Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Michaelangelo said...

To paraphrase Michaelangelo the sculpture already existed in the marble. He just had to chip away to find it. I was thinking about this a lot when we arrived in Spain last week. To be honest I was in the dumps. Work wasn't going so well. I wasn't sure that it was the right time for me to take a vacation, albeit one with a couple assignments attached. Still...how can I complain. My daughter said she was playing the smallest violin in the world for me. But as everyone who tries to make art knows, it is difficult to be interupted. To stop your routines. So I was feeling a little sorry for myself when I saw this bull standing behind a crumbling cement wall. I think the picture speaks for itself. Michaelangelo's quote came back to me. I made my husband turn around and go back so I could get this picture of the bull. He protested, but then was happy when he saw this. I took the picture. We had to drive another mile or so before he could turn around. And as we drove back, the bull was gone.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A quote from Jenny Offill's story, "The Tunnel."

You think you want the blue skies, the open road, but really you want the tunnel, you want to know how the story ends.

As we leave for Spain, this quote seems so apt. For any wanderer, really. And writer as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Books for the Road - Melville on Istanbul.

My husband, Larry, and I are packing for Spain. I feel as if I am hardly back from Istanbul and already...about to leave again. One of the really important things to me when I travel is what to read. I always try to find books that somehow connect with the place I'm traveling to. In Greece, for example, I have taken Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi, Zorba the Greek, and the Odyssey. In Sicily The Leopard. Russia, Anna Karenina. And so on.

Spain is fairly easy and, because we have some real down time, I am going to just catch up on things I've wanted to read, but having found the time for. I have to confess that I am finally considering a Kindle. As I look at the pounds of paper we are packing, I am thinking...oh to have it all in one package.

For Turkey we sort of did...We carried with us a small volume, called ISTANBUL. In it there were many short snippets by various writers who had been and written about Istanbul. But the one who truly stunned me was Herman Melville. Who knew that he had spent time in the then "Constantinople."

Melville writes in just his journal notes, "All day the fog held on. Very think & damp & raw. Very miserable for the Turks and their harems...about noon the fog slowly cleared before a gentle breeze. At last, among the Prince Islands, we found ourselves lying, as in enchantment, among the Princes Islands." I seem to follow Melville around. He wrote similarly of the Galapagos and I brought his slim volume about his journey through the labyrinth of those islands with me when I travel there.

I love reading Melville's notes from his journeys. It is so clear that some of his best ideas were formed in his journals and notebooks as he was at sea. "Up early, went out; saw cemeteries where they dumped garbage. Sawing wood over a tomb. Forests of cemeteries. Intricacy of the streets. Started alone for Constantinople and after a terrible long walk, found myself back where I started." Would you call Melville a travel writer here? Or just a writer. A wonderful observor of everything that is around him.

I wish I had his journals from a trip to Spain or through the Gilbraltar Straits. Maybe he wrote about this as well. Do they exist? Does anyone know? He must have passed through the Mediterranean on his way to the Sea of Marmara. Anyway for Spain I am packing Spaniards. Javiar Marius, maybe I'll reread "Shadow of the Wind." Maybe it's time to look at Don Quixote again...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Today Fifth Avenue Street Fair - Brooklyn, That is!

These are just a few reasons why I love living where I do. Spent the day wandering the fair. I had a lot to do, but it was a beautiful day and I managed not to do any of it. Ate roasted corn, a fajita, a watermelon smoothie. Watched children, clowns, men demonstrating a special sponge, rock bands, jugglers, many dogs, resisted many temptations. A perfect day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Travels with Kate: Motherhood still on my mind

I got so many nice responses to the posting about that day in the field in South Dakota, just before Kate was born, that I couldn't resist posting this other image of a horse. I would have to say this isn't my best moment of mothering, but it has been a kind of family joke (though at the time it wasn't...). We were traveling in Ireland. Perhaps ten years ago. Kate had a mane of long, chestnut hair, and as we were driving I spotted a horse whose hair was almost the exact same color as Kate's. I told my husband to stop the car because I wanted to take a picture of Kate with this horse. Kate was, and still is, quite fond of horses. We stopped and I told Kate to stand near the horse. I took a picture. I told her to stand closer. Another picture. Then I suggested she kneel down by the horse. One more picture. And finally asked her to take her hair out of the ponytail so we could really see it beside the horse. She was reluctant and tired of my picture taking, but I told her to be a sport. So with a big sigh she took the scrunchie off her ponytail and the horse, perhaps thinking it was hay, proceeded to eat her hair...Somewhere the whole series of snapshots documents this event, but the only one I can still put my hands on is this one. A country road in Ireland, a perfect day, a horse eats my daughter's hair at my bidding. Somehow that sublime image of the black horse in the golden field felt right as I thought about Mother's Day and being a mother on the road. And this unfortunate moment, captured on film, is one of the more absurd moments of motherhood about which I still feel guilty. And I still can laugh. And my daughter has long since recovered, and, I believe, forgiven me...

Monday, May 10, 2010

South Dakota, 1986 - A Mother's Day Remembrance

I've posted this image before but it took on a special importance for me this week. On Saturday I went to the framers and picked it up. The guy at the store asked me how I'd photoshopped it. I told him that this was the way it came out. I told him that photoshop didn't exist when I took this picture. I think he had a hard time believing me.

Though I took the picture almost a quarter of a century ago, I never got it framed until recently. That is because this picture has always belonged to Kate. I was seven months pregnant when I took it. I was at my friend, Dan O'Brien's ranch. It was late October. A golden afternoon with a big threatening sky. This would be my last solo journey before my daughter was born. And I would be a single parent for almost two years.

So this was a moment of solitude and beauty. There was something about the way Blackie looked at me. The way he too was alone in that field. Alone in a very big way in the world. I felt that aloneness too. I took the picture, went back to New York, and had my daughter.

I gave her this print a long time ago, but for one reason or another didn't get around to framing it until last month. Now she lives in a small apartment in our house. On Mother's Day I gave this to her. I thought of all the places where I'd been. And where I'd come. Where we both were.

My life - the life of any mother - is completely different before we have a child. And completely different afterwards. It is definitely not for everyone. I recall a friend warning me not to have a child. "It will change everything," she said. "Your life will never be your own again."

This is true and I know it. And this picture - this big sky and golden sun, the black horse alone in the field - reminds me of what life was before and what it is now. Yesterday for example instead of spending the day on the prairie in South Dakota, I spent it at Ikea.

These are just two different places at two different times. And I wouldn't trade either for the world.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mexico without Leaving Home

Last night was Cinco de Mayo. We've had some Spaniards living in our home, but they'd never seen this Mexican festival. I decided to take them to my favorite place - a little hole in the wall restaurant on President Street off Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn that serves some of the best Mexican food in the city (in my opinion). It's the real deal. But this little place is often empty and its owner, Joseph, who wears a sombrero and dresses like a caballero, often sits alone. He has been alone, it seems, for months. Every time we order from there he can't thank me enough. Every time I walk by I am saddened by his aloneness. And by the fact that people don't know how good his portobello fajitas or arroz con camarones is. But last night the place was slammed, as my daughter who waits table would say. Every table was taken. We were first in line for a table for three, but a long line of people soon formed behind us. After a little while a young woman came up to me and said, "Your table will be ready soon. Would you like to order?" I'd never seen her there before and asked how long she'd been working. "Actually I'm a customer. I'm just helping out." The woman who cleared out table was also a customer. The guy who poured our water. We watched as people finished their meals, bussed their own tables, helped customers get seated, packed take-out. When we finished, we asked if we could help too, but Joseph said, "You have helped by being here." In truth most people were done and the place was emptying out. As we left, the woman who seated us was carting the last tray of dishes to the sink.