Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sign as Art

We are just finishing up two fine weeks in La Paz, and the city is celebrating Carnival, with music, parades, carnival rides, and general chaos along the waterfront. If I was more of a crowd enthusiast, I would post photos of the bright costumes and gaudy carnival vendors. Instead, I am indulging in my latest passion: the hand lettered signs that adorn the buildings in La Paz. It is a great tradition, a successful marriage of building and signage, and, I am afraid, a dying art.

Virtually every building here is constructed of concrete, which is then covered with plaster and painted. The surface becomes a blank canvas, until the sign painter arrives and begins adding the information that identifies the business - it's name, what it offers for sale, the hours of operation. The sign above apprears on one of La Paz's busiest tortilla factories.

At their best, the signs accentuate the architecture of the building, like this one on the butcher shop we have adopted as our own. Sadly, most new businesses around here sport computer generated signs, printed on plastic with muddy colors and cluttered with graphics and words in a jumble. Once hung, they block out any architectural detail, are difficult to read, and tend to make one business look like any other.

So the occasional encounter with well done traditional lettering is especially impressive. It is a reminder that letter forms and the careful use of other ornaments of calligraphy can have a graphic impact far beyond the message they deliver - a strong argument for simplicity in design. How could you possibly say "eats and sweets" with greater elegance?

Still, the Mexicans excel in color extravaganzas, and I admire places where they have gone overboard with color in the letteringand still managed to get their message across. I'm hoping this great tradition won't disappear altogether.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Las Islas

We spent the past two weeks among the islands, ranging as far as Isla San Jose, forty miles north of La Paz. The shore of the Baja Peninsula in this area rises steeply into a range of mountains called Los Gigantes. The photo above shows the tiny fishing village of San Evaristo at the foot of one of these mountain peaks.

Mountains and islands both provided plenty of opportunities for hiking and exploring on land. We made many attempts to climb, but never got as high as we wanted to go - frustrated by the steep slopes covered with loose rocks, and by the fact that we can no longer dance from rock to rock like young goats. But we got some great bird's eye views none the less, like this one of Isla San Francisco.

We also found opportunity for exploring in the water. On Isla San Jose, at Bajia de Amortajada, we explored a maze of mangroves in the dinghy We saw a host of egrets and herons. The most amusing was this Reddish Egret, which did some strange jumping and dancing moves in the shallow water to scare up fish for his brunch.
Exploring the tide pools on Isla San Francisco, we found we could creep up and catch a good look at the Blue Crabs, which are both beautiful to look at and good to eat.

This was certainly the longest unbroken stretch of sunny, warm weather we have ever spent on 'Indigo'. Midday it was desert rat hot, but mornings and evenings were cool. The star show overnight was awesome, and the vistas created by the colored bands of rock in the mountains and islands were endlessly impressive. Along about the tenth day, we began to feel almost - spiritual? Then along came this sunset, which just plain left us speechless.