Thursday, December 18, 2008

What We Find Beautiful

It must have rained the night before we arrived in New York. The streets were littered with tattered umbrellas, the cheap kind that you purchase in a hurry because you simply cannot stand to get wet and you had no idea it was going to rain. Black and flimsy, these are the umbrellas that shelter beautiful women, old people, and children from a cold and blustery shower. When they break or turn inside out due to a powerful gust of wind it isn't a problem. They are dropped in the gutter, on the sidewalk, near the trash can. The next morning the city wakes up to sun and blue sky and all remnants of the night before are forgotten, abandoned in the rush of a new day.

I don't notice things like dead umbrellas. I notice people and I notice food -- the towers of confections in a sweet shop, rows of freshly baked bread, a vintage plate with a well-composed sandwich and pile of freshly dressed greens. While on vacation this is the artwork I want to document. I can buy postcards of great works from the museum and photographs of perfect tall buildings from vendors on street corners. But to me, the flavor of a vacation is captured by the photographic and textual recollections of what we eat.

I am forever toying with taking photos of my dinner, photos that never turn out as well as I wish. But still I try, in hopes that one day I will figure it out and learn how to make the photograph of perfect beef carpaccio with black truffles and shaved Parmesan speak a thousand words of what it was like to sit eating at Gramercy Bar & Grill on a Saturday night, white Christmas lights sparkling all around me.

But M. notices umbrellas and he loves the dead and forgotten ones best. This is why, on our first morning in New York, we spent hours documenting the umbrellas that littered the street. While I marveled over the bright orange coffee truck parked on a busy street corner, he took photo after photo of abandoned umbrellas. I watched the rows of people waiting in line at the orange coffee truck for mud colored black coffee and he took photos of trash, an artful umbrella perched on top.

Left behind umbrellas make me a little sad. They aren't promising, and the photos of these umbrellas certainly aren't vibrant and spontaneous like the pictures I tried to take documenting our vacation. But to M. the umbrellas are beautiful.

I have given up on arguing about this, given up on trying to explain how black tattered umbrellas lost in a gutter are kind of depressing. Now I am trying to understand, to see them through his eyes, as a small clue to the bigger picture of a life someone, somewhere, is living. Just like what you eat for breakfast says a little bit about who you are, your cheap umbrella, how you destroy it and where you toss it, must say something too.

No comments: