Those Imaginery Balloons

As a teenager, it always seemed that my father would be ever so quick to tell whichever girl I might bring home to be careful not to “pinch Tommy’s imaginary balloons”. When the girls would ask the obvious question of him, “What imaginary balloons?” his reply would always be that every man has an imaginary balloon under each of this arms, and each time when pinched, a little air would escape thus lowering each arm towards the man’s side. At the time, neither the girl nor I had any clue as to what in the world he was talking about. But, as my life has progressed, I have come to not only understand what he was implying, but I have learned to appreciate and value the words of wisdom he spoke so many years ago. He was talking of course about a man’s confidence level. And to this day, when I am fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with my father half a world away in Cleveland Ohio, he always precedes his “I love you” goodbye with the question – “how’s your confidence level? ” My answer is always “pretty damn good dad, pretty damn good…

The relevance of this story closely correlates with the experience I have been having the past two weeks here in Budapest Hungary. I had been extremely excited having been given the opportunity to do some 360 degree digital panoramas for the Corinthia Group’s 5-Star hotel – The Grand Royal Hotel here in Budapest. Considered by many, and disputed by few to be the nicest hotel in this magnificent city on the Danube, it would be perhaps the opportunity of my lifetime. I had been given a few days to prepare some panoramas of the various venues in the hotel and post them on the internet for the leaders in Malta of this chain of elegant hotels to review and accept or decline my services. Upon their review, they were pleased with my efforts, but asked me if I could provide them with a panorama similar to one which they had been shown by another company which unlike mine, provides a viewer to not only view a panorama in a complete horizontal 360 degree view, but that of a vertical one as well. They sent me a link to this particular technique and to be quite honest, I was baffled at how it was done. But rather than giving up hope of being able to match it, I became intent on not only discovering how it was done, but to learn how to master the technology – and master it I have!

Now after a day which began on a sour note, having been robbed overnight and spending three hours in the police station waiting for an interpreter to arrive to fill out a police report for, my insurance company back in America this morning, here I sit in the atrium of the Grand Royal feeling as if I own the place. There is an empty glass of Johnnie Walker Red on the table next to the chilled glass with one sip of the Hungarian peach flavored drink known as Palinká in it. A cigar is smoldering in the ashtray awaiting my lips to finish it while Van Morrison’s “Sense of Wonder” is playing on the laptop of which I am now typing this journal entry. Yes, even knowing that my loving girlfriend is several hundred miles away in Italy on a planned one-week vacation with her girlfriends and not home waiting for me to crawl into bed with her to feel her warm skin next to mine is not enough to dampen my feeling of accomplishment on this warm July Budapest evening. Yes, of course having her this evening would be the icing on the cake so to speak, but I’m certain my arms will hold her once again, God willing, and so I will savor this moment none the less. (to view the panorama, place your mouse in the image area and while holding down the mouse button, move your cursor left and right, up and down…)

Figuring out how the targeted panorama technique was done was not the hard part of accomplishing this challenge, rather learning the software and the intricate photography process involved to shoot such a target as the lobby with an open atrium of several floors capped off with a skylight which has intrinsic metal designs throwing shadows every which way. The first thing I did when I began the challenge of doing this panoramic technique was to email James Riggs of and inquire of him how it was done. His reply was quick that it was accomplished with a software product called Easypano. Having located the web site of the same, I downloaded a trial version of a product which will cost $500 dollars when I purchase it. Anyway, to make a long story short, I began learning the software which requires as few as one and no more than three images to complete a panorama. One the images are shot using a fish-eye lens the software then takes each image and makes a sphere of each if you will. Then, using adjustments such as yaw, pitch, and roll one is required to manipulate the spheres – in part only in one’s own mind – until perfection is achieved. Well, maybe not perfection, as I discovered my acumen (I like to throw little words like that in for the sake of my girlfriend who is challenged by such words as she is only learning English) of Adobe Photoshop has helped me out considerably both prior and after the image stitching process. The hardest panorama for me to do was the before mentioned lobby. I decided to accomplish the panorama with three shots, each one being 120 degrees. For the three views, I needed three separate exposures I decided, one optimized for the bottom most level of the lobby, and one for the several floors above and one just for the skylight. Once completed, I opened each view’s three images in Photoshop and stacked them on top of one another if you will, carefully selecting and erasing various portions of each image to reveal a part of the image above or below it. Probably more technical than you need to know I’m sure, though some of you might find this of interest – such as my friend Frank back in Santa Rosa California who if reading this is perhaps in his city planner’s office at this very moment. So, make a long story short, or perhaps I should say to keep a looooong story from getting longer, the job is complete and upon finishing this journal, it will be down the street I go to the internet café I have found where I will email it off to Malta where a decision will be made as to if I will be doing more panoramas for them, both here as well as around the world perhaps. It will be a great excuse to pick up the latest and greatest Nikon digital camera as mine is beat to hell having survived four trips to Europe.
Now with all that being said, here I sit the following afternoon in the same spot I was last night attempting to complete this journal entry with just some closing thoughts. Life is good. Real good. I feel as if I belong here in Budapest and with the exception of not being able to experience the wonderful season the SF Giants are having back home or perhaps what use to be my routine Sunday drive to the coast, there is very little if anything I miss about Northern California. Don’t get me wrong, Northern California is one the the nicest spots on earth and Budapest is perhaps not, but I am ideally situated for the things that have become passions for me, Europe and photography. It is so nice to know that places like Croatia and Poland, Vienna and Munich are only short train rides away should I choose to go there. Budapest is a nice place, but I am pretty sure I would not want to live the rest of my life here. Hungary perhaps, but not Budapest. Between the element of crime that exist here as well as just the general cleanliness, or lack thereof I should say, there are many other places in this wonderful country I would rather live. But, seeing as my girlfriend has a wonderful job here working as lawyer, I can certainly tolerate things for awhile. In saying for awhile, the implication is certainly not inclusive of her though. She is an absolute gem and I can’t not imagine her not being a part of my life. I wish I could find the words to express how happy I am with her in my life, but I realize I just simply can not. Perhaps the word that sums up my feelings with her is a quite simple one – comfortable. She has so many of the qualities and characteristics I have been looking for in a partner. First of all, she is smart. Quite smart. I’ve always said when I meet a girl who can beat me in chess, I will marry her. She hasn’t quite beat me yet, at least not without my coaching and assistance, but I am pretty damn sure she will. Now if she if were here and not on holiday in Italy, she’d be pimping me to make sure I tell you who has had the upper hand in both darts and squash, to which I would be forced to confess she has, but I am working on that. Anyway, I cherish the time I spend with her and am looking forward to bringing her to America in the fall for three weeks. Surprisingly, I have a fear that unlike myself, once she sees America in all it greatness, she may want to stay while I will probably want to return to Europe. I’m really hoping that she will achieve her goal of becoming a lawyer for the European Union when Hungary becomes a member of the same next year and together we will move to Belgium or some other country in Europe. We’ll just have to see which hand of cards life deals the both of us over the next year to so, but for now it is Budapest and I am content with that, to say the least.

On some other notes, I had a great day today. I woke up rather early for a Sunday and caught the #4 tram to Blaha Ter. where I picked up the red line of the metro which took me to Kossuth Ter. where I began a day of sightseeing if you will. I am in the process of putting together a virtual tour CD which I will sell in Budapest, not too mention the ability to customize it for any other Hungarian city for that matter. On it I will put such items of interest as various attractions, museums, parks, zoos, restaurants and other similar items. I have met a guy in the printing and design business who will design a label and jacket for the CD and I’ll have a go at it. I’m also counting on traveling to do some panoramic images for the Corinthia group and as I have mentioned before, have my eye on the hotels in Malta and St. Petersburg. One of the nicest things this morning was discovering that the famous chain bridge, with large lion statues on each end was closed this morning and all day for that matter to traffic, allowing pedestrians the ability to walk upon it shopping at little booths all the while. I had chills walking the same bridge this morning, as I will occasionally have at various places and times in this country of my ancestry. I have a premonition that I am going to have at least one son here, if not at least one daughter as well, and perhaps the thing that gave me the chill this morning was the thought that such a son would be named “Thomas Ernest Hall”. The “Ernest” after my father of course, the greatest man I have ever met, or will probably ever meet for that matter. It is my hope that he will be able to come over and visit me while I am here in Hungary, if not even with his brother and my uncle, Steve. Oh yes, and one more thing before I wrap this up, if you have been reading this journal over the years, do you remember Max? Max from Lake Wolfgangsee just outside of Salzburg? Well, he emailed me yesterday about some business and if things play out well, my girlfriend and I will be visiting him sometime in August or September…

PS. Dad, should you ever have the chance to read this journal entry, please know that I love you and all is well over here in Hungary. The confidence level is quite high as the imaginary balloons under my arms have become so inflated that my knuckles often scrape the ceiling I’m afraid. Seeing as people often tell me, or think at least, that I am full of hot air, I am considering using some of the same in those imaginary balloons and letting them out for hot air balloon rides over the Danube to generate a little extra income… Please come and visit, you’ll love it here!

PSS. Being always the diplomat of course, Mom – you’re the greatest woman I ever met, or will ever meet for that matter. I love you too. Oh, and I’m sure you would be pleased to know I made the 12 o’clock mass today… 😉

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