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Chess Players in Union Square Park

In this personal post my friend Lukas shares his thoughts about his passion for chess and the current state of the game in connection to a recent visit we had in New York. The picture were shot in Union Square Park.

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Chess has seen better days. Maybe it’s an underestimation of the current standing of chess, but the societal impact and prevalence of chess seems to be lower than in the past decades. If one does not specifically look for them, there’s few people around to have a casual game or to chat about the latest tournament results.

There are, of course, reasons for this. In order for a sport to be enjoyed and appreciated by the masses, skill must be apparent to the layman. Everyone can clearly see the skill on display when a professional footballer scores a spectacular goal, shooting the ball right past the goalkeeper’s fingertips, with only inches to spare. Chess is a different matter. The hidden reasonings of a complicated chess move can only be appreciated by people of an at least somewhat similar level of skill.

I’ve always found it fitting to compare chess to a language. It can hardly be enjoyed by people who do not understand it. It demands continuous practice or your proficiency will fade. And, not least of all, it takes two fluent speakers to create a good conversation. I’ve had a mixed relationship with chess over the years. I’ve had my past with chess clubs and tournaments, but the drain on my personal time was too significant to stick to it over the years. Most of my friends do not play, and meeting those who do gets more difficult by the year, as lives change and responsibilities pile up. Then there is, of course, the internet. Nowadays, people who need their regular dose of chess generally retreat to online platforms. This might be extremely convenient – as one can play anywhere, anytime – but something is lost on the way.

On a recent trip to New York City, one of the most important things on my personal to-do list was to visit the local chess-playing community, famous for playing in the parks of Manhattan. When I finally found the time, the weather could not have been worse. The mild temperatures of the past week gave way to sporadic snow and a bone-chilling, uncomfortable cold. I was wondering whether I’d find anyone to play at all. Still, even in such harsh conditions, I found people standing in circles, playing, silently watching or engaged in light-hearted conversation. Not only did I get to play my games, I got much more than that.

As I was sitting there, at Union Square Park, in the heart of one of the most awe-inspiring cities of the world, sacrificing pawns, knights and queens alike, bantering and laughing with complete strangers, I was reminded once again: it’s a sad thing if you can’t share your passions with likeminded people.

Wintertime in Austria

Winters are not anymore what they used to be in Austria, the climate change doesn’t stop at the Alps unfortunately. As a kid I remember a lot of snow in Vienna, nowadays we don’t see barely any white in the cold season. But of course Austria is more than just Vienna and the conditions largely depend on altitude and location. The following pictures were shot largely in Western Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg in the month of December.

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Lisboa Urbana: The City of Fado

I will start the new year as I ended the last one, with a continuation of my Portugal series shot in last October. This time around though I will not set up the pictures themselves but talk about something you can’t spot on the shots, but which is intrinsically interwoven with Lissabon and the people living there. I am talking about the music of Fado. A very intense and melancholic kind of folk singing, which was popular in Portugal until the 80s but which is fading away now slowly. To understand the people of Portugal is to understand the nature of Fado.

You can listen to Fado on YouTube of course, but being in Lisbon you can also go to one of many Fado restaurants located throughout the city, though especially common in the so called Fado neighbourhood of Mouraria in the old town. Usually you pay a package price for the food and the musicians. The spectacle starts at around 8 pm and ends well after midnight. The combination of good Portuguese wine (and port wine), plus delicious local food and the music is a very special one.

One night a visit to a Fado Restaurant called Maria da Mouraria became magical though. After being served the second course the musicians went to the small stage located among the tables and started to play. We were all taken by surprised though who began to sing suddenly, it was the guy who just before introduced himself to us as the kitchen chef! Well it turned out he was the owner and also a very talented Fado singer himself. It wouldn’t stay the last surprise of the night.

As we watched him and his musicians we also noticed an older lady at the door whipping to the music. Later a friend went to the toilets downstairs and told us that she saw the lady singing in the basement with the musicians, it seemed like they were practicing. Indeed after the next course she came to the stage and what followed was a magical performance of a 95 year old lady singing like a 25 year old star. Her presence on the stage was just magnificent, the feelings and the joy she put in the songs were inspiring. A beautiful voice full of emotions in a setting almost private. It felt intimate. The lady had so much energy and fun she just wouldn’t stop, continuing singing even on the sidewalk while wandering with us through the nightly lit streets of Mouraria while she went home and we headed to the Metro.

As it later turned out we witnessed a spontaneous performance of a retired lady living in the neighbourhood. But this wasn’t any lady. She was the sister of the famous Amalia Rodrigues, an icon of Fado who died in 1999 and who is well known by all Portuguese. Celeste Rodrigues is a famous Fado figure in Portugal herself, having been often in television and given large concerts. It felt as for a moment in her life she was the star on the large stage again, her beautiful voice becoming a part of the history of Lisbon itself.

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