Thursday, June 30, 2011

When in Rome...

During a recent trip to Rome, John and I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast place run by Catholic nuns. It was towards the end of May, and officially not yet summer, but it was warm. We saw a wall-type air conditioner mounted near the ceiling and therefore out of reach, but the remote control was nowhere to be found.  Our room was on the third floor of the building facing the street, which happened to be a main avenue. If we opened the windows to let the breeze in, we would also be letting in the roars from the Vespas and Ducatis - those famous Italian scooters that fill Italian streets, and there was no way that we would be able to sleep.

I considered going down to the first floor lobby to ask for the remote control, or at least to let the nuns know that we found the room warm. However, I balked at the idea since I did not (do not) speak any Italian.  Earlier when we were checking in, I discovered that the nuns manning the reception did not speak any English. To my disappointment, one whom I thought was Filipina turned out to be from Madagascar and did not speak any English either.

But it was warm! So I checked the little book “Italian for Travellers” that my nun-friend in a nearby convent lent me for the phrases “air conditioner” and “remote control” but no matter how many times I scanned the pages, the book contained no such words.  There was only the word “caldo” for “hot,” and the word “molto” (“very”), attached to another adjective, that I could put together.

A picture is worth a thousand words, we are told, and so I took a photo of the air conditioner in the room and went down with my camera. I remarked,  “It’s molto caldo in our room.”  In a very stern, but low, voice that reminded me of the nuns in my grade school, she admonished, “No fumare.” I understood that to mean “No smoking,” or “Don’t smoke.” To assure her that John and I were not smoking in our room, I nodded my head and echoed what she said, “No fumare.”  Since that did not lead me anywhere, I showed her the image on my camera’s LCD, and asked for the remote control, while I repeated my well-mastered phrase, “molto caldo.” She raised her forefinger and repeated “No fumare” and in quick Italian must have said something about the consequences of smoking (guessing from all the conjugations of the verb “fumare” that I heard her say). I tried to get my message across by fanning myself with my hand and repeating “molto caldo,” and “caldo molto” (just in case, in Italian, the adverb should come after the adjective).  It was funny because all sorts of Spanish words- courtesy of Spanish language lessons during college days - were coming to my head in my attempt to explain that it was very warm in our room.  I was frustrated and starting to fret, while she remained firm and stern. To add to my frustration that I could not get myself understood, I heard her very matter-of-factly warn me, while pointing to the smoke alarm and vigorously twirling her forefinger,  “Fumare – wang, wang wang.”  She said something else but all I could understand was “dormir.“ With a simple wave of her hand, while maintaining eye contact, she said softly but with finality, “Buona notte!” I guessed that what she was saying was “Go to sleep, good night,” and that was it – end of discussion. It was frustrating – not only to be unable to communicate but to be made to feel like a grade school pupil in a Catholic school. At 65, I did not think a nun could still make me feel that way. J

Resigned to sleeping in a warm room, I went back upstairs. After an hour or so, I saw that the brochure that I picked up at the front desk earlier contained the phrase “aira condizionata” which I took to mean “air conditioned.” “Aha,” I said to John, "here’s what I can show her." I also wished (maybe prayed is the more correct word) that the nun whom I encountered earlier would no longer be on duty.  I walked down the stairs to the ground floor. She was there with another nun – not the smiling nun from Madagascar but someone who looked like the Italian Mother Superior. Hope springs eternal, and I pointed at the brochure and said to them “molto caldo aira condizionata . ” That was the full extent of my Italian in one go.  That hope was doused quickly when the older nun said simply, “no funzione,” and all I could do was meekly repeat, “aria condizionata, no funzione.”

I had no choice but to accept defeat. Bowing slightly to the two nuns before me, I whispered, “Buona notte,” and headed back to our molto caldo room. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Motorbike Backrider

Carless and often cashless, our only means of transportation in the 1970’s was John’s 350cc Honda motorcycle, a gift from his father. It was a cozy way to be riding together, with my arms around him for safety.

Riding the motorcycle was the way we picked up and delivered work. During those days, there were no personal computers (no “Powerpoint” or “Keynote”), and slides for audiovisual presentations were made from photographing handmade artworks drawn on 30”x40” illustration boards. If available, words were made with the use of letter transfers (“Letrasets”) and if not, they were created by skillfully airbrushing them on the boards. The boards are carefully wrapped because the colored inks used on them were attractive to roaches.

Since all we had was a 35mm Nikkormat with a 43-86mm zoom lens, most of our jobs were doing these slides. We would pick up the boards from the ad agency and bring them to our studio to shoot.

John would get up on his motorcycle and I would then gingerly mount the motorbike behind him with the wrapped illustration boards between us, leaving me with no way to wrap my arms around John or to hold on to any part of his big bike.  As long as we were not riding over speed bumps or potholes, we were fine, but John would continue to show his concern for me by saying, “Talk to me and keep talking, so I’ll know that you’re still there.”

Wasn’t that sweet? ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

John in Adobo Magazine

Here's a very straightforward article by Adobo Magazine's writer, Mia Marci on John and his passions - photography, especially aerial photography; flying; his pet elephant, Maali; his advocacy, Photography with a Difference, that works with special children and persons with disabilities; getting a street in Manila, R. Hidalgo, to become a photographers' haven.  John's photo was taken by our daughter, Kathy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John's Talk: Photography with a Difference - Touching Lives Through Photography

January 31, 2011

Today, John faced a tough challenge – how to make his topic, "Photography with a Difference – Touching Lives Through Photography” interesting enough to get delegates out of bed for a very early morning (8:30am) talk.  Participants in this year's Photoworld Asia Convention came from all over the Philippines and some Asian countries and as far as Qatar, and paid to learn photo and digital imaging techniques. But there was John, getting ready to get them to do photography that John himself says requires no skill, and no special equipment.

This is not the first time for John to be invited by the organizers of this annual event, but normally, they put him in the first slot after lunch. Unlike most speakers who represent a specific expertise or style, John has been called a serial specialist. He is as adept inside the studio shooting food, products or cars, as he is outside, doing aerial photography or photographing buildings, interiors and industrial sites.  He shares whatever he knows, and after almost 40 years in his profession, his reservoir of tips and techniques that he readily shares with fellow photographers is very deep. More importantly, they know that his honest and irreverent sense of humor, his booming voice, and many tricks up his sleeve would wake up his audience any time.

He brought, for example, a few bags of Super Lemons, and had them distributed to everyone in the audience, with the instructions that they may pop the candy into their mouths only when he gives the signal.  But wait - maybe I should not tell you about this trick, in case you have never listened to John give a talk.

He also brought a lot of goodies, and thankfully, Canon is one of the sponsors. John has been named a “Canon Ambassador,” together with a select group of professional photographers, so yesterday, John approached their marketing department for corporate premium items to give away. He was like Santa Claus today, giving out Canon books, luggage tags, coffee mugs, folding canvas stools and magazines – to early bird attendees, those who asked questions, and at the end of his talk, when he still had leftover gifts, to anyone who happened to be within arm’s reach.

John is very passionate about the topic assigned to him. To ensure that his audience would be enticed to learn about Photography with a Difference, he gave an unsolicited and un-scheduled mini-presentation, and posted a few photos on the wall during the first days of the conference. And even though he had prepared his talk and audiovisual presentation several days before today, he spent the whole night perfecting his presentation, providing more “success stories.”

To establish credibility with those who were going to listen to him for the first time, he started by very briefly introducing our company and presenting our portfolio. Then, he narrated how “Photography with a Difference” as an advocacy was born, after which, one by one, he showed pictures from more than 25 workshops and photo exhibits that have been done so far.  He told the stories of how many workshops were started without any funds, and how they were built on the strength of dreams. He spoke of not having any organization, and on running this entire advocacy on Facebook. He shared the story of his “magic notebook,” where he wrote his wish lists, and dream projects. He reminisced about his meeting with the advocacy partners or sponsors - SM Malls and Canon Philippines. That they had no memorandum of agreement, no written proposals, no contracts – just shaking hands to seal their agreement and resolve to continue with this advocacy. Already running late, he ended his presentation by playing a touching video by Joel H. Garcia, one of the regular volunteers of Photography with a Difference.  In that short but heart-tugging video were pictures of visually impaired children who were having the time of their life exploring the zoo, and bonding with their parents and their photographer-partners.

There was no more time for questions, so he invited them to follow this advocacy on his Facebook, or to email him. At this point, we could not gauge how well John had succeeded in arousing his audience’s interest in this advocacy, until the audience stood up to give John a standing ovation!

To give way to the next speaker who had been patiently waiting for his turn to speak, we quickly gathered our materials and moved to the side of the room. Not a few photographers rushed to John to ask him to sign their books, flyers, photos, notebooks, papers – anything they could get where John could sign. Then they followed him still when John left the room, to ask how they could join, or how they could lead such advocacy projects. Two of them were Filipinos living in New Zealand, a couple of Filipinas from the U.S., a Filipino who lives in Guam, and a recently retired military man who himself has a special child. Others were members of local camera clubs. We exchanged business cards, as we promised to send them more information on how they can participate in reaching out to persons with disabilities through the “Photography with a Difference” advocacy.

Like a tireless evangelist, John has planted the seed of his advocacy once again. We will wait to see where the seed will grow, and hope it spreads to other parts of the world.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good-bye, Tatay Harvey

Today, I say goodbye to my namesake and my late parents' dear friend, Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Harvey E. Jewell, who bade us all a final farewell on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 in Kingsport, Tennessee. He crossed over to his glorious next life while surrounded by his family – children, son-in-law, and grandchildren. He was 87.

I will miss him terribly, but would like to thank God for letting me find him on the Internet in December 2007, which led to my getting to personally meet him and his family in July 2008 in Kingsport, and again in October 2010, when we honored him at a gathering of family, relatives and friends in West Orange, New Jersey.

Dear Tatay Harvey, now that I've met your family, and my family has met yours, we hope to continue the friendship that you and my parents began in 1946. 

Goodbye, Tatay Harvey. I love you. As you journey into the next life, please give my love to my parents, whom I also miss very much. 

"Bless them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them (Harvey E. Jewell, Ruperto S. Valentino, Dolores Lombos Valentino). May they rest in peace. Amen. "

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Little Boy Who Likes Zip Lines

Ever since newspapers picked up the story about John teaching Ian, a young man with autism, how to express himself through photography, parents of similarly situated children have been bringing their little boys and girls to him. Some of these children are probably too young to learn photography, so John ends up inviting them to come to Manila Zoo to meet Maali, the elephant that John has been taking care of for the past ten years. Within the main zoo, there is also a wonderful place called Kinder Zoo, where they can touch and be photographed with animals. Recently, it has set up a rock wall, and a zip line for children.

I remember John's story about one such little boy with autism. His name was Carlo. He did not like Maali, so John looked around for something to interest him. He was not keen about snakes and baby crocodiles at the Kinder Zoo, or its tortoises and monkeys. But he got attracted to the zip line, and pointed it to John. That’s what he found interesting, and that’s what he wanted to do.

John has learned that children with autism have no sense of danger, so John did not know if he would hold on to the rope until he was safely at the end of the zip line. He was very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, and the mother could not reassure John either, as this was this boy’s first time for this kind of adventure.

John decided that to be sure this boy was safe on the zip line, John had to be holding on to him.  The zip line was low because it was designed for little children, and John could be on the ground, running the full length of the zip line. That would have been the best arrangement.  The line is about 50 meters long- a half of a hundred meter dash, and John thought that was doable. John was game, and so was Carlo. There was no need for anyone to push them from the platform. John simply had to run along with this little boy perched on a round seat that was hanging with a rope from the zip line. Off they went, and John zipped along on the zip line.  Just as they came to the end of the line and John, huffing and puffing, was feeling grateful that he/they made it, this boy gleefully said “Again!”. Without hesitation or asking for a break, John said, “Of course,” and ran again. He huffed and puffed again, but he felt good to have satisfied this little boy’s whim to try the zip line. Twice.

He came home tired but happy to tell me the story of the little boy who likes zip lines. :)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Adventures and Misadventures

There was a time when John wanted to learn how to fly hang gliders. There was no way to stop him. I knew that the more I tried to stop him, the more he would insist on doing it. So I kept quiet, and prayed. Then one morning, he came back early - meaning he did not go hang gliding even though he left for that purpose.

He told me that he was too early for hang gliding and when he arrived at his instructor's place, the guy was still cleaning his kite. The guy was in shorts, and all his scars were visible. He told John about the different scars on his legs and body and what caused them - all from hang gliding accidents. John decided that he did not want to learn hang gliding anymore. :)

Another time, John wanted to go sky jumping. (What’s with this man?) He took all of us, our three daughters and myself, to Tanauan, Batangas, where his friend’s son was teaching it. He already knew I would not do it, but he was able to convince at least two daughters to try it with him.

I’m timid when it comes to adventures, but I made great effort, especially when my children were very young, not to show or transfer my fears, or my lack of courage, to them. I did not want them to be fainthearted like me. I wanted them to have as much fun as their dad was. Although scared, I said yes to the scariest rollercoaster rides, was John’s first passenger on an ultralight, went up to the sky in a glider (not hang, but a real one), was first to hop on cable cars, went scuba diving, spelunking, approached and touched all sorts of strange animals – whatever adventures we faced. I just kept quiet and prayed for our safety, and said my silent “thank you’s” when my feet touched the ground again.

That morning, my children were older and I felt I did not have to show any more false bravado. John greets his pilot-friend, Mannie Baradas, who in turn introduces us to his son who teaches sky jumping. But this young man was in a wheelchair! “My God,” I was screaming silently in my head. He must have seen my reaction to the sight of him, and so he reassured me that he was not teaching today. He had a “little” accident while skydiving, he said, so his other instructor, would take over giving lessons that day. “Oh, thank God,” I said again in my head, “maybe there’s somebody else who has better judgment, or better timing, or whatever it is that you need to avoid breaking your bones while sky-jumping.”

Mannie’s son called the other instructor to come out, and he was in crutches!!! At that point, even John did not think it was a good idea to try sky jumping. I did not have to make excuses for not signing up for lessons, John and the girls took care of that. I think that day we decided to go sailing in nearby Talisay, but when we think of adventures and misadventures, we still talk about our close encounter with sky jumping that day.