wish you were here

This isn't remotely the post I meant to do today.

I've had so many thoughts and images I've wanted to post - and I've barely been home, or online - but what I wanted to show you was a film my cousin found: my mom, aged 15, and her kid brother, our Uncle Richard, and her parents, Sidney, who I knew and adored and was my Grandpa all my life - and her mom, who I only knew as Anna. Anna, who had died two weeks after I was born, who all my relatives swore I was the spitting image of, Anna, who I've felt has looked over me, all these years.

I can't embed the image, but if you click here you can see it. I've never seen my mom - apart from photos, of course - how she looked, moved, before I was born. It gave me chills to see how much she reminded me of me, and how much her only sibling, Uncle Richard, was just like my kid brother, Jon. Grandpa looks just like I remember him, but I've only seen photos of my grandmother. I've never seen Anna moving. Alive. And I wonder how it feels for her, to see this film now. Of her family, she has survived them all.

She's out at the family beach house now, my mom. I just got an email from her: she's arranged the latest monthly 'ladies' lunch' with her friends and neighbours. And I wished I was there, so strongly, and then I had a memory: me and my dad, on the deck of that same summer home, looking at the water, listening to the advance cd from my kid brother, who had been on tour with Pink Floyd, playing keyboards. We sat and listened to Wish You Were Here - you can't see him in this version, but at the chorus, he's doing the harmony - I'd recognise his voice, slightly dusty pink it seems to me, anywhere, and it gives me the chills, because I remember sitting there quietly with my father, and we weren't talking, but he simply reached out and held my hand.

His cancer had already spread into his bones years earlier by then, but you'd never know: he looked as young and handsome as ever. We didn't need to say anything, but we knew there's come a day - we didn't know when - when, most likely, he wouldn't be there, and I'd wish he was.

And then I started looking through old shots in Italy, with my friends, the group my NY friend BK loosely dubbed 'the Italians' - they're mostly Italian, but they're scattered round the world - this extended group of friends, practically family. A lovely tribe. And I remembered that day: we had reached the summit of a deserted island near Ponza, climbed it in the heat - Valeria, and Luigi and Guilia, and I - and all we had seen on the top was an empty house, and a donkey. It felt like the donkey - lonely and wise on the top of the mountain - was God himself. And I looked down and saw those of the group below, swimming off the boat: the little girls are teenagers now.

I was meant to be seeing them now. It is good, and right, that I didn't go, because Valeria's friend Anna did die. She is at her funeral now, possibly today. If we had gone ahead with our plans and gone to the other island, the one Valeria had booked our hotel - Ventotene - she wouldn't have been able to be there for her friend. We will have other trips, Valeria and I, but I feel that there is a reason that I am in London now. And I've vowed to make each day, each minute and hour, count. I am paying close attention to the people I meet, the strangers I pass and smile my hello. I am looking for signs: the sun breaking through the clouds. A bird. The light as I pass.

The top photo is of me, by Valeria: she recently stumbled upon it, posted it on facebook, and I stumbled upon it today. We were on Long Island; the Hamptons. And while I want to apologise to whoever you are, reading this, for being so maudlin, in truth, I'm actually quite happy. I figured out I've lost the three men, besides my father, who have been so important to me - who I loved, and love, so dearly - in a matter of months. First, my dear 'cousin Cliff' - my father's cousin, the brother he wished he had - on New Year's Eve. Major Bobby, a month to the day later. Then, out of the blue - without warning, just as he was recovering nicely from not very risky surgery - my father's best friend, Paul. I still haven't come to terms with Paul's loss yet - nor any of them. We had just had him over for dinner, in Florida, this winter: I made salmon. I can still see his sweet face, when we said goodbye. As his son said at his funeral, 'there was a glow about him.' As my husband told his best friend: 'Paul is the only man I ever hugged'. And it is uncanny what a friend I've not yet met - Jenny, the Foolish Aesthete, wrote to me yesterday:

'The last few weeks, nearly everyone I am close to has had a brush with deep sorrow, and so transitively, have I. These brushes are so unexpected and random, as you say. (My husband says it's Venus in retrograde, and I think he was only half joking.)

I was just telling another friend, as I get older, I realise that when we feel so intensely (whether joy or extreme sorrow), that is actually when we are most ALIVE. Everything in between is mere existence. It's the piercing, bittersweet moments tht really count, and make up the string of experiences we call 'our life'.'

And I couldn't say it any better - and I've said enough, so I will leave it at that.


boats against the current

I was meant to be in Italy right now.

The plan was that I was to fly to Rome on Sunday and have a mostly girls' holiday with my close Italian friends, but on Saturday my dear, dear friend called to say she had been in the hospital until 5:00 a.m. with another close friend - a woman I never met - who is in a coma and who might not survive.

So I am here. In London, with my husband and cat.

There are worse places to be.

Life is that random: I am holding a kind of vigil, for a woman I have never met, named Anna. My mother's mother's name. And while I don't know what went wrong - why a healthy, relatively young woman should suddenly faint and go into a coma, I do believe that miracles can happen. That we can WILL miracles to happen.

I took these photos with the same friends I would have seen, on and around Ponza, which is often called something that translates loosely to 'the Hamptons for the Romans.' (That's some of them, actually, in the top boat). Valeria, my friend, had heard that it was getting too touristy, and that the island she chose, Ventotene, also one of the Pontine islands, was even more remote, more beautiful. I tried looking at it on Google Map, but it was a blur. It didn't even rate a satellite photo. All I know from Wikipedia is that it was formed from an ancient volcano, and that the emperor Augustus banished his daughter Julia the Elder there in 2 BC, as reaction to her 'excessive adultery' (I wonder how much is considered excess).

Apparently it was a great place for emperors to send slutty women, because Tiberius also banished his grandniece Agrippina the Edler there 31 years later, in 29 AD. And another Julia, Julia Livilla, was exiled there twice.. and on and on. As my friend said, 'it will be an adventure.' And now we'll have to wait - perhaps until September. I called my mother, who said 'Aren't you meant to be in Italy?' and I told her what happened and how disappointed my friend and I were and she listened and said 'But surely not as disappointed as the woman in the coma.'


To give you an idea of the scale of these rocks, do you see this tiny dot above? It is one man.

And so I dedicate this post to Anna: my close friend Valeria's dear friend. I don't know what kind of storm you are in right now, but I pray you awake, here on Earth.

And I borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, his last sentence in The Great Gatsby:

'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.'


serendipity juxtaposition

Sometimes I think about a sign I used to see in NY, in Soho, when I was newly arrived in the city, working for a really cute animator who lived in a loft with his girlfriend and pet rabbit. On the wall of the post office someone - God perhaps? - had written 'everything happens everywhere, all at once.'

So much I want to post.. and it suddenly hit me: it's my blog, I can post whatever I want, I don't need a reason, or rationale. As I was going thru my archives for a meeting coming up, there was something vaguely pleasing, I felt, about this juxtaposition. Something slightly Mrs. Draper about the girl in the top shot, backstage at a Corrie Nielsen show. And the second one was at an amazing art opening: the Richard Hambleton show, curated by Carine Roitfeld's son, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, at the Dairy, sometime last year or so.

And then, lo and behold: just as I was about to post this, out of the blue, my dear friend Stephanie of Style Odyssey tweeted me a message. And I heard from Estelle, of Serendipity2307, a reply to my email, saying she was just about to email me today. I do love Serendipity. And my magic numbers are 23, and 7.


the view from here

So much to catch up on: lovely friends and family visiting, coming and going, and the sun is finally starting to come out here in London: getting dressed this spring is a total washout. I have lost any sense of knowing what my style is, and all those dreams of overscale lace shorts and neon versus pastels.. HA! We're all just covering ourselves for survival in dreary drabby greys and hooded winter coats and raingear and things.

More shots from the Jubilee: because I never could actually SEE the flotilla - even when the crowd thinned out at one point and I was three or four back, I was still only able to follow the proceedings via the wonderful big screens - but I've got an ongoing series for you on the creative ways that people found to get their shots. Mostly employing their own kids as human tripods.

And then I noticed this sweet little child: totally oblivious to the festivities, but intently focused on something no less fascinating, I'm sure.


homage, in hermes

She stood out in the crowd, a sea of red, white, and blue, and endless variations of the British flag. In the whole day, she was the only soul I saw dressed like the Queen on a typical day - not a public day, but the type of day she no doubt loves the best - walking in nature, with her husband and her Corgis, in tweeds, Wellington boots, and her iconic Hermes scarves.

Even tho I tried, I never did see her face. But just as I snapped this shot, she turned slightly, and it was like going back in time: this glimpse seemed to me that of a shy, young Elizabeth.

honey i'm on the phone

Shot this while flitting about in the crowd along the Thames, near Albert Bridge, last Sunday while the
flotilla went by.
Kept losing my husband: thank God for cell phones. ('One is near the big tree, wearing a tiara.')

I loved the bit of orange and pink in this shot: one of my favourite colour combinations.
I like wearing pink nail varnish on one hand, orange on the other.
So many more shots to show you: last week gave me a renewed zest for street shooting.


get well wishes for the duke

I recently read that, during their early courtship, the favourite song of the young Princess Elizabeth was People Will Say We're in Love, from Oklahoma. This was, of course, before the public knew of her romance with Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten: a man for whom the word dashing seems invented for. A film that has vivid early memories for me. So the theme song for this post - more shots from the Jubilee Flotila on Sunday, is the following:

I love the image of a young princess, listening to this song in her bedroom, on a Victrola. Wanting to shout to the world that she has found her Prince Charming. But she can't: not yet. Not until other people decide if he will be suitable, the right choice. But One's heart, even the heart of a future Queen who will put duty to her nation above herself, can't always be that pragmatic. And - as tall and attractive as he is at 90, when I see the images of him in those early years, I can see why. Even my own heart skips a beat or two.

When the rain was pouring down, and the Royal Couple were with their family on the Thames Sunday, I must admit, I was worried for Prince Philip's health. Not the Queen's: even at 86, she strikes me as the sort of person who could stand for a month in a Turkish prison, without batting an eye. But last night, watching her face the end of the concert at Buckingham Palace on TV (and hearing the fireworks outside our window), I felt she was putting on a brave face, gracious and grateful for all the fuss, of course, but patiently waiting until she could be, once again, at her True Love's side.

Get well soon, Dear Duke of Edinburgh.


land of hope and glory

'When they talk about the weather,' my musician brother, (who tours with British bands) told me with authority, when I was moving here with my English husband, 'you know they're talking about so much more than that. They are telling you how they feel.' For a nation that is known for not exactly wearing their heart on their sleeves ('the problem with you, my future husband once said, is you are too much in touch with your feelings'), when the English talk about the weather, they are very much in touch with their feelings. For a small island surrounded by a cold sea, the changing mood of the weather has enormous emotional power.

And yesterday, bearing witness with my husband by the Thames in Chelsea, a short walk from home, right at the start, The Albert Bridge, the beautiful and sacred bridge we call 'my father's bridge,' watching the crowd blatantly throwing two fingers up to the skies, jubilent, I felt that this event, this Diamond Jubilee flotilla, three years in the planning, could not have been more magnificent on a blindingly sunny day. On a perfect day. This weather, this brutal wintry day in June, could not have been more perfect. As a photographer, I know that colour looks brighter against a grey sky. And the hope - the glory - that flowed through this day.. I cannot put into words. I think we were all feeling that if the Queen, an 86 year old grandmother, can stand in the rain on a boat on the Thames all this time, who are we mere mortals to complain. We all pulled up our socks, kept calm, and carried on.

Someone posted this wonderful video right after it aired on the BBC, and this is for you, Mom: because you remind me of the Queen - a bit younger, but still - and for my Dad: I wish you were here. You'd have loved it. If you can get past the broken bits in the beginning, it's worth seeing. And I'll share more posts with you over the next days: I simply couldn't choose my favourites in one post. 

There's a saying I love: if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. This one day was planned three years in advance, and I applaud the organisers, for it went off without incident, as they say. And yet it was a tremendous incident indeed. I was watching the creator, whose vision it was (and I wish I knew his name!) talking with someone at the BBC at the National gallery, looking at the painting of the Caneletto that inspired this day. And yet for all the planning, the one thing they could not control were the skies. At the finale, as the fireworks went off on the Tower Bridge, the heavens opened. And as the men and women sang Land of Hope and Glory, on a boat in the pouring rain, it could not have been more perfect.

It's funny: I woke up yesterday, the day of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, grey skies and rain and yet, in the windowsill, our first morning glory had bloomed.