Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He going, I going too. Blue-Eyed John Has Passed.

Today I learned that blue-eyed-John who lived at the 690 Beech Street underpass for the last 8 years and invited me to photograph him, passed away.  Enver, a Bosnian man, in broken English told me so.

When I stopped to collect the baking pan I'd left full of apple crisp Enver told me he had offered it to the guys at the encampment, but that they weren't interested in sweets, just beer. I took the glass pan from him feeling the empty weigh of it. He'd washed it and wrapped it in tinfoil for me. What became of the contents I'll never know. Maybe the feral cat ate the buttery top or a raccoon, or a dog.

I've never seen anyone here at this underpass encampment eat anything, but I always remember the movie, Babette's Feast that I watched with my mother when I was a teenager at the alternative theater in Buffalo where they showed all the arts movies. The movie was about a cook making this extravagant meal for a town of people who'd been living on salted fish and potatoes. What she gave them with that meal was pure pleasure--she engaged their dormant senses, their sense of tast, touch, smell.  Babette, the cook, nearly pushed the austere islanders over the edge with that meal.

At the encampment all I saw were cans: cans of soup, cans of fruit,  and a jar of grape jelly. Apple crisp in itself is no feast, but I imagined it might please someone to eat something home-made.  So, I made it and when I didn't find John, I left it there with Enver, gave him the job of  passing it around the next morning, thinking John, with those intense blue eyes of his, might lick the spoon.

Enver pointed at his chest when I asked what happened.  He said the name of a woman. She had come to tell the story to him. In broken English he repeated what she said: "John walking. John fall over." He motioned with his hand as if to say, "Kaput, the end."

"Enver," I said, "I wasn't ready, not yet." I stood there looking at his stained hands, his one red eye. He too, drinks too much.

"Everybody go. I go, you go," was what he said when I started to cry. Then he invited me keep living, to drink Plum brandy and eat Kaimak cheese with him. And I had no time to share his food.  

What I admired about John was that he lived with dignity and it showed through the alcohol haze he wandered in and out of.   He made a home there with rugs and couches. For Christ sakes he swept the rugs. He kept it clean. He had standards. He made me feel safe.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Invited in

I stopped to visit a Somali family that I know and find out how they were dealing with an ongoing altercation with their Vietnamese landlord who was upset about all the stuff that was getting thrown into the yard and she drove me a few blocks away to meet two families that wanted their pictures taken. For all I know they didn't really want me, but were coerced by her into letting me take them. I suspect that only because of how stern one of the father's was. It was interesting to get inside these family's houses. The fire alarms were missing in one of the attic apartments which worried me. The bases were there, but not the main device. No doubt the chirping noise of the low batteries, which I notice in just about every house I've entered on the north side, was driving them insane. I did take 9v to one family that I visit regularly and replaced them, but haven't yet gotten in the habit of keeping a few in the car.

The first family had a mother of a new baby.
 The second family had amazing patterned fabric on the walls that made me think of Vuillard paintings while I was taking the pictures. The head dresses on the girls in all reds, oranges and browns were a particularly stunning contrast.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Free Friends and Family Photo Day at the Lodi Laundry

On Sunday, September 19, 2010 I held the first free photography day at the Lodi Laudrymat where the owner "Xai" and her husband let me set up my computer and printer on one of the counters for folding laundry.   The first few people I offered to take pictures of declined, either because they didn't want one, or it was against their religion, or their mother was there and it was against her's. But after the first picture got printed, it was hard to fit everyone in that wanted one in the time I had set aside. I promised the people that I turned away that I'd come back and  set up another time.

I love this work/play, which is perhaps the "work of fiction" I've chosen to live. Here's a quote from Dimitri Orlov to put that sentence in context:

"Don't hope, don't wish, don't dream, but do write your own fiction
and use it to create a present that works for you. Invent places for
yourself and for those you care about in your stories about the
future, and then go ahead and live in them.You don't have to settle
for anyone else's “B”-rated nonsense. And don't let anyone tell you
that you are crazy or that you are living in a dream. It's not a
dream, dammit, it's a work of fiction!"

And here are a few pictures from the day. I'm holding back on the ones of kids until I talk to the parents.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hippie Lady, I'm from Bedrock

 Paintbrush in hand, back to the street, I heard someone politely ask if I would move my bicycle out of the way so that she could sit down on the concrete wall that doubled as a bench at the front end of the shelter.  I hadn't heard the young woman approach and felt rather sheepish that I'd blocked the entry and the best place to sit down and wait for the bus. I was about twenty minutes into what turned out to be an interesting hour of hanging out there scraping and repainting the outlines to the figures on the mural. A few people asked me if I'd designed it. No, I didn't, and I'm not sure who did, but I suspect it had something to do with the health center across the street. Or, maybe there was a day care center there at some point.

After she sat down, I asked if I could take her picture. I told her my friend had designed the shelter and wanted some pictures of people using it. She agreed to sit for the picture even before I offered to bring her a copy of the print.

While I was talking to her and taking her picture an older gentleman started asking me what I was doing taking pictures. He was shouting out to me from the street corner, "Hey what are you doing? I'm from Bedrock. Hey Hippie Lady, why are you taking pictures? I don't like it." The young woman thought he was being rude. He then walked up to me and asked again and wasn't satisfied that I was just taking a picture of this young woman to give to her.  He walked back to the corner and shouted again, "Hey Hippie Lady! I'm from Bedrock." After the third time. I put down my brush, walked over to him and the two other men he was standing with and looked him in the face. "Hi, I'm Sarah Averill, I'm a photographer and a physician. I'm here painting this mural and taking pictures of people who are using the shelter. I'm not working with the police or with the city. I'm here on my own working with friends on this project. I'm happy to take your picture if you would like." He shook my hand. I then turned and introduced myself to the two other men sitting on the wall by the street corner, just outside the boundaries of the bus shelter. They put their cigarettes aside and shook my hand too. I then went back to painting the wall. There were a few more comments from them and Bedrock. I asked what was Bedrock, and eventually learned he was a marine in Vietnam. There seemed to be something he wanted to tell me about where he was from, but I just couldn't understand through the innuendo. We didn't have enough of the same reference points. 

Then someone related to the woman stopped and started asking questions about the painting.
This man said what I was doing was good. He said he wouldn't have any time to do something like paint a public mural. When I explained that I didn't know how far I'd get, but that I believed in starting.  Just pick up a brush and begin, I said. I have an extra one if you want to help. He thought about that for a little while and said he had a book in his car that said things like that. Maybe, he said, I could learn something from you.   I asked how he was related to the woman, and now I forget, but he was her uncle or something. I asked what he thought of the bus shelter. He said, he had a car and didn't know what to think really.

Maybe you can give her a ride, I said. So he asked her where she was going, she got in and they both left me there with my black enamel paint, still just beginning to cover the lines that had turned more gray than black int he weather. 
I thought maybe I could learn something from just being there and taking the challenges to what I was doing.