Creepy sombre men

So creepy. That was my first thought when I first saw these men. But even then I was drawn to them, these men in their dark, drab suits, lugging their cases and umbrellas like they needed to be somewhere.

But they looked lost. They were just milling about, unable to decide which was the right way. This guy looked like he wanted to ask for directions.

I was a little freaked out, so I pretended not to notice his eye contact and walked on by to get a bit more space between us. That wasn’t very nice of me.

Who were these men? They had obviously walked out from someone’s dream or nightmare but a literal misstep had landed them into the wrong plane. The blinding sunlight was a dead giveaway.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I can barely help myself,” I said to another guy who looked like he wanted to ask for assistance. “You aren’t the only ones who don’t belong here.” I spoke gently, in a low voice I kept from shaking. I didn’t want to be rude. I just didn’t want to talk with him.

I think he understood my growing distress, because like his friend earlier he backed away too.

What a cool water feature. I tried to push my mind away from the men So pretty, the way it cascades.

I turned around and they were still there. I hurried away.

It occurred to me only later that maybe they weren’t trying to ask for directions, they just wanted to offer me some.

Oh well, too late now. I’ve just never been good with strangers. I avoid them like the plague, especially when they make me think of me.

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Related:

Gerard Byrne art exhibition at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Heading home after visiting the Botanic Gardens the other day, I noticed and was struck by the beauty of some paintings displayed right beside the Bukit Timah Gate of the gardens, the access point located beside the Botanic Gardens MRT station.

'Tropics' by Gerard Byrne

‘Tropics’ by Gerard Byrne, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Fine Art Print on canvas, 60 x 120 cm

The artist is a Gerard Byrne from Ireland. I’ve never heard of him because I don’t ‘follow’ art, but I absolutely love the joy and life in the six works I saw. There is an exhibition of his works called Botanical Fusion ongoing at the Botanic Gardens across 3 locations, one of which is the Bukit Timah Gate I mentioned above, since 6th September until 10th November.

According to the NParks website:

Botanical Fusion is a series of works painted by GERARD BYRNE, a Dublin born artist who is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary artists; of modern impressionist style.Titled Botanical Fusion, this is birthed from an artist-in-residence partnership with the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gerard Byrne, supported by Embassy of Ireland.

 

Info Panel - Gerard Byrne Exhibition

I thought “Damn, how daring to display these paintings outside the garden grounds, along a public walkway, unguarded. What if they are stolen or vandalized?” Or, you know, just touched and generally handled by itchy, oily, sweaty fingers. It turned out they are prints, according to the labels. Still, though. I hope no harm comes to them.

According to the same webpage linked above, a selection of the original paintings completed during the artist’s residency can be viewed at the Nassim Gate Visitor Centre of the gardens.

Gerard Byrne

I don’t know what this one is called because there was no info label I could see. Maybe it dropped to the ground and got lost or something. So very pretty. I especially love the sky depicted.

'Tropical House' by Gerard Byrne

‘Tropical House’ by Gerard Byrne, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Fine Art Print on canvas, 65 x 120 cm

'Tropical Jungle' by Gerard Byrne

‘Tropical Jungle’ by Gerard Byrne, Botanical Abstract, Fine Art Print on canvas, 60 x 115 cm

'Forest Flower' by Gerard Byrne

‘Forest Flower’ by Gerard Byrne, Wood anemones blossom, Lublin, Poland, Fine Art Print on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

Forest Flower above is easily my favourite among the six works exhibited at that Bukit Timah Gate location. So stunningly beautiful, and it reminds me of some of my favourite paintings by Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter known for The Kiss and many other works.  I just love the company of trees.

'Endless Summer' by Gerard Byrne

‘Endless Summer’ by Gerard Byrne, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Fine Art Print on canvas, 60 x 120 cm

Definitely have to go back soon to see the other works exhibited at the other two locations in the Botanic Gardens.

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Related:

No.394 Alexandra Road

Adjacent to HortPark is a charming little colonial building that had long caught my eye. Recently I visited the area again for a long walk and was intrigued to see it has now been restored, complete with gorgeous landscaping. So naturally I had to have a closer look.

I adore it, it’s such a sweet-looking house. Here is some fascinating information from the ‘Media Factsheet‘ provided by NParks:

Alexandra Road No. 394 is a colonial house that was built in the early 20th century to serve the staff of the Former States Railway at the height of rail transportation for trade and commerce and emergence of rail corridors in the Malay Peninsula, where Singapore served as a primary trading port. Spanning 0.7 hectares in size, the bungalow consists of a two-storey main building (257.5 m2) and an outhouse (98.03 m2). Owing to its large size, the building was believed to have housed a high-ranking official, possibly the railway superintendent, and his family.

The house was designed in the Arts & Craft style, with its steeply-pitched tile roof and gable wall. Its unique asymmetrical arrangement of architectural features with brick skirting around the base exudes a 1930s country cottage charm. An example of Singapore’s domestic architecture and of buildings and structures tied to Singapore’s rail history, Alexandra Road No. 394 was gazetted as a conserved building by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on 6 June 2014. The building was restored in 2017.

So it’s now called HortHouse. I would have loved to have a look inside, regardless of whether the original layout of the rooms are still there. No chance to find out if I could, as it was closed that late Saturday afternoon I was there. But that’s alright, I’m just thankful that the building was turned into a facility accessible to the public, instead of, say, a private residence. That would had been made gated and I wouldn’t get to admire it so up close.

A quick check online shows that CUGE, the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, is a division of the National Parks Board (NParks) that provides training programmes and research in the landscaping industry. They also have training venues at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

View from the back. Really too bad about the selection of this particular design of lamppost scattered around the house, to me it’s just way too minimalist and contemporary.

The landscaping though is just gorgeous, and really complements the dreamy cottage feel of the property. I also love the emerald green of the doors and windows.

For some interesting photos of what it looked like before its restoration just two years ago, click here for a few photos from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

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Related:

  • URA – Alexandra Road No.394 – History
  • The Smart Local – 10 Queenstown highlights from Singapore’s WW2 era that still exist today.

 

Cloudy with a chance of crystal fabulosity

I was mesmerized by these clouds at the new Jewel shopping mall at Changi Airport, obviously drifted straight out from a fairy tale, looking like they were about to bestow us all with some serious glamour. But since we’re talking fairy tale, the shower of crystal rain would be gentle and in slow motion, glittering serenely and madly all at once. As opposed to cutting and slashing us all to death, that is, haha.

Couldn’t hang around to find out, though. Had to tear my eyes away from the gorgeous sight too soon. I was at the airport to send off a friend. We strolled around a bit earlier to catch in the new attraction, then after he was gone I had to rush to grab the last train back home. Would love to be back soon to admire them again. So very pretty.

Looking at these photos got me thinking just now “they’re gorgeous but how the hell are the maintenance people going to clean those things?” But hey, if they really are supposed to represent dark clouds that are about to unleash rain, then those clouds will just look better with age as they get greyer and greyer over time, haha :-)

 

A visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum for the Raffles exhibition

I saw these ads last Thursday, and recalled reading about how there is to be an exhibition of Sir Stamford Raffles, regarded as the founder of modern Singapore, as part of the Singapore Bicentennial which marks the 200th anniversary of his arrival in Singapore. The eyebrow-raising posters reminded me that the exhibition was to showcase ‘another side of Raffles’, one different and less flattering than the usual narrative we learned about in school.

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But why, though? I don’t understand holding an exhibition on somebody considered a giant in Singapore’s history just to slag him off? Okay maybe not to slag him off but to point out shit he’s done, along with the good, and as the poster says, for us to make up our own mind about things he did, 200 years ago. But why hold an exhibition just to do that? Is he, and for what reason, suddenly on trial in the court of public opinion suddenly after 200 years?

Is it something to do with, or inspired by, the white supremacy or white privilege discussions going on in western countries that are on trend for some time now? They are long overdue and I’m glad they are talked about now, and I hope it’s not just talk but will lead to actual equality for the ordinary regular folk of the world, as vague as that sounds. For better or worse I don’t follow them, though. Not ‘woke’ enough and too busy and blissfully ignorant being sheep I guess, working to earn a living and worrying about my future and living my life simply (working hard. Treating others how I expect them to treat me, with kindness and respect. Ignoring and avoiding assholes and other toxic people. Simple things like that.)

I’m not for or against Raffles but just curious about the point of the exhibition. It’s not like anyone among the public worship him or particularly care about him and put him on a pedestal. Well yes, but just a statue, like any country’s more noted historical figures.

Not to disrespect the dead but I think for most of us he’s just a name in history textbooks, and on some touristy places and things. Do members of the public take history all that seriously, anyway? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t. I think most of us know that history is written according to the writer, the victor, the ruler. So yeah, while partaking in the subject, it’s “wow that’s interesting… so fascinating…“, but once I’m done reading, it’s ‘ok, whatever‘. Back to other things.

I wonder if museums in, say, England hold similar exhibitions for, say, Winston Churchill where they present the bad things he is said to have done along with the good. I have read about some seriously appalling things Churchill had allegedly done, this man said to be regarded by many there as the greatest Briton ever.

I think I’m just annoyed mostly because the posters worked on me. Just two days later on my first day off from work, I went to the venue, the Asian Civilisations Museum. This was yesterday.

THE NEOCLASSICAL BUILDING

I’m so glad I went. It’s such a beautiful building and the museum inside is very well done. I found it very interesting and am now keen to make time to visit our other museums.

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Coming from Raffles Place MRT station, I could soon see the museum which was located on the north bank of the Singapore River. Many times I have crossed Cavenagh Bridge and walked past the beauty, and finally I was going inside. I don’t remember when was the last time, if ever, I had gone in.

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Previously the Empress Place Building, it was completed in 1867. Originally planned to be used as a courthouse, it housed instead government offices until the late 1980s. It was gazetted as a national monument in 1992.

I haven’t visited a museum in years, and the more recent visits were all on holidays overseas, like to Italy or Thailand. Well, last December I did pop into the National Museum here for a couple of hours but that was for a specific and small exhibition organised by the Embassy of Italy. I did not take the time to explore the rest of the museum after that.

When tourist friends and acquaintances visited Singapore, none so far had wanted to visit museums and for many years neither did I think to suggest it to them. I think that was due to me bringing an Italian former friend to a museum here a long time ago, with such pride because I love our National Museum, but the rude bugger was snickering and rolling his eyes at a lot of the stuff we consider old here. That was probably 20 years ago but his assholic behavior probably traumatised me or something because no more museum suggestions to tourist friends since then.

EXPENSIVE

I think I read some years ago that our museums are now free for Singaporeans and permanent residents. I must be mistaken. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to pay S$12 for the exhibition, and my partner Bert who was with me and who is neither Singaporean nor a permanent resident, was to pay S$20. Fortunately the kind lady at the reception, seeing our hesitance, gave us a tip that between 1pm and 5pm there would be a flat rate of $5 for each of us, a special promotion for that day. So we decided to come back a while later for that discount. In the meantime we took a stroll around the beautiful historical area which turned out to be such a pleasure, being a Saturday near the business district area. Very few people around and therefore very pleasant.

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Check out the prices for the exhibition without discounts above. Both Bert and I are working adults with no kids to support and we already balk at the prices. Firstly, how the heck are locals, especially from low-income groups, supposed to be interested to explore our museums when the entrance fee of particular exhibitions are expensive. I myself was drawn to visit one after many years only because of that particular Raffles exhibition. If one is prejudiced enough to say that low-income folks are not interested in museums and other cultural stuff anyway because we are not educated enough, well the high entry fee would dissuade even those with interest to visit.

And what about low-wage foreign workers like our hundreds of thousands of domestic helpers and construction workers. Why can’t we share our museums with them, by having the museums promoted to them and made accessible to them with free entry or a small token fee of a couple of dollars. These people help to build our country, too. Anyone from any economic background, let alone the poor, would appreciate affordable places to visit when off from work, whether they are interested in art or culture in the first place or not, when forced to work in a foreign land just to send money home to families because there is no work in their home country.

And secondly, I remember visiting the Vatican Museums in Rome, which are MASSIVE!, as in MASSIVELY HUGE!, and just about some of the most important and most revered museums IN THE WORLD, for obvious reasons. How much do they charge? According to their Prices and Tickets page, €17.00 for the whole museum complex and the Sistine Chapel, which is like Singapore $26.00. Compare that to the Singapore $20.00 for the Asian Civilisations Museum here for foreigners’ entry. It’s very expensive.

EXHIBITION: “REVISITING THE SCHOLAR AND STATESMAN, RAFFLES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA”

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A portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles greeted the visitor at the entrance of the exhibition. He was 36 when he sat for this portrait in 1817 at the end of his governorship in Java. He was born on 6 July 1781, off the coast of Jamaica on board a ship under the command of his father Benjamin Raffles. At 14 he became a clerk of the East India Company in London, and in 1805 at the age of 24 he was posted to Penang to serve as assistant-secretary.

If you have any interest to learn about the guy, two sites to start with that have short basic summaries of a page each are Encyclopedia.com  and Britannica.com.

The exhibition, which has been running since 1st February and lasts till 28 April, is in collaboration with the British Museum in London. It consists mostly of Javanese and Sumatran objects he personally collected.

The ‘less flattering’ bits highlighted about Raffles vary in severity. For example, at the beginning at his portrait, the guided tour I was on talked about how a sculpture had been painted differently (the actual sculpture the depiction was based on was featured beside the painting), for example, the position of its left arm was different, and so ‘artistic license’ had been taken. That made me go, ‘Huh?‘. Even today when it comes to artistic license, it is taken liberally, like when films based on books are made. Some purists of the book may get angry, and then discussions on the alleged transgressions may be had. So to me it seems like such a stretch to highlight the painting of the statue. UNLESS of course, if according to the religion, Buddhist statues MUST strictly be represented only in a certain way, and the artist failed to do so, then yes I would agree it was wrong.

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A seriously shocking and horrifying thing Raffles had done that I took away with me from the exhibition was when the British invaded Java in 1811.

Reading more about it when I got home, I came across a review of a book called ‘Raffles and the British Invasion of Java’ by Tim Hannigan which included how the British army of 10,000 redcoats and Indian sepoys conquered the Dutch colony.

…They would remain there for five turbulent years. (The) history-cum-biography explores the bloody battles and furious controversies that marked British rule in Java, and reveals the future founder of Singapore, Thomas Stamford Raffles – long celebrated as a hero, a liberal and a visionary – in a shocking new light, showing how he crushed dissent, looted palaces and incited massacres to further his own insatiable ambitions. The book features the dramatic Battle of Batavia, the sinister British expedition to Palembang, the 1812 sacking and looting of Yogyakarta, and various fights between soldiers and civilians, buffaloes and tigers, and Englishmen and Javanese.

Yep, definitely didn’t know that about the guy.

A review of the same book from Toko Buku also said that it:

tells the story of how the British attempted to bring the full force of European colonialism to a tropical island where Muslim sultans claimed descent from Hindu gods.

…Major histories only give the period a few paragraphs at most.

The whole book starts out with the assertion, often heard even by educated Indonesians, that they would’ve been better off if they had been colonized by the British and not the Dutch. …(It) reveals Raffles – long celebrated as a hero, a liberal and a visionary, ‘the last colonialist it’s OK to like’ –in a shocking new light. Indeed, Raffles made for a very strange sort of hero.

This history features the dramatic Battle of Batavia, the sinister British expedition to Palembang, a series of bloody battles between soldiers and civilians, fights between Englishmen and Javanese and a gut-wrenching duel between a buffalo and tiger. The crux of the literary narrative is the clash and deep irreconcilable abyss between nascent European colonialism and the old courtly culture of Java. In an effort to impress the people of Java with the might of British power, Raffles attacked, wrecked, cowed and humiliated Java’s most powerful and influential native court.

Not only did the British break the power of the venerable Javanese kraton, but introduced opium to Java on a large scale, entrenched the position of Chinese middlemen, set up a strong sense of racial separation between the rulers and their subjects and created the concept of extracting maximum agricultural wealth from the island. One of the most enduring myths about Raffles during the strange half-decade that he spent on Java was that he hated slavery. Actually, the man was not an abolitionist and allowed the trade of slaves under the age of 14 and even kept 77 slaves in his own home.

GUIDED TOUR

I was on a guided tour with another 15 or so visitors. It lasted an hour and I thoroughly enjoyed it (and not because it was free-of-charge, haha). From now on when I visit other museums and galleries I will try to time visits to guided tours, if details are available online. The tour I had here was wonderful because my volunteer guide was good and engaging. She wasn’t just rattling off facts in a monotone, but it was more like friendly banter, more like sharing juicy gossipy tidbits with a group of friends. It was fun (despite being distracted by noisy kids at some points) and made the exhibits she touched on come alive a bit, and far more interesting when reading and squinting at their captions in tiny letters later after the tour had ended.

I’m sorry I didn’t catch my guide’s name. I wish I did. She was a middle-aged Chinese lady. My tour was the 1.30 pm one yesterday, Saturday the 30th.

SOME PHOTOS

To close off this post, here are some photos from the exhibition. Sorry some of the text aren’t clear. I’m just terrible with photography, with any camera but especially with phone cameras.

 

Related:

 

 

 

 

Singapore’s HIV data leak. 14,200 individuals affected.

The records were of those diagnosed with HIV from 1985 to January 2013, comprising of 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed from 1985 to January 2013, and 8,800 foreigners diagnosed from 1985 to December 2011. ‘Foreigners’ include work and visit pass applicants and holders.

Information leaked include names, identification numbers, phone numbers, addresses, and medical information besides HIV test results.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) was informed about the leak on 22nd January. The person allegedly responsible for this is said to be Mikhy Farrera Brochez, the male American partner of Ler Teck Siang, a Singaporean male doctor who used to work in the Ministry as the Head of their National Public Health Unit.

If you are interested to read more about those two and their alleged criminal activities, here are some details in easy-to-read point form:

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I was so shocked and gutted when I read about it last week. And as a gay Singaporean in Singapore, where there are no laws to protect People Living with HIV (PLHIV) against discrimination, my first thought was that of fear for those affected, regardless gay or straight. Of how if their HIV-positive status are made known to their employers and colleagues, they could still be discriminated or shunned at work if not fired altogether. And then I thought of those who are gay and still closeted, how devastating it would be if all is revealed to their families when they are not yet emotionally ready or willing to reveal they are gay, let alone HIV-positive. And then I thought of how the Samaritans of Singapore and other helplines might need to beef up their manpower because there might be a whole lot more vulnerable people now who might need their help. Yeah, I got crazy-scared for the affected people like that.

I mean, my God, what a nightmare. And it’s happening in real life. And it’s happening in my own beloved Singapore, where we fancy ourselves a first world country. Yet, not only do we still have that horrid law Section 377A that criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult males, and not only do we lack the anti-HIV discrimination laws that would be the decent thing to have to protect vulnerable people against stigma, but we have also now allowed this to happen. I can’t even imagine the heartbreak and anger and FEAR I would feel right now if I were one of those affected.

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I had actually gone for a HIV test at the Anonymous Testing Service organised by Action for Aids, the day after news about it broke on Monday 28th January. I was clueless then about what happened. But if I had known? Then forget it! I wouldn’t have gone for that test. I no longer trust our Ministry of Health to care for my confidential information (and this was not even the first time health records were breached), and by extension, any of our local NGOs. I say this with deep regret, because organizations like Action for Aids Singapore have worked SO HARD for more than 20 years to gain the trust of the gay community and other locals. It’s not their fault that the law makes it mandatory for the HIV-infected to be notified to the HIV registry.

But that’s exactly why I will NEVER AGAIN go for a HIV test in Singapore, in case it turns out positive. My HIV tests from now on will only be taken while on holiday trips in, say, Thailand. If, God forbid, I turn out to be HIV-positive one day and need subsidy for medication, at least it will be MY DECISION to inform some government registry or anyone else, friends or family, and only when I’m emotionally ready to do so. Ideally. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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Related:

Modern table design and flower arrangement at One Farrer Hotel Singapore

I don’t normally go for modern design, but this table at the lobby of One Farrer Hotel near Serangoon Road caught my eye . I like how even in its minimalism, and without any natural material like timber, it still has a somewhat organic character. Which is why I find it interesting.

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The flower arrangement, however, is not my cup of tea. I wonder what statement or look the florist was going for. To me personally this arrangement as a whole looks a little unfinished and untidy, like we’re looking at a work table at the housekeeping department where the arrangements are kept before being dispatched to various locations in the hotel.

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Maybe I’m just too anal and rigid, and have to try to better appreciate designs that are more relaxed and free-flowing. Especially in that modern and stark lobby, a bit of randomness (albeit still controlled in containers) gives a much needed breath of fresh air. And that is always appreciated, as I’m just not a fan of modern minimalist interiors. I just find it so cold and sterile. So, yes, I still enjoyed looking at this bit of ‘contained chaos’. It’s refreshing.

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Anyway it doesn’t matter much how flowers are arranged. Nice arrangements are always appreciated, but flowers are always lovely to look at no matter how they are arranged.

Fabulous beef lasagna and fish & chips at Appetito stall, Alexandra Village Food Centre

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It was supposed to be just another quick drop-in at a random hawker centre recently for me and my partner for an early dinner. We were heading to Ikea Alexandra next to stock up on candles, and this place was just across the street. After walking around awhile wondering what to eat, we decided on this particular stall called Appetito.

The food took some time to come, but when it did, oh boy, were we pleasantly surprised by how good the food was. And considering the hawker centre prices, it was not just good but fabulous.

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Bert chose the Beef Lasagna. $7. Look how nice the presentation is with just a bit more effort. The plastic dish was nicer than the usual hawker centre plate with its pretty geometric design. The extra effort on a great visual from the stall owner was much appreciated.

Bert is an Italian who doesn’t normally eat Italian when we eat out here, because he says it normally sucks, or it’s overpriced or both. He prefers to cook his own Italian food, and goes for local fare or other dishes when we do eat out. That day however he decided to give the lasagna from this stall a try, since it was only $7 so not too depressing if it turned out terrible, and also because he hadn’t had lasagna for some time (it’s a labour-intensive and time-consuming dish that he tends to prepare only for special occasions).

He really liked this one, to his great surprise! He said its filling was delicious and rich, the beef sauce was really good and the portion was decent especially for the price. Who would have thought: it was a hawker centre stall that ended up making this Italian happy, and with a difficult dish like lasagna too, not some quick pasta dish. No mean feat.

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I chose the fish and chips (the fries came in a separate bowl which I didn’t photograph). I forgot how much it costed. I think the same vicinity as the lasagna. $6.50 or $6.80 or something like that.

I had never gotten such a nicely presented good ole’ fish and chips plate! I mean just look at the creativity and effort for this humble dish! Suddenly it’s not some humble dish but some ooh-la-la fancy thang; so pretty! With that artfully smeared tartar and mustard sauce and all, so cute; way beyond what is expected from hawker centre fare. For some reason I was just so moved by it, hand on heart. It’s so lovely when business owners put in such effort for their customers. And the fact that this is from a hawker stall, not a cafe or hotel restaurant or whatever, well I was just touched. Because, I don’t know, I guess in a way it could mean people like him believe people who may not be able to eat out in nice restaurants deserve nice things, too? *shrugs* Which would make the effort he put in on the food he serves such a lovely gesture, not just a work thing.

And Oh My God, it certainly tasted as good as it looked. The fish was so delicious. It was hardly breaded. It was all fish. I loved this so much. Damn I need to go back tomorrow.

 

Downtown Line’s Little India Station

This greeted me when I exited the train at Little India station.

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The artwork and design on that wall and ceiling are pretty spectacular. I couldn’t help walking around in awe for a few minutes admiring it all, and snapping a few photos.

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I love it. At each of the different angles I saw it.

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It’s like topography, and a flock of birds, and there is whimsy and magic in it. And a Christmas winter wonderland that’s more Tron City than Narnia.

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