Saturday, September 27, 2008

Innocence At The Fountains

I got out of the car by the twin fountains which were now dry, the Beethoven fountains that were now known by some other name, the fountains that were marginal fixtures in so many of my old memories but which featured prominently in none. I remembered walking up the fountains as a little boy escaping from school, angry, scared and sullen. I remembered being a teenager and sitting here with Rodney for a brief moment on our way to the movies, talking about girls and sex and more girls and more sex and sometimes about our friends and sometimes about the many journeys that we would someday take together. I remembered being older and sadder and walking here with Dilcia, on the rough dirt path that runs parallel to the main street, on our way to my grandmother’s apartment which was mine for a brief moment, enough of a moment to let me taste Dilcia’s flesh and enough to make her say "my love" as she pressed her chest against me.
The fountains were twins cut apart at birth by the Paseo Escalon, one of the main boulevards of the city, connecting the edges of the dirty downtown with the heights of the Escalon. When I was very young, I thought that there must be a further mystery to their existence, something that happened here when I wasn’t looking, some ritual that I had missed or some arcane significance hidden in the circular shapes and the mirror images. Some of that perception still lingered with me this afternoon, as I walked across the little round park, looking at the women and kids selling little cheap plastic Salvadorean flags so that drivers could stick them on the side of their cars and then give the appearance of being patriotic. Some cars had one of these hanging from every window and still the old women insisted that the drivers needed more.
I walked through the grass that surrounded the fountains and I took pictures of the trees, the statues, the fountains themselves, the electrical poles, the concrete stairs, the street kids resting against the main pedestals and the edges of the circles where the colors were fading under the blazing sun. Then I asked a woman, an older woman with a dirty red T-shirt, a dark blue faded skirt and a white cloth draped over her head, if I could take her picture, and she said yes and smiled and I took her picture carefully and she said thank you as her cheeks pushed up to squeeze her eyes. I walked over the main street, El Paseo, which flowed with cars like an angry river in a rain storm and I took pictures of the fountain on the other side, which was just as dry as this one, just as forgotten.
Two men, sitting inside the bed of a pickup truck as it rolled by me, whistled loudly and asked to have their picture taken and I took it quickly as they posed smiling, hugging each other and raising their hands in a sign of success. I lifted my own hand in approval and gave them a thumbs up. They laughed and nodded with excitement. Then two pretty girls in a car called to me and said: "Us! Us! You should take us!" and I took their picture and raised my thumb again and they raised theirs and said "thank you!" and drove on. It was then that I realized that in their mind they weren’t doing me a favor by allowing me to take their picture, instead I was the one that was helping them, I was the one that was giving them the gift of my attention, the gift that said that there was something in them that was worth seeing, worth keeping forever, and the thought hit me like a sudden negative image of the world that I was accustomed to, a world where the very air is flooded in paranoia and fear of hidden agendas and whispered threats.
So it was the same with the maids who were both so shy of having their picture taken and also so grateful that I had insisted. Lorena, after she finally agreed to pose for me, said "You will take us on a long journey. Who knows where we will end up? Thank you so much," and I thought that what she said was both true and also so innocent that it made my heart shiver with a kind of gentle sympathy, and it made me happy to know that there still were people that were more innocent than I could even imagine.
To take the pictures is to make the moment eternal, and maybe the Being in its deepest simplicity welcomes that opportunity to transcend the bonds of time and flash across the frozen tundra of infinity, and maybe it is only through the process of sophistication, the complex structuring of the time based adult personality, that someone might come to see the camera as a threat, the sudden observer as a predator.
I walked towards the old church by my grandmother’s house and there was a couple sitting on a bench in a tiny park across the street from it: a tough guy in a white shirt and faded blue pants and a dark thick girl in a school uniform. They didn’t want their pictures taken. They shook their heads seriously and he narrowed his eyes and she looked away. They had allowed sophistication to rob them of their trust and of their most simple wish. They were on their way to becoming like the fountains, beautiful structures built for eternity but lacking the flow of fresh water to make them complete.

One of the many palm trees that tower over the twin fountains.

The fountain designs which implied a strange significance to me.

Statue of an ancient hero now turned into forgotten stone.

A boy reads the newspaper
resting his back against the pedestal of the forgotten statue.

The older woman that was happy to have her picture taken.

The guys who demanded to have their picture taken as their pickup truck sped by.

The girls in the next car that said: "No! Us! Take us!"
An older man in the twin fountains
who was very surprised but also very eager to help
when he realized that I wanted to take a picture of him.

A driver waiting outside the mall.
When he understood that I wanted to take a picture
he immediately turned to the left to show his best side.

Lorena when she finally posed for me and then nervously thanked me.

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