Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Neil on CNN

Neil Hammerschlag is a shark scientist right here in Miami who is very active in researching and protecting sharks - as per Mike's blog (and an email from Neil) - I found out that he had been featured on CNN to discuss the possible impact that oil spill may have on sharks:

Read the complete story here - Neil and team, keep up the good work...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tibu Leander

Tibu Leander - Photo by Wolf Leander

My dad was here about two weeks ago, and as always he spent a lot of time with Tibu.

Tibu is a three year old weimaraner that has become part of the family - his name is short for Tiburon (shark in Spanish).  I have tried to capture images of him with little luck - my old man, on the other hand, had his Leica M-6 with him (said he wants to get back into land photography) and did a few sessions with him.

I think Wolf really captured Tibu's soul and personality in the images (see all here) - something he has done over and over with his shark photography.  You see, when you take pictures of most animals (including humans) you need to be able to connect with them.  

Growing up and traveling with my dad, I would observe him talk to people of all walks and backgrounds before taking their portraits (he has a very solid collection - I think we need to develop a Latin American Dreams website :) ).  In many cases he even developed lasting relationships - he is the godfather of a little girl he photographed in Ecuador.

With animals, I have seen him done the same - gaining their acceptance to be photographed...spending hours in the water observing their behavior and understanding their unique personalities...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Family.

Photo: Wolfgang Leander (Miami, June 2010)
Click to enlarge

This is my one and only grand-dog Tibu. Smart, sensitive - just like his parents Felix and Carmen...... :-)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mourning - a never ending healing process...

My mother Ana Catarina and my youngest sister Erica died a little over a year ago.

The wounds still hurt. Will they ever heal? When I look at these images, taken fifty years ago, I know they won't.

Mother and sister - their relationship was not as harmonious as it sometimes appeared.

Erica and I had so much in common - it was not just our sense of humor... and yet, our affective bond had deep cracks of misunderstandings.

I will never get over the deaths of my parents, my sister, my friends. There are so many important and irrelevant things still unsaid between them and me. That is what I find so troubling to be left behind.

I am already afraid to perhaps have to be around when the next loved one will die - if I am lucky that next one will be me. No, I am not trying to be 'funny' - I mean it...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Madame de Stael, Stefan Zweig, and Hermanus.

Madame de Stael lived in Paris and Switzerland in the late 18th / early 19th centuries, and was famous for her literary and political salons; Stefan Zweig was an Austrian cosmopolitan whose books were read all over the world during the first half of the 20th century; Hermanus is a picturesque vacation and whale-watching town in South Africa's Riviera.

OK, fine, but what is the connection?

A bookstore.

Not just a regular bookstore but
a most unique and charming second-hand bookstore owned by a cool South African couple: Beth and Noel Hunt.

Beth and Noel Hunt in front of the "Hemingway's Bookshop"
Photo: Wolfgang Leander
Click to enlarge

It was at the "Hemingway" bookstore where I found, and bought, a book by Stefan Zweig ("Drei Meister"), published in Germany in 1923, and Madame de Stael's classic oeuvre "De l'Allemagne".
I would have never met the Hunts were it not for my buddy Jean-Francois Avenier, aka "Jifa", who lives in Hermanus and is a good friend of them.

Both Beth and Noel love books - most definitely a prerequisite to open a store to sell used and rare books which is what they did some fifteen years ago to fulfill an old dream of theirs.

Beth is also a published author; she has written
a beautiful book about Hermanus, a coffee table book, richly illustrated and even featuring some of Jifa's wildlife photographs.

Beth and her first book "Hermanus"
Photo: Wolfgang Leander
Click to enlarge

A second, very personal book is underway, and almost ready to be born, as it were. It's Beth's autobiography, and since she is a youthful lady, more books by her can be expected in years to come. Noel is the president of the Beth Hunt Fan Reader Club, and a passionate painter in his spare time.

This remarkable couple owns a handful of dogs, all rescued from the streets, which gives you an idea about the size of their hearts. Not long ago they
started a crusade against the killing of baboons.

I absolutely love Beth and Noel - they are my kinda people!

The HuntsPhoto: Wolfgang Leander
Click to enlarge

Here's to the Hunts! They have been married to each other for the past 25 years; may they live together another 25 years - at the very least!!

Jeff Shaw and an Angel

Jeff Shaw from OceanicDefense posted the video below on Facebook - definitely thought it was worth a share.  Back in the early eighties we had a similar experience in Bonaire with a Queen Angel fish that was actually at the same site year after year...incredible interaction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Can't Stop Thinking about the Tiger Sharks of Aliwal Shoal...

To understand why, let me share these images with you; they were all taken in 2008 when Aliwal Shoal was at its best.

The Old Man in the Sea of his Passion
Photo: Felix Leander

Click on image to enlarge

Tiger Sharks of Aliwal Shoal - gone, forever....
Photos: Wolfgang Leander

Click on images to enlarge

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mighty but Vulnerable: The Tiger Sharks of Aliwal Shoal

William Winram with a female tiger shark
Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Click on image to enlarge

When I look at this female shark I cannot help but getting overpowered by deep anguish - is she still around or has she been caught in the shark nets of near-by Scottburgh, or perhaps killed by senseless fishermen?

Aliwal Shoal is a marine sanctuary, and tiger sharks belong to the species that are expressly protected there.

Yet, the place is rather dangerous for these most gentle and non-aggressive animals.

As many as forty tiger sharks get fatally trapped every year in the shark nets and hooked on the baited drums which are 'managed' by the Durban-based Natal Sharks Board.

When you consider that the once plentiful tiger shark populations world-wide have been diminished by some 80-90% during the past 30 years or so due to indiscriminate over-fishing - mostly for their fins as you probably know by now, dear reader - you would think that this precious species, like many others, would be in a safe haven in the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area. They aren't.

Why don't people, in this case South Africans, cherish what they are so privileged to have, and that is unique and almost as ancient as God himself? Because of greed, indifference, stupidity - and, most sadly, a complete lack of basic compassion for the suffering of fellow creatures. It's always the same story.

What is wrong with us humans? How heartless and stupid can we be to knowingly destroy what we are part of, and not care about it?

Albert Einstein comes, again, to my mind: "Only the universe and human stupidity have no boundaries; however, I am not so sure about the universe".

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Bit of Personal History: My Old Man as a Young Man, and Where he Came from.

Wolfgang Leander 
Click on image to enlarge

Thanks to the Internet I was able to get a hold of this photograph of my father, Wolfgang Leander (1905-1964), when he was 28 years old. At that time (1934), he was the test pilot and chief pilot of the Fieseler aircraft factory in Kassel.

What is interesting about this image is the incredibly sleek design of the Fieseler Fi-5, a light training and aerobatic plane that was quite well known in Germany; however, it was not as hugely popular as the legendary Fieseler "Storch" that was developed in 1936, and was the first aircraft in the world to boast a stunning STOL performance.

Wolfgang Leander at an air show in Kassel demonstrating the remarkable features of  the Fieseler Fi-97 which was the previous model of the famous Fieseler "Storch". The plane is flying horizontally on this 'tilted' position at its lowest speed: 58 kmh.
Click on image to enlarge

The owner of Fieseler Flugzeugbau, Gerhard Fieseler, became an international celebrity as the first aerobatic world champion. The historic championship, during which two contestants crashed and died, took place in June 1934 in Paris. My father was a member of the international jury, and represented Germany at this spectacular event - being the only Jew in the German aviation world at that time....!

During 1934 most German Jews had already lost their jobs and were being subjected to the ever increasing state sponsored anti-semitic terror.

As a pilot, Gerhard Fieseler must have held my father in the highest esteem. In a reference letter, Fieseler described my father's flying skills as being "outstanding and far above average".

In 1936, Fieseler, by then a member of the Nazi party, was either forced by more radical Nazis, or was himself convinced, to finally get rid of his Jewish chief pilot which was when my old, still young man decided to leave Germany. 

Due to his excellent contacts in the aviation circles, my father was lucky to have been engaged by the "Reichsverband der Deutschen Luftfahrtindustrie" (= "Imperial Association of the German Aircraft Industry") to represent the interests of some of their members, such as Focke Wulf, Arado, and Buecker in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia. His place of residence would be one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Rio de Janeiro.

Wolfgang Leander after an aerobatic show with a 80 hp Buecker "Jungmann" in Rio de Janeiro, 1936. He was one of the very few pilots who could fly an inverted loop with this biplane.
Click on image to enlarge

Thus, in June 1936 Wolfgang Leander  set off to Brazil with a work contract in his pocket and all of his belongings, among them a brand new BMW 328. I don't know of another German Jew to have been so privileged in the early years of the Hitler regime.

At this point I believe I need to digress or else elaborate on my father's history which, in a way, mirrors an interesting, albeit rather disturbing aspect of the German-Jewish history.

My father's family could trace back their Berlin-Jewish roots to 1684 when one of their direct ancestors was given the right to settle in Berlin according to the then existing quotas allocated to "foreign" Jews. Needles to say, such settlement rights could not  be acquired unless the applicants were willing and able to pay a hefty settlement tax.  My father's forebears belonged, accordingly, to the oldest and relatively well-to-do Jewish families in Berlin.

When the Prussian Jews were emancipated and required to take on permanent family names (1812), Samuel Liebmann Alexander (1768 - 1830) -  my great-great-great grandfather  -  chose to be officially named Leopold Leander. Like many, if not most, German Jews our ancestors embraced German culture with a passion and fervor that was "typically Jewish" or "Jeckish", as Israelis would later label that nostalgic and almost unconditional  love for all things German displayed by most immigrants from Germany.

My great-great grandfather Heinrich Lode (1812 - ?)  was one of the first Berlin Jews to be admitted to the university where he studied medicine and became a registered medical doctor. 

That generation, open-minded and eager to discover exciting new  horizons beyond the narrow confinement of a century old ghetto reality, felt quite comfortable in the reformed branch of Judaism, a liberal, much less rigid congregation than the conservative or orthodox ones. 

Most assimilated German Jews who did not want to sever the ties from their traditional communities altogether chose to identify themselves as Reform Jews. 

Others converted to the Christian faith, believing that a full blown conversion would make them 'non-Jewish'. 

They were tragically wrong. At that time - we are looking at the last two to three decades of the 19th century - anti-semitism was based on racial theories, not on religion. 

Rightist German students chanted: "Der Glaube ist uns einerlei; in der Rasse liegt die Schweinerei!" (= "We don't care about the faith; it's the filthy race that we find abhorrent!").

Racial Jew-hatred became much en vogue after some dubious scholars published their pseudo-scientific findings, among them a French count, Gobineau, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a British political philosopher and a notorious racist who believed in the supremacy of the teutonic "race". Chamberlain was the son-in-law of Richard Wagner, himself viciously anti-semitic, as is well documented.  

Jumping to the early 20th century, my grandfather Alexander Leander (1871 - 1932), a lawyer with a doctorate degree, holder of the title 'Koeniglicher Justizrat' (Royal Legal Counsel), and an author / editor of several specialized law books, served in the Imperial Army as an interpreter for Greek during World War I (he was proficient in six languages including old Greek and Latin). 

Alexander represented what was then coined a "Bildungsbuerger", a member of the educated class, completely at home in the traditionally classic humanities and the German Enlightment. He was a confirmed monarchist, and as such he deeply resented Germany's transition into a democracy under the leadership of a socialist president of humble origin (Friedrich Ebert).

My father Wolfgang, politically conservative, experienced three political systems: The German monarchy as a  boy; the Weimar democracy as an adolescent, and the early Third Reich in his late twenties. While he still went to a 'Gymnasium' (= high school with the emphasis on humanities),  his heroes were the German pioneer pilots, especially the German WW I aces such as von Richthofen (the "Red Baron"), Boelkow, Immelmann, Udet.

As a freshly enrolled student at the Technical University in Berlin my dad became a  member of the Berlin chapter of the Akademische Fliegergruppe ("Akaflieg"), where his initiation into the world of fliers consisted of hard work building glider planes in his spare time. 

Only one year later, after having successfully built a plane with his comrades, could he take up flying lessons as early as in 1923 - to graduate the same year from the Glider School at the Wasserkuppe where most of the better known German aviators made their debuts as daring pilots.

As a completely assimilated German Jew my father considered himself to be a true German; so much so that he could not identify himself as a Jew at all. He was more than "just" German - he was Prussian to the bone, and he lived up to what people thought to be "essentially" Prussian virtues:  He was frugal, humble, principled, authoritarian, and filled by a marked sense of responsibility toward his country. We kids would have at times wished to have a 'less' Prussian father...   :-)

Wolfgang Leander left Germany only after he and aviation friends of his had to realize that the Nazis were serious about solving what they called the "Jewish Question". The determination of the Germans to expel the Jews from their society the became a stark reality when the infamous Nuremberg Racial Laws were introduced in 1935.  

Still, neither my father nor even pessimistic contemporaries, Jewish and non-Jewish, could imagine how the barbaric Jew-hatred and the exclusionary policies of the Hitler regime would develop only a few years later, when Hermann Goering, a veteran aviator and fighter ace of WW1, would order SS-General Reinhard Heydrich, known as the "Blonde Beast" among his peers,  to draw up a master plan for a "Final Solution" of the Jewish Question.

Many German Jews put their trust into the "other" Germany - the Germany of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Herder, the philosophers, the composers who have so much enriched German cultural life, and shaped the country's identity as one of the most civilized modern nations. 

As we painfully know today, history proved these naive, patriotic German Jews  completely wrong: Their fate in the "new" Germany, the Third Reich, lay in the hands of the implacable 'Masters of Death': Heydrich, Himmler, Eichmann, and all those almost anonymous hundreds of thousands of Hitler's 'willing executioners'. 

Back to South America.

After working as a representative of two important German airplane manufacturers (Focke Wulf and Buecker) for almost one year out of Rio de Janeiro, my dad eventually settled in Bolivia in 1937 when he was invited to join the local airline, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano, as a commercial pilot.

The Lloyd Aereo Boliviano had a strong German element in its beginnings: The company  was founded in 1925 by progressive German residents in Bolivia; the fleet consisted mostly of Junkers aircraft (F-13, W-34, Ju-86, and the famous Ju-52); the General Manager and chief pilot, Hermann Schroth, was a German  aviation pioneer (he was the first one to cross the Mediterranean Sea by air); technical support was given by the Dessau-based Junkers company; the majority of pilots and mechanics were Germans. 

"El Lloyd", as the airline was commonly called in Bolivia, was associated with the Deutsche Lufthansa through its Brazilian subsidiary, the 'Sindicato Condor', to be in a position to offer their passengers connecting flights to the major cities in Brazil.

I could write a lot more about my old man, but I will not try your patience any further, dear reader, and stop here with an irony of fate that characterized  his  turbulent life: 

In 1936 circumstances forced my father to leave Germany because he was a Jew; five years later, in September 1941, the Bolivian government, yielding to pressure from the U.S., fired my father, along with all other German employees of the Lloyd Aereo Boliviano,  because he was a German...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Curry in a Hurry....

I always thought that the best place to eat curries outside of India was London. After having been to Durban a few times, I am convinced that it is there where you will find the best Indian cuisine.

I love Indian food; to me it is the most divine food on earth - and probably also in heaven...

In Rocky Bay, which is close to Scottburgh, a couple of newly found friends and I decided to try out an unassuming Indian restaurant. Since I always wanted to be taught how to prepare a nice, hot curry dish, I thought I could get a cooking crash course by blackmailing the friendly owner of the restaurant, Sheila Behary.

Thus, I told
Sheila that we would eat in her place under the condition that she would have to teach me how to cook the dish I would order. Sheila is a very clever lady, and as she realized that I meant "business", she immediately agreed to accept my rather unusual proposal.

I then went straight into the kitchen and learned how to prepare a delicious vegetable curry under the watchful eyes of my teacher.

Sheila Behary and me.
Photo: Sophie van Coller

What can I say - "my" curry turned out to be a success story! In case you find it hard to believe, just look at the dishes and all the happy faces in this photograph:

Left to right: Dr. Leonard Compagnio, Lesley Rochat, Ram Behary, Sheila Behary, Sophie van Coller, Wolfgang Leander, Rejoice Ngwane.
Photo: Mark van Coller

Click on images to enlarge

Nery & Gautier: World Class Freediving at its Best.

Guillaume Nery and Julie Gautier

This has gotta be the best freediving video clip I have ever seen.

Congratulations to both Guillaume Nery and Julie Gautier!!

Accompany Guillaume on his free fall into the blue abyss: