There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.
Robert Frank to Charlie LeDuff, (Vanity Fair, 2008)
I dreamt of elephants the other afternoon. A long trail of them, different ages, different sizes, in a procession, trunk to tail, some with fragments of tusks. We were in Africa, there were many of us humans, of all races, but the elephants ignored us: we were not worth their time, we were beneath their dignity. They did not kick up much dust as they passed us and they did not shuffle as prisoners might have. We – the elephants and humans – were being judged by alien life forms. The aliens, whom I didn’t see, were determining who to take with them as partners on their journey and they chose the elephants.
Elephants have long memories, especially of their relatives. What I remember of my family slips away day by day. Did I ever really know my mother and father? Did I know their fears, the things they didn’t speak about? As a parent myself, I can guess what some may have been, but I never knew their internal personal fears. Had they feared old age? Illness? Loneliness? Were there any true joys in their lives beyond winning at the races? Beyond the Saturday night family poker games? The holiday drinks? I’ve seen photos of them laughing – were there more good moments than bad? Was their long-term pleasure? My mother and I had conversations, but I often felt so little was actually revealed – in an attempt to protect my feelings, perhaps – that I was left wondering what their reality was. Did my parents’ dreams for their children recede with time as have my memories of their lives? I always felt that their expectations were not matched by the reality of my and my sisters’ lives, our talents, and our interests. Children sometimes carry anger from childhood to adulthood: for what? Unmet needs? Unrealized dreams? Unrealized protection? Missed perceptions? Missed realizations? Forced expectations? Misunderstandings? Some of us are fortunate to work out those issues with our parents, some have never had issues with which to deal. Others have unanswered debris.
Today, Saturday, is 17 January, the feast day of St Anthony Abad, the day of the blessing of the animals. I tried to discover the time that the ceremonies would be held (they take place at various churches in town including San Antonio, San Felipe, and the Parroquia – there could be others), but no one seemed to know. One person thought “in the afternoon.” If I were a parishioner, I would know. The blessing is not designed as a photo op, but for many of us non-believers, that is exactly what the blessing becomes.
It used to be, when one traveled, one did not see friends or family for the duration of the trip; days or weeks elapsed, sometimes months and people returned from their travels looking differently. We who were left behind wondered what it was like in that foreign place and our friends or relatives would, on their return, create a photo album, or flip through prints, or make a slide presentation that would have been projected; we-the-left-behind would gather around the photo that served as souvenir, as personal postcard. Then the photos would go into shoe boxes or albums or closets or into attics or basements. It is different now, thanks to the Discovery Channel on television and National Geographic on the internet: everyone has seen everything so we have nothing at which to marvel. And because the travelers have used their cell phones to send us – at the moment the event took place – we have already seen the tans or expanded waistlines. They return and all that is left is for them to return to work. We have no need to see them. We already have. Neither the old nor the new is good, nor is it bad; they are simply different experiences.
There are several women who sell flowers everyday at the same corner in Centro. Yesterday morning I watched as a North American man passed them. He was about to take a photo, but decided instead to continue walking, but he took only a few steps and before he stopped, turned and slowly approached them as he thought about the composition and the framing and the background and the lighting. He carried a camera that looked heavy as it had a very long lens. The women were not women to him, they were not vendors, simply objects to be arranged, focused and cropped.
I had breakfast with some of the women from the UU fellowship and sat next to someone who had lived just a few blocks from where I had lived in Oakland; her mother sat at the other end of the table, and I learned she and I had lived an equal number of blocks apart going in the opposite direction. After breakfast some people headed to a garage sale and when we arrived we found a crowd of 20 or 30 people waiting for the doors to open. The owners let in just 10 people at a time, which, for some reason, infuriated some people (all American) who walked off full of angst and fury.having been humiliated at the altar of Purchase at a Bargain.
I drifted from there to the “Organic” Market, where I was tempted to buy lettuce as it looked so nice, but found myself drifting through the market, then drifting along the street, then drifting to sleep for an afternoon nap.