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112_box_348x490In one of the visual gags in Playtime, Tati puts the viewer in a voyeuristic role, framing the scene from the outside of an apartment building.  Inside, two families face each other, ostensibly watching a boxing match on the in-set televisions mounted on their respective side of the shared wall.  But from the outside, the families seemingly react as if they are observing each other.  For instance, as the father on one side begins to disrobe, the father on the other side shoos his daughter away, as if he does not want her to look upon the other man’s nakedness.

I visited Bác Thu Dang’s apartment once, with my parents.  We were on our way someplace else, I think, because I can’t think of any reason why I should have been there.  I was eight or nine at the time.  His apartment was a one-bedroom, and the whole place was cluttered, as if there was no way a whole life could have fit into that space.  We sat around a kitchen table, and, on the chair next to me, was a stack of newspapers that was almost as tall as I was,  The appliances were lumbering, 70s avocado-green beasts, covered in a thin, opaque film of grease.  My parents and Bác Thu Dang spoke in animated tones, but I couldn’t understand what they said.  Bored to distraction, I began looking through the stack:  newspapers in English, newspapers in Vietnamese, unopened mail.

But then, near the bottom, there it was.  A porno mag.  It wasn’t the first I’d ever seen, of course; I knew the location of every dirty magazine at home.  I had also become quite adept at sniffing them out at the houses of other relatives too:  underneath mattresses, at the back of closets, in child-accessible storage spaces.  It was as if, by discovering where others had hidden their sexual secrets, I could learn how to hide my own better.

But this magazine was different.  Up to then, everything I’d seen, despite promises of SHOCKING and UNCENSORED, was pretty much softcore.  What the couple (white man, Asian woman) did in this magazine, the others had only suggested.  I was enthralled, even as I tried to appear nonchalant.  The thrill of the forbidden, of discovery—but when I reached its end, I was confused.  All that white foamy stuff?  That’s a lot of spit, I thought, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized that I had seen my first cumshot.

I thought differently about Bác Thu Dang after that. Afterwards, whenever I encountered him, I thought I could detect, underneath his unflagging joviality, sadness, loneliness. As he moved, I thought I could see him carrying squalor and poverty and pornography around like a phantom limb. I didn’t suspect that these would one day be as much a part of my life as they were of his. The voyeur never considers his own position.  He presses his nose up against the glass of another person’s life. He pretends to know what’s going on inside. He pretends that what he sees is a joke. He never considers that he is also being watched.

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110_box_348x490For a number of years, Matthew and I had a New Year’s Eve tradition: we would go to bed early—well before midnight—and when the new year came, we’d rouse to the noisemakers and the fireworks, and turn to each other, and mumble ‘happy new year,’ and kiss, and then go back to sleep.

*

This year, we went to a friend’s house for an evening of board games. Foil hats, hors d’oeuvres, plastic leis. Ball drop, champagne toast, kiss, Auld Lang Syne. Then it was time to go.

The highways were empty. No tractor trailers, only a few other cars. Everyone, I suppose, was enjoying their night off, except for those bartenders, policemen, taxi drivers, and hospital workers who kept the world in working order for us to return to the next day. On the drive, Matthew said that he could see fireworks from between the buildings of Wilmington, but by the time I looked, they had dissipated.

Matthew went to bed soon after we got home. I watched M. Hulot’s Holiday. On New Year’s Day, Southerners eat black-eyed peas and collard greens to represent prosperity. The Irish eat ham and cabbage. Maybe watching M. Hulot’s Holiday signifies gentle humility. Or having gimlet humor towards the world. Or maybe I, myself, need a vacation on the Brittany coast. As I watched, the movie was punctuated, from outside, with occasional bursts. Fireworks—or perhaps gunfire, both wholly American traditions.

*

Towards the end of the film, M. Hulot accidentally sets off a shed full of fireworks. Some of them hit the pension where he’s staying in what director Terry Jones describes as an “artillery barrage.”

“It’s almost as if,” Jones says, “Tati was mounting a military assault against the stuffy old world of the past.”

The racket wakes the other vacationers, the lights in their rooms turning on one by one. And as they leave their rooms and gather downstairs, where raucous jazz plays, they begin—begrudgingly—to have fun.

*

New Year’s Eve, 1999. We weren’t afraid of the Y2K bug—not really. But, just in case, two hours before the catastrophe hit, Matthew drove me in his green Jetta (named Clio, for the muse of history) north from Denver. We had planned it so that when midnight struck, we’d be over the Wyoming border, but still far enough away from Cheyenne to miss the cataclysm. At midnight, we pulled into a scenic overlook on the side of the highway. We got out of the car—after all, it, too, had an internal computer and may have been susceptible to spontaneous combustion. It was cold, I remember, though there was no snow, and we huddled beneath the light overhanging the highway, the orange glow almost nuclear in its brightness. At midnight, to the north we could see fireworks, and to the south, another set of fireworks. The wind, with sharp teeth, brought the sound of distant explosions. And we stood there, holding each other, until we were sure that the world hadn’t ended after all, and then drove home.

When I told Matthew about I Know Where I’m Going!, he said, “I already know what you’re going to write about.”

I asked, “What?”

He said, “You know.”  He meant the time I drove from Houston to Denver and nearly ended up in Oklahoma.  Or the times he’s sat quietly as the highway exit we needed to take passed by.  Or the time I drove around a mall parking lot for what seemed like hours, unable to navigate its labyrinthine entrance-exit system.  I am, as Matthew puts it, ‘directionally-challenged.’

While in Scotland this summer, however, I knew exactly where I was going.  I knew which bus to take (Lothian Buses #49, The Mary Queen of Scots) to get to Edinburgh from where I stayed in Lasswade.   I knew that Craigmillar Park, Mayfield Gardens, Minto Street, Newington Road, Clerk Street, Nicolson Street, South Bridge, and North Bridge were all the same road, and as I traveled along it (them?), I noted the bed-and-breakfasts dotting the route:  Thrums, Airlie, Heatherlea.  In the city, I navigated between music stores:  Hog’s Head, Avalanche, Underground Solush’n, Fopp.  I conquered the bend where Victoria Street becomes West Bow, and where a roast pig sits in the window of Oink!, its skin crackled and scored into diamond-shapes, awaiting my delectation.

But, to be honest, I lost my way once — just once! — my first full day in Lasswade.  I was walking from Hawthornden Castle to Bonnyrigg (which we residents had dubbed ‘the Brig’) for Internet access.  The map I had been given was a speckled and faded seventh-generation photocopy.  Streets faded at the edges.  Nonetheless, I made my journey, confident that I would find my way.  And I did.

On the return trip, however, I got turned about.  A landmark church somehow ended up on the other side of town.  I counted  intersections until I was supposed to reach the correct one, but they didn’t add up.  Still, I forged ahead.  This was, after all, suburban Edinburgh; I didn’t fear football hooligans or the Corryvrecken.  The sun didn’t set until well-near 10.

But it was getting late nonetheless.  I had nearly walked to Loanhead, almost 2 miles off course, and acres of grasslands opened around me, dotted by occasional patches of poppies, a red tide, when I turned back towards Bonnyrigg.  Still couldn’t find my way out. Flustered, I stopped into a pub, The Laird and Dog, where the locals regarded me with pity, curiosity.

“I’m trying to get to Hawthornden Castle,” I said.  The name didn’t register with the bartender or wait staff.  I repeated myself, slower, as if this would translate English into Scottish Gaelic.  A red-nosed bar patron said, “Ah!” and explained to the others.  The bartender looked at me — Why didn’t you just say so? — and explained the way.  Or so I think — his brogue was opaque, nearly impenetrable.  But I followed his hand gestures:  cross the creek? — no, bridge; turn left; keep going past the Polton Inn.  Can’t miss it.

I returned, just in time for dinner.  As it turns out, the Hawthornden Castle administrator had driven past me as I was striding towards Loanhead.  He had considered stopping and giving me a lift, but, he said, “You seemed like you knew where you were going.”

Early in Black Narcissus, the English agent working for the Indian General, Mr. Dean, sends a letter to the nuns, describing Mopu, the palace high in the Himalayas where they are to establish their outpost, and how to reach it.  “It’s not a comfortable spot,” he writes, “and it’s at the Back of Beyond. First you have to get to Darjeeling and then I have to find you ponies and porters to take you into the hills.  Mopu is nearly 8,000 feet up.  The peaks on the range opposite are nearly as high as Everest.  The people call the highest peak Nyanga-Devi; it means, ‘The Bear Goddess.’…  Mopu Palace stands in the wind on a shelf in the mountain.  It was built by the General’s father to keep his women there.  It’s called a palace, but there may be a slight difference between your idea of a palace and the general’s.  Anyhow, there it is…  The wind up at the palace blows 7 days a week, so if you must come, bring some warm things with you.   [The caretaker] lives there alone, with the ghosts of bygone days.”

To get to Darjeeling, he could have added, you can take the narrow-gauge ‘toy train.’  The train winds up 88 km from Siliguri for an eight-hour journey.  It’s pulled by an honest-to-goodness steam engine, with someone to shovel the black chunks of coal into a fire and everything. The whistle can blow out your eardrums. If you have your window open, each time the engine belches out a thick burst of steam, tiny pebbles of soot will buffet your face.  As you ascend higher and higher, the green of the tea plantations take over the hillside, and after you cross bridges and duck under tunnels so tight that they could be a tube, the tea plants await you on the other side.  Halfway up, you pass through a cloud barrier, and, perhaps for the first time in India, you feel cold. At noon, no less!  The clouds become a mist, a veil obscuring the tops of trees and darkening the sky.  Or you can take a taxi for a 3½ hour ride along treacherous roads edged with concrete barriers to serve as a bump before you tumble to your doom.

To get to New Jalpaiguri, he might have pointed out, you fly into Bagdogra Airport, which is about 14 km from Siliguri.  Inside the terminal at Bagdogra, which at one time was an Indian Air Force base, all the television stations are tuned to the 24-hour global news cycle.  You can stay up-to-date on which Bollywood stars plan to marry, and see their pictures framed in clip-art hearts that bounce around to the theme of Chariots of Fire.  Cats lounge beneath the rows of formed-plastic seats.  They eat only meat products, though they’ll sniff anything you put on the ground.  On average, only four flights come in and out of Bagdogra’s three runways each day.  Take your pick:  Delhi, Kolkata, or Guwahati.  Where you go after that, Mr. Dean surely meant to say, is no concern of mine.

A car salesman gave Matthew and me an exegesis on the origins of ska.  Ska, he said, originated in Jamaica in the 1960s.  This original wave of ska gave rise to rocksteady and, later, reggae.  From reggae, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, by cutting and looping master tapes, developed dub.   The second wave of ska, also known as the Two Tone Revolution, came in the late 70s in the UK, and blended punk elements into ska.  Dancing to ska was known as skanking.  The third wave emerged in the US, during the 1980s and 90s.  In Philadelphia, he said, there’s an annual Ska Blowout, which takes place at the Trocadero.  Do you skank? I asked him.  No, he said.   Matthew listened quietly.  All he wanted was a checkerboard front license plate for his new car, and I had said, Someone’s going to think you’re a rude boy.

*

The Harder They Come suggests that two things keep the poor in Jamaica from breaking out in open rebellion:  music and ganja.  In one scene, people pick through the refuse at the dump, triumphantly holding up a carton of eggs; then, in another, they dance at a club, losing themselves amongst the rhythm.  Still later, they smoke spliffs the size of a baby’s arm.  But these trades are controlled by the police and the military, and when the police cut access to them, the tide turns against Ivan, singer-turned-criminal, the film’s hero.

*

In Amsterdam, I was five miles into a 20-mile bike ride when I got a flat and had to walk my bike back to the rental station.  Tired, frustrated, I decided to go to a coffee shop later that evening.  There, I was presented with an extensive menu.  Each item had an accompanying picture, the buds and leaves in infinite variations of green, from silver-tipped and sage-like to a dark, dusky green.  I couldn’t decide:  harsh, grassy, smooth, velvety, graceful.  What was this, a wine bar?  Not to mention, I was giggly:  this was my first time!  I decided on a brownie with whipped cream, whereupon Matthew had half, because, after all, it still was a brownie.  We both fell asleep soon afterwards.

*

In a recent visit to Colorado, I noticed neon-green crosses advertising the dispensaries that had sprouted up across the state.  Then I remembered:  Oh, it’s medicinal now.  Our close friends, H. & J., have a grower’s license and grow a small crop in their yard.  J. didn’t sell but kept it for home use.  The trick, she told us, was to continually prune so that buds emerge.  Many people claim that cannabis elevates your consciousness, but I wonder:  does it sharpen the mind or blunt it?  Whom does it benefit in its structure of money and power?  Does it foment revolution or mollify it?  J. gave Matthew and me a Mason jar of homegrown — all-natural, organic — and a metal pipe with which to smoke it.  I hid it in my parents’ house, behind some books, like a teenager, rebellious and wicked, as if this were really something to get excited about.

I got a giddy little thrill when the opening credits for The Most Dangerous Game rolled:  “from the O. Henry Prize Winning Collection story by Richard Connell.”  Ohmigod, I thought, that could be me.  In the past several years, there’s been a small resurgence of movies adapted from short stories:  In the Bedroom from the Andre Dubus’ “Killings”; Jindabyne from Raymond Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home”; The Illusionist from Steven Millhauser’s “Eisenheim the Illusionist.”  When Zoetrope: All-Story accepts a story, the contract asks for both first serial rights and a one-year film option (previously, the right of first negotiation to acquire film rights).  Why can’t my story (or two! three!) be adapted into a film?  I’d even be willing to write sequels for as long as the franchise is profitable.

Some writers of literary fiction disdain cinematic aspirations.  Why would I want to sully my artistic output with crass commercialism? they scoff.  But I wonder if having a film made of your work is a dream which literary writers must harbor secretly, like an urge to kick pigeons.  No one wants to admit to selling-out; no one wants to be known as the pigeon abuser.

Herein lies the other dream that writers hold deep in their hearts — less of a dream, really, and more of a dagger:  I’m going to be forgotten.  Richard Connell, for example, received three O. Henry awards in his lifetime, but the rest his work has mostly faded from memory.  Indeed, if it weren’t for the film of The Most Dangerous Game, I might not have known of him at all.

Literary fame touches so few, remembers so few.  When I look at the table of contents of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, I wonder how many of my fellow recipients will continue to work, to be lauded.  All of them, I hope.  But Count Zaroff is a ruthless hunter, and only a lucky few escape the island; the rest end up as preserved heads in his trophy room.  The way I see it, Ha Jin, Nadine Gordimer, Paul Theroux and Junot Diaz are already on the speedboat.

It might be that I place too much stock in the idea of writing ‘for posterity.’  It also might be that the New Yorker’s list of 20 Writers Under 40 put me in the doldrums when they misspelled my name as ‘Joshua Ferris.’  But I keep going anyhow — once you’ve accepted the invitation to be the most dangerous game, you have no choice but to continue, avoiding Malay man catchers and Burmese tiger pits as necessary.

Just in case, though, I offer this memo to Hollywood executives, listing acceptable changes if you’d like to adapt my story for the screen:

· instead of regular middle school, school for ninjas.

· Vietnamese Communists to be replaced with Chinese Communists.

· add adolescent love interest and crunk dancing sequence.

· traumatic flashbacks involving carpet bombing will be shot in slow-motion.

· fewer eviscerations; more beheadings.

· post-production conversion to 3-D.

· all Asian roles can be played by white actors.

· in the end, it’s all a dream anyway.

To me, fishing is one of those all-American activities in which I’ve never taken much interest.  (See also:  hunting, tent-pitching, fire building.)  Men who fish, in my mind, are Raymond Carver archetypes:  stoic, beaten-down, hard-drinking.  Men who chill six-packs of beer in the river.  Men who don’t stop fishing even when they find a corpse in the water.

And although the idea of fishing appeals to me — patience; sitting out in the sun; yummy, yummy fish — I can’t imagine yanking at something with a hook in its mouth.  I prefer to imagine, instead, that fish, of their own accord, jump out of water, filet themselves and swim into a pan full of butter.

If anything, Fishing with John highlights the homosocial component to fishing:  John Lurie asking Jim Jarmusch, “Do you want to see my penis?”; Tom Waits sticking a red snapper in his shorts; Willem Dafoe suggesting that he and John zip their sleeping bags together; the narrator announcing, “Both fishermen are covered with sores and boners.”  No gay subtext here.  Whatsoever.

Fishing as male bonding:  on the wall of our garage (the repository for the detritus of the Dinh family) was a pegboard, and lying across the top pegs — the way one would display a samurai sword — was a red fishing rod.  Whenever I got out of the car, I saw it above my head.  It was something that was always there, something that would always be there, like air.

Maybe my father intended to fish more than he did, but I remember us specifically going fishing only once.  I would never be a fisherman myself — my attempts at casting brought the hook perilously close to my own face — but I could at least help my father with the bait.  We had jar of green-neon garlic-flavored marshmallows, a jar of cherry-red salmon eggs.  I threaded them on the hook as if preparing a shish-kebob.  Afterwards, my fingers smelled like a poisoner’s lunch, but I loved pulling the lead teardrop weighing the line.  The whole contraption bounced like it was waving hello.

As I rinsed off the odor, minnows darted in the shallows.  I tried scooping them up, but they were too quick.  I splashed around until my hands turned numb in the sun-dappled water.  I hopped from rock to rock, venturing as far into the river as I could without getting wet.  Occasionally, the current would catch one of the pebbles at the bottom of the riverbed and send it tumbling downstream.

I decided:  it wasn’t necessary to fish to enjoy the peacefulness of fishing.

In any case, my father only caught three six-inch brown trout that day.  Not a rainbow among them.  Nonetheless, he brought them home proudly — as any man would after providing a meal.  He had prepared a whole cooler of ice for them.  They lay on top like bottles of Coke.

My mother brought down the hammer on future fishing expeditions.  After all, she was the one who got the privilege of gutting, cleaning and preparing them.

“It’s easier,” she said, “just to buy the fish at the supermarket.”

Known time bandits:

· horror movies.  This falls under the ‘guilty pleasure’ category if I felt any guilt about it.  Any Manichean struggle is incomplete unless it involves decapitation via machete, high-pitched screams, zombies, or fingernail-related trauma.

· cats.  Please play with me.  Please feed me.  Please let me outside.  Please rub my belly.  Please lie down next to me on this bed that I have thoughtfully make comfortable by pre-kneading the cushions for you.

· vacations.  Not the vacation itself, but the hours of planning beforehand.  For a year now, Matthew and I have debatedlocales for our upcoming summer sojourn:  Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Croatia, Britain.  Today, the current front-runner is Portugal, but tomorrow — who knows?  We briefly talked about Greece, but between the civil unrest and insolvency, I leave it to Randall, the larcenous dwarf in Time Bandits,  to sum up the situation:   “Stuck in Greece.  Lowest standard of living in Europe.”

· student papers.  It will make many more lifetimes than I have to teach everyone that therefore and however are not Superglue conjunctions to hold sentences together.

· talking about films.  After watching a film, I spend at least four hours thinking deep thoughts.  During that process, I draw fascinating parallels, make startling observations, ponder earth-shattering existential questions — but still end up writing about cats.

· refinery burn-off.  On the way home from Philadelphia tonight, after a midnight show of The Human Centipede (see:  horror movies, above), I dealt with the usual impediments in Center City:  girls wearing skirts too short to sprint across the crosswalk; guys pulling up their shirts to flag down cabs, their hairless bellies sliding prematurely into the flaccid rotundity of middle age.  They would have had better luck suctioning ‘Baby on Board’ signs onto their stomachs.  On I-95, just past Exit 4 towards Chester, a factory burned off waste gases through a smokestack.  The evening was hazy with fresh rain; the lights overhanging the highway were smeared with mist.  But the fire lit the clouds behind it orange, a clear flame bright enough to make the horizon glow neon.  It was trying to burn a hole right through the night, to reveal daylight on the other side.  I wanted to rush home, grab my camera, and rush back, park on the shoulder, and stand on the roof of my car and take pictures.  But I realized:  that’s ridiculous.  A waste of time.  Better to leave it as a fleeting image — one impossible to capture.  Merely another moment stolen out from under you — that second you take to ease your foot off the gas pedal and turn your head to watch the sky flicker with fire.

For someone who dislikes moving, I end up doing a lot of it.  For a five-year period (2003-2007), I moved every single year, schlepping my net worth across the country:  Houston to Denver, Denver to Minnesota, Minnesota to Denver, and finally, Denver to Delaware (not counting a final, intra-Delaware move from Newark to Wilmington).  I briefly befriended 10-foot U-Hauls, turned down the optional insurance, and went about transporting whatever crap I had accumulated during the year.

I’ve never been as efficient as Matthew at packing — he subscribes to the “no wasted space” philosophy.  I don’t fold clothes to pack for a trip; they sort of just bend themselves.  Matthew, with Tetris-like precision, carefully distributes weight in the truck, balancing crates full of books and CDs with mattresses and furniture as the truck sinks lower and lower onto its tires.  I sit back and act exhausted.

Once I step into the cab of the truck, however, I feel a surge of energy.  In that moment, I’m elevated above lesser, weakling passenger cars.  I’ve got diesel-powered brute force.  So if Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear seems overly masculine, I understand the impulse.  It takes balls to drive a truck — the bigger, the better.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the scene when Yves Montand jumps out of his hammock clad only in underwear.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to contend with ravaged South American dirt roads (though parts of I-70 can be rough), and I’ve never transported anything as volatile as nitroglycerin.  But, just in case, I turn up the music in the cab.  It drowns out the whinnying of the engine.  It gives me a certain pace at which to drive.  But most importantly, it smothers the sound of things shifting behind me:  the muffled crashes, the thumps of objects falling from great heights and spilling open.  Items shattering and tinkling or splintering and ripping.  With each move, I try (for a few hours, at least) not to become too attached to anything — an on-the-road moment of Zen.

There’s only been one moment during a move when I feared for my safety.  On the Houston to Denver leg, in Southern Colorado, the wind blew as if it were shifting the desert from one side of the highway to the other.  I slowed to forty miles an hour.  I saw “slowed” but actually, it was as fast as I could drive.  The truck strained against what felt like a hand pushing against its side.  Going up hills and crests, my speed dwindled to thirty, twenty-five, and I struggled to hold the wheel steady.  And while I really never believed that the truck would tip, occasionally I wondered.  Against my will, the truck shunted left and right across the road, like in the final scene in The Wages of Fear.  But with more abject terror and less maniacal glee.  We both had things to look forward to on our respective arrivals:  for Yves Montand’s Mario, a spinning and passed-out Vera Clouzot.  For me:  a bed, a pillow, and possibly a cat or two, in a home that I didn’t think would be temporary.

In the first half of Summertime, Katherine Hepburn experiences Venice through the viewfinder of her movie camera, changing lenses, popping in new film as the previous reel runs out.  Ah, the age-old tourist stereotype.

This is not to say that I don’t snap pictures myself when traveling.  I’m the type who waits for the shot to be perfect once all the damn people move out of the way. But, as Susan Sontag argues in On Photography, taking pictures don’t merely capture an event — it becomes an event in and of itself.   “Most tourists,” she writes, “feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter.”  So it’s no surprise that when Hepburn finally forgets her camera, she falls in love with an Italian silver fox.

So, yes, I have a pictures of the winged lion above St. Mark’s Square, as well as ones of green canal water gnawing away the bottom of wooden doors or stenciled piece of graffiti agitprop.  But I haven’t looked at those pictures since I took them almost two years ago.  Maybe Sontag is onto something:  photographs are slices of life cut free from context.  Photographs are memento mori.

I never saw someone throw rubbish into the water like Hepburn does, but I did  see the empty plastic cups in the street, the remnant of revelry.  And if, for Hepburn, the streets were filled with Italian love songs sung from every rooftop, I instead was treated to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes it All” blaring out of a window as I made my way through winding alleyways.

Still, two years later on, I struggle to remember everything that happened in Venice. I remember crossing a bridge several times, in both directions, because I had gotten turned around.  I remember having prosciutto e melone for lunch (though this could have been any random day in Italy).  And I remember the brightness of the sun on the lagoon surface, black boats darting back and forth like water striders.

The photographs I have don’t help me remember my trip more vividly.  Aside from the must-see checklist (The Bridge of Sighs, The Doge’s Palace, the Rialto Bridge), most of the pictures I have are of people — men, to be specific.  The pictures are somewhat artless and less surreptitious that I would like:  a tanned gentleman adjusting the ropes on his boat; a souvenir hawker listening to his iPod while waiting for customers to approach; an artist with a sketch pad on his lap, a pencil dangling from his fingers, waiting for the proper inspiration to strike.  In some, the subject looks straight at me, as if to say, Hey, what the hell are you doing?

But for me, these images become, as Sontag writes, “invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.”  (A boatman off to see his lover; an artist in the agonizing pangs of creation.)  If images bring the imagination to life, can one describe them as memento vivere?  I click through the pictures and see two policemen, frozen in place mid-conversation, white slashes of belts across the chests, endlessly circling the arcades of St. Mark’s Square.  The policemen don’t move, but, just outside of the frame, the pigeons cooing on the ground rise in unison, a feathered curtain, and the sky overhead flutters away.

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