02 July 2012

the children of saudade (drunks and scars)

They built the lopsided shed in random moments, never less than three men with cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths. Screws were broken. Warped scraps of plywood were forced into shelves. This patch of dry earth where grass does not grow, and where dogs run to shit is theirs now. Faces round, hair black and straight they stand in a loose group when it is done after days of construction.

I think one good rain will level it.

On the way to take E to school in the morning, the place is closed when all of the other fruit stands are open. This is the exact hour when people buy plums and nectarines on the way to work. There are blue and white plastic sheets shrouding the grotesque little structure. Boxes lean against the plastic. A piece of paper is taped in the center. It says the place is guarded by video cameras. As I crane my neck around, there are none to be seen.

The next day, the sign is gone. They seem to work for just a few hours in the afternoon, a box of rotting tomatoes, some spotty bananas and a wooden crate of muddy potatoes. They leave a young boy to sell things.

I wonder what they were thinking. I wonder about their plans and conversations, about how they felt after it was built or when the first shelf was slathered in white paint. I wonder if they realized that nothing they left there would be safe.

I wonder if they will be there very long.

*  *  *

A man sleeps in the grass by the railway station. The sun is tall in the sky. Zapoi, they call this kind of drunk.

I have taken to carrying my Leica around with me, loaded with Tri-X, a grainy and magnificent black and white film used by Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. As I open the little yellow box and load the camera, I catch that very specific odor. It is like ammonia and wildflowers. The promise of a fresh roll is something a young man can get drunk on. It still raises my pulse. Two advances, two fast clicks. Ready for the street.

I look at him for a moment. No one sees me, even though I am surrounded by people. In one motion I check the light with my meter, make a few adjustments. The man has rolled onto his side. His shoes are untied, flapping around like birds on his sockless feet. I crouch and take two shots, varying the frame a little. The camera ducks back into my bag. I don't want the militia or anyone brave to see it. A wave of satisfaction rolls over me. It could be a good one, I tell myself as I make my way down the narrow sidewalk.

*  *  *

A few days later, I see it and it is too empty, too slack. There is no tension in it, no element of surprise. It is nothing more than what it is. I am not in the picture. It is just an idea. In the great ones, you feel the photographer. They are reverse-portraits.  I call this one a building block, a picture that will lead me to another one. Deciphering the chaos of the street here is overwhelming. Every face, every wrinkle, every shirt gaping open with dancing breasts, every well-turned ankle, every mustache deserves attention. I go out with the camera tucked in a jacket pocket or sometimes around my neck like a tourist and go catatonic. The men leering at me might steal it. The police are always perking their ears, and could take it too. This is one object I cannot part with. This is my Leica that I bought one summer day from a fat man who made me smell it first.
"Smells like new, hunh?" He announced across the counter.
I turned it over in my hands, running my fingers across the black body, the focus ring.
"Someday, my kids will have this." I say dramatically, under my breath.
He looks at me and bursts into laughter.
"You're not gonna let your kids fucking touch it!" He shouts, slapping my arm.

E likes to hold it, to raise it gingerly to her eyes, craning her neck forwards as she peers through the viewfinder. She holds it well, with both hands. She pats it the way she does with kittens.

The camera is with always with me now, after living in the bottom of a bag for six years. There were days when I thought it was time to sell it, when the cash in my pockets was so little and the promise of money was so bleak that my Leica represented a month of two of rent depending on how smart I was at selling it. I did sell the rest of the cameras, and it was a smart decision. They paid for lawyers and deposits and food.

Now, I see the little black camera as a reminder of how close we came to something beyond ugly. A beautiful scar.

*  *  *
We come home, with groceries dangling from my wrists. I go to the bedroom to change my shirt and there are two butterflies on the balcony. One sits on the corner of the window, the other flaps furiously as it skips across the dirty glass. It stops, rests. Then the other one jumps up and does the same. I watch them taking turns, and call E to show them to her. 

I cup my hand around one, and guide it around the edge of the frame and it disappears into the sky. The second one is calm, patient. I do the same with her. 





3 comments:

liv said...

Yes, for sure, I see you in that photo.

Thanks so much for a such a wonderfully composed post.

Annie said...

Thank you, Marco. You are a Writer.

Annie said...

....and perhaps I should add - a Photographer.