My appreciation of Leonard Cohen began when I heard Jennifer Warnes sing ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. That was more than 25 years ago and a time when I was taking a lot of photography courses. I chose Warnes’ version of the song for an assignment that required me to create a slide show to illustrate a favourite piece of music. At the time I owned a long soft purple coat that with the magic of light could disguise itself as a famous blue one. I even convinced myself that the block where I lived in downtown Halifax, with it’s 19th century row houses, could pass for New York city’s Clinton Street. It never occurred to me that I had no idea what the real Clinton Street looked like. And I must have listened to that song 200 times, obsessing over every word and phrase, trying to untangle what it all meant.
I’ve been thinking a lot about words and language during the last few months watching Clinton and Trump duke it out for President. Not much of what they said had meaning or consequence. I’m always amazed by what I think should be called “The Big Game” rather than “Democratic Elections”. Clinton’s and Trumps’ words were just filler for the ravenous appetite of the media. And clearly, the art of oratory has been shelved; hell Trump was barely coherent let alone articulate. I don’t want to wallow in this for too long, except to say, I, like millions of others, became anxious and depressed. And then Leonard Cohen died.
And in what seems like an inappropriate twist of emotion, his death grounded me. Immersing myself in his tributes, I returned to a place that despite its complexities and darkness felt real and most of all humane. Leonard Cohen reaffirms my belief in the power language. Words when used well help us understand each other and bring us together. It’s the world I want to live in.
My command of language is wobbly right now, but I do feel compelled to offer something of beauty, something that inspires hope.
Those of you who know me well, know that I believe in stories…and I’m always looking for the narrative thread. But sometimes a photo doesn’t fit into a bigger story…I mean it could if you wanted to make something up. But since I’m so tightly aligned with my own truths, I can’t do it. At least not for this. Here are some photos that I love but they are photos without big stories. Each one is just about a moment.
I saw this woman in Hoi An making lanterns. I think she’s quite regal. She was at a workshop far from the tourists and crowds in a place we just happened upon. Just before seeing her we shook hands with an elderly man and realized he was the guy on the big write-up in front of the place. I wish I remembered his name now, but he was credited with bringing the art of lantern making back to Hoi An.
During our visit to Hoi An we took a cooking class on an island about half hour by boat from the town. It was called “Grandma’s Cooking Class” and this is grandma. She was showing us how the Vietnamese once separated the rice from the husk. She’s 90 something and didn’t flinch once going up or down into her squat.
About 20 km from Hanoi is the village of Bat Trung. It’s also called Ceramic Village because almost all the commerce there is based on ceramics. I’ve never seen so many teacups, teapots and piggy banks in my life. I’m not sure the world is big enough. One of the best things about going there is that you can learn how to throw clay. It was super fun.
These are just a few of the hundreds and probably thousands of Buddha Statues at Bai Dinh, a large Buddhist Temple. People were rubbing their knees as they walked by.
I posted this photo in a much smaller size when writing about the Catholic Church, Phat Diem. I can’t get over the eyes on this Altar Boy. I wonder if he’s really pious, or worried about something he did and what the priest is going to say, or if he’s wishing his mom would stop taking pictures.
I just love this photo of Somara and Doan Trang, who we spent a week-end with in Village #7. Either one of these girls could rule the world when they’re older.
Those who are Facebook friends will see this too is a repeat. They are lotus flowers. I can’t get over them. They’re beautiful, they’re dramatic and they’re tragic. My friend Jane compared them to an ageing Bette Davis, which I thought was just right.
I believe that the black t-shirt, like the black dress, is a wardrobe staple. The best one I ever owned was last seen in Paris. I still miss it.
In late August last year my cousin Len, his wife Diana and their two kids Sarah and Avram joined us on a cottage vacation along the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Early in the week Diana and I noticed we were both wearing black t-shirts with holes. Agreeing that sometimes you hold on to a beloved piece of clothing too long, we made a pact to dispose of our shirts at the end of the week.
Here’s Diana wearing her black t-shirt at a picnic in Keji Seaside Adjunct. Note that I am unwilling to show you my black t-shirt, which is more of a thin black sac with virtually no shape.
When the end of the vacation came, and we were packing to go, Diana informed me her shirt was in the trash. I was then forced to explain that I just couldn’t do it. I worried that I didn’t have a replacement yet and pictured myself floundering in front of my closet desperate for its presence.
Now roll ahead to March 2016 and I’m in Hoi An, Vietnam with my sister and her family. We’ve decided that we’re going to do what a lot of tourists come here to do and have some clothing custom made. We’ve chosen a really wonderful shop called Yaly. The way it works is that you can bring in a picture, pick a pattern or show up with an item of clothing that you’d like replicated. Once you show the design, the sales women take you to the bolts of fabric best suited for the item. So in the midst of this gorgeous shop, where people are spending thousands of dollars, my sister pulls out a thread bare black t-shirt with more holes than one can count and proclaims it the best t-shirt she’s ever owned and that she wants another. My brother-in-law Joel winces and disappears. And in a moment of compassion and understanding, coming out of the trauma of trying to part with my t-shirt earlier in August, I show it to a sales person and ask her if she thinks we could remake it. Looking part confused and part horrified she tells me there is virtually no fabric in their very large store that would be suitable. I wish I had video of that moment but I don’t, so here’s what the shirt looks like instead.
With the plan for reproduction scrapped, and my own black t-shirt back at the hotel, my sister and I were forced to discuss our ‘clothing issues’. Money’s not an issue, and we both have good taste; so why do we walk around in clothing with holes? Note: These are not the only pieces of clothing we cling to that should be burned. We couldn’t come up with an agreeable explanation but in the end we decided there was no other honourable option but to make another pact. She would leave her shirt in Vietnam if I would commit to get rid of mine. I agreed.
But something happened in the remaining few weeks of our vacation. Maybe she thought I’d forget or she wanted me to act first….I’m just not sure. But the long and the short of it is that Fia left with her shirt firmly stowed in her backpack and I’m still wearing mine.
Now I am left wondering if it’s necessary to close the book on this, and if it is, how? In pursuit of the answer I conducted a little research and have discovered that Fia’s black t-shirt has a LONG history. I have evidence that it dates back to 2009 -mine only goes back 3 years at most.
(If anyone is able to provide me with evidence of this t-shirt before 2009 I would like to see it).
So here’s what I think needs to happen. Fia before we disgrace ourselves any further, I will find myself another black t-shirt. I’m in Vietnam for god’s sake, how hard can it be? And when I do I will bury mine in a small repatriation ceremony, as I just discovered it’s ‘Made in Vietnam’. And if you can provide me with evidence that you’ve sent your shirt on to its rightful place in the trash, I will do the same for you. Heck you can have 10 black shirts if you want. There must be millions made here each and every day. And then we need to move on. This is far too mundane a problem to be writing about. And thank-you Diana…you’re an inspiration.