When I travel, I like to take long walks through the streets of the villages and cities I visit, taking pictures of street scenes and landscapes as I go. But mostly, I like to take pictures of people, stopping them to ask if they would mind. If they don’t mind, interesting things can happen.
When I travel, I prefer to take photos of people I randomly encounter, rather than of sites I visit. I have photographed my share of monuments and parks and churches and bridges, and I imagine I always will, but they serve mostly to remind me that I have visited a place, jarring something in my memory about a particular time in my life.
How well do we know our parents? Where we came from? How well do we understand the circumstances and situations that swirled around them at the time of our conception? And not just our individual conception, but the conception of our siblings, the creation of our families?
NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful.
“You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza.
“Said what twice?” I asked.
“That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth.
E.B. White’s Here is New York is my favorite book about my favorite American city. Published in 1949, it is considered an essay, most likely because of its short length, a mere 56 pages, into which White packed such timeless observations about the island of Manhattan that this ‘book’ has a permanent place on my desk in New York.
In the Summer of 2006, the day before I returned to New York after using my entire year’s vacation to study Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Siena, Italy, I took an early bus to Arezzo and spent the morning roaming the city taking pictures. After the cool early hours had morphed into lunchtime, I found a little trattoria on a small piazza where I could have a salad and a cold glass of Prosecco to ward off the heat that had begun to rise from the cobbled vicolos.
I ought to have been born between the World Wars, when it was romantic to be sentimental, when having an attachment to the past was normal, when lovers would hand-write nostalgia-filled letters whenever apart, when taking a journey down a memory lane strewn with tales of adventures and friends and events long gone by could rouse a spontaneous and unembarrassed launch into Doris Day’s and Les Brown’s rendition of A Sentimental Journey.
Where will you be when you are old? With your family? Your fiends? Alone? Will you be rich? Or poor? In good health? Or ill perhaps? Will you be mentally engaged? Or failing up there in some frightening way? How, and with whom, will you while away the hours of the day?
Women at work: Lyrical Confessions of an Erstwhile Renegade, my first essay as Editor-at-Large for SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, was published online in the Winter 2013 issue.
The news did not exactly come as a shock. I had filed away the possibility that his life would end one day in the part of my brain reserved for things I simply did not want to think about happening. A less willful, less stubborn, less enthusiastically alive man would have long ago succumbed to the many illnesses he had endured over the last 2 decades. His ability to push back had convinced me that nothing could kill him. An email in mid-March relaying that he was in hospice care switched on the emotional regulator that controlled my reservoir of memories about him, sending through a few at a time, as though dropping them into my consciousness in a metered manner would avoid a flood tide the day he finally decided to part this Earth.
When I was 15 Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust had such an impact on me I imagined that were I to venture a trip to Los Angeles, Tod Hackett, Faye Greener and their entire entourage of misfit friends would greet me at the train station. My childhood in Northern New Mexico was one from which I was desperate to escape, where Cowboys and Indians were real, not the stuff of Hollywood movies we would watch at a drive-in theatre with the help of a speaker attached to a rolled down car window. While I knew that the American Southwest fostered a kind of mythic appeal for the endless stream of Easterners arriving to set down roots under its majestic skies, I had grown up under that star-strewn ether and longed for something else, something far less real than the rodeos I attended on weekends, and West’s words had convinced me I would find that reality in the City of Angels.
Arriving, I remember everything exactly as it was – the sights, sounds and smells of a place I have often visited in my memory these past 37 years. White Calla Lilies tucked among the wild grasses alongside Stinson Beach in winter, hawks kiting into the wind, wings outstretched, suspended above the surf. Fog, guardian of seaside mysteries, shroud for molting Eucalyptus, billowing a warning to stay off the winding mountain road, yet beckoning one onward. Sunglasses lightly misting over with sea spray, ears cooled by the coastal wind, dry lips salted and licked. Sea foam and kelp bulbs, children giggling and dogs digging, and cold wet sand rising up through painted red toes.
People from my early professional life seem to be popping up everywhere. I’ll receive an out of the blue email from one person, while the smiling face of another emerges from a sea of faintly recognizable features somewhere on social media. Funny how these old friends seem to know that all these years later I still have a land line, their instantly recognizable voices sometimes leaving long and detailed hellos from various places around the world.