BTS – El Sombrero

As simple as the story line around this photo was, creating the image was no small deal for me.  I would guess that I easily spent 12 hours preparing for and creating this image. While processing I completely started over once, corrected an issue I saw as much as possible and repeated the steps I knew well by then.

Anypose and Lumipro were both used though in the end, the only thing Lumipro was used for was to animate both avatars through the Lumipro sitball. Anypose is proving to be a godsend because in most cases I would never find an pre-made pose that would fill my need and I would have come to this conclusion after many hours of shopping.  Additionally, I have the option of adding any that might have a wider appeal to my marketplace.  (which I do anticipate doing)

In the beginning.  For “El Sombrero” I required a store to sell the subject hat. I could find nothing suitable in Havana and even traveled to several similarly themed sims but found nothing.  So, I started building a store. It didn’t take long to figure out that I don’t have the building skills to build anything  as realistic as I am demanding. I do now have some not-bad Havana style prim columns…that will probably never be used 😀

With that settled, I returned to Havana and found this building that I felt I could make in to my store if I could rez. Joining the Havana group in world for L250 gave me rez rights. With so many ideas for pics on this vacation, I could have made the previous images easier had I joined the group earlier.

The initial image was photographed with my video settings set to Ultra and the windlight setting as indicated – Nam’s Beach Scene is the initial preset. The only adjustments made was in the time of day and angle.  I was looking for something shortly after noon so the sun is nearly straight overhead.

Original Capture - El Sombrero
Windlight settings - El Sombrero

Havana is a very colorful build.  In most of my pics so far, I’ve felt it necessary to tone down the colors. This would be no different.  Additionally, to make the image more realistic, I needed different lights inside and something to fill the bare walls.  It because quickly obvious that I would need four layers to work with

  1. Aedan
  2. Store Front
  3. Display (w/Christi)
  4. Inside Walls
Attempt to create a mask in world

Using the trick I learned from Natsumi, I rezzed a prim inside the building, pulled it up close to the windows to block out Christi and the display that was already in place. I realized at the time that by pulling it so close to the wall, I lost the windows in the doors.

This wasn’t the only thing wrong with this mask – I failed to notice that the prim wasn’t tall enough to reach to the top of the windows. Though I went back in world for a second chance I wasn’t able to get the camera, viewing angle and Aedan all positioned in the exact same spots again. In the end, I had to piece together several pieces to create a functional mask.

Display Mask - El Sombrero
Aedan's Mask - El Sombrero

And so the journey continued…level adjustments, saturation tweaking, fixing missing shadows and wardrobe issues.  When the inside walls were darkened several issues came to light around the masking. Basically, I had to start over and redo some things to get back to the same point.

When I ‘thought’ I was finally done, it became apparent that all of the masking made the glass in the windows hardly visible….and on such a bright day, wouldn’t there be reflections?  I had an idea in my mind about what would be in the reflections but once I got back in world and moved inside the building, it became obvious that Aedan’s reflection would not be in the window beside him.  In hind sight, it probably wouldn’t be where it ended up at either because the column between him and the door would keep that from happening.

 

View from the pugh - El Sombrero
Reflections - El Sombrero

In the end…I’m basically happy with this image. The windows are too clean – that is bugging me a bit but not enough to change the image since it has been posted to flickr.

Like everyone of these, I feel I’ve learned a lot that will make future edits move more smoothly.  Above all else though, this was fun.  Can’t ask for much more than that.  Now, on with the next adventure!

El Sombrero

Eyes Wide Shut
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The sounds of voices and cars on the street woke Aedan.  He was disoriented when he opened his eyes. Nothing seemed familiar. It was hot. Slowly he remembered where he was.  It was still hot.

Other than being on the edge of sweating, he was quite comfortable on the bed he had laid down on for 30 minutes…three hours ago. His unexpected morning nap had been filled with dreams about the day before. He relived his meditation, of seeing his new, old face for the first time, of his conversations with Louise which him wondering if her mother was who he thought she was…if it was possible.

Suddenly and without warning, he remembered that his sponsor, Ms. Fernandez had told him she would have Cuban coffee waiting for him. He glanced at the clock on the wall and deducted that since the sun was shining outside, it must be 1pm and not 1am. He felt bad for having stood her up but at the same time felt happy about having had the opportunity to get some rest. He also felt that his first day in Havana couldn’t be spent sleeping even if he did need it.

With that last thought, Aedan sprung off of the bed and dug through his clothes to find some shorts and a light shirt. The shirt was a little wrinkled but he calculated that fifteen minutes in this humidity and it would  be hanging from his shoulders without wrinkles.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Aedan stuck his head into the kitchen and saw the small coffee pot on the stove with the even smaller cup on the counter beside it but there was no flame. He called out for Ms. Fernandez but not too loudly and only once, it was truly too late for coffee in his mind and he was thankful he heard nothing back.

Stepping out the front door and closing it behind him, he took a deep breath of the warm, salty carribbean air brought in by the waves breaking across the street. He debated about just walking across the street to enjoy the beach but knew that once he planted himself, he would stay.  Besides, in this sun he might actually need a hat and that was number one on his list. It also occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten a full meal since hs lunch with Louise.

Aedan pulled out his phone and retrieved the note from Cathy with the address of the store and committed it to memory then promptly put the phone back into his pocket.  Had Ms. been available, he would have simply asked here which direction he should head in. The fact is that he had no idea of where he was going or if it was even within walking distance.  What he knew was that he truly enjoyed exploring new places and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. He had all afternoon to find his way around so he shrugged his shoulders, turned to the left and began walking.

He walked several blocks with the sea wall and waves across the street. The side he walked on was lined with older houses, all of which appeared to have been refitted to accompany guests. Many desire to travel to Cuba partly because of the mystique of a placed closed off to much of the world for so long.  Recent thaws in their relationship with the U.S. brought the promise of increased tourism and those who could positioned themselves to benefit as much as possible. More recent hardening of that relationship by a new administration disappointed many and brought hardships to those who had spent their last peso trying to be ready but most believed this was a temporary set back and hoped for the best.

There were also many stores and restaurants on this street. Aedan stepped into several of the stores to look around and paused ot look at the menus at the restaurants.  Some seemed promising so he made a mental note of his location before moving forward.

Upon seeing a street sign with the name that was the same as the street that the store he was looking for was on, Aedan made the turn away from the beach and pulled out his phone to remind himself of the address as he continued to walk.  “One eleven or uno once” he voiced to himself in a meager attempt to practice his spanish.

Looking up he saw “115” above a door and then “117” on the next.  He had already missed the place and turned promptly around. He saw a hat in a window and looked up at the address. 111.  This was the store he had been directed to. There wasn’t much to it. No wonder he had missed it.

Aedan pulled the door open and as he had experienced in other stores, in his room, no blast of cold air met him. The side door closed as a woman left the store just as he walked in. It was cooler than outside but not by much. There were no lights on but enough came through the windows to suffice – at least at the front of the store.  At the back of the store sat an older man behind the counter. The old man was friendly and quickly started talking faster than Aedan could possibly understand. He used to joke to himself that he knew just enough spanish to get himself into trouble but not know why. He nodded and faked knowing what was being said but it didn’t take long before his cover was blown and the old man was laughing as much at him as with him. 

He looked around but saw no other hat than the one in the front window.  He did his best to explain to the old man that he needed a hat but either the man didn’t understand or simply had no hats. After several minutes of this, Aedan pointed at the hat in the window.

“Oh no, no. No parla la venta.” claimed the old man.

Aedan looked around the stoor again. There wasn’t much there…clothes, household items, even some food items but not a single hat besides the one he first saw. He hadn’t exchanged his money for pesos yet but he knew the Cuban peso was pegged to the US Dollar and guessed the man would accept his money. As he pulled a twenty dollar bill from his wallet, the old man was watching and laughed “No parla la venta” he repeated.

Without blinking, Aedan pulled a second twenty dollar bill out and simultaneously wathched the old man’s laugh turn to a smile as he held out his hand. Aedan was actually prepared to pay more but wasn’t disappointed that he didn’t have to.

With the money in his hand, the old tried to sell more to Aedan, a beach umbrella, flip flops…some things Aedan might have actually needed but he remembered that he was to buy nothing but a hat and so he did.

Bienvenido

Checking in
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Aedan stood in near silence at the door, only the distant rumbling of waves breaking on the shore and squeals of gulls broke the silence yet didn’t break the calm.  He knocked at the door again but with a bit more effort this time.

“Ya voy, ya voy!” came a feminine voice from behind the door even as the door cracked open to the extent that the attached chain would permit it. Brown eyes at chest height to him peered out the door at Aedan.

“Yo soy Aedan Charron” he almost got out before the door closed again.  There was the fiddling of metal on metal then the door opened wide.

“Of course you are!”  The woman, Aedan guessed to be in her mid 50s blurted out as she stepped out the door, looked both ways up and down the street then ushered Aedan in. She reattached the lock after he and his suitcase were inside.

“We didn’t think you were ever going to make it.” she went on in perfect english with only a subtle Spanish accent. “You must be beat. Would you like some coffee?  I just put the warter on the stove.”

“No…no thank you. I’d really like to get unpacked and cleaned up first.”

Aedan hadn’t known what to expect from his sponsors. The entire arrangement was made through the travel agency.  That her english was so good was a plus. Aedan hadn’t practiced Spanish since high school though he tried to refresh a bit when it became clear that he would spend is vacation in Cuba.

“Of course.” She said  “Take your time, I’ll make more if you wish, later.  Your room is at the top of the stairs“ She looked back over her shoulder and called “Juan! Ven aca!”

“This is my son, he will take your bag for you.” A boy of about twelve years of age came from the other room and she went on in rapid Spanish that Aedan wasn’t able to keep up with but as the boy reached for his bag.

“That’s ok, I can take my own bag.” He smiled at the boy with his most sincere “gracias” but didn’t let go of the handle.

Juan looked at his mom for guidance which she gave. He ran off, seemingly pleased that he wasn’t needed.

“Aqui, this way, then.”  She started up the stairs giving Aedan no choice but to follow.

The staircase was narrow and winding. On more than one occasion, Aedan struggled to turn the corner without his suitcase hitting the wall.  On the third floor, the woman opened the lone door at the top of the stairs, entered the room and after a quick glance around invited Aedan in.

“I hope you find everything to your liking. After you get settled in, come on down for some delicious Cuban coffee and tell me about your plans. There is a lot to see here and I can help you find it all.”

Aedan set the suitcase down in the first empty corner he saw in the small room then thanked and assured her he would be down after bit.  When she left the room and closed the door behind her, Aedan breathed a sigh of relief, truly alone for the first time in over 24 hours.

The room wasn’t large but it was comfortable. The bathroom reminded him of the classic cars on the street. A little worn but well tended to and clean. The main room was simple but clean with a double bed, night stands on either side, a small table and chair in the corner with two more chairs and table on the opposite side. Through french doors at the far end, Aedan could see the balcony outside.

Pulling the french doors wide open was like removing the entire wall from the room and outside that wall was a perfect view of the beach across the street. He was happy to see a chair and table set out here as he expected to find himself there many times.

Closing the french doors behind him, Aedan put his suitcase on the bed, opened it and began unpacking. He found a small closet adjacent to the bathroom and hung the few things he brought needing to be hung – including the jacket he was still wearing.  He finished unpacking then stripped down to nothing as he opened the water valve to take a shower.

The hot water wasn’t.  It was a bit above room temperature but not much.  This made for a shorter shower than Aedan was used to but it still felt good. Once he stepped out and began to dry off, the feeling of relaxation really moved in. The thoughts of laying on the bed if only for an hour were tempting. It had been a tumultuous day with little sleep and now he was well into the next. Maybe he would but first, he had to try to call Cathy again.

As assured by the travel agent, when Aedan looked at his phone, he did have a signal sufficient to make his phone call. It would be a roaming charge but that was better than nothing at all. Hoping to increase the signal a bit, he moved onto the balcony. Cathy picked up on the third ring. She was barely up at 6:15 on a Saturday morning but she had been anticipating his call since she had missed attempt to call her.

“Aedan, he is very nervous and wouldn’t tell me where you should meet him.” She described the conversation with his contact in Havana.

“Well, I’m here now. He knows where I am staying, right?”

“No, he didn’t want to know.  He insisted that I didn’t tell him anything. He has a plan, though.”

Aedan nodded to himself “of course he does…and what is his plan?”

“There is a store in Havana. In the window is a hat that he wants you to buy and wear. He said he’ll find you.”

Aedan didn’t like the idea “A hat? Like a flag for all to see?”

“Yes..but he insisted it must be that hat and nothing else from the store.” She responded then gave him the address.

They talked for a few more moments but Aedan was wary of saying much more in case anyone else was listening.  When the conversation was done, he moved back inside and stretched out on the bed. It was comfortable. Most anything would have felt comfortable right then. He closed his eyes and thought to himself that a quick nap was in order.

Havana

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Aedan didn’t know what was happening but he knew he wasn’t going to miss his flight after waiting for so long. He stared at his reflection in the glass while waiting for boarding to begin for his section. As hard as he stared, the reflection didn’t change and nobody around him acted as if anything were wrong.

When his section was called, he fell into line with everybody else. The relief that the plane would finally leave was contagious. That was the topic of all the conversation around him. Nobody was talking or even paying any attention to him. When he was asked for his ticket and I.D., there was a momentary panic as he pulled out his drivers license and first looked at it himself.  It was him..the ‘him’ he was now. Surely this was a dream he thought as he handed the clerk his license. She quickly looked at the ID and the boarding pass, welcomed him aboard as she returned it and moved to the next in line.

The three hour flight was uneventful. Aedan sat beside the window and stared thoughtfully into the darkened sky until he dozed off. He woke just as the plane began its descent into Miami. It was still dark and with the cabin lights on he looked at his reflection in the porthole glass expecting to have woken from a dream. It was still the same face. The dream continued.

At a time in his life when Aedan was as old as he now appeared to be, he frequently had lucid dreams. He knew what to look for. He counted his fingers repeatedly expecting one to go missing. He read the title of the magazine shoved into the seat pocket before him, looked away and glanced back.  It read the same. He had all his fingers. Nothing told him he was dreaming. The other possibilities were that he were insane – even temporarily – or that somehow this was reality. Either way, it was his reality now.

The layover in Miami was three hours long. Aedan was growing into his skin though he expected at any moment a light would flash and all of this would have been some strange dream. Searching for an explanation he remembered that many years ago, in a place far, far away, he had been given a drug to stop aging. It is something he never shared with anybody since returning but perhaps this was a side effect of that. As amazing as that might sound, he knew it to be true and the idea that this were somehow connected made sense. It made acceptance much easier. Maybe the appearance of Louise was also connected. He would look for a new doctor after his vacation and get a complete physical.

Aedan convinced himself that he had found the explanation to one of the many strange occurrences of the previous day. It was too much for one man on one day. He had two weeks of vacation ahead of him to enjoy and sort this all out and he was going to enjoy it.

 

With the new found acceptance of his current predicament, Aedan also remembered that he had forgotten to call his associate, Cathy, before he boarded his flight to Miami. She was to make arrangements to reschedule a meeting with a potential witness to a case he was trying. The man was getting cold feet about meeting because of the delay in Aedan’s flight. The planned rendevous with him was the primary reason for Aedan’s choice of Havana for a vacation. It was the reason his supervisor didn’t blink an eye when Aedan notified him that he would stick with his vacation plans despite the huge delay.

It was after 9pm back in Seattle but his next chance to call would be after midnight and he wasn’t even sure if he could get a connection with his cell after he arrived. Aedan called twice and got her voicemail twice. The second time he left a message and then texted her.

“I’m in Miami. We begin boarding in 90 minutes. Call me”

The message was short and to the point as Cathy preferred. She was extremely punctual so he knew that if she got the message, she would call.

An hour later and Cathy hadn’t called. Aedan dialed her number once more but again got her voicemail just as if was announced that boarding of his flight would begin in 5 minutes.

With his ID all in line, the flight to Havana went smoothly. In Havana, the custom’s officials took their time inspecting Aedan’s papers. A phone call was made while he waited and the man didn’t look especially pleased when he hung up the phone but he returned the passport and visa and motioned for Aedan to proceed.

In Havana, the custom’s officials took their time inspecting Aedan’s papers. A phone call was made while he waited and the man didn’t look especially pleased when he hung up the phone but he returned the passport and visa and motioned for Aedan to proceed.

The sun was just peeking above the horizon as Aedan left the airport with his suitcase in hand.  He flagged down the first taxi he saw which was a bright yellow, three wheeled rickshaw commonly called a cocotaxi. In his best Spanish, he gave the address that he was given by the travel agent and after determining that his suitcase best fit standing on end before the seat beside him, they were off.

The ride from the airport was far from uneventful. Though there wasn’t much traffic at this time of the morning, the cocotaxi driver seemed to be doing his best to make it exciting. As he sped and swerved unnecessarily, Aedan soon caught the driver’s grinning eyes looking back at him in the small rear view mirror. They laughed together and when he arrived safely at the address that he would spend the next two weeks at, he tipped the driver sufficiently to hopefully ensure that he would also survive the next ride if he ever got the same driver.

Once the taxi had taken off and the sound of it’s engine had dissipated, Aedan paused for a few moments to take in the sound of the waves hitting the beach behind the seawall across the street and the colors of the sun rising on a new day.

The smell of salt in the air is much heavier than in Seattle and the current temperature, quite comfortable was probably close to the high temperature back home today. Gulls lined the seawall as if waiting for the day’s festivities to begin. Vintage cars that would have made envious as a young man and surely the pride of others now, lined the street in their bright colors while other later modeled cars sat between them. Many of the later modeled cars were in disrepair but Aedan guessed their owners were nearly equally happy to have what they had.

After a few moments to soak this in, Aedan double checked the address of the building before him and lifted his suitcase which now felt extremely large. Despite it’s bulk, he easily made his way up the three steps to the door then knocked lightly, trying to not disturb the peacefulness of the morning.

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Virtual Awakening

Before moving to the next leg of Aedan’s ‘vacation’, as I sat this morning sipping coffee and contemplating what happens next, I thought I’d take a few moments to comment on the last episode, ‘Awakening’.

I have observed a recent change in my relationship with my avatar Aedan and Secondlife in general. Perhaps it is just that Aedan has now lived in SL for near 12 years. Perhaps it is because of an ‘awakening’ experience I recently had in RL. I am not certain of which to blame.

Fresh face for a new adventure

It was only this morning that I noticed the RL/SL similarities. After a few years roleplaying in a highly charged and emotional atmosphere, I identified highly with my avatar and know from discussions with friends that I wasn’t alone. Currently, Aedan is not necessarily ‘me’ but a tool to help develop and share my current interest in artistic expression..he is becoming but a canvas to paint on.  As has Christi..

In the past I was logging into SL looking for social interaction. That is still enjoyable and appreciated – if not taken to the extremes – but that is currently second fiddle to trying to find the right hair, the right clothes…the right place to take a picture.

  And it doesn’t stop there, taking the resulting images and trying improve or manipulate them in processing has become a form of ‘painting’.  Truly, SL is just a portion of the ‘process’.  It’s a very important one because I am not able to draw anything comparable though I am truly envious of those that have that ability.

In RL, I’m also still experiencing a bit of a ‘disconnect’ from everyday worries and concerns and still sorting it out. As I’ve similarly become a bit less ‘social’, my desire to create is occupying most of my thoughts. This body is currently little more than a tool to accomplish my ends.

Despite the possible downsides (I was really enough of a hermit before this happened) I see this as a positive experience as is the ‘disconnect’ in SL because it will, I believe, permit me to tell a better story than I might have if I were feeling an emotional connection with any avatars.

If you have taken the time to follow any of this story and/or to read this commentary, I hope it results in a positive and enjoyable experience for you too.

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