Visiting family category archive
Two weeks into a month in Spain and I’m getting my fill of summer. Drinking in the sun and heat like a cat stretches into a slice of morning sunlight. A long weekend at the beach. Cold drinks and sand between my toes. Warm, heavy breezes that turn to passing rainstorms. Breakfast outside in the crisp morning breeze. Mornings in the air-conditioned library working on my thesis. Lunch with the family on the patio. Dinner outside with friends at tables in the plaza, then ice cream at midnight on the bridge over the river. Sleeping night after night with no covers, hot until the morning breeze sets in. Listening to the rise and fall of cicadas. Smelling jasmine and sunscreen and dry grass. Wearing flip-flops and sundresses every day.
Moving to a place with summer is becoming an obsession. Next year: breakfast or dinner on our own patio in July!
My first love in photography was babies and hands. I first got a real camera in college, a hand-me-down Pentax K1000 from my boyfriend’s mother. It came with a bag of old lenses, a little grainy but still working. I would take my nieces, then toddlers, to play in the park, for walks near my parents’ house, or out to the beach and snap away. The love of photographing hands started with my parents, both of whom work with their hands and have for their whole lives.
Taking this series of pictures recently, of friends and my husband’s hands, and my beautiful friend’s baby, made me think about my college photography days, and about how important art used to be in my life. Photography and pottery were a huge part of the end of high school and most of college for me. At one point I even considered being an art major. I dreamed of opening a studio on the coast of Northern California, with a darkroom and pottery studio.
I like where my life has taken me, but I miss doing creative work. My mother is with us for three nights this week. She has made a living with her creativity, making and selling all kinds of dolls. Whenever I am around her and her work, I am struck by how much space she occupies, spreading out in an explosion of color and sewing materials. There are piles of cotton knit doll bodies on our table right now, and bags of old sweaters sit next to a suitcase full of doll clothes in front of my desk. Crocheted hair pieces are spread out on the couch, blacks, reds, blonds, and pink for mermaids, the mohair yarn leaving hairs spread across the taupe corduroy cushions. A blue quilted, velvet mermaid tail lies on our couch, and rolls of yarn roll about on the floor. I get edgy by the disarray that seems to surround her, and found myself breathing a sigh of relief when she left for the day this morning. But I am deeply respectful of the fact that the messiness accompanies an inspiring creativity. She has built an incredible business with her creativity, making all kinds of dolls and even clothes, mixing colors and materials in ways no one has done before.
It makes me think about drawing again, doing more with my photos, or taking a pottery class. Perhaps I’ll start with a series of hands. After all my parents’ hands were one of my first inspirations in photography. Let it be messy at first, take many pictures, and see where it takes me.
How were you creative in the past? How does that connect to who you are today?
Living in old-town Toledo is a little like living in a museum, the skyline, buildings, narrow stone streets marking an everyday connection to the past like the tapestries and tall thrones of a centuries-old royal museum. The main streets of town are dominated by tourist stores, golden souvenirs, handbags stamped with “Toledo” hanging next to fluffy red polka-dot Flamenco dresses. My father-in-law has made his living selling these souvenirs, walking around town visiting the owners of stores filled with glittering gold plates, jewelry, and long, silver swords. All traditional products from these parts, once handmade in small workshops, hammer meeting metal to pound the old damascino designs, now shipped from factories in China, assembled here.
As I drive into town to visit my Spanish Grandma, I look at the city, the Alcazar and Cathedral standing tall against the late afternoon sky. I think about how living in this museum of a town seems to go hand in hand with conservative values and a desire to keep the past alive, keep the uncertainty of present-day change at bay. Isn’t that what growing old is about, after all? They say we all grow more conservative as we grow older, working to protect what we have, pass on what we have learned to the next generation. When there’s money involved, or power, people hold even tighter, guarded and fearful of the impulsiveness of the young.
Having grown up with little connection to the past, not even knowing my grandparents, living far from where my parents were born, I’ve often felt seduced by the curves of history here, Roman bridges still providing a path across the river, castles a roof over peoples’ head. But it’s the stories that sweep me away, capture my imagination, make me wonder what kind of person I’d be if I were born in a place like this. How is it different to become who you are when so many physical reminders of the past surround you each day?
While packing for our trip home tomorrow, I listen to a podcast I’ve discovered called New Letters on the Air, an old episode from last June where Tobias Wolff talks about his book Old School. He says the book is partly about questions of identity, “how do we become the person we’re going to be”. He asks, “What part does imagination play in that?”
Wolff makes me think about the possibilities for creating who we are; he makes me feel like who we are is merely a question of the bounds of our imagination. At the same time, being in Toledo, listening to my Spanish Grandma’s stories, makes me think about how the past draws boundaries around our experience, colors how we see the present. What do you think matters more in defining ourselves, imagination or the past? How do both matter to you?