I have taken a few days to review the bug incident and have come to the conclusion that there is not a good reason to hide the details regarding the conditions of my upbringing. Memories of the apartment's roach infestation forced me to reconsider benefits I have to-date ignored or denied. The early 70’s in New York may have been wild and liberating for adults high on disco fever or the ‘soul train' but it was an entirely different story for this latched-key kid without brother or sister. My lonely walks home from school measured only ten blocks or a half a mile, but often they felt ten times as much. As a single parent, mom worked hard at juggling her nine-to-five job and several other after hour ones as well. She climbed unimaginable mountains. In addition to winning a reputable position at a Madison Avenue Ad firm, she cleaned hi-rise apartments on Park Avenue, babysat for four families and even repaired rare Persian rugs (clear throat) in her spare-time. I guess in someway the trades she learned during war eventually paid-off. She did the best she could and spent the extra hard-earned cash to help compensate for the the familial aspects of our life that were absent. How could I resent her not being at the gate everyday at three o'clock, to meet me in front of the school's entrance? How could I dishonor her for not having a nanny to pick me up, like so many of the other kids? How could I blame her for not saving me from the brats and the bullies? How could I judge her for leaving France and raising me amongst the slimy worms of that rotten 'Big Apple'? After all, her love for me was unquestionably demonstrated in so many ways, not to mention she often took me horseback riding.
Our retreats to Staten Island may as well have been two day passes to Eden. With gushing relief, glee and gratitude almost every weekend we would escape the city’s constraints, its unrelenting din and our barely habitable, rent controlled, apartment building. Although I had love and deep compassion for my mother, as much as a ten year old could, I was determined to forever keep our home a shameful secret and burry my lonesome worries in the sweat and tears on my pillow. It was a place that no friend of mine, especially Timothy Colleran, would ever get to see or know about. Timmy was a scrawny, Tom Sawyer of sorts. A lanky blonde-haired hoot, trickster and occasional penny thief to boot. He lived a couple blocks away and sat right across from me in grade school. He showed me how to play cards, break into construction sites and even spit. Nobody hurled a 'loggie' farther than Tim. Today, I am glad to say, that I was no match for this particular talent that he so proudly shared. Lucky for us both, he kept things prim and proper when we served mass together. As altar boys we could plan on pocketing at least five bucks for a wedding and usually double that for a funeral. Each. I always found that backwards but didn't give it too much thought. Back then, not counting the bonus chewing gum, that amounted to at least a couple cones of pistachio and a cold root beer to wash down an oily slice of pepperoni. So, let’s just say that I learned to wear the angelic gown and carry that not so light brass candle holder with a grin. As Sister Mildred said, I was no cherub. Hey, at least it wasn't me who intentionally forgot to ring the bell on time as Father O'Reilly was left standing with arms outstretched on the altar while offering up the holy eucharist. Never will I forget the looks we got.
It was something similar to the utter startle and surprised feeling us New Yorkers had when the city blacked out that steamy summer evening in ’77. Star Wars was still the big talk of the town but I assure you on that dark night Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker escaped everyones' minds. Fortunately and unsurprisingly my mother was prepared. She had plenty of candles and batteries. Under the bathtub she had the canned food and reserves of beverage, you would imagine a former refugee would. We had everything we needed to shed enough light and dim the fright of a city in terror. We had each other.
A couple of hours after the big electric melt down, over the fire, police and ambulance sirens, we could hear a boy’s voice hollering from outback. The racket continued until my mom eventually went over to the window, unlocked the three bolt and peered down into what was commonly referred to as 'rat alley'. It was Timmy and Victor, another school buddy of mine, who were causing all the ruckus. Like crazed clowns they were chasing cats and taking batting practice on junk furniture, rusted rubble and overstuffed trashed cans. Same old same old but with everyone already on edge, who needed the circus to come to town? Mom wasn't the only curious nose at the sill, however, she was the only one who dared to raise the window, lean outside and demand an explanation. "Who is there!? What's going on!?" she demanded. With the spot of her flashlight on the alley, the clamor immediately ceased. The two froze like captured enemy being drilled by a leader in the French Resistance. The roar stopped. All I heard was a mousey voice squeal these exact words, “Oh hi. Is Eric home? We’re gonna go looting and were just wondering if your son could come with us?” Well, needless to say, she closed and locked the window, politely. Yep, mom made an impression. Still Timmy had the mouth of a vicious hyena, especially for street talk. So, I made sure to keep our friendship outside our apartment. In fact whenever a buddy invited me over, i just declined. This way they would never expect me to do the same. But most New Yorkers are like that. Gossip spreads quick like mustard on pastrami. Like on a mouthful of bubble gum our neighborhood loved to chew on local news. In someways, looking back now, I managed to successfully shield the realities of this place, this childhood experience, even from my inner self. That sprawling two room apartment, with a bathroom, kitchen and rear windows that looked through the steps of a steal fire escape, across the tiny alley and directly onto the black painted brick side of another rent controlled tenement, was not exactly a 'room with a view'. It was, however, a place that encouraged the imagination to grow, deeper than it perhaps normally would have. Patience, perseverance and appreciation were also learned there. Not to mention prayer. The space was straightforward. The layout resembled a freight train, one car behind the other. So yes, it was sprawling, but only for the roaches who had virtually a free-for-all. They would crawl on the walls, from behind the radiators, in the forest green shag carpet and sometimes even parachute from the hot ceiling light above my mother's bed. Oddly, with the freaky frequent feeling of being surrounded, I found some degree of normalcy by recognizing that I was not alone, that I got to share this claustrophobic, alien experience with not only my neighbors but the bugs as well.
Demographically, our block's breakdown went roughly something like this: a tablespoon of French; a teaspoon of Puerto Ricans, a pinch of Greek and Italians; a bucket full of Irish and undoubtedly a shipload of insects. So naturally the neighborhood looked and smelled, how should I say, culturally integrated. On the corner we had the obligatory Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, it wasn't a pizzeria. This was the fancy kind with wine glasses, table clothes and clean menus. Of course my mom and I never went in but my nose sure did enjoy walking by on my way back from school. At the other end of the block was a pub called Flanagan's. In the evenings you could hear it and in the daytime you would smell it, not just on Saint Patrick's Day either. Ahh, growing up with Guinness. That silky oatmeal stout and its rich perfume somehow not only made the air smell better but mixed rather nicely with Georgies' Gyros from across the street. Back on my side, at the other end, was this whole in the wall candy store directly adjacent to the front door of where we lived. For the owner, that place was a gold mine. For most kids, it was simply sugar heaven. PEZ, Bazooka, Jaw breakers, Pop Rocks and Baseball trading cards... what more could a kid want? For the pubescent teens, however, it was a popular place to kick back on parked cars, guzzle soda pop and shoot the summertime breeze. And when things got a little dull, there was always perky Susan Macky to stir things up. She lived a floor above ours, with her, let us say easily excitable Irish parents and six year older, super-shy brother Billy. Let me tell you, her 'make-out' skills would have impressed even the Fonz. Oh yeah, she made a lot of friends under the cover of the front door to our building. Needless to say it was always awkward to get by. I guess you could have called her a high school slut or maybe just a really big fan of that hit TV show Happy Days. Whichever, she had the local parents appalled and the youngsters, including yours truly, curiously peeking.
All in all everybody got along. The rooftops that shared our drying laundry and American dreams also symbolized our common bond. We were not only connected geographically and structurally, we were also tied emotionally, by that often uncomfortable and unruly string called life. Together we were surviving, learning to make the best of who we were and the cramped conditions we somehow found ourselves in. The stories of how and why we all got there of course varied and some were much more colorful than others. Still, that didn't matter much because like the zoo of roaches, flies, ants and water-bugs from uncollected street garbage, the present was right smack in our face every single day. Manhattan, that was the city I knew. The Mount Everest of senses. The world capitol of the here and now. If you dwelled too much in the past or got lost too often daydreaming about a rosier existence, you were marked as either a traitor or an outlaw.
To be continued-
The wind and rain had the sapling to the right crippled over like a soldier who had just taken hot shrapnel to the groan. It was crying and screaming. The land had already been drowned under three days of deluge. Surely this night would be the ultimate test. Treacherous thunder and shrieking lightning strikes had the slender trunk and frail branches, blowing and bowing every which way. She was a young and promising tree, one that sparrows relished and even seemed to prefer under the sun. If she could only sing, princes and poets would surely fall to their knees spilling kingdoms of gold and verse under her spellbinding elegance. Her naivety and exuberance for life was evident by how quickly she grew. Even on cloudy days, she appeared to glisten. That night, however, she would need to grow and unfold in a new way. Deep into the ground, where the guts of silence lives, her roots were beckoned into the dark unknowns. Farther and farther down they plunged, like a crazed and hungry serpent fighting to live. Tenacious tentacles grabbing at rock and root, anything and everything leading to the center of the planet. Like a calf feeding on her mother’s utter, she sucked in the heat from earth’s core, praying with fervor to rise mightier than the storm.
I, a sick voyeur from behind a double pane, hiding in the shadows of my safe bedroom, could watch everything. I felt her bones shake and imagined the squelch of her desperate plea. Pushed and pulled by schizophrenic gusts, my eyes zoomed in on those few strands of filament that loosely tied her to a bony wooden stake. I remember thinking how vulgar it was to fasten youth to its ancestral remains. The heart and mind bounced faster and more unpredictably like two clowns on a suspended trampoline. I talked, laughed and cried out loud. The nerves began to wither as she dangled on that soaked string and I in shame. Guilt’s heat had me repenting and questioning. Was my injury too serious to not go outside? If I slid and fell, could I not make like a swine and crawl forward in the rising pools of clay? Surely my walking stick could help. Like a soldier’s rifle, I could use it to pull myself to the front lines, covered in mud, unseen by the enemy. And if in the end, all my efforts failed, would it not be better to let my back break a thousand times then to sit here doing nothing? If not the tree, at least I might save myself.
Time dripped as zaps and booms continued to crush the air. A brilliant mosaic of light shaped the sky, like the bulging veins under my electrified skin. Through the vague sheer of incessant rain, I turned to see the other saplings in the distance, her older brothers and sisters, who were managing better. They were not in danger for they were more securely fastened. The farmer only neglected one. The youngest one, at the end of the line.
These observations and sensations reminded me of the many wartime stories my mother used to confide. The recollection of a seven year old girl, seeking shelter under a bed as the drone of phantom planes conveyed a looming death. How their iron pills of both fascism and liberty spilled fear, from above the charcoal clouds, onto the heart of her country and into her innocent mind. Her body and soul were curled over for many years thereafter, she explained. For as a bullied child must overcome the rape of his or her spirit, she too had to find a way to resurrect. It is not, however, enough for a victim to find life again. To regain the balance of one’s nature and experience the glorious beauty of god, one must rise, stand tall and stronger than before. For the sake of life itself, nature's harmony, as witnessed in each and every living being, must not come undone by others actions or inactions. As a refugee, my mother had many souvenirs of her struggle. The hardened shoe-like soles of her feet were constant reminders of the pain that she endured and the perseverance she proved. Until her last breath, she carried the memories of the people who helped. Those who lifted her up when she was down and those who helped her reach higher when she was already standing. As proud as she was, she forever remained grateful. Thankful for the countless 'dirt roads’ that she experienced and mastered. None of which would have been possible were it not for those who took interest and action in her well being. Lest we never forget that love is also a verb.
Helping is helping. Whether it involves taking off your pants in public and jumping off a bridge to save a dog or giving good directions to someone who is lost. Once we start putting a value on help where one deed is worth more than the other, we open ourselves to making poor choices. For example: 'oh it's not worth it' or 'I really don't have time for that', etc. Our planet rises in spiritual vibration when we lift each mind and heart with good, loving action. E~
Okay, so it’s 9:30 pm. I have just finished eating a terribly prepared supper.
How could that be? After all, cooking is normally a pleasure. I do pretty well in the kitchen. Am I an Emeril, Flay or Puck? Well, maybe not. Truth is, a few years ago I was at a party in France and for some reason this cute Parisienne starts talking to me about the world renowned 'Le Cordon Bleu'. With the look on my face, she new I had no clue. Well, so what? It was a lousy party anyways.
Back on point, rarrrely are the results so unsavory nor does fresh pasta fall into my plate resembling curly shredded cardboard, as was the case this evening. The culprit behind my cooking catastrophe? Ok, here goes… the bug incident. Those two insects, the ones I mentioned last night, just before I retired to the not so serene sound and light show of a midnight summer storm, have continued to (I apologize) bug me all day. Crazy, especially considering all the people I wrote to, the news I read, the documentaries with Martin Luther King, on the bogus HIV virus, a program about Innovative Recycling and a couple of TED programs that I watched... I mean, there was heavy downpour and cracks of thunder, directly over my house, for much of the night. Still, all I can think about is the harrowing, unnecessarily difficult bug rescue. Why?
Well first, here is what happened.
As I was making a few last entries to Facebook last night, I looked up at the ceiling’s edge over what is typically the head of my bed. This was easy to do because for the first time ever, due to the storm, I had decided to turn 180 degrees, meaning, I was looking away from the window. Instead, my direct view was mainly my laptop, the head of the bed and suddenly, lurking high-up on the wall, a 'creepy crawler’. There you go. Now you know that I am neither a wanna-be celebrity chef nor entomologist. I wonder if such people do exist. In other words,’star' bug scientists. I guess if they did I wouldn’t ask. Then again, considering where I now live, I might as well be exiled on Neptune. But I am not. Here I am and there I was. Me and that bug.
The, ceiling lights were off. I just had a table lamp on. So, all that I could make of the critter was that it was large. Not monstrous. Just, you know, big enough to keep me distracted from the shuddering thunderclaps. Not to mention probably up all night. Where is it going to go? Does it have wings? Can it fly? Will it zip into one of my ears and exit out the other in the middle of the night? And what if it doesn’t exit, what then? Actually, this once happened to a colleague of mine while I was working on a film down in Gainesville, Florida. Arrgh! Not pretty. Well, I realize that my story might seem rather trivial, a not so unusual situation but you see, I had some obstacles to contend with. The first was physical. Since I am continuing to recover from my awful back injury, hopping out of bed, should the insect have decided to practice aerial maneuvers around my noggin, could have been dangerous, if not worse. I am off the crutches, thankfully, however, I always try to keep them within crawling distance. (chuckle)
The other hitch was entirely psychological. You see, I was raised in mid-town Manhattan, in a low-rent, five-story brownstone apartment building. The kind with clothe-lines on the rooftop, fire escapes on the face, pizza parlors at street level and gangs in the alley. My mother and I moved there after a few years in Grenwich Village. True, overall the mid-town scenery was way better but the conditions were still pretty, let’s say ‘challenging'. I will spare you the details, but basically, we had a steady case of roach infestation. During the city’s hot and humid summers, it would become something of a nightmare (un cochemare), especially for this kid. So, to this day, as much as I love ‘em, I ain’t too comfortable with creepy crawlers looking straight down on me. How about you?
So, now you see why I needed to deal with the situation, not to mention that it didn’t do him or her (I never checked) any good to be trapped inside my house. After all, there is a forest just outside my door!!
Kinda late now… I’ll gladly continue tomorrow if you want. Just show me a ‘Like'
I believe that peace already exists, everywhere and in every being. To say that we must create peace is like saying we must create silence. In order to experience the benefits of silence we must eliminate noise. In terms of peace, noise is anything that distracts us from our true nature, that which ultimately sustains and nurtures all beings... love. Baronsky~
as similar as they may seem
none is alike
each serves uniquely
and is to be graciously recognized
for it is love and gratitude that keeps the sky un-cursed
with clean and hope-filled air
divine molecules that glisten off the water's surface
somehow they find us
deep into our tried eyes and skin
they reenergize the blood, bones, guts, the senses
temporal attire of the eternal spirit
breathe wholly and dearly
recognize each and every, singularly
as ripened fruit, fallen from heaven's tree
sweet and distinct
precious as her, him, you and i
oceans of gifts from god
This image, this elegant rose came from my garden. Not such an exotic story to tell, except that I planted it and watched it bloom. Before moving to France, I lived in California where I had a modest home. I was fortunate to be able to renovate the property so I could make it perfectly peaceful and pleasant for me at the time. What made it so extra special, however, was that I had a large garden in the backyard. Since I grew up in the Greenwich part of New York City in the 60s/70s, this was truly a shiny dream (un rêve magnifique) that I held on to for a very long time. Indeed, a house with a backyard and a rose garden, for this I wished.
Well, dreams require time and nurturing but as you can see here, they do come true and they all begin with a wish.
While visiting a friend in Parma, Italy, I came across these voluptuous vines. A few hours earlier we shared a half-bottle of chianti, with a magnificent pizza and then this sublime setting. "How good does life get?" I thought to myself- good friendship, good food, amidst nature's sublime magic. Yes, the air lifted and tempted me with its sweet fragrance, inviting me to observe these ripened berries up close. How tender and innocent the moment, as the afternoon rays peeked through the cooling clusters, like streams of angels.
Taking this photograph brought me peace and joy for I knew that I would have it with me for years to come. Whenever life's rhythm would rock to and fro, this image would soothe and remind me of how good life really is.
The tranquility of the sky seemed to bring birth to this stone sculpture. There was a cool, Cote d'Azur, afternoon sun when I discovered this impressive feminine figure, atop a high hill, amongst several others, her sisters. Alone in a corner, she was overlooking the French Mediterranean, peacefully perched on ancient Roman ruins. I thought to myself, "How can time not but help stand still in such a serene setting? How can the notion of hours hold any thrust before the tender breath of such a goddess? If she were to speak, what secrets would she whisper? What celestial treasures could she reveal to me? And would I be prepared to grasp them, in my so temporal consciousness, even if she did?" Yes, this photograph promises to safe keep these reflections and the yearning to inhale the eternal spirit of femininity.
While taking one of my regular long treks through the forests, here in the heartland of France, I came upon this gorgeous setting that went on and on and on. The climate was mild and the birds were singing. It was as if I was standing in a painting by Monet or Cezanne. What more could one ask for! Not a plane or car or industrial noise to be heard, only my tranquil breath. If Webster's dictionary defined words with images, this photograph would have to be married with 'serenity'. I hope all who get to enjoy this card experience the calm and joyous vibrations that I did that wonderful spring afternoon. Peace.
There have been many a splendid photo taken of the monumental D'Orsay Museum clock in Paris, however, this image has always seemed particularly special to me. Not because I was the photographer but because of the scintillating ray of light that streamed through at magic hour, through those fairytale windows, casting a celestial glow on the formidable marbled interior. Yes that image takes me back to Paris and all that it represents. The clock speaks to the soul, artistically, philosophically, spiritually, romantically.... It speaks to the faith of those who still believe in dreams coming true and have the courage to penetrate the barrier of time. This very special clock liberates us from all worldly limits and tethers us all the way up to the sun.
I was finishing a full day of nature photography and was coming around the last portion of this vast, languid lake located in the heartland of France's farm country. Although all four of the images that I took were uniquely rich, this particular one was the first and certainly most magical shot. Since I was new to the area, I couldn't anticipate the topography or how fast the sun would set. It just goes to remind how wonderfully surprising life can be, especially when we are open to receive its energy, its abundance. May this image soothe, reassure and inspire the light inside you.
Before I permanently moved to France, I would often take long walks in Paris by myself, hoping to find a 'sign' that would give me the added faith and courage to completely transform my way of living. The prospect of moving from the US to France was of course a romantic one but practically speaking, quite daunting. One night, under a full-moon and while getting lost amongst unfamiliar cobbled-alleys, I suddenly found myself standing, only a stone through away from the backside of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel). Really, I was quite surprised that I had meandered so far from my tiny apartment, or home if you will. But there she was, so elegant, a ladder to the angels. Brighter than the moon, her message came to me- 'Follow your dreams.' And so I did. And so can you.
My move to the Mediterranean was especially remarkable because I had previously lived in Southern California for many years and was no stranger to the spellbinding sunrises and sunsets. As stated and demonstrated by numerous preeminent painters, the light on the Cote d'Azur is no less than sumptuously seductive. It too is no wonder why such magnificent and international vessels port here. As a photographer and oil painter, my six month visit turned into a much longer stay. How could I turn from such heavenly beauty, especially while pursuing art studies? May the grace of the sun and this particular image I was blessed to take, with ship, shimmering sea and serene sky, forever send your spirit 'sailing'.
My nature photography usually involves some planning, in terms of the sun's position, etc. With this image, however, I honestly just happened to be in the right place at the right time. No coincidences, right? It was after the conclusion of a long and rich day of museum visiting that I came to rest at this magnificent lake in Madrid, Spain. My eyes and heart had taken in so much beauty that I needed to absorb the moment, the extraordinary experience, not to mention give my feet a timeout. The view was as serene as I could have imagined and the city noise seemed to bow to the remarkable setting. All I could hear was the lapping water, sweet birdsong and the leaves rustling in twilight's gentle wind. Indeed the art museums were amazing but nothing can ever compare to the real thing.
These shoes were waiting for me one morning, outside of my apartment building in Paris (15eme). I was on my way to get a coffee and croissant when I noticed the pair positioned side-by-side, exactly as in the photograph. I was immediately taken by their energy and the simplicity of their arrangement. It was as if they had a spirit and were porting a message. But who owned them? Why would someone leave them there, right beside the front door, my front door? I didn't want to deliberate too long and risk the shoes being moved or taken. So I hurried back upstairs to get my camera and ultimately this romantic and purposeful image. It is one that always reminds me to not fear letting go of the past and to embrace the chance at starting anew.
'Seed'. It was taken in the south of France shortly after I had just moved from Paris. Of course, I was excited to discover the renowned nature and light of the Mediterranean's Cote d'Azur. The custom golden sepia tone that I added, reflects the warmth and inspirational energy on that day and of this region. A magnificent, picturesque place made so famous by painters such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and many others. The formidable size and shape of this towering tree always reminds me of the possibilities all beings are born with. May 'The Seed' bring you much happiness and encouragement to evolve as the universe intends, terrifically and beautifully.
A two day weekend road trip extended hour-by-hour, day-by-day into a marvelous ten day adventure. Our car seemed to be drawn into northern Spain and the southwest coast of France. The fatigue and feverish want to 'leave it all behind' finally prevailed and grabbed hold of the wheel. A great relief! But where exactly were we going? That did not matter. Time and change of clothes was of little concern. The sole necessities for this improvised 'escape to eden' was diesel, food and lodging. Yes, when the force of the universe harkens, intuition ushers us with swift certitude, inevitably reuniting us with cosmic balance, with our true selves. On this journey, that place unmistakably revealed itself at the Atlantic ocean's edge, where the awe of nature compassionately jolted my mind with vitality and my heart with gratitude. The vast spectrum of color, size and texture that I witnessed could not but ignite every nerve ending. Purpose, passion and humility awakened my lost lungs with each cold and exhilarating breath. And slowly, as the awe and salt cleared my weary eyes, I recognized life as not just something to paint but instead that it is in itself the art- painting of all paintings. Suddenly, I was no longer standing before an ocean shore or under pregnant clouds. I was standing before myself. Yes I recognized this exquisite, dynamic canvas as life itself. The painting that could not exist without us nor us without it. ~
Is it appropriate to term something surreal when in fact it is physically there? Meaning, if it is not an illusion conjured up by the subconscious but rather materially present for the conscious mind to recognize, in size, shape and color. This was one of many photographic opportunities that I did not specifically set out to capture or artificially create. For some reason, like the others, I had the palpable impression that this curious and magical image seemed to have grabbed me. The disproportionate juxtaposition of elements were of course unusual but if it were not for the climate conditions and my chance placement, the impressive fork would have in essence disappeared in its disconnect from the heavenly sky and pristine environment. Yes, the sunset, the reflections on the water everything came together so harmoniously for that precise moment. Everything so splendidly laid out as one, for such an alluring, unforgettable effect. Correct, this image was not retouched for amusement purposes to appear out of the ordinary. What you see here was as it was, deeply thought provoking and for one magnificent instant, as one.