Dark forest view, Yosemite

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

SDSU Fight on!

Alabama is beating previously undefeated Auburn like a drum tonight.

That means that out of 350 teams playing Division 1 basketball, only one team is now currently undefeated, the mighty San Diego State University Aztecs, which happens to be the school I attended and received my credential from.

The Aztecs are 18-0. They are a veteran team, filled with great shooters and sparked by Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn, who is having an All-American season.

Their post player is a man from New Zealand named Yanni Wetzel, who grew up playing tennis and has wonderful footwork. The other big man, Nathan Mensah, has been awol with a respiratory condition for weeks so the team has been playing a lot of three and four guard sets with super sub Matt Mitchell, who has slimmed down a lot from last year. Their coach, Brian Dutcher, is in serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

I am looking for my Aztecs to go deep in the NCAA tournament in March.

Global outreach

Russia Elektro-L No.1 Earth image
I got word from Shawn this afternoon that the Blast is showing up as unavailable in Thailand today.

If you are reading me from a foreign country, will you drop me a note and let me know if things are coming through normally or not?

I'm not sure what the problem is.

azurebirds at gmail dot com

Mother River

We are so lucky to live in a beautiful river valley.

It was an exquisite sunset last night. 

Driving home on the narrow canyon road I had to stop the car and take a look back at the setting sun reflecting on the Santa Margarita River below.

The river banks are thick with sycamore, oak, sumac, toyon and manzanita. A couple of washingtonia palms and eucalyptus invaders are thrown in for good measure.

I am extraordinarily grateful for the thirty years I have lived on its bank.


Dave from Japan is always sending very cool stuff. How do you like these apples?

Or a new riff on birds in flight?

Jonathan in Santa Fe sent some cool underwater pics.

A retrospective room at Redfern's gallery showing John Fillmore's incredible artwork. Of course, they never invited John to attend.

Richard Neumann in Thailand recommends The Alcoholic Republic.

A car lost its brakes and rammed into Mike Reardon's home one night last week.

Wicki sends a picture of Leslie, Jennifer and I catching the sunset at the Self Realization Fellowship. Had a nice dinner at Q'ero afterwards.

Hudgins sends over a video on the MAGA church.

Why I hated algebra.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pecking away

The men from the power company showed up with a lift to check out our power pole the other day. It turns out that we have the last wooden pole in the entire river valley.

Which is fine with us, in fact we would like to keep it that way. Because our woodpeckers just wouldn't cotton to no metal pole.

They told Leslie that there is a little hole on top of the pole and that the whole thing should probably be replaced.

Sure there is a little damage to the very top of the pole, but the pole is structurally sound. I would sorely miss my acorn woodpeckers.

Wooden pole has served us well for the last thirty years, suspect it is good for at least another thirty, not that we have much of a say in the matter.

I'm sure that the power company could not give a damn about the birds. Where will they go?

The hunter casts his net high above the Merced River


Icy bridge

Had the funny phone call from my friend, "Mr. Moneyshot." Knew it was coming, like clockwork or the swallows at Capistrano.

Why didn't you let the moon get farther from the rock on the tunnel view? (Because it got high in the sky and the sky got dark.)

Why so many trees in your foreground? (Because that is where they grow.)

A couple of your shots are good. (Gee, thank you. Send me a couple shots of your recent work, how about I critique you for a change?)

I can write it a thousand times and say it until I am blue in the face, I do it my way, you are free to do it yours. It gets lost on some people.

Aladdin Sane

Let's Dance

Leslie and I have tickets to see the Bowie Celebration show at the Belly Up on March 3, 2020.

It should be really good, the band is led by the incomparable piano player Mike Garson and will be playing the iconic albums of Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs in their entirety. Tickets are still available if you would like to join us at the event.

All of the personnel toured with Bowie extensively, the roster of players can be found here. No Carlos Alomar, no Earl Slick, but still a very fine group. If you have never heard Mike Garson play, listen to the cut I post above, the eponymous track from Aladdin Sane. Brilliant and discordant.

My personal taste runs more to Aladdin Sane and Station to Station but I love this earlier stuff too.

What I find a bit amusing is the fact that the first show sold out very quickly. It is taking place on March 7. So they added a second show, at my wife's urging among others, on March 3. So we will be attending the earlier second show, which actually takes place before the first show.

So let me get this straight, is the first show second or the second show first?

Got that? Bowie has always been something of a riddle.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bridalveil Falls view across the Merced

Kasenetz Katz Singing Orchestral Circus - Quick Joey Small (1968)

This was the second 45 record I ever got as a kid. The Fab Four's Day Tripper and We can work it out was the first. This was a Christmas present. I was eleven. I believe that it charted to #19 in England.

Kasenetz Katz Singing Orchestral Circus was a bubble gum supergroup. It was created by record producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz. The musicians were an amalgam of The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, Music Explosion and the Shadows of Knight. Very ashkenazi.

I still sort of dig it.


So after I ate my expensive breakfast at the Ahwanee I was walking back to my car and somebody had posted a photocopy on a sign that read "If you walk to Mirror Lake from here it is only a mile, if you take the shuttle it is still a mile."

Hot damn I thought, a good samaritan. I will do just that. So I take the trail and walk about two miles and then see a sign that says Mirror Lake 1.7 miles.

Oh well, maybe it was a practical joke, I didn't care. I can take a joke. A walk would do me good, sore ankle and all.

At some point I came across a logging crew in the forest. There were flagmen and I was waved through. A few minutes later I heard one of the loudest noises I have ever heard.

They felled a large redwood not three hundred yards from me. The crash when it hit the forest floor was indescribable. I felt the shockwave come up through the soles of my feet.

I have been on the other end of a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon and it was comparable if not louder.

As a sensory experience it rocked my world, definitely unbelievable. Not sure how much a two hundred foot redwood of this kind of massive girth weighs but it had to be hundreds of tons.

When I was a kid in Idyllwild I was once caught out in a storm and had a tree come down about a hundred yards from me but it was nowhere this big. Still very scary. A peak sensory experience.

I once saw the aftermath of a giant crane falling down off Friars Rd. in Mission Valley. It fell on the 163 Highway and fell on the back of a pickup truck like a cat catching a mouse's tail. Always wondered if the occupants survived?

I did everything wrong on my walk. I had a down jacket but no waterproof windbreaker, which I left in the car.

I had six thousand dollars worth of camera and lens around my neck with essentially no protection. Of course I had the perfect plastic camera wrap, back in the car.

I did a lot of hiking as a youth in Idyllwild, I should know better. Barely enough water, no windbreaker, no ankle brace.

The reality is that the weather can and does change dramatically in these high elevations. I was really dumb but I managed to get lucky and dodge my idiocy.

Mirror Lake was frozen and a bit underwhelming. Great walk nonetheless.


Turnabout is fair play

I saw some really nice faux cell phone towers on this trip. They are getting really much better of late.

And I had a brainstorm. With all of these cell phone towers pretending to be trees, why not do some topiary and make real trees look like cell phone towers? Isn't that the logical next step?

I don't have a lot of time to mess around in photoshop but hopefully you get my point.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Etta James - Stormy Weather

Another reflected half dome

The road to Glacier Point is of course closed this time of year. I have taken some nice shots from there in the past and look forward to returning soon. Would love to catch the firefalls one day if I have time.

I'll take care of you

Darkened view

Hello in there

Miwok Journal

Facing mortality questions actually can be a spiritual and enriching experience, or at least it historically has been for me.

Besides the obvious soul reckoning and personal accounting you get to do something that Caste帽eda called "stopping the world."

Did you ever read "Journey to Ixtlan?" Stopping the world is the prerequisite to "seeing," at least for a sorcerer in training, not that I have that particular proclivity.

In more mundane terms a serious illness gives us the opportunity to take a big timeout.

That I did this week, taking several days to hike, think, read and capture an occasional image in my own select company.

Away from texts, emails, phone calls, blogs, messages, politics, newspapers, work, responsibility, life reduced to its most essential pleasures.

I think that solitude is a very important gift to human beings, especially for those of us in relationships or who work around large groups of people. And doing it in nature is doubly rewarding.

Gives us a chance to remember who we are. Cancer gave me that opportunity. You are allowed to get off the treadmill for a second. February 19th, I should get the final word on the matter.

I took about 735 pictures of the park this week. I thought that I took many more but I was wrong.

Some of them are okay, some not so good. People always ask me if I got good shots? I don't know, I never know. Will take a while to process.

What you may think is the cat's meow may be completely lost on me and vice versa. Art, as you know, is completely subjective.

Your bag may be Thomas Kinkade, it might be that Rembrandt fellow, who am I to judge?

Bill Olson has pointed out repeatedly that in blind tests, viewers tended to pick highly saturated and contrasty photography work.

But dentists will also tell you that all that candy will hurt your teeth.

So do you pander to the mean or do you please yourself, if you favor a lighter hand on occasion?

I tend towards the latter but still absorb some guff. "Too bad you didn't get a money shot," that kind of crap. But you can't please everybody, especially with all of our multiple frames of reference.

Approximately four million people visit Yosemite every year. They all have cameras. And they are all, for practical purposes, taking the same shots.

As you know, the rocks don't move much, perhaps ever so slightly. So the "Money Shot" is an ephemeral thing, it requires technical skill, luck and favorable conditions.

You see, blue skies are the bane of the landscape photographer. Clouds add structure and bad weather lends drama.

I got to the park Tuesday afternoon, right before sunset. Shot the near full moon on the picture on top. Skies were clear.
Ditto Wednesday.

I was staying in Oakurst. It was an hour in and out of the park. Tuesday night, the fog was thick and the driving back was hard.

I made another management decision. I decided I couldn't take the drive anymore. I got a Thursday reservation at the Yellowstone Lodge, almost twice the money but worth it.

If luck was in store and the weather did what it was supposed to, I would get a bunch of snow and get to shoot some great shots Friday. I would stay one day longer than I had planned.

I drove in Thursday morning and the snow was certainly coming down. Very heavy near Fish Camp, Bass Lake and Badger Pass. Knew it was just a matter of time before I put on the new set of chains.

Alas, it was not to be. Although we had an occasional light flurry, nothing seemed to stick much and I would just have to make do. Wasn't it Yogi Berra who once said, "You take what they give ya?"

One hundred grams of celery root contains no vitamins except for 2 mg of Vitamin C. For minerals it contains 47mg. of calcium, 71 mg. of phosphorous and 0.8mg of iron. It would take a lot of celery root to make a battleship. Richard Brautigan - A Confederate General from Big Sur.
I am reading Brautigan again, after over forty years. I forgot how brilliant he is, every line. Brautigan has sort of been relegated to the dustbin of literary history but he deserves better. Stands with the immortals for me. His rhythm is like Gertrude Stein in a way. God, to write like that...Too bad he plathed in the end but it seems to be the way these types tend to want to go.

I was reading Brautigan while I was eating my expensive breakfast at the Ahwanee Hotel. This is Miguel, he will be filling your water, I'm Jessie, I will be handing you your knife and fork and Imelda here will be diffidently taking your order for your overpriced omelette and pretending to care. Twenty four dollar ham and cheese omelette and if you want toast too, it's extra. We can negotiate for the butter and jam later.

Apparently this week it was dysentery, no charge but I luckily managed to escape with my gastro intestinal system intact.

Anyway a little bit older intellectual type couple was sitting nearby and I tried not to snoop too much or at least not make it so noticeable. He was reading the paper but she wanted to talk about the public reception to Tom Steyer versus Michael Bloomberg and the number of individual steps they thought they might take that day, all which would be duly recorded on one apple device or another.

I tried to imagine what they did for a living and I pegged her for an English lit prof and he as an associate City Manager in some tony San Francisco suburb. Definitely more genteel than a duo like Leslie and I but a thick pallor of mundane banality hung over their conversation like a central California tule fog.

And I once again thanked the gods for allowing me to live a relatively abnormal life with a wonderful and also slightly irregular spouse who I could live, love and laugh with without paying too close attention to the way others conceived their earthly mission.

I am an explorer. I always want to see what is beyond the next bend. Leslie is of the same mind. We travel without reservations, maps or preconceptions, preferring to spar and deal with whatever comes down the pike.

Not to brag too much but other photographers I have shot with say they have a hard time keeping up with me. I guess that I border on the obsessive. They liken me to a Nazi camp director in my brutal coercion and ardor.

Strangely, most people merely want to enjoy themselves and have a good time.

I work very hard when I am on the road shooting. Up before sunrise, down long after dark. I push. Dusk and dawn is where it is at, midday is for suckers.

I met a photographer who told me he got up at noon this trip and I had to smile, nice guy that he was.

I had one near catastrophe. I was fiddling with my tripod on the banks of the river and I hear a loud pecking noise. Two ravens were having a real go at my windshield. When I got closer I realized that they had pulled the rubber out of my windshield wipers.

I tried to put the rubber back in but was limited with few available tools. A nice, stay at home dad, sailing instructor from Winters took pity on me and took out his oversized swiss army knife and found the suitable instrument to put me back on the road to windshield wiping.

I did a little research and found that the crow/raven windshield wiper thing is an old familiar corvid shtick, but still no one really knows why? I am sure Casta帽eda would have a thought or two on the matter.

A day later, upon leaving Fresno, I was surprised to find out that they had decimated the rear wiper too, hope the moonroof seal is still extant.

My ankle and right heel has been sore for several weeks, I have no idea why? I had meant to get an ankle brace but never quite got around to it.

I hiked about five miles a day up there on my bad sticks. Now everything hurts, which kind of feels good. Balances the other pain out, if that makes any sense.

Felt so good to be expanding my lungs on vigorous walks in 25潞 weather.

I had trax type crampons and particularly enjoyed walking in the fields and watching the fog rise up out of the icy meadows in the early dawn hour.

Saw a lot of deer this trip, coyote, two eagles, a couple hawks. Bear purportedly sleeping.

Do you want to know one of the smartest things I have done recently? I got tired of having cameras with big lenses roll around on the floor of my car (had a friend lose a couple thousand dollar lens this way.)

So I bought a cat bed at CVS for six dollars. The plush little beds with the rolled sides. Sits behind my seat. The camera fits in perfectly and never gets hurt.

Some of my photographer friends like to process their work in their hotel rooms on their laptops. Nothing wrong with that. However I personally never look at my output until it goes on my desktop.
Well, maybe a glance at the back screen or two but no manipulation.

You see I think photographs are like stroganoff. Always better a few days later, they ripen a little in the camera. Prefer my work gets a little seasoning.

I endeavor to be a good and competent artist, certainly have no illusions of being the best. If you don't have occasional failures, you obviously aren't pushing hard enough.

I was a neurotic artist from day one, never easy for me to accept criticism. I sketched from an early age, had somewhat of a precocious talent. Was suspended from the third grade for three days when the teacher found some nude female studies I had drawn in the cubby under my chair. Well done, if I remember.

A year or two later we had to make a diorama. I could draw but I wasn't too crafty, my parents were usually drunk or fighting and not exactly the type to help with home projects, like most of the other kids'. I got a cardboard box and fashioned a mountain scene, saran wrap glued down to simulate a waterfall. Very crude to say the least.

The class saw my project and burst out laughing hysterically. I don't blame them, it was plainly pitiful. I stood at the head of the class and listened to the guffaws, then started crying and tore the sodden thing up into tiny little bits right there in front of them in a sad mad rage.

It got worse as I got older. I wouldn't even let people go through my sketchbooks by themselves, I would have to turn every page for them.

Somehow, somewhere along the way I had decided that it was about process more than pleasing people. Practically speaking that meant that my drawing could be incredibly uneven, interspersing masterpieces with dreadful garbage. I even had a college professor accuse me of stealing work once because he couldn't conceive of my being capable of the quality of a final project.

And that was a problem of being a painter, I was only as good as my last work and I was highly self critical. And the emotional roller coaster was debilitating. Of course many artists have no such compunctions and are happy to put pretty much anything out there.

I miss painting but I am just not emotionally cut out for it. As for my photography, as Sinatra once crooned, I demand the freedom to do it my way and you are free to do it your way. I still don't take criticism or suggestions real well.

One of the great things about Yosemite is that no two days are alike. No two sunsets are alike. I look forward to returning soon. I never get tired of receiving its many gifts.

I have a bunch of photographs to go through. It will be interesting to see what I have captured. I look forward to sharing with you.

Did some night photography as well. Here are a couple views of  Orion and the moon over the Yosemite Valley.

I was thinking about something while I was driving, by the way, the new car was absolutely great. I was thinking about how important it is to stay in your lane. I think that is something that the people in AA preach, sweep your side of the road, stay in your lane and don't take any one else's inventory. Jargon but true. I think of the times I have stepped over the line and it wasn't always pretty. Need to take care of your own stuff.

After I left Yosemite at midday Friday I drove to Fresno to see my stepmother, my stepsister, her husband and kid. Had a nice dinner and watched the young man play the drums in the garage. Ears still bleeding. Teacher says he has real talent. I wouldn't know.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


I had one of those great dreams last night, the ones I only get every several years or so. Sort of trapped near a cliff, I thought to myself, well there is always that other option. And I jumped and started flying, soaring into the clouds. Such a feeling of release, of absolute command. Love my flying dreams.

Somehow I found myself near my friend Shawn, who lives in Thailand. I saw him through the glass of a large office building, waved to him but he couldn't see me. I don't think anyone else can see me when I am flying...

I was scheduled to leave for New Mexico Monday, shooting birds with Ken at Bosque del Apache. Unfortunately  Ken got sick so I changed my plans. I instead left for Yosemite this morning, after Leslie prepared me a nice breakfast and a good cup of coffee.  Day was nice, never pushed it, leisurely. The Tejon Pass was absolutely stunning with its lovely snow, the central valley socked in by cloud cover.

I got to my hotel in Oakhurst around 3:30, checked in and headed over to the park for a sunset shot or two from the Tunnel View. Might as well, I am here. Was beautiful but I soon realized that I left my cable release at home. Will have to use the delayed shutter this trip. Mirror up, front curtain enabled. Should be okay.

I need to get up at four in the morning in order to be at a decent spot for sunrise pics so I will keep this short. Had a Chinese dinner of pork chow fun and going to bed very soon.

I had a choice this trip, wait until the weekend snow, which will mean crowds or go midweek in good weather, which is not so photogenic. I opted for the latter but I think I will catch a break. It is supposed to snow Thursday now, so I may hang out an extra day and hopefully grab the shots I lust after, weather and providence permitting.

So beautiful up here, the first view of Half Dome and El Capitan still takes my breath away. No pictures until I get home. Wish me luck.

Immigration Man

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy 2020

We spent a lovely New Year's Eve with great friends in Cardiff. Toasted our families, friendship and the upcoming decade.

We had dish upon dish of delicious appetizers. For dinner, Leslie cooked her lovely signature risotto with mushrooms and artichoke hearts, Lena made shrimp scampi, Barbara made a wonderful humuus. Lena prepared a beautiful salad. Libations flowed freely for those partaking. I was not among them.

We spent the night so as to stay off the road with all the crazies. So nice to be celebrating in the comfort of familiar and treasured company.

In the morning I was treated to a farm fresh egg over risotto patty and Ronnie's special cappuccinos. Yum! Afterwards we went to Grandview and chilled.

My sincere hope and prayer is that 2020 is the year that things come into perfect focus.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Nanci Griffith - Love at the Five & Dime



I have been listening to a fair amount of Jackie Mittoo and the Skatalites and it led me here. Great groove.

Grateful scribe

It is the last day of the year but also the last day of the month. So what am I doing? Paying bills, naturally. The pen gets very heavy, as you know. But we all have to do it, unless we are trust fund kids, of course. And then we would be spending all our time at psychiatrist's offices, wondering why we never amounted to anything or worrying about the shade of the next Porsche Cayenne purchase.

Pick your poison.

Anyway being the last day of the year, I believe it calls for a summation. This year was tricky.

I bitch and moan every year, life was supposed to get easier in these pre-twilight years, but it didn't, it got harder. I missed the bus, made lousy choices, should have paid attention in class, whatever, there were times this year that I was definitely pushing the rock up the hill only to have it roll back over me like a certain Greek king.

Mix in at least three major operations that I can remember, a brown recluse spider bite, a dollop of existential angst and a smattering of plain bad luck, I won't lie to you, there were times I thought my goose was cooked.

But here I am, still breathing, ship somewhat righted, still able to get out and do my thing on occasion, write, photograph, indulge in a fair bit of navel contemplation, still peeing through the original equipment, what more could a man ask for?

So the word for this year for me is gratitude. Besides my wife Leslie, who never stops making it work, makes all the engines run and has her own special place in heaven, I need to publicly acknowledge the people who made it possible for me to keep the balls in the air this year. Tangibly.

Michael Loughlin stepped in again and again and saved my ass from the frying pan. My saint. What an incredible friend. I don't know what I would have done without you, Michael, I will be forever in your debt.

Ditto Vlad and Natasha and Retha and Doug. Don. Eternally grateful. My sister Barbara, my brother in law Andrew. Thank you. 馃挆

Paul Beach, who was always just a phone call away when I was miserable and depressed. Which was unfortunately too often. All the rest of my coffee cronies, you know who you are, Big Dave, Renee, Cam, Bill, Rick, Ron, Lena, Kerry, Steve, Shawn, John, Melissa, Jeff, Barry, David, just too many people to list. Rosemary, for always working with me and making it work. My restorer, Gary, my framer, Jennifer. Bob and Lois, who paid me more money than I was asking for a painting because they were worried about me.

My doctors, Dr. Wood, Dr. Gibson, Dr. Juma, Dr. Myers, Dr. Salem, all the nurses and anesthesiologists, for keeping me alive and reasonably together this past year.

All the rest of my friends, family, clients and readers. It is too hard to list everyone by name but you know who you are.

Thank you! I literally couldn't have made it without you.

Monday, December 30, 2019


Silver vein

I have spent over thirty years buying and selling antiques.

I have never been able to walk by the Polish silver candlesticks with the name Szkarlat or S. Szkarlat emblazoned on the cartouche without being sorely tempted.

The maker was one of the most prolific of all Polish silversmiths. I buy them whenever I can.

You see, it was my father's mother's maiden name. It means sapphire in Polish.

The family name has almost disappeared from our world at this point. I buy them reflexively. I have owned three or four different pairs over the years.

My grandmother's father Menachem Szkarlat owned a sawmill in Wyszkow, a small "shtetl" or jewish community northeast of Warsaw. He was actually pretty well to do compared to his peers.

He and his wife, Sura Gold Fridman had eleven children, Malka, Brana, Rafael, Itzhak, Ruchel, Pola, Rivka, Hana, Mendel, Israel, Bluma as well as my grandmother Pesia. I believe that Pola died at a very young age.

My grandmother Pesia is in the second seated row, second from the right.
The occasion was a visit from the poet/philosopher Hillel Zeitlin to Wyszkow, sometime before 1920, I think.
Pesia emigrated to Palestine in the early 1920's with my grandfather Israel Sommer (Kaitz).
They were very lucky to escape the coming storm. Three of her sisters appear in this photograph.

The rest, with the exception of my grandmother, our Aunt Malka and Ruchel, died in the Holocaust, in Auschwitz. Ruchel was bombed in the Vistula forest in the early days of the war in 1939 and suffered a serious head injury. Much of the town's history and tribulations can be found in the Yizkor, or memorial book.

Szmul Szkarlat - 1889, assayed by Joseph Sosnowski 
I am under no pretensions that these are the most beautiful or best crafted of shabbos, or Friday night prayer candlesticks ever constructed.

But they are lovely in their own honest way, with their foliate and fruit design and simple chasing. Serviceable.

Most of the shabbos sticks I have seen of any maker were made in Warsaw, as were these.

All the sticks that I have seen from this particular silversmith look very similar, although the early ones tended to come with a heavy rectangular base and seemed more substantial. I am sorry that I sold my better, heavier pair with the square base.

They are usually a touch over thirteen inches tall, made out of Russian silver 84. Russian silver standards are based on the zolotnick and work out to about 87.5% purity. My late friend Garry Cohen had a magnificent pair of Szkarlat candlesticks, twice as large at least, the most beautiful pair I have ever seen. I want to track down his brother Larry and get a picture.

Szmul Szkarlat Hanukkah Lamp -
courtesy of Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Anyway as I was saying, I always imagined or figured that the maker, Szmul Szkarlat, was a distant uncle. The name is fairly uncommon and my hope and sincere belief was that we were somehow related. I guess I bought them to honor the family that neither I nor the world ever got to know.

One must understand the significance of these candlesticks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This was after all, Poland and not Germany. The Jews of Poland and the Ukraine lived under pogrom and persecution and were typically very poor. Yet every family had their tribe and faith to cling to and every family had a set of shabbos candlesticks, the less well to do families' sticks made out of brass or silverplate over copper. It was tough for these people to afford sterling or continental grade silver. But they would scrimp and save and manage to get to get something. It was a requisite. And every family had a set in one fashion or another. They were treasured keepsakes and eventually passed down.

The lighting of the candles 谞专讜转 砖讘转 at about twenty minutes before sundown on Friday was a rabbinically required law. The first record of the talmudic requirement is found in the ninth century Siddur of Rav Amram. The lighting had a dual purpose, to honor the sabbath and to foster shalom bayit, or domestic tranquility.

My friend Tracy was kind enough to recently buy me a dna kit from Ancestry.com. She said that it might fill out some gaps in the information I have previously received from Family Tree DNA. They certainly have a large database and they have a neat feature called Thrulines™. Thrulines™ gives you information from other family trees on the Ancestry website that might pertain to your research. Very invaluable.

It took a few days to get the information to migrate to my site.

And I discovered something startling, that Szmul Shmelko Szkarlat was not a distant uncle after all, he was my grandmother's great grandfather.

And I learned his father's name, Avigdor, who was born in 1773.

I made contact with a Montreal relative who translates Russian and Polish and has done a lot of research on the family.

She confirmed that my third great grandfather was the famous silver maker and told me that the Grosbard relatives also were noted goldsmiths.

People don't get this when I tell them but I want to repeat. We had no silver in my family, we ate off melmac and stainless. I knew no family lore, my mother preferring to shade and obfuscate her family history and my father never divulging much at all.

And yet for some weird reason, I developed a keen interest in fine silver and even wrote for the wonderful publication Silver Magazine for a period of years. Isn't that strange? Where did that come from? All I can think of is that I must have a genetic disposition for argentum, perhaps a touch of silver in my veins.

I am going to do more research on my forefather and hopefully write a comprehensive article for publication. Here is a Chanukkah light from the year he died, 1878.

Szmul Szkarlat Hanukkah light, 1878

I have seen hallmarked pieces dated to the late 1890's. It is obvious that the workshop kept using the mark after Szmul's passing, a practice common even today.

Later pieces marked B. Szkarlat have also appeared, unmistakably another relative. It is interesting to me that the set I own has no first initial in the hallmark cartouche, perhaps in deference to the patriarch after his death?

One of his totemic signatures was the ewer, which is shown on top left. Is that a raptor in the cornucopia? Looks like two falcons on the bottom. Hmmm...

It is a thrill and honor for me to be Szmul's distant grandchild.

讻讘讚 讗转־讗讘讬讱 讜讗转־讗诪讱 诇诪注谉 讬讗专讻讜谉 讬诪讬讱 注诇 讛讗讚诪讛 讗砖专־讬讛讜讛 讗诇讛讬讱 谞转谉 诇讱

I am not a religious person but I bear a fierce loyalty to my tribe. I can't imagine what the people in New York, Jersey City, Berlin or London are going through today, where to be jewish is to risk verbal and physical abuse and even death in the case of Pittsburgh and Poway. I am seriously thinking of wearing a kippah for a while, for solidarity if nothing else.

Wishing everybody the best,