The times, they are a changin’.
It is no surprise – at least I hope not – that my brother is now an engaged man, ‘engaged’ pronounced how I imagine old British men pronounce it, with the ‘ed’ pulled out. It happened some two weeks ago in Paris, and though my brother has yet to tell me the details, in my minds eye it happened along the Seine.
There is a rule: it is not a postcard from Paris unless there are at least 2 of the following:
1. The Eiffel Tower
2. The Seine
3. A barren tree along the Seine
4. A bridge.
5. A Baguette
6. A typical Parisian apartment building with the slanted roof and long, narrow windows.
7. A cloud in the sky (contrary to popular belief, photographers dislike the saying, “There wasn’t a cloud in the sky,” because clouds, like villains in a good story, create drama.)
8. A gargoyle – the starved, angry, muscular kind.
You doubt me? Go on, go through your shoe boxes of postcards from Paris and examine them. Oh, no one has ever sent you a postcard from Paris? My darling, I am sorry.
As a photographer you can choose to compose the shot however you like, but the photographer of this postcard, which my brother lovingly sent me, included all the aforementioned elements (even the baguette – c’est juste tres tres petite) yet chose to place the gargoyle in the forefront. He made a stylistic decision to dwarf La Tour Eiffel, the people, the river, the bridge, and the buildings, and yes, even the thin barren branches of the Linden trees that line the Seine. It is as though the gargoyle is scowling at Paris and saying, in thick, gravelly French: “Poo poo, Paris! Poo poo!”
Lest you think I am a pessimist reading the glass half empty, let me share something else with you:
Before I received the postcard, I did indeed feel like a gargoyle. The City of Lights, my brother, his fiancee (and my future sister-in-law), all felt very, very far away, not just geographically, but spiritually, metaphorically, and however else things and people can feel far away. People have the odd ability to do so both tangibly and intangibly. (I know there are too many adverbs in this paragraph).
I have a bad habit of taking analogies too far, but the postcard, the longer I studied it, seemed like a small paper mirror with some sort of cryptic solution on the back. My brother is no sage, and certainly he did not intend to see it this way – just like a writer’s voice I know my brother’s tastes – but kindly, unknowingly, my brother sent me a photograph of myself. Albeit less lean and muscular…
He has always been there for me. Having a younger sister like me and having seen me at my most unstable and tyrannical nadir (2004-2008, essentially) was as trying for him as it was for my parents. But he heard me out many times, for hours at a time until the sun was nearly up and through it all, listening to me while I wavered in and out of this and that, wailing to him about my future, my legacy, my long stalled writing career. And when he finally met the love of his life I repaid him with more whining and wailing, telling him that he could do better and calling my future sister in law a crazy.
Looking back I think my brother knows crazy because for years I gave him a bona-fide grade-A example of crazy. It didn’t matter whom you met first – when people found out we were siblings it was always, “I can’t believe you’re related.” My brother knows better than anyone just how deeply Jackie Chan and Spielberg’s ET run through my veins and how both inform my facial expressions and aspirations. Jackie Chan is an entertainer. E.T. just wants to go home. And, at the same time, there is another half of me my brother doesn’t understand at all. And there is more than half of him I don’t understand. If he were a poet I would compare him to Carlos William Carlos and be constantly asking him: “What is your motivation?” But some things are meant to remain mysterious. Both he and I are completely OK with it.
So maybe it’s crazy and a little desperate that I’m reading so much into a simple postcard. Maybe it’s crazy that I’m pretty much set on this decision – prepared to sail away from rough waters into calmer waves – at least for the time being before those waters again, turn rough, but a different kind of roughness. A roughness that I, a lonely sailor with a masochistic but ultimately rewarding relationship with Karma, asked for. The oceans are all connected on our round earth. Things, events, life – all are cyclical. I know how it goes, but I am trying something new.
In a few months’ time (or perhaps that is too generous an estimate… perhaps it could take years! Years!) when I return to the postcard, I will see the gargoyle but look at it fondly, like an ornery old friend I have since lost touch with but remember very very well. I’ll identify more with the birds in the air or with the small figures on the street along the Seine, the figures representing couples like my brother and his fiancee, holding hands, taking photographs, smiling, eating baguettes that are too small for the holder of the postcard or even the gargoyle to see, but the presence of which even the most cynical specimens of man would find difficult to deny. The baguettes are there. It is Paris, after all.