I’ve been away on vacation: the beauty of disconnection, beach air, and friends. And an unanticipated brush with art history. It was a challenge finding a place to stay because it was Bear Week (our favorite) in Provincetown, and then we happened upon this amazing place – a bit farther out than we were used to but, according to Google Maps, still walkable to town. We had no idea what to expect, which was for the best since there wasn’t any way to prepare us for what we found at the top of Miller Hill Road.
Unbeknownst to us, we had rented the famed Hawthorne House, part of Charles Webster Hawthorne‘s property that gave rise to the Provincetown arts colony and birthed the Cape Cod School of Art in the late 19th century. Across the garden was the famous barn, which Hawthorne built in 1907. Much of what I’ve learned about the place I discovered only after we got home; while we were there I just marveled at the beauty of the place, and our good fortune.
The new owners have done a loving and exquisite renovation.
It started with a gift. A Midori Traveler’s Notebook from my friend JJ. It comes in parts that, when spread out, look like this.
I’m an instructions person; I read owner’s manuals back to front: for computers or stereo parts or our new bluetooth speaker, even for things I know how to operate, like vacuum cleaners, oscillating fans, and hairdryers. For better or worse, if there are rules, I’ll try to follow them. But the Midori Traveler’s Notebook didn’t come with instructions. What’s more, it’s a notebook. How much did I really need to know? Thank gods for Youtube.
There are a lot of websites and videos out there about the Midori. It took a bit of searching before I found my new online best friend, Brian Goulet from the Goulet Pen Company and Ink Nouveau. I love listening to this man talk. First I watched this video, and when I had more questions, I found this one. Both videos helped me transform all the pretty pieces into a beautiful work of art.
When I sat down with the notebook I wrote, Getting it down right. That’s the phrase that came to me. I knew I hadn’t made it up, but neither could I recall why I knew it or where it came from. I sat and thought about it for a while and, when that failed, I Googled it. And there it was. The collection of correspondence between Frank O’Connor and William Maxwell, edited by Michael Steinman, is called The Happiness of Getting it Down Right. What a great title, and what a fun reminder that it’s sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. And what a moment of serendipity, too, of equilibrium and alignment – because that book was also a gift from JJ.
What the eye does is to find and focus on the particular subject within the mass of reality; what the camera does is simply to register upon film the decision made by the eye.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson —
The Cartier-Bresson show at the Pompidou was overwhelming in scope, but exquisite to walk through: the golden ratio, the fixed explosive, indeed, the decisive moment. I am not a photographer, although I do enjoy taking pictures: thinking about them, working with them – knowing, in this modern day of iPhoneography, that I have the ability to crop, lighten, filter, or erase. My relationship to taking pictures has changed, and Paris helps me track that change. For instance, until this summer I had not set foot inside the Palais Garnier in more than fourteen years. The last time I had a chance to photograph Chagall’s ceiling, I captured it on actual film. Cartier-Bresson writes, “You wait and wait, and then finally you press the button – and you depart with the feeling (though you don’t know why) that you’ve really got something.” For me that feeling was always hope, mixed with a certain bleak premonition that it would turn out all wrong – out of focus, poorly lit, or more likely, getting back a roll of film only to discover that I had my finger in the way.
I like the instant gratification of digital photography, although part of me does miss the anticipation. There was wonder in the waiting. Seeing what we capture in the moment of its capture, though, I’ve developed a different relationship to the pictures I take. I’m not sure how to explain it. I appreciate them more. I think about them more. They start to mean something.