Dave-and-John-ScotlandMaybe, just maybe the deja vu that I experienced was stamped on my DNA from the lineage of my ancient past. In all my travels, I have never felt more at home then I did while in Scotland. The mystic heather-clad hills of green, the quality of air and light and the faces of Highlanders that looked all to familiar. Perhaps this lineage explains why I took up bagpipe lessons several years ago or when the song Amazing Grace is played on pipes my chest swells with emotions as I try to fight back the tears – which we men try so hard to hide.
On this trip, I learned that my family name (Banks) was first recorded in the 17th century on the Orkney Islands which lies off the northern tip of Scotland. It is where the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet and has the fearful reputation as a haven for witches and warlocks. Which may explain when I reached puberty I had a huge crush on Yvonne De Carlo as Lily in the TV show The Munster’s or  Carolyn Jones as Morticia in the Addams Family. Blonde witches just don’t do  it for me, so the attraction must be something in my recorded DNA.                                           Tuir 1
Witches WebFor a week, home was a 200-year-old Scottish Manor Tigh an Tuir in the village of Strathtay
which sits in the heart to Highland Perthshire. On the last evening of my stay in Scotland, I gave myself permission to wear the kilt now that I had Geno connection to Scotland. To the surprise of family and friends my new friend John and I made a grand entrance with a lone piper playing Scotland the Brave. In spite of feeling somewhat awkward in Dave's kneesa kilt bearing my knobby knees, our family and friends seem to enjoy the opportunity to see John and I in skirts. Now, traditionally the kilts is worn without undergarments since their use as part of Scottish military uniform, leading to the creation of such expressions as “going regimental” or “going commando.” During the First World War some Sergeant Majors reportedly had mirrors tied to the end of golf clubs to inspect up and under the kilt at parade inspection. So, a “True Scotsman” is a humorous term used in Scotland for a man wearing a kilt with out underwear but in my case on this very cool evening and with the possibility of serious shrinkage I worn my Calvin Klein. As for my friend John, John and Kyra #2 don’t ask, don’t tell, but I’m sure his wife Kyra will know what wee mysteries lies underneath John’s kilt. Till the morn, guild cheerio the now ! (Till we meet again , good bye!)

Dave-Image047 There was a time in my professional life that the tools of my trade required 13 anvil cases, patients, and throw away paper underwear. The demands for international travel as a documentary filmmaker was like an assault on climbing Mt. Everest. Months of preparation are involved along with logistics, scheduling, and risk management. Once at the point of entry in a foreign country the arduous task of clearing customs begins with lots of patients as every item in the anvil cases are cross referenced to see that the serial numbers match the Carnet.  For those not familiar, a Carnet is analogous to a passport for equipment. It is an import/export document, which allows property to pass across borders without hindrance. Free passage is assured by the guarantee that imported property will be reliably exported again after a set period of time. However, the documents Whitewater Westmust be scrupulously prepared and every item’s serial number on the Carnet. The Carnet must be recorded through customs on entering a country and then checked out again on exiting. Any errors or omissions can cause the delay of the entire shipment unless you have Baksheesh which is tipping or as some may call it charitable giving. I call it outright bribery.
That was then and this is now, I can now wear brown socks with white tennis shoes, plaid Bermuda shorts and a “Go Dodgers “ tank top and travel as a tourist. Today, I travel “Light and Fast”  which is an alpine mountaineering approach to traditional mountaineering that seeks to leave behind everything but the minimum gear required to reach the 252617_3880792791286_1338272699_nobjective and allowing the climber to summit faster. An experienced mountaineer will jettison gear that was not used on previous climbs and go “Light and Fast”. With that in mind and since I’m not tackling Mt. Everest but Scotland I have downsized my gear to an carry on bag.
This is my equipment list today:Travel Gear
  1. Canon 5D Mark II, 17mm – 40mm Lens, for stills and HD video w/Sennheiser short shotgun mic, headphones.
  2. Fuji X Pro 1, 18mm Lens
  3. GoPro Camera
  4. Macbook Pro
  5. Portable battery charger
  6. External hard drive
  7. 3 thumb drives
  8. 4 Report’s Notebooks
  9. Composition Notebook
  10. 5 pencils
  11. 10 copies of Cue The Camels
  12. 100 business cards

Part One

Dave Banks discusses and signs Cue the Camels
Jay Leno says, “Within these pages Dave has written gung-ho, self-deprecating, wildly engaging accounts of his exploits, with all the behind-the-scene high-jinks that go into shooting news and documentaries across the world.” In Cue the Camels, Dave shares his misadventures in a comedic style that is sure to entertain.

Vroman’s Bookstore Link: http://www.vromansbookstore.com/local629

 Cue The Camels available atwww.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, , Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385 , Amazon Kindle Edition: http://www.amazon.com/Cue-Camels-three-time-award-winning-film-maker-ebook/dp/B00IA10Z88/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403461103&sr=1-1&keywords=cue+the+camels

 

 

Excerpt from Cue The Camels, Chapter Eight, Dog Biscuit and Noah’s Ark Cue-The-Camels

We waited another half an hour after the Turkish patrol had disappeared out of sight before we hauled ass off the apron of Mt. Ararat and on to flat ground. My knees were shot and my feet were thrashed. We crossed numerous gullies, sliding down their drops then trudging back up their inclines, which rapidly depleted our Mt.Ararat-On plainremaining energy reserves. 

Stumbling forward, my boots scraped against the rolling rocks as I repeatedly stabbed with the ski poles for an opening between the rocks to right myself. The flare must have burned out because it became dark again. I faltered a number of times but kept an eye on my fellow climbers Cronuck and Stublich and watched them move at a steady pace towards the faint yellow and white lights of Doğubayazıt on the horizon – which I affectionately call Dog Biscuit

My feet felt warm and soggy which was a sure sign of blood. 

Mt.Ararat-2nd paragraph-BlogIt was at this point – stemming from many things, such as dehydration and sheer exhaustion – that I fell into mild delirium and David Byrnes of Talking Heads became my chaperones. 

‘And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?’

‘You know, David, you’re holding me hostage with that broken record. I mean, I can appreciate your words but after a while it gets a little old. Know what I mean?’

I didn’t get a straight answer from David; instead, he gave me his advice. ‘The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now…’

                 At that moment, a second flare burst in the night sky. It was a couple of seconds later that we heard the low boom of the flare gun, which meant there was a good distance between us and the Turkish military. I made it to the edge of the stone field; Cornuke and Stublich stopped long enough to ask me if I was okay. My lips were cracked, my tongue was swollen and all my saliva had evaporated. I could only answer with a nod and a whisper: ‘I’m okay.’

Ahead, I could hear Dick slapping the iridium satellite phone repeatedly, trying to get enough charge out of the dead battery to make a call to Micah, our Kurdish fixer, so that he could meet us at the predetermined rendezvous point.

George grumbled. ‘This is fucking stupid. Let’s go to the main highway and catch a ride to town.’

Mt. Ararat  3rd Paragraph Sepia-BlogDick stopped smacking the sat-phone and directed all his attention towards George. ‘Shut the fuck up, George. The Turkish military use that road all the time. What do you think they’ll assume if they come across us on that highway with all our gear?’

George didn’t listen and relentlessly argued his point as the sound of the dogs’ howls grew louder. There was a gunshot in the distance followed by the hiss of another parachute flare. That was all the motivation we needed; the five of us turned and hauled ourselves across the plain. David followed nearby. ‘We make a pretty good team. Don’t get exhausted; I’ll do some driving. You ought to get some sleep.’Mt.Ararat-003-Blog copy

‘You know, David, it must be Mercury in retrograde with all the hurdles we’ve had to clear,’ I muttered.

There was no response.

We’d been tramping about in the darkness for hours and we were spent, physically and emotionally. We walked on autopilot, using the light of Dog Biscuit as our beacon.

‘You know, David, I could’ve stayed in L.A. picking up work shooting a mindless sitcom and watching a celebrity with two soft, protruding organs give us the local weather report. I could have, but I wouldn’t have had this wonderful field trip to remember. Know what I mean?’

David paused then caught up with me. ‘You may ask yourself: well, how did I get here? You may ask yourself: where does that highway lead to? You may ask yourself: am I right; am I wrong? You may say to yourself: my God, what have I done?’

Cue The Camels available at: www.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, and Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385

Link to Jimi’s All Along The Watchtower on YouTube: https://youtu.be/TLV4_xaYynY?list=PLjts4JMIwgQxcEwLBmDvkRE2Hx3QHGUU3

Chapter Two, Al Minya, Bed Bugs and Sex

Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was blasting out from Mark Hufnail’s BMW stereo, fueling our adrenalin and chest-beating machismo. During Jimi’s solos, I strummed the invisible strings of my air guitar and glanced over at Mark, catching him head-banging to the beat. Two middle-aged white guys, reminiscing about hippie living and experimental drug days, we were now living on the highs adventure brought. Potential ‘fixes’ dangled from the grueling schedule before us to shoot three documentaries throughout Middle Egypt, along the Nile. All three documentaries to be shot simultaneously in sixteen days, to produce seven hours of programming.
Body Guard-13

With some security concerns, we drove from Mark’s Burbank office to a kosher Italian restaurant on the west side of Los Angeles, this was our last advisory meeting about security with the only Muslim we knew, Attallah Shabazz. Ms. Shabazz is the eldest daughter of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, the powerful civil rights activist of the ‘60s. Mark and Attallah have worked together on several television productions and have become very good friends over the years, to the point that Mark’s daughter, Megan, refers to Ms. Shabazz as ‘Aunty Attallah’. Mark set the stage to our trip, telling Attallah that we would be the first American crew to travel by vehicle through Middle Egypt in ten years, that according to our fixer in Egypt. Our security was our foremost concern; we’d be two unmistakably-American white guys shooting at various locations along the Nile. When we went into preproduction for the three documentaries – on February 23, 1998 – Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a ‘fatwa’. This called on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies, saying it was their duty. The declaration was made seven months prior to our scheduled departure to Egypt. I’d also read somewhere that Osama and Zawahiri hated Americans so much that they wouldn’t even drink a Pepsi. On top of all that, there was rumored to be a bounty of $16,000 for every American’s head in Egypt. I found this a bit insulting: why couldn’t they round it out? I thought I was worth at least $20,000.

Attallah interrupted Mark. ‘You know, I don’t thing you have anything to worry about, traveling through Middle Egypt,’ she reassured us. ‘The Egyptian government cannot afford another massacre, it would be devastating to their economy. You will Dave on location #2-2be well protected. Think of it as an adventure, don’t let the threat of a small group of extremists hold you hostage.’

We placed our orders for our meal and our conversation turned to shop talk and a bucket full of scuttlebutt. It’s traditional amongst our staff and crew to collect the best pithy quotes during production which we then use as a catchphrase during shooting when things get a little too heated. Over our kosher pasta with meatless sauce, we told Attallah that we’d collected three favorite quotes for the History Channel’s documentary, the ‘History of Sex’:

‘Does the composer actually see the show he’s composing?’

‘Regardless of their academic achievement and expertise, try not to use any male or female archeologist over forty years of age’.

imagesBut the killer quote, and my favorite when shooting ancient Egyptian statues, was: ‘You can shoot as Dave-Desertmany penises as you want, as long as they don’t move’.

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

–  Bob Dylan, 1967

Cue The Camels available at: www.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, and Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385

Cue The Camels, Chapter Six

It’s not that I’m a snob about music but any world traveler will tell you that one of the most essential items in your rucksack is your music. My choice of tunes has become the soundtrack for many of my journeys, often saving my sanity. I can attest that there is nothing better then listening to your iPod on a transatlantic flight, it evokes a wonderful state of being that takes you away from the crying babies and exasperated mothers. Music has protected me from exasperation when Egyptian wedding parties have still been going strong at two o’clock in the morning, as well as helping me pass days (not hours) while once waiting for a flight out of Kabul.

For me, Justin Bieber’s mindless pop just doesn’t lend itself to the experience of tearing across sun-bleached sands in the Sahara desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser. The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’, however, does a terrific job and always sets the mood.

Kabul 1-1In Kabul, Afghanistan, I spent an afternoon eating lunch that had been cooked on the sidewalk, in front of a carpet store on Chicken Street. The owner and his son stayed and had lunch with me so that they could practice their English. When Kabul was under Taliban control, paper bags, white socks, kite-flying and music were forbidden. This was serious oppression; for instance, possession of a paper bag constituted the death penalty. If they viewed that so severely, imagine what they’d have done if a flash mob broke out to Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ – the Taliban would have nuked all of Chicken Street.

To celebrate my host’s and his son’s newfound freedom we played ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain on his chrome-trimmed ghetto blaster that he’d kept hidden from the Taliban. It must have been very amusing for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops to see a couple of Afghans and one big white guy jumping to the beat of the music in front of the old carpet store. To this day, when I hear ‘Jump Around’ I can smell the pilaf cooking, feel the heat of the day and, in my mind’s eye, see the physical expression of freedom on the owner’s face and that of his son’s, as they danced with sheer joy.

Cue The Camels available at: www.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, and Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385

Kabul, Afghanistan

My Afghan Polaroid
Wandering the back streets of Kabul I found myself on Passport lane where Afghan citizens go to have their photos taken for government ID’s. After watching the photographer at work with a couple of subjects, I fell in line to have my photo take as well. The process was slow, about 10 to 15 minutes to shoot, develop and print a photo for each customer. Which gave me the time to study and admire the work of this real street photographer. The Afghan box camera is a giant handmade wooden box known as the kamra-e-faoree, meaning “instant camera” – I call it the “Afghan Polaroid”. Working with only natural light the photographer uses a 35-millimeter camera lens attached to the front of the box and instead of clicking the shutter, the photographer removes the lens cap for a second and replaces it. Inside the box camera is an entire darkroom – paper, developer and fixer. After the latent image is exposed to a sheet of photographic paper, the photographer inserts his hand into the box through a cut-off pants leg designed to keep out light that would ruin the print.

He develops the image by moving the paper through two trays, one holding developer and the other fixer, to create a paper negative. He then makes another exposure, which converts the negative image into a positive print. It was truly impressive to watch how smooth and precise the photographer worked.

Having been briefly banned along with music and paper bags by the Taliban the kamra-e-faoree camera is in danger of disappearing again as digital cameras become more common place in Kabul.

Lukas Birk is well aware of the historical signifiants of the Afghan street photographers and their camera. Mr.Birk  has creating the Afghan Box Camera Project. For any photographer who appreciates the history of cameras and film this is a worth while cause. Link:http://www.afghanboxcamera.com/

I waited to see if the women was going to remove her burka for the photo, she never did.