So I promised you a picture of Elmo the African Gray. Here he is with his [choose one: a.) pet human; b.) "friendbeast," in the words of The Oatmeal; c.) doting owner]. Who knew that a parrot would kiss on request? But only if he feels like it.
As I mentioned at the end of the last post, we looked at many pictures. In a hurry, because I was trying to miss rush hour. (Or rush fivehours, which is what they have in San Francisco—two rush fivehours with a small window in between of traffic that's merely heavy.)
Something that struck me as I was looking at Ctein's prints is that two of them—which he's looking at in the photo above—are forthrightly of subjects that were on our list of The Worst Clichés the other day. I'm sure somebody mentioned sky pictures with plane wingtips in them (a genre of which I never tire personally, not that that matters), and another person mentioned single leafs. But consider Ctein's:
Don't you love that spectral "S" on the winglet? And the colors in the leaf are very rich and variegated in the print. Both pictures have greater presence in the prints. Both are very Ctein-like treatments.
These are perfect examples of "the cliché exercise" I suggested days ago, of making a list of clichés and then working away at it until you're able to make pictures of each subject that are truly "yours." So, see, this is exactly what I was talking about. You make from clichés the opposite of clichés.
This brings to mind a great quote from Elliott Erwitt another reader supplied, but I can't find it. I'll insert it when I manage to find it again. [UPDATE: It was Dave Jenkins who sent the quote, which I posted here. Erwitt said photography "has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."]
The way back
Ctein, Paula and I had a nice lunch in Pacifica, I got a nice tour of the splendiferous new lower level of No. 42, and he and I talked TOP business for a while. I hadn't been at his house since either '94 or '96 (quoth Ctein, "I could figure it out if it was interesting enough, but it isn't"). Then I got back in the rental Jetta and headed innocently home.
I say innocently, because I was unconscious of my coming fate. But then, I was much younger then.
O mortal Wisconsinite, O piteous Cheesehead; abandon hope all ye who enter the wait for the Bay Bridge. As I approached the Bridge, first traffic began to slow, then Time began to slow. At first I was content to measure my progress in whole blocks—then car lengths—then feet—and finally in mere thoughts of movement, for those had become rare. The Universe poised still and in perfect equilibrium as I attempted to get through simulacra of traffic lights: unmoving traffic filled the far side of each intersection until the light turned red, at which point the traffic on the far side would move slowly forward creating room for a few more cars, then traffic from the side streets would fill in all the available space and the light would turn green. The intersection transmogrified into a perfect Kafkaesque stymie of neverending green-yellow-red, green-yellow-red, green-yellow-red until I began to forget my credit card number, my phone number, and eventually my name and age and all the things I once hoped to achieve.
Siri kept flashing never-before-seen things like "Road on route has now closed; tap to dismiss," and "You should have kept going straight at the last intersection, it's now four hours faster than turning right; but too late." Later she began reflecting on her good fortune in neither being human, nor actual or real. I crept closer toward not caring whether I was.
The sky darkened. Night fell. I began to get disoriented from hunger and dehydration; at two in the morning, with Venus and Mars shining pitilessly from the bright black sky, Siri began listlessly quoting long sections of Kierkegaard. I passed car models long out of style with the bleached skeletons of San Francisco drivers festooned fantastically in grotesque positions on the rotting drivers' seats. My regrets in life began to flood my thoughts. And then we hit the bridge and traffic started to flow fine again and I got back to Berkeley.
At home, our host said, "Oh, you got caught in traffic? How long? Only thirty-six hours? That's nothing. That's nothing. Some people take that long to get home every day." With a dismissive wave of his hand.
It was not nothing. It was a stretch of my youth I have lost eternally.
So, Northern California, on the good side: delightful food; fantasyland landscapes; moderate temperatures; laid-back citizens; social consciousness; friends; lack of insects. On the bad side, a wee tad of traffic from time to time that can make watching plants grow seem helter-skelter by comparison.
Still, it was great to see Ctein in his native environs. I hope to stop back much sooner than another two decades. Next time I should consider returning to the landward side of the Bay via San Jose.
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Featured Comments from:
jsmidt: "Audio books were invented for Bay area traffic."
Bahi: "There's often a slightly otherworldly look to Ctein's work, I think, intended or otherwise. It's not quite Earth as we know it. Even though I'm not a fan of science fiction, I very often like his results. Both the leaf and the wing are good examples. For me, the latter is the view from a spacecraft assessing the surface of a potentially inhabitable planet that has clouds and potentially Earth-like terrain.
"In 2013, my car broke down in a car park next to a familiar-looking Scottish castle. It was only a few months later, safely back home, that I realised I own a fabulous Ctein print of that very same castle; Ctein's rendering appears, of course, as if from another green world, devoid of car parks and tourists and ignition wires that fuse together on a scorching summer's day.
"All of which to say that the mental state you experienced after visiting the great man, and which you describe so well, was entirely appropriate. I suggest taking exactly the same route next time."