Thanks to all my past readers. FS/EG
Last fall, I received a small envelope from Susi. In it were a few photographs of my mother's family from the 1930s. One--a postcard with a picture of my most beloved great aunt Fritzi--is from the 1920s and had been sent to Susi's mother. I can't read the faded words: it is in German. My encounter with Susi--in a parking lot in Great Barrington Massachusetts-- was entirely fortuitous. I was with my mother, who has known Susi since childhood. As far as I know, I never met her before. We would have passed each other with no recognition. And perhaps we had, several times.
I have a handful of old pictures of my mother's family. Most (along with all pictures of my own family, childhood, etc) were lost when my parents moved to Florida almost 30 years ago. I look at them from time to time. I want to write about them. But I do not have much confidence in my writing. Or about the discipline to stick with such a task.
When I came back from our trip to Berlin last summer, I scanned the bookshelves looking for something to read. I picked up Emigrants by WG Sebald, a powerful book interspersed with old photographs (this is a book of fiction; the status of the photos is unclear). The right book at the right time (fortuitous again): all the stories led to the Holocaust in ways not immediately clear. (This experience was very like going through the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where one follows the designated paths--nearly all of all of which lead to death).
Recently, I got a message from the library: M Train by Patti Smith was on hold for me. Another book filled with photographs. I pretty much only know of Smith as an icon. I missed much of her music while I was immersed in grad school and listening to Tom's music of choice: high brow jazz. The pull of the icon is nevertheless powerful and palpable. Smith spends a lot of time searching out the graves of poets, reading poetry, and drinking coffee. I could be happy doing all those things. Like me, Smith is a lover of the forlorn and rejected: she buys a decrepit house on Rockaway Beach. Like me, she loves things with holes, though in her case, she loves a Comme Des Garcons coat that she receives as a gift. (I assume the holes are part of the design). She loses that coat. And laments its loss several times through the book.