Allan Ludwig

Snowballing toward the moon

Around and around. Trying to think of a way of integrating some of the themes that have hummed through my thoughts this week--the dusky sphere of the eclipsed moon, the circles Allan Ludwig photographs, the process of revising my novel. I mean integrate the way Alice Munro often does in her short stories, by developing relationships from fragment to fragment.
Photo by Richard Culbert

If there is any potential for integration it might start with an image from the weekend, when the snow-bright gleam of the crescent at the top lingered minutes before the earth's shadow totally covered the full moon. What was revealed, what hidden.

Allan Ludwig's circle photographs, found through his Flickr id of Elisha Cook, Jr, feature objects he discovered while roaming the streets of lower Manhattan. The page displaying the street art that is his subject includes circles of all kinds. Interesting to see what has attracted his eye. A tire that appears to have been vertically sliced in half, making a perfect black lifesaver; a gleaming frame that may have been moulded from some shiny material and into which someone has layered a bright pink blob that looks vaguely marine. Covers over the round mouths of pipes, where oil enters the labyrinth beneath Manhattan. There are a couple of flattened silver cans whose present outlines recall and also defy the original cylinder. The top of a fire hydrant; a round poster advertising a dj's turntable services. All images that provoke curiosity. What's the story, of the objects themselves and also what the photographer sees in them?

In midwest winters, if the snow was just the right texture, we used to pack it into a lumpy little sphere and roll it across what had freshly fallen until the ball gathered enough snow to become the base or the fat middle or head of a snowman. A matter of accretion. As I go through my novel with the idea of adding to it, I find that it is a matter of accretion there too. An image clarified with more detail, a relationship complicated, a plot point more consciously foreshadowed. On a given page there may be a single word I have added to this draft, or a paragraph. I have taken some words away too. Seldom as much as a page added or deleted as the novel gradually rolls towards the mass I envision, an end result I hope will reveal and suggest what is not explicitly revealed at the same time.

Quebec to Montreal to New York

Aur revoir, belle ville, this cold sunny morning. Cold, sunny. On to snappy Montreal, St. Catherine's Street a profusion of red ...  poppies for Remembrance Day,  roses for Hussain, luscious long stemmed red roses, one of which survived the long walk up St. Urbain to Mile End, and fit perfectly in a wine bottle at Hil and Lil's place. Lunch at the Local Café, smoked salmon on a Montreal bagel. Leonard Cohen singing Halleluhjah. Snow flurries outside the window later that night, and in the morning.

Yes the morning, over the bridge, a last look at the St. Lawrence. Stop, the border; go, welcome to New York. Lake Champlain, Champlain, Champlain. The one long whistle blowing around bends, rock-cobbled coves. Thoreau came this way in 1850, started in Boston and travelled to Montreal for a fare of seven dollars, his goal being to take one honest walk in Canada "as I might in the Concord woods on an afternoon."
    Lake Champlain, then darkness, then New York City. Up the subway stairs at 14th St and 1st Avenue, and it's like someone has injected me with a sudden spurt of oxygen. Everything is faster, crisper. Nine-thirty, people indoors, out of doors, wind blowing, garbage blowing, darrrk, yet bright under the lights of Tompkins Square where the yellow leaves of a spreading tree glow as if with fairy light.

   Up a flight of stairs, up another, another, another, finally arriving at Five W, where friend Liz greets me with tea and we talk and talk and then sleep and morning breaks. One day. One day?  Heading down and over to Soho, I hear a man calling from a shaded door well. Bunny, Bunny! A cardboard flat of pizza slices rests on the edge of a garbage can, just in case somebody is hungry enough to ignore the proximity of God knows what. Walk, walk. There, McN's, the bookstore with its see-through book printing machine and an African American barista who styles his hair in an exuberant Mohawk. Good fusion, that. African American hair texture holds the Mohawk proud. And Allan, at last, in person, this native of the neighbourhood who is the King of graffitti photography and fills in his life story before we move on to Housing Works Bookstore and its tempting bins, tempting cases, beautifully arranged, the dark wood shelves, the dark wood railings around the balconies. But one day, one day! We say goodbye, we will meet again.

Uptown, Petra with the thin eyebrows, the blue shadow, the Slovak accent everyone mistakes for Russian. In the next booth a thin faced woman in dark glasses, her fine blown blonde hair, her lipstick smudged, with her maid. Or her attendant, or maybe I am making assumptions. Maybe this is not her only possibility for lunch but a joyous choice. Out the window of the Lennox Hill Grill city workers with brown Central American skin. A generation away from their indigenous ancestors who dressed in parrot feathers, perhaps, now outfitted in fluorescent vests and hard hats on the crazy streets of NY.

The day is going, what to see? William Kentridge's The  Refusal of Time. Fabulous. A non-linear narrative that comes together in a statement/observation as I sit on a chair between three huge screens, looped images, music that haunts, hollers, itself underscored by the elephant behind me, the machine that labours, the breath, the heart,  the tock of the clock, the beat of time that dares us to refuse it. More! More! Poetry! Seamus Heany's imagined butter coming up from a deep bog still white and salty, the precise sound imagery of his diction, all those poets and writers reading Heany's work with reverence and affection. Even Paul Simon, and the prolific Colm Toibin, all with memories of the great late man, but paying tribute with his own words. On, on, Venezuelan arepas, sleep. Goodbye till next time fifth floor Liz. On the crosstown bus fathers taking their children to school. Little Henry's boots are printed with orcas and they keep slipping off, as if the orcas are straining to swim away through the snow flurrying about the neighbourhoods of Manhattan.

To Penn Station, coffee from Zaro's, where two servers speak to one another in French, and I think of Pelagie, but no. L'homme vient de Haiti, l'autre de la Côte-d'Ivoire. "That's in Africa," she says. "My mother taught me."

11:35 AM, the Regional, #125 pulls out right on time, with stops in Trenton, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wilmington Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, the city/state names rhythmic as the swaying car that carries me to Washington, D.C. Union Station. Be careful when you disembark ladies and gentleman. There is a space between the car and the platform.