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giving face to the past

Photo by Arnold Genthe between 1920 and 1926.

Yesterday I was looking for inspiration and one of my favorite sources for such is to peruse the online collections of the Library of Congress. What a treasure. I used those collections extensively when pulling together a “walk through history” through the life of Joseph Anthony Horne. And as part of that journey I learned about photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). Genthe is best known today for his photographs of Chinatown, the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and his dreamy portraits of actors and actresses like Isadora Duncan, politicans like Theodore Roosevelt and literary figures including Jack London. I revisited his Library of Congress collection with a different eye, I suppose, than previously and was delighted to discover photographs he’d taken in the 1920s in New Orleans. One of the things he sometimes did in Chinatown was to walk the streets and hide his camera to try and obtain those candid shots of people just living not posing for the camera.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.
Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

But he also made eye contact with people and there must have been something about him such that they would pause just a moment for him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

New Orleans was one of the world’s great banana ports. I can imagine Genthe, perhaps on assignment in New Orleans, taking a morning stroll with his camera to the wharves and capturing the work of the day, the unloading of bananas. He captures the dignity and beauty of men hard at work. They did not pose for him but they did stop and smile at him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Genthe

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/agc/

Be Kind

Be Kind. It is as simple as that. Have a good Friday, people.

https://www.zazzle.com/small_words_be_kind_pinback_button-145352911385876750

a spicy feast

sunset

where are you from

One day I was walking through a parking lot with some groceries and I hear a small voice say, “Excuse me, excuse me, can you help me?” I pause and from around a big car steps a small woman, smaller than me and I’m not big. In short, she’d locked herself out of her car and she was barefoot because she’s just had her nails done but she stepped out of the car to pick up something and then the door shut and so on and so forth and her cell phone and purse were inside. Luckily I had my cell phone and so I called a locksmith who said it would be awhile and after asking her “would you like me stay with you?” she nodded emphatically and I just hoped that the scallops I’d purchased would be okay in the blazing sun. And in this age of COVID of course we were socially distant so that made it okay that she stayed in the shade of the car and I stayed in the sun of the parking lot. We bantered a bit and then she asked, somewhat shyly, “Where are you from?”

Now I am brown and she was a beautiful darker shade than me with a creole accent. And people with that accent “up here” in New England have often asked me that same question. Though corporate training sessions will tell you that is a politcally incorrect question to ask these days, I took no offense. I said what I always say, “I am from Virginia.”

She nodded slowly. And with a smile, I added, “I do have to tell you that that is not the first time I’ve been asked that question.” She perked up. “You see, when I first moved up here, there was a fellow I’d see on the greenline train every now and then who’d say to me every single time, “You’re from Dominica.” I’d say I’m from Virginia and he’d frown perplexed and just walk away.”

She laughed.

“I didn’t even know what Dominica was,” I admitted to her. “I thought he meant the Dominican Republic.”

She laughed again and described Dominica to me.

I then shared, “And when I was in the hospital with my husband one of the aide’s asked me, “Where are your from, girl?” And when I told her Virginia, she just shook her head and said, “Ah. You’re one of those brown people who don’t know where they come from.” She looked me over and said, “You just tell people you’re from “de island.” I asked , “Which island?” She just shook her head. “Just say “de island!”

The woman laughed again. She looked away and then she looked back at me. “I’m from Haiti. You look like you’re from Jamaica.”

I have never been to any of the islands. The islands of the British West Indies that were part of the Atlantic slave trade triangle. I don’t know specifically how my ancestors made their way, enslaved and otherwise, from Africa to the British West Indies to the southern British colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. I still think I am from Virginia, from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Moutains, especially at this time of year when both there and in New England the landscape is a riot of color as the trees change.

Where are you from? Such a loaded question. Such a gentle question. It all depends on who speaks the words and why.

Now this young woman in the parking lot also asked my name. She nodded. “Cynthia is a nice name but I am going to call you angel. God sent you to me. You’re my angel today.”

I opened my mouth but decided to close it and just smile.

the cardinal

More flowers bloom on the bell pepper plant, and I see about dozen new blooms forming. Its neighbor the shishito plant is nearing its end I think with perhaps a few more peppers to grow large but no more blooms and its once dark leaves are now light lime. In a neighboring raised bed hot peppers form and what a spicy bounty they are turning out to be. I am imagining how beautiful their red crescent shapes will be as we indulge in them throughout the winter. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes … they weigh down might thick stalks, a beautiful, brilliant green … but, oh, when will they turn red?! Bushels of basil. Not a bad problem. Can you ever have too much caprese salad or garlicky pesto on toasted bread? As for the Swiss chard … just two plants purchased on sale to please the neighborhood bunnies but they must have enough food elsewhere … nary a bite has been taken and the leaves are growing large … so now Steve will have to cook us a dish with that Swiss chard. All recipes welcome. 🙂

lousy wednesday?

No. Today was no lousy Wednesday though I do think the skies have been gray the whole day and I do know of friends and family going through a lot of stuff but I was fairly productive … the velcro on the seat of my pants has been working … and the steady rain all worked to keep me inside. And then while wrapping up the day I walked past a stack of books and there was Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday and I randomly opened it up and here’s what Steinbeck’s character Mack had to say:

“Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or job they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.

“On such a day it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoestrings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor, children ordinarily honest tell lies, and children ordinarily good unscrew the tap handles of the gas range and lose the screws and have to be spanked. This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and housebroken dogs wet on the parlor rug.

“Oh, it’s awful on such a day! The postman brings overdue bills. … Mack knew it was going to be that kind of day. He couldn’t find his pants. He fell over a box that had crept out in his path. … on his way across the vacant lot he went out of his way to kick a dandelion flower. …”

No, today was no lousy Wednesday and my dandelions are enjoying this rain but I do hope we all have a sweet Thursday. Take care out there! 🙂