It'd been a long day after the ride back from Europe. Took this picture just as the sun went down, while waiting to catch the train from San Francisco to Cupertino. I was exhausted and happy, but also sad that the trip was over, and also happy that I was leaving to india three days later, and also sad and excited and happy and exhausted. This picture brings it all back to me.
Final set of scans for now.
I hiked up some trails in the hills surrounding Silicon Valley. And there's also a little bit of Placa Reial, Barcelona.
I love Barcelona. It might even be my favorite city. Depending on my mood, New York and Calcutta often switch places with Barcelona in my head. And heart.
Some good ones here, I think. Such beautiful cities.
Still more crude scans and there's even more to come. Im putting all of this out here because I find it interesting– I have maybe one picture that I actually like, from the entire trip. But I find the whole process to find that one picture interesting. (I also won't tell you which picture I think that is.)
This one is mostly Tallinn and Amsterdam... and there's one picture from St. Petersburg– the one with the benches.
Some more crude scans– this time from Kiel, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Stockholm, Sweden. And also a bit of the Baltic Sea from the boat.
More crude scans from Amsterdam and Barcelona.
Quick, crude scans of some film from my trip to Europe this summer.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
And that’s when it happened.
Perhaps the sky was angry. She’d been making threatening sounds ever since I’d left my room that summer afternoon. Or perhaps she wanted to play. I could hear her battle-cry rattle through the spine of the valley. I watched as the dark clouds drained the valley off its color. The landscape of Hampi is fractured and immense. Thousands and thousands of rocks the color of my skin or perhaps a shade redder, as if sunburnt, rise and fall to the earth in perfect harmony with the land’s natural topography, the way dead leaves are wont to cover a dark forest’s floor. Some rocks are but pebbles, but some are so giant they are mountains themselves, with even more rocks piled upon their strong shoulders.
I’d followed the road about twenty minutes, taking every wrong turn that had presented itself, intending to be very lost before any thought of returning to my resort would re-awaken me from my complete and absolute bliss. But her thunderous rage and constant warning shook me out of my stupor and at the first smell of wet earth—and how glorious that smell is to be but an object of eternal languish—I turned my modest moped around and made my way back to Shanti, our resort.
“Back so soon?”, came a voice from behind me. The voice extended her hand and dragged me across the garden to Shanti’s most popular hangout, the cafe in the corner. It was more a restaurant than a cafe, I guess. And it wasn’t really a corner, but it was an edge, an edge that steeped-off into the river below, past a brief patch of sugarcane grass. Elusive as I might have been, had I decided to be elusive, hopping under mango trees or the occasional sunshade, the rain would’ve still caught up with me while I was about halfway across the property, thundering down from the sky in victory and noisy laughter. I was properly wet before I’d made it under the roof of the restaurant. And she, the voice, was wet too.
“Damn this rain!”, I said. My words are empty and without meaning, I would never damn the rain, I love the rain. “I didn’t get very far before I turned around and headed right back. I didn’t want my camera getting wet in the rain”, I told her. That reminded me of my camera, and I discovered that it, too, had worked up a nice sweat.
“Yeah, but with these winds the rain will be gone soon”, she said. “Then maybe we can all join you on our bikes, this time”, she added.
“If the damn rain doesn’t take the sun with it!” I said.
I love that restaurant. It wasn’t really a restaurant, just a shack, I guess. Four-pillars, a tall roof and a low wall to support your backs. Granite slabs placed barely off the floor became tables, and instead of chairs, there were thin mattresses that lined the cold concrete floor. I occupied the mattress in the far right corner and she took the one to my left so we could share a table. Her hair was in a frenzy as the wind pushed hard to disturb the rain, but all it did was blow the rain into the cafe in perfect spurts that landed with a poetic pitter-patter on the granite tables, our teas thinning regretfully in answer.
We spoke for a while, till the wind had won its war, by which time the lights had come on and the river had retreated softly behind a velvety curtain of blue mist. But, the winds continued to blow, relentless. It howled as it flew past us all. Or perhaps it moaned. The wind was sad, distinctively sad. Like it had searched forever and could never find.
There were lampshades in the air, blowing with the wind, rising and falling in unison like synchronized swimmers in an Olympic pool. But with a little more romance. Like synchronized swimmers, unclothed and unguarded, doing their dance in a summer’s pond perchance. And these lampshades, zero-watt bulbs dressed in an ornate fabric covered with embroidery and little round mirrors, hung low from the ceiling made of dry leaf and dead wood. The wind made merry in the open cafe, as we sat in a circle passing cigarettes and banter.
And that’s when it happened.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And I have been to many places, and seen many beautiful things. We were greeted by short bursts of brightness and darkness as the bulbs waned with the voltage. Every time it happened, we each would appear and disappear to the rest of us, like an apparition held in place and time by nothing more than that simple, glorious light. The waning of the bulbs would be met with the orange glow of our cigarettes. Every time it happened, we were each reduced to nothing more than an unguarded secret, waiting in earnest to be betrayed. The blue-velvet of the evening fog had resigned into a bluer still, darker light, and the bulbs gave in to the choke of the rain gods, as we were quietly plunged into the unquiet night.
I was caught writing. I hate being caught writing. I like to think that things write themselves. I’d like people to think that things write themselves.
“What are you doing?”, was the question.
“Planting seeds”, I thought to myself; “writing”, I answered.
Now, I don’t like being scrutinized, especially not in a way that makes me self-conscious. As a photographer, that probably makes me a hypocrite– but I have no problem with hypocrisy.
“Oh, I don’t know…”, I answered. It is the best I could come up with.
I know that every poem and expressive prose comes with its own self-referential weather report, and those details are important. Why it is always raining in a poem, I don’t know– but I’m glad that it does rain in poems. Today it did not rain, but in my mind, as I think upon the conversation I had with the stranger whose name I do not know, it is raining. It is raining outside the warm cafe, and the glass is frosty. I can see the street through the storefront.
This is all in my mind, though.
“You don’t know what you’re writing about?”
I did know what I was writing about. Remembering and recognizing, is what I was doing. And I was doing exactly what I thought I was doing, planting seeds. I only plant seeds in my notebook. I am afraid to write in my notebook as I am afraid I will run out of pages. Then, I let the seed grow in my mind, and I can never run out of pages on my laptop. Unromantic, I know, but why be romantic about everything?
“No, not really, I’m just scribbling”, I said.
My little notebook was taken out of my hands. I felt panic crawl through my body and leave through my breath. It’s a momentary panic, like when you’re caught naked. And you don’t really care if you’re naked if nobody can see your face. I needed a place to put my face, and I put it behind my palms. She read something old, something I didn’t remember having written. She read it aloud. I pretended to be disinterested, but I listened.
“He grew an entire salad on his farm…?”, her voice trailed off into a question.
“Yeah, I was on this farm once and the guy was showing off his vegetables.”
“Shut up”, she said and continued reading. “The rooster looked about ready to deliver a speech…”
“Isn’t that true about roosters? I read that somewhere, I don’t remember where. Isn’t that clever?”, I asked.
She ignored me and turned the pages. She went to the beginning and she stopped. It was a page dated 2nd May, 2011. She read something aloud. I could feel my clothes peel away. By the time she was done, I was thoroughly naked. And thoroughly embarrassed. I hid behind my hot chocolate and looked at her.
“Narayan, the time-traveller who sells weed…”?
“Yeah, he comes and goes out of people’s lives, and he couches his philosophy gently within the folds of your high.”
“The road that heads west leads to freedom, and the road that heads east leads to freedom too…”?
“Yeah, the west frees your body and the east frees your soul.”
“Shut up!”, She said. “You ruin your words with your words.”
She strayed over lines from my notebook, rather erratically. Some she read aloud, some she kept to herself. I replied to the ones she read aloud. I was having a conversation with myself. And I had some explaining to do.
“Let me read what you were just writing”, she said.
Panic, that old fiend. Here he was, knocking at my door once again.
“Oh, don’t read that”, I said. I grabbed the book away from her quickly. It tore in half. I was embarrassed, but I was already naked. “I’m sorry”, I said. She apologized too. She said she should have never taken the book away from me without asking in the first place. We drank our chocolates in silence. When she got up to leave, she just smiled, and left. I’m sure she thought I was writing about her. Didn’t she want to know what I had written?
I picked my torn notebook off the table and turned to the page I was on before she’d come along. I read what I’d last written. It was a seed I’d planted for a picture I had taken during the wander that had led me to the cafe. It was of a lady laying naked, on a bed placed in a storefront.
old film scans of my favorite city, calcutta.