Another bus descends the steep street. Its sooty diesel smoke blankets the cobblestones, the pastel buildings that form this narrow urban canyon. People wait in line at the stop, bundled against the chill of this Andean morn.
Across the street, one door of the white-washed colonial building is open, the metal grate yet in place. I see bright yellow lilies, pale lilac roses against the brick vaulted ceiling of the bóveda. I stop to drink in the colors, imagine stepping into that floral shop, savoring the spicy aroma of the rosas, the sweet perfume of the lilias and of dozens of flowers I cannot name.
But like everyone else on these streets at this hour, I must hurry on to my day’s obligations. Perhaps another time …
This past week were celebrations touching two facets of my creative self: 19 August is World Photo Day, marking the anniversary of the French government declaring Louis Daguerre’s invention of photography a gift to the world in 1839. 21 August is Poet’s Day.
When I was about eight, I began to write. I filled dozens of notebooks with poetry, stories, plays and essays. Onto those leaves, I spilled my thoughts that I could not openly express.
In junior high, I loved art class and dreamed of studying it. But an allergy put the end to that … I returned to my words scribbled in spiral notebooks.
One birthday, I received a Kodak Instamatic camera. And thus was born my fascination with photography and the ability to capture split seconds of time. In high school, a friend gifted me with some old cameras his family was going to throw away. I explored the possibilities of each one, scraping money together for film and development. (Someplace, perhaps, there is still that box of rolls yet to be developed.) One camera is a Kodak Tourist, with a fold-out accordion box, and interchangeable backs that allows one to use 828 or 620 film. Another is a European camera (whose name I forget) that takes still pictures or movies.
As I prepared to go to the university, I fancied the idea of becoming a foreign correspondent-photographer. But the expense of buying that Minolta with three lenses and film would eat up my meager savings for tuition. I again returned to the words.
Several times over the years, I picked up the camera. An acquaintance bought a Canon AE-1. He made me a proposition: If he paid for the film and developing, would I learn how to use it and teach him? Absolutely. I spent many months wandering, exploring the town and countryside, exploring apertures and f-stops.
But I always came back to poetry, posing to myself the challenge of taking snapshots, of making quick sketches with words.
When I began wandering the Americas many moons ago, my only companion was a journal. Having a camera “disappear” (whether by misplacement or robbery) was something I can ill afford. Journals and a pen are light, easy to pack – and not at all tempting to a would-be thief.
In fact, the few times I had a camera with me, I found it kept my words from flowing. It was either one or the other: poetry or photography.
However, in my work as a guidebook writer, it was essential that I also become a photographer. Ay, the photos of hotels, restaurants and attractions filled my camera memory cards. But also those doors – not only those carved by the hand of man, but also those shaped by wind and sea – slightly open. Those moments digitally captured, wondering what physical and spiritual lives lie beyond.
Apertures. Doors ajar, revealing an inner courtyard hung with laundry. Eroded adobe windows looking out upon the landscape. A wind-sculpted eye watching the world.
And over the years, boxes of watercolors or colored pencils would also call me to meditations. To this day, in one safe nook of Rocinante (my knapsack), I keep a small box of pencils, ready to spend an evening or a rainy day drawing.
I love to wander cities and villages, the countryside.
Every Saturday (or nearly so), I set time aside for a walk-about. I arise before the dawn to write. Then when the sunrise begins to stain the sky, I walk out to the terrace do a photoshoot. Then it’s time for the laundry and market.
Afterwards, I am free to go off a-wandering and exploring, journal and camera tucked into my shoulder bag, ready to capture lives and landscapes in poetry and photographs.
I never know where I shall be off to. I just become a poet errant, a photographer errant.
Today, I invite you to see my full gallery of Apertures. Wander past these doors left ajar, the eroded adobe hovels, the wind-sculpted rocks. Contemplate what lies just beyond.
And if one makes you stop, please tell us what is happening there …