January 29th, 2005

Back Yard

My room was literally overflowing with books. She said all these up here in the shelves flanking the door are reference works, arranged alphabetically. Over there on the other wall are numerous biographies, collections of correspondence, and histories. In the large closet, above and below the hanging clothing, are stacks of the books she'd written herself over the past three, four decades. Books, books, books everywhere. Which gave the room a scholarly feel, which I liked very much.

As we spoke I spotted one of my very favorites, "The Snow Leopard," by her dear friend, Peter Matthiessen. It describes his long, dangerous, and sometimes painful trek through the Himalaya. He was determined to find an elusive spiritual enlightenment on his way to "…the Crystal mountain…west under Annapurna and north along the Kali Gandaki River, then west and north again, around the Dhaulagiri peaks and across the Kanjiroba, two hundred and fifty miles or more to the land of Dolpo, on the Tibetan Plateau."

I shared with my sweet generous hostess that I was deeply moved by the end of Matthiessen's narrative where he admits that the most important lesson he learned was that he just as well could have done the exploration in his own back yard. And at much less cost to his wife and child who anxiously awaited his return.

She smiled, and nodded. "Yes."

Just For Heidi

A scene early this afternoon at Juan Valdez Café, on 57th Street near Lexington Avenue. Their body language tells us what about this couple? My guess is that she is way more interested in him than he is in her. And why would that be? She is young, attractive, exceptionally bright, and ambitious. She's making it in New York. So what's not to love? Unfortunately some men don't want what she represents. Especially the exceptionally bright part. Oh, well. Sometimes you just can't win, eh?

A Reinvention

Wandering the streets of the city gives me the feeling that I have not forgotten anything, and not much has changed. Yes, some new buildings here and there. But the energy, beauty, and excitement are the same. Great power is present in quiet repose. Always ready to come forth when you summon it, or when you’re open to it fully.

Near The Plaza Hotel I stop and contemplate Frederick MacMonnies's Civil War equestrian statue in Grand Army Plaza. When I was studying photography at NYU many years ago I chose this dynamic sculpture as my very first assignment. I isolated various parts of it in my Mamiya Sekor Spotmatic's viewfinder. Later in the darkroom I made a dozen stark black and white prints. The curved wreath in the guardian Angel's hand. General William Tecumseh Sherman's boot in the stirrup. The Angel's face in profile against a white sky. In class I nervously arranged the images in a row on the eraser shelf of the blackboard. My classmates were silent. I was afraid. But then Dr. Casey Allen, my professor, smiled. "Ah, yes," he said. "Very nice."

Back then the representation of "Uncle Billy," as he was affectionately known to his troops, was uniformly black with an accumulation of decades of the city's soot and motor vehicle exhaust. Now, however, it's a gleaming gold apparition, like in a religious ecstasy. The city reinvents itself. I'm obliged to do the same.