Monday, February 28, 2011


A sign nailed to the lifeguard station explains the meaning of the flags. The yellow stands for "moderate surf conditions"; "exercise caution." Moderate is somewhere between calm and rough. The purple flag means: "dangerous marine life." Here the danger is mostly in the sting of the Portuguese man of war. The flags do not need much interpretation, except perhaps to reflect on "moderate," as you wade into the surf and feel the waves slap and the tide pull.

There are other objects that I elevate to "signs," a mess of keys in the sink, for instance.

Asparagus fern--fresh green against pink.

And this green doorway with its single plant.

If I hadn't seen the wedding party I might have taken these bouquets for offerings to the ocean.

Keys, green plants placed at entrances, bouquets trailing ribbons & gauzy fabric, a cargo ship coming in. How do I read these things? I read them in a hopeful mood.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chunky Hermes

The other night at dinner J. and I told our friends about the scantily clad man we had seen on Lincoln Road. "Hermes," I had said to J. and then ran to catch up with the man in the red bathing suit. I had wanted to to get a closer look at his helmet and shoes, which reminded me of the wing-bearing hat and sandals in which Hermes is always depicted. I had wanted to see him from the front. The Hermes on Lincoln Road goes to the gym and rides a bike. He had had to dismount because of the shopping and strolling crowd.

We poured more wine and went on talking about the man with the bike. 'You know about those birds who always follow an old flight path even though almost every thing below has changed, even though planes, towers block the way?' I asked. Our friends nodded yes. Lincoln Road used to be quiet. There had been few restaurants, almost no brand-name shops, no crowds. It was common to see a person undressed for the beach, whizzing by on a skate board or bike. 'The man in the helmet was like those birds,' I said. He had blundered into a crowd. The beach is just a few blocks away. Before Lincoln Road had become a shop-and-eat mall, where people wore street clothes, there hadn't been such a sharp distinction between beach and street. It was lovely then when in the long afternoon Lincoln Road was almost deserted.

'He's an exhibitionist,' J. said. He went there to be seen.

'His face was tense,' I said, and thought, Exhibitionists should at least smile as they preen. A close-mouthed smile would do. In the photo at the bottom he looks imperious, but mostly he looked tense, ill at ease, and angry.

I could have tried to speak to him. Photographer friends I admire speak to their subjects and quote them. They have a moral and ethical position: they share power, so to speak, and allow another's point of view. Timidity may have stopped me. Timidity and his speed. I'm a poet who's on Whitman's side when he writes: "I am afoot with my vision." I like to imagine, envision, eavesdrop, spy. Usually I empathize. About the man in red--brief red--already other interpretations occur to me. Isn't that what we do: interpret?

(From Wiki: Ancient Anglo-Saxon law punished eavesdroppers, who skulked in the eavesdrop of another's home, with a fine; the eavesdropper was also sometimes called the eavesdrop. Eavesdrop also means a small low visibility hole near the entrance to a building (generally under the eaves) which would allow the occupants to listen in on the conversation of people awaiting admission to the house. Typically this would allow the occupant to be prepared for unfriendly visitors.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rites of Friendship

Roland Barthes has a graceful, original view of friendship. In his 'autobiography' he writes about himself in the third person, which I believe allows him an insouciant distance and the appearance of objectivity:

Just as we decompose the odor of violets or the taste of tea, each so particular, so inimitable, so ineffable, into several elements whose subtle combination produces the entire identity of the substance, so he realized that the identity of each friend, which made that friend lovable, was based upon a delicately proportioned and henceforth absolutely original combination of tiny characteristics organized in fugitive scenes, from day to day. Thus each friend deployed in his presence the brilliant staging of his personality.

. . . he liked to abide by the minor rites of friendship to celebrate with a friend the release from a task, the solving of a problem: the celebration improves upon the event, adds to it an unnecessary addition, a perverse pleasure.

By "perverse" I believe he means "surprising" rather than "kinky." What were these "minor rites of friendship"? His must have included food and drink: he was French. What else: cigars? Do you celebrate rites of friendship? Tell me about them, please. As for me, I'm all for celebrating, with a friend or myself, "the release from a task, the solving of a problem." Turning the trick on work by following it with pleasure--light, graceful pleasure. When I think this way, work itself becomes less arduous, less threatening. I imagine Barthes across the table from a friend who "deployed in his presence the brilliant staging of his personality."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Out Until Dark

It was freedom to walk away from my desk--work and worries--and go out in the middle of the afternoon while there was still plenty of light. These trees, one on each side of the entrance of a building on Lenox, grow full in unobstructed light, fill the scrappy front yard, and shade the worn facade. The woman in a pink sari came home.

I went on to the beach and walked north at low tide. Yellow flags at the lifeguard stations signaled rough water, danger, rip tide; purple flags signaled more danger from men of war and jelly fish. I picked my way. The surf was cold.

Feet back in Crocs, I walked west and bought a loaf of bread, west again to the thrift shop, where I bought forks. By the time I got to Flamingo Park, the lights were on. Five thirty, school night, parents, mostly mothers out with their children, people in motion laying out dinner.

The lights shone brighter. I watched children play soccer. By the time I got home it was dark, new moon invisible.