Thursday, April 29, 2010

About the Power of a Photograph

This photograph was taken April 29, 1975 - 35 years ago today - by Hubert Van Es, a Dutch photojournalist working for UPI in Saigon, Vietnam. It shows a CIA helicopter evacuating desperate Vietnamese employees of the agency and their families from the roof of an apartment building, often misidentified as the US Embassy, the day before the fall of Saigon.

The image is grainy and cropped, the composition more straightforward than artistic. Surely it was experienced meaningfully by millions, in millions of ways - to paraphrase Walt Whitman, it is large; it contains multitudes.

What I wonder is whether it has resonating power only for those of a certain age, say, over 50 - those who were in some way "there," who supported or opposed, fought, feared, suffered or suffer still from that war, and who knew what that moment captured on film meant. Or whether, like some scene from the Crimean War, its power will fade into wondering what that was all about.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Can't Take It With....Well, Maybe You Can

A custom-made, full size coffin from Ghana, by Nii Anum, circa 1995. It's for sale on ebay here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sing Robin Sing

To honor our burgeoning spring and an unknown artist, one of my all-time favorite folk art textiles. This pillowcase is hand-embroidered with a scene of two brown women and a baby, relaxing by a stream bordered with cattails and flowers. Over their heads, two giant blue jays engage as they bend the branches of red-flowering trees. The maker stitched in a lovely poem:

A kind heart are the gardens
A kind thoughts are the roots

A kind words are the blossoms
And a kind deeds are the fruits

Sing Robin Sing

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dance Away Dull Cares

A Depression-era broadside. "You'll have a good time. You can't keep your feet still. A good time is assured everyone attending. And we don't mean maybe."

This place was on Petersburg Road north of the forks of the Broad and Savannah Rivers. Petersburg, Georgia was inundated and now lies beneath the Strom Thurmond Reservoir on the Georgia - South Carolina border.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Stands Between

A very self-sufficient couple lives across the road from my mother, where they garden and put up jars of preserves and raise laying hens. Guinea fowl, with their oddly shaped bodies and polka-dotted feathers, roam the grounds as a pack. After a Sunday lunch a few weeks back, we took our 11-year-old guest, a city girl, over there so she could see the animals. The chickens live in a nice pen that's partly open to the sky and partly sheltered, mostly surrounded by a tall wire fence. Except for one section under the sloped-roof shelter, which has a wall made of the red wood panel you see above. As I stood looking at it, I recognized that the dirt and mud on the wall had curious patterns and prints. Then something slightly sinister emerged from the bucolic scene as I realized that they were the the marks of predators, egg thieves - raccoons standing on their hind legs and pressing their muddy paws against the wall, sniffing the air and looking for weakness. Oh little biddies, sharing an ancient and common fear, hoping the walls will hold against the threat.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Submit Your Own Caption

There's a story in my family about a similar situation, which involves the word "severed." But as I don't want to embarrass my brother, who shall go nameless, Walter, I won't mention it here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Very Particulate

Atlanta has been called a city set in a forest, because of the number of trees here. During the building boom of recent years, NASA reported that we were losing 50 acres of trees per day. Significant efforts have been made by private organizations like Trees Atlanta and to replant and offset those losses. I'm all for it; I love me some trees and shade.

But you'd hardly know about that today, assuming you're a person who breathes. Last Wednesday, the pollen count (particles per cubic meter of air) was 17. Any number over 120 is considered "extremely high." Five days later, the count was 1633. The next day, 2967. Today the count is 5733, just below the all-time record. The primary contributors are birch, oak, pine and sweetgum. I would take a picture for you, but I'm not going out there until I have to.

So I'll just share this great scanning electron photomicrograph of pollen, found on the University of Arizona's School of Engineering website.

The forecast calls for rain tomorrow. Please.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Number of the Beast

La Tour d'Argent, a restaurant in Paris, has been serving meals for nearly 400 years. Duck is the specialty of the house, and the restaurant raises its own birds. In fact, each of them is assigned a serial number, and a record is maintained of who ate it and when. Diners are given a souvenir postcard showing "The number of your duck," 122,701 in the case of this card. According to the New York Times, the one millionth duck was consumed in 2003. The duck dishes (pour deux personnes) currently are priced at 130 euro, and one comes with souffleed potatoes, but wine is of course extra.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Basket of Colorful Eggs

"Easter Basket"

Cut Paper Construction.

Another piece from Miss Beverly McDonald

Friday, April 2, 2010

Once Upon a Time. The End.

I have no idea how I came to own these two pieces of paper, a letter and a postcard. They were found in a box with some other detritus. Together, they constitute the beginning and the end of a story, though one without much in between.

First the somewhat foreboding letter from the University Hospital at the U. of Michigan, dated December 7, 1907:

"Mrs. J. Fred Betz
8 Division Street
Adrian, Mich.

Dear Mrs. Betz, - The doctor informs me today that your baby will be operated next Wednesday morning.


E. S. Gilmore, Supt."

So, you might wonder, how did that turn out? And you might never know the answer, given the rules of random ephemera. But we have the postcard.

Addressed to Master J. Betz, Jr.
"Think I shall be home on Wed. will telegraph. Be a good boy and clean up lawn. You are going to have company! Love, Mother Got your card."

The postmark date is obscured, but you can see the stamped message "Buy A Liberty Loan Bond." Those were sold in 1917 and 1918. So young Master Betz survived his surgery, and at the age of 10 or 11 was responsible for cleaning up the yard.

There's another part of this story that impresses me, about how the nature of information, and getting it, has changed. Just to see what would turn up, I searched Google and found that Mr. Betz, Sr. was a successful grocer there in Adrian, Michigan. And in 1903 he built a building for his business at the corner of Tecumseh and Frank Streets. Within seconds, I was able to see that building on Google Street View - it's still standing - and know that it now houses Associated Charities of Lenawee County. Mrs. Betz - Minnie Luella - was trained as a teacher. They had four other children. I didn't pursue things any further, and I don't know any of the rest of young Mr. Betz's life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Waiting, Surrounded by Seashells

"Waiting for_____________to take me in the Pacific."