset (Photography)


1. The time in the evening when the sun disappears or daylight fades.
2. The colors and light visible in the sky on an occasion of the sun's disappearance in the evening, considered as a view or spectacle

Sunset can be considered one of the most photographed subjects on earth.  It is also one of the most celebrated occasions of the day.  Some say they have fallen in love while watching sunsets. Some people make vows and get married with an iconic sunset backdrop.  Some like to sit alone and reminisce about the times when they had someone special in their lives while some of us, lucky ones, have a chance to share it with either friends or lovers. Many of us make excuses to drink up and party and of course many others take advantage of it to sell venues and drinks (Sunset cocktails, anyone?). 

Personally, I have seen sunsets from many different parts of the world, not only from the legendary sunset-watching places such as Bali, Venice, Santorini or Ipanema but also from beautiful yet underrated and unusual places.  Once I admired a gorgeous sunset together with the love of my life right beside me. What indescribable feeling that was! There was also a time I felt so empty listening to the sound of my heart breaking while gazing at a sundown alone. Like many of us, I have also celebrated the joy of friendship over Champagne as well as the moment of silence and solitude with pride during numerous sunset milieus of my life.

What makes sunsets so special? Doesn’t the sun go down every day? Why do people still get excited to see this same old thing from different places? Will it ever get boring? What is it really that makes people talk about their sunset experiences so fondly?

Ipanema, Brazil

For me, it could be the unique atmospheric condition that comprises deep orange and striking red hues. These shades of color never fail to bring out the creative side of me while, at the same time, making me feel vulnerable, inspired and nostalgic
Here’s to many sunsets I have experienced and to many, many more coming my way. 
With love, gratitude and appreciation,

Sunset in Bali, Indonesia

Sunset in Venice, Italy

Santorini Sunset, Greece

Sunset captured from the air craft

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lady GaGa- Judas (Review)

Lady GaGa broke out into the music scene three years ago with her infectious debut single and instantly we were told to “Just Dance”. So we did and we haven’t stopped dancing ever since. Within a year, her popularity soared and her music spread like wildfire. She’s got the whole word dancing. Let's face it, it’s always a delight to hear GaGa in the club. Hate it or love it, you simply can't escape GaGa. Like many others who initially doubted her staying power and artistry, I was a bit skeptical and not immediately a fan. I wanted to wait and see if she was the real deal or just another one-hit wonder. She proved us all wrong by churning out hit after hit. Now she’s about to release her second full-length studio album, “Born this way” and the radios have started playing her second single “Judas” which apparently has angered some religious groups and god-fearing people.

I wanna love you, 
But something's pulling me away from you 
Jesus is my virtue,
Judas is the demon I cling to
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel 
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby 

Regarding the title and controversial lyrics, I kind of agree with those who are saying “it’s another desperate attempt to hog the headlines” but her knack for catchy chorus and killer hooks can no longer be ignored. In fact, the consistency and brilliance of it should be applauded. “Judas” is a great dance track with Gaga stamp all over it. If this song doesn’t make you bob your head or tap your feet at first listen, you might want to check with a doctor. Her vocals are fierce especially when she sings the song’s captivating hookJudas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas Juda-a-a, Judas GAGA”. This is another classic from Mother Monster destined to burn up the dance floors all around the world and I, without a doubt, immediately fell in love with it.

In terms of lyrics, like many of the songs in this electro/Pop-dance genre, Judas is neither thought-provoking nor concept-heavy but certainly contentious. It can be offensive for those who are religious …I mean, to a point. There’s no need for drama for it’s merely a fun song...at least to me. Even if it causes some upset or dispute, so what? Isn't it what Art does? Isn’t it what artists are supposed to do? To disturb you and make you cringe. To stir you up and make you think. To provoke you and make you debate or argue, no? She is indeed using controversial issues like Religion to generate publicity and yes, of course she is seeking attention. But then again, isn’t it all part of showbiz?  This ain’t something new. I don't think we should take her that seriously. By getting all worked up and bothered, you are letting her have it. So…Chill out, folks! At the end of the day, GaGa’s here for the entertainment. Peace out!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Idol, 2011

Everyone’s been saying this year American Idol is THE best season ever. Is it really? Don’t they say that every year anyway?  One thing for certain, it is indeed better than the last two seasons. As a devout music fan and as someone who religiously loves the art of singing, I have been following American Idol ever since it started out ten years ago. I own albums of previous Idol winners and finalists such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert. And I still get super excited about the show.
AI this year saw a major change in the judging panel after the departures of Simon, Kara and Ellen.The new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler of “Aerosmith” are actually doing a great job mentoring the contestants. Who would have thought J-Lo has this much personality? As a judge, she’s very enthusiastic, nurturing and knowledgeable. Same thing can be said for Steven who is an icon in his own right. His comments on performances are witty, smart and sensible. What's missing is the cuts-like-a-knife meanness of Simon Cowell. All three judges this year have been so sweet and kind giving mostly constructive criticism to the contestants.
So far (at this time of writing), there are nine contestants still running in the competition and I can tell you that all nine of them deserve to be there. When they perform, there’s nothing amateur about their voices or their showmanship. They all sound and look like they have been doing this forever. They make you feel like you are watching seasoned Rock and Roll veterans.  
Let’s take a look at this year’s Top 9.

Scotty Mc Creery
He’s good and he’s fit for country genre but I don’t see him winning. For a young boy of his age (he’s only 18!!!), I must say he’s got a very mature voice. He sounds very sexy especially when he sings in lower register.It's just that I don’t think his voice is distinctive enough plus he appears to be a bit over confident at times. 

Jacob Lusk
There’s no note that this boy cannot hit. A voice that big and that flexible, I’m still shocked why we don’t hear him on the radios already. In terms of performing and vocal style, he reminds me of the season 3 winner, Fantasia. He has so far delivered many great performances including “Alone”, “I believe I can fly” and “Man in the mirror”.  He’s also my second most favorite singer in the competition.

Haley Reinhart
She probably won’t win but she could be the Jennifer Hudson of this season.  Haley has a very raw voice that is somewhere between Christina Aguilera and Janis Joplin. This girl can blow. No Kidding.  I like it that she sings really difficult songs and looks so effortless.

Casey Abrams
Due to the way he looks and his unwillingness (yeah, let me be shallow here!) to look better could lose him the chance to be at the final.  Let’s face the facts. This guy has a tremendous vocal range and anyone who knows singing will agree that he’s one of the best singers in this group. However, his scruffy look and crazy antics will surely not get the girls texting.
Lauren Alaina
There’s always one girl who sings good country songs on Idol and this year that spot belongs to Lauren Alaina. Diana Degarmo, Kristy Lee Cook, Kellie Pickler and Crystal Bowersox, but only Carrie Underwood has so far achieved great success in the genre.

Pia Toscano
This girl has got the most amazing powerful voice, stunning good looks and a bubbly personality to match.  To me, she’s the total package. As a singer too, she has got a whole lotta guts. She’s has so far performed materials from legendary artists like Whitney, Stevie Wonder, Celine, Elton John and Tina Turner. She not only did these songs justice also made them her own. Therefore she has been the judges’ ultimate favorite and mine too.

Stefano Langone
This boy sings songs like a hungry gaucho who stumbles upon a Parrilla feast. He eats the songs’ lyrics and emotes them out through his heart. I just think he could really do very well singing in Spanish or Italian since he sings so passionately. Armed with charming personality and dashing good looks- I’m positive that he’ll go far. One of my favorites!!!

James Durbin
Adam Lambert of this season! He always brings it and seems like one of the judges’ favorites. I’m just tired of his rock songs and super high notes. Perhaps a nice simple ballad without the screaming??

Paul McDonald
My least favorite contestant not because he sings badly just because he’s JUST not that exciting. We have seen too many of these rocker type dudes rocking it on Idol stage.David Cook, Bo Bice, Chris Daughtry and of course Adam Lambert, enough already!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Carnival in Rio, 2011


After total 28 hours on air, 3 airport changes and lots of tasty nutritious flight meals, we found ourselves in a taxi driving through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. It was at night and we headed straight away to our rented apartment in Copacabana. There’s nothing in the world like this euphoric feeling that you get when you first land in a foreign place having no clue what the experience is going to be like but you look around and everything seems so fresh and exhilarating. And... I adore that feeling.

I was not sure if my ears were still blocked from flying or perhaps people were resting in preparation for the Carnival peak in a few days time, Copacabana was rather quiet that night.  I expected a somewhat noisy chaotic atmosphere just like they always portray Copacabana in the movies and books. Our two-bedroom apartment is centrally located and just two minutes away from the beach.  Nicky the Brit, the owner, got us settled into our apartment, which, by the way, looks stunning in the pictures on the website but NOT very much so in reality. As we were much too tired, we decided to go downstairs and eat whatever we could find and that ‘whatever’ turned out to be the horrible burgers from the restaurant nearby .(little did I know at that point that I’d be eating god-awful meals after meals all throughout my Brazilian trip!)

The next morning, we took a stroll along Copacabana beach and witnessed the constant flow of hotness, the perfectly -toned heavenly bodies of men in multi colors, that is. Men playing volleyball, jogging in their shorts, playing with dogs on the beach, never in my life had I seen beautiful muscular bodies in abundance at one sitting. “This is the Rio that everyone’s raving about” I thought. It was indeed impressive. Men in Rio certainly take ‘got it? - Flaunt it! culture’ to a whole new level. From the coast of Copacabana to Ipanema, everywhere we looked we saw six packs (at times it’s even eight, yes, without counting the other two you are thinking of, believe me!) In Rio, in every corner of the street, there is a gym. Sometimes 3 or 4 in one block either facing each other or standing next to one another. Working out is a serious business here in Rio. On the beaches as well, there are monkey-bars and jungle-gyms planted for those who would like to carry out some final push-ups or parallel bar-dips before they hit the beach in their skimpy swimwear. The pressure to stay fit and to look round-the-clock-hot is immeasurable. You’d better bring it or you are SOOOO no one! Realizing and recognizing the pressure, we immediately got ourselves gym memberships at the gym in front of our apartment, the first thing in the morning before breakfast. Relief!

As a city though, Rio is pretty rundown. It has seen the light of day for sure. With that much partying going on 24/7 and for decades, what Rio truly needs now is an expensive eye cream and perhaps a city-wide Botox, just in time to make her look pretty for the upcoming 2014 World Cup. The buildings in Rio are obviously not for the sake of aesthetics; old, ugly and monochrome.  In order to give ourselves a break from our daily party-on-the-beach lifestyle, we at some point wandered around the Centro, the city centre away from the famed beaches. The stench of piss and poop, the amount of garbage on the streets and the homelessness of its people shocked us big time. The beaches of Rio may celebrate narcissism and muscle worship, it is the city that reminds you of the hardship and poverty the real people are dealing with on daily basis. Here, you suddenly lose the sight of divine bodies and the party vibe. This is reality and it ain’t pretty.

Everyone in Rio owns a dog or two and they love walking their neatly-groomed and stylishly-dressed dogs. These bow-wows, without a doubt, leave their droppings and spray everywhere but there’s no follow-up from the dogs’ owners.  Therefore, walking in the streets of Rio can be one unpleasant experience. You’d better watch out or you come home with your Diesel shoes with dog poop on them. Gross!  Of course it was not all filth and garbage. There is so much beauty in Rio depending on how you define it. As for me, the beauty of Rio I found was in the faces of people especially when they danced samba. You can see people dancing in the streets, in the subway stations and on the beaches during Carnival. The joy that they radiate and the good energy that they send out to the streets simply made me forget about the rest of not very nice things.

Anyone who has been to Rio would agree that it has the most festive people on earth. Hundreds of people, together chanting the samba tunes, some on the trio Elétrico floats, men dressed up in women’s clothes, women and children wearing elaborate and colorful wigs and headpieces, boozing on the streets, Carnival is the biggest open-air party in the world. It kind of reminded me of our very own “Thingyan water festival” which falls in April annually. Back home, we do pretty much the same thing as well. We go out on the streets, party like mad, sing, dance and get drunk. The only difference for us in our case is that there is so much water involved. We throw water at each other in order to drive away our sins we carried out in the previous year. But we do have something in common; Carnival time is the time to make new friends, time to get out of whatever shall that we hide in and time to live it up to the fullest.  M and I loved the craziness we experienced on the streets of Ipanema. We were definitely “livin’ la vida loca”, drinking Caipirinha all night and kissing everyone, boy and girl, on the streets.

One day, we took the little old-school tram up to the famous Santa Teresa area to experience how the locals celebrate Carnival. Like many things in Rio, it was loud, vibrant and jovial.  For me, it was the most inspiring moment creatively in my time in Rio and I took lots of pictures. I had always wanted to capture expressions of people and there I felt I had the biggest opportunity. I was able to document one main ingredient of Carnival: “JOY”.  That evening, I came home feeling bloated, like as if I had eaten a nice rich meal for lunch but the only difference was that I had eaten it with my heart. It felt amazing.

They say the festivities of Carnival start on the streets and end with the Samba parade at the Sambodromo. We went to see the parade one night and needless to say, it was spectacular. Just like the way I imagined it and even more awe-inspiring in person. Each samba school usually has at least four to five thousands of dancers, some on the extravagantly-decorated floats, wearing extra-flashy, sequined- costumes with many different themes and competitively parade all throughout the night and till dawn. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and I felt lucky to have that opportunity.

Our biggest disappointment while in Rio was the weather. It was lousy most of the time, cloudy, foggy and rainy. We visited the famed sites, Sugar Loaf and Cristo de Redentor, but it was so foggy that we couldn’t see the view at all. We were hugely disappointed but there was nothing we could do. At the Cristo De Redentor, I waited with hundreds of other people who came to Rio from different countries to view and to take pictures of this world famous Jesus Christ statue. After a long, long wait, there was a 15-second break of sunshine came through and the wind miraculously blew away the fog, providing just enough time for me to capture the iconic statue in a decent light. With that one shot, I consoled myself and went home.

Ten days in Rio was pretty exhausting for us. We had too many sleepless nights. We really did push ourselves to the extreme to take in this awesome Rio-ness and I guess we succeeded. We arrived in Rio with full of energy, anticipation and curiosity and we left Rio with sunken eyes, hangover and fatigue but certainly great memories