Sunday, February 18, 2018

Long Love Letter

Steven's writing
After the writer's death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.
—Jean Cocteau (French: 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963)

My oldest daughter Naomi began a diary when she was only nine years old—and kept writing until she died at the age of nineteen. As her father, I did not know she was being so attentive about the intimate details of her life until she was seventeen. She kept her journals private.

After she passed away, her personal writings were indeed like receiving a long letter from her.

I wrote during my youth as well—but not so early in life. My first diary began when I wrote on my seventeenth birthday. I would use the little cloth-bound book as a record; “So that the sentimentalist I think I might be in the future can look back and remember the person he once was and the changes he went through.”

Naomi's writings
Naomi, at age nine was simply taking delight in life and honoring it by writing her observances, dreams, thoughts and feelings. Her first entries are full of incorrectly spelled words—she was terrible at spelling until almost high school. She would try and get her notions down on paper and guess at word spelling. For instance she wrote when 12: “We were playing with the new puppy, (we are thinking of naming her Soffy or Sophia). We were playing tug-of-war and then Sarah put the tug-of-war thing in her mouth and so I grabid it and both of us tuged a wile and Sarah’s tooth ended up gone! I feel really bad about it and stuff!
Just a minute ago I found her tooth!
She lost and I found it!”

After my teen years I stopped keeping a diary. Instead I kept a dream journal. It filled quickly and then tapered off when I did not remember them often. Then, as my life as a visual artist came to the fore, I married, had children and gave up writing.

Naomi fell ill with cancer at age seventeen, and I began keeping a record of her struggle. I wanted to write about her success in beating her disease. I kept writing until her death, determined to tell her story of courage, grace and spirit. It became the story of her soul and how she transitioned into a magnificent spiritual being. The writing took three years and produced, A Heart Traced In Sand, Reflections on a Daughter’s Struggle For Life.

During her last two years Naomi wrote her observances of life and her surroundings, and was gaining wisdom: “Today I saw myself in my English class dancing with joy because I was cured. I saw myself telling people that the most important thing in life is to bask in it with all of its glory. Hardship is something that will make us stronger. I don’t know if I have complete evidence of this  but I think that in every situation there is good  in it. I feel so much wisdom and I know that I will learn more!”

Naomi wrote many affirmations, picturing how she envisioned her life. She also wrote her fears and sometimes anger. Life was becoming painful and short. Close to the end, she wrote of her pain, anxiety, and a nagging doubt that was with her. Once, she thought of somebody reading her diary after her death and was angry, writing she would rather burn her journal.
The last writing Naomi did was on a small piece of paper two nights before her death. “Dream of a blissful cruise. I don’t remember much of it. I just remember glimpses of it. I am happy.” The note was on her bedside table when she died.

Soon afterward I made my first journal entry: “It has been sixteen days since Naomi passed away. I am still sorting out the pieces of my life. At the studio; I was here yesterday and could not manage to begin painting. Here again today . . .  I will try and begin again.”

My stack of writing books
Eventually, I became single and felt Naomi’s spirit encouraging me to live life fully without fear. Since then I have been around the world twice and lived in many lands. My stack of journals is tall. I write this blog every week and have 587 posts. There is one little book that is special. It is only for my notes to God. Here is an entry from September 25, 2009: Dear God. To look in any direction is to see miracles. Above is the endless sky, and below is mother earth. On every side is mystery. Even the senses I use to perceive my world are miraculous gifts I do not fully comprehend.

Someday my end will come and I will go to be with Naomi again. My writings will be left behind. Sarah, my surviving daughter will find them and read them as a long love letter to her and life.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Looking Into A Face

What is more magical than looking into a face? A sunrise has its charms, as does the flaming spectacle at the end of day. Changing clouds, dark forests, mossy rock and gurgling brook all entice. Microscopic life viewed under microscopes and galaxies seen through telescopes put us in awe. But none of these express as much as a human face.

A face is a poem, a book, a treatise. It speaks every language and conveys in every language. It dances, groans, howls, cries, kisses, laughs . . . it is sympathetic or remote, suspicious or loving.

We can tell the passage of time in a face. Yet eyes do not age . . . they retain their features.

In my photographic pursuits I am attracted to making images that capture faces. Wherever I am in the world I look for the human face to tell its story.

The desert or mountain is splendid, as are the cities and villages, but it is a face that goes with the location that is most expressive.

God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.  —William Shakespeare

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Horizon I have Been Dreaming

During my youth I daydreamed and used imagination to make simple pencil drawings. I often drew a road beginning under my feet extending toward the horizon, getting smaller until at last disappearing there.

Even now, as an artist many decades later, I make paintings with disappearing roads, paths or rivers in a landscape.

I have a passion for street photography. It takes me on thoroughfares across the globe. I begin with a known place underfoot and start traveling—soon to disappear into the horizon of the unknown. I feel free.

Erice, Sicily, Italy

When I am making street photos, surprise is my ally. I look for the odd, or combinations of elements that combined make for a visual poem.

Venice, Italy

As I grow older, my road steadily nears an unseen and mysterious end.

Central India

I look forward to meeting that horizon I have been dreaming of all my life.

More art of: Steven Boone

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Kaleidoscope of Sensual Surprises

Life is a kaleidoscope of sensual surprises.  During travel, I leave familiar surroundings to engage in the unknown and see with fresh eyes, hear with new ears, and think new thoughts. All the while being mesmerized and awed by little revelations. Yet even without going anywhere, the kaleidoscope of patterns, sights, sounds, tastes and smells is always turning; a bite of cold wind across the face, coming indoors to fragrant aromas of cooking foods, hearing the song of a strange bird for the first time, a fabulous sunset or sunrise.

A surprise can be simple and appear like a gift from an unseen hand. I have deep windowsills at home. In my bedroom I placed a model of a sailing ship on a window ledge. Recently, before taking a nap after lunch, I pulled the curtains closed. After rising, I went to the curtains and saw the ships shadows cast upon the fabric. It captured my imagination and I went and got my camera. The rippling folds of cloth were like ocean waves that took my vessel into an etheric sea. Why did I notice it? The winter light and angle of the sun made the picture come to life. Also, I was willing to see . . . because if my emotions and thoughts had been obscuring my perceptions, the little shadow theater would have had no attraction. I had seen it before. Now the elements lined up to capture my senses and I was ready.
I like happy accidents and am open to experiencing them during my creative process. Recently, during my month sojourn in Venice, Italy, I fell into a hobby of making photographs of people taking “selfies.” World famous Rialto Bridge was just minutes from my flat. Everyday, thousands of selfies are made there. So whenever I was passing over the bridge, 2 or 3 times a day, I would linger to photograph. Once, I spotted two fellows making a portrait, and surreptitiously became involved with my camera. Just as they were composing, I shot my picture from behind, capturing the subject’s face through the triangle of arm, shoulder and head of the picture taker.

Because I am creative, poems arise from what is garbage to others. One day I was walking on the stone sidewalks of Cuenca, Ecuador. I often look down at the patterns and crevices of the walkways as I sojourn. Something stopped me. A picture had fallen face up onto the grimy patterned  stonework. It was a family portrait of a boy. I noticed how the smiling, lovely face was vulnerable on the dirty sidewalk where it would be stepped on. Why did the scene attract me to take a photograph? Most people would ignore it. I found the incongruity evoked pathos in me. I reflected upon what happens to people in life. The purity of their beginnings fall to earth. At early stages innocence suffers degradation, injury, abandonment, death. Yet the smile and light is in the picture.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Unity Of Existence

In pure moments of being, I perceive behind the veil of the material world in the realm of non-duality, or oneness. Here, love reigns supreme. Unity rules the real existence.

During periods of high creativity, I am able to let go of selfishness so as to merge completely and seamlessly with the whole. While painting, time vanishes, the joy of process takes over, and as the picture takes shape, surprises occur as if I am not in control at all. The best photography occurs when I lose everything that is a barrier between me and the subject. In writing, ego must fall, so that I am not writing with an eye to myself; rather the process unfolds on its own.

When meeting anyone new, I love being in this space of oneness. As if to say, “I have no judgement of you, we come from the same dust, created by the same Hand. I remember you—a friend from before this existence. We met on the shores of dawn.” Thus, I can look in the face of a foreigner and see a fellow being I have known all my life.
A king is my brother, same as a pauper. A person of a different color, with different features and dress—no matter, I combine just as well with them as with one of my own kind.

There are limitations. My body is not so quick to lose itself. It has adapted in certain environments. It has learned to be friendly with some elements and not friendly with others. Experience says it does not like hot, humid jungles. It reacts violently to some contamination in water in foreign lands that those people are immune to (India) . It is repelled by certain foods that other people eat—such as spiders (Cambodia). I can’t help that.

I have been in all these situations and appreciate them as part of the fabric of life. Behind all is the unity of existence.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Along The Way

We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.    -Albert Einstein

I have been home for two weeks now, and the sights and sounds of the previous two months continue to reverberate in my being. The photographs I took, the paintings and writings, all testify to my soul journey.

This blog is over ten years old now, with 582 posts to date. It is a book—a record with photos.

So many experiences in life are bound to be buried. Little surprises that happened along the way come to life with pictures or writing.

Like this. I was walking in Paris on the left bank, heading back to my hotel in Saint-Germaine. I came to a woman in a wheelchair, surrounded by pigeons she was feeding. It was cold, and she was wearing tennis shoes. An oversized beige beret sat on her head. When our gaze met, she smiled warmly with light in her eyes. I wondered about her life and circumstances, and asked to take her picture. She had no pretensions and to my surprise spoke fluent English. “I love speaking English,” she said. We chatted some small talk, then I took her picture. I noted that she was not begging, but imperturbably living on the street, taking care of pigeons in the midst of the flowing crowds around her.

I have close to two thousand pictures from my last sojourn—from Washington DC to Paris, on to Venice for a month, then Egypt for three weeks.

Memories jump to life with pictures that add "a thousand words".

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Deep To My Soul

I am glad I had my paints, camera and pen along with me. Oh, and my laptop. Two pair of shoes was enough. So was two pair of pants, four shirts, socks and underwear. I used the umbrella in Venice a few times. Never wore the shorts and decided to leave them in Egypt.

Everything fit in a medium size suitcase and carry-on with wheels. I never needed anything more and came home without a pair of shoes I gave away, and also left shorts, and shirts behind. The special item I brought back is the Jellabiya, (man’s gown) that was made for me in Egypt.

Oh, the four paintings I sent from Italy and two from Egypt arrived safely by courier. No equipment damaged, over 1,800 photos safely stored, and some foreign money in my pocket for souvenir.
The damage that occurred was in my body when I took a flu medication in Luxor and it wreaked havoc on my urinary system which is already slowing down because it is over six decades old. I had to come home sooner than expected. That was the biggest of the problems that arrived. All part of THE DREAM.

Friendships and bonds deepened. With my brother Wade and his family in Washington DC, with Cristiana in Venice, Italy, Fred the hotelier in Paris, and my Egyptian brothers, Hagag and Abu’l Ezz in Luxor, Egypt along with their families.

Perhaps I left a footprint behind in the places I sojourned. A memory that I was there.  My friends remember me, and cried when I left them. They went deep to my soul as well.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Lessons Of Love

Standing with Hagag and his family.
Front of Hagag's house
My Egyptian brother Hagag and I sat at the simple wood table in front of his humble home. The front door is always open to the flow of family life. Tea is served every time we sit together—either chai or hibiscus. I looked past the dirt road in front of his courtyard, past his tiny green crop of alfalfa, watching sailboats on the Nile River in the distance. After a while he studied my features as if to memorize them, and began crying. I was leaving. Seeing his tears, my eyes welled up.

The three weeks I spent in Luxor taught me lessons of love. Hagag and Abu'l Ezz and their families showed me such kindness and affection that I felt special. By American standards they are very poor—without goods or means. One a marginal farmer and the other with a motorboat taking people between the banks of the Nile River. Their homes are of earth, they live with animals, have the barest conveniences and share one toilet for the entire household. They do not have closets full of clothes or new gadgets. What they have is sincerity and goodness that reached deep into my soul. They know I am comfortable in their surroundings. I need nothing more than the love that lives within them and their families.
Drawing made by Iyah, 12, Hagag's 2nd daughter. It is me, and she included my camera bag
over my shoulder and cell phone in my pocket.

Hagag’s oldest son Mohammad is serving in the army because the family could not afford college. Now Amira, the oldest daughter is on the verge of graduating secondary school. I photographed his home to begin a funding campaign. When I asked Hagag about sleeping arrangements he pointed to the tiny room in front that held two divans with cushions. All four of his children sleep in a room about the size of an American walk-in closet. It has one window facing the front courtyard. The floor is earth. I thought of Amira, 17, sleeping with her sister and two brothers so close. “Amira sleeps on the earth, here,” he said, pulling out a straw mat and showing how it went over the ground.

I have watched Amira many times studying with her face in books, or helping prepare meals, or speaking a little English with me. She is thoughtful and with hope—not scarred from never knowing the comfort of a bed and room of her own. Rather, she is strong and can meet life’s tests. What will hurt her is diminished opportunities as she becomes an adult. Her talents must flourish.

My friends know I will be by their side as they have been by mine.
Nile River at dawn.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole world.”  -Baha’u’llah

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Brotherly Love

Abu'l Ezz, myself and Hagag

The homes of my Egyptian brothers are made of humble materials: mostly earth and some wood. Even the floors are dirt, so when one of the family sweep, they are sweeping clean the bare earth. Doors and windows almost always are open. Animals come in and out—pigeons that peck crumbs and are cared for, and cats. Cows, rabbits, ducks, turkeys and chickens—all part of the household. Flies too. One was on Abu’l Ezz’s nose when I took a family portrait. I noticed a dark spot on his face. He was stoically bearing a fly on the bridge of his nose between his eyes while keeping still for the picture. It was easy to remove in photoshop.

I enjoy being, “part of the family.” At times I have thought while sitting with my friends, that I have never been more comfortable. Nothing is elegant or fancy. No cars, and the barest of furnishngs. Children come and go, pigeons flutter around and walk at my feet, I hear the cow and eat delicious cheese from it's milk. I am always offered tea. My refrigerator stays well stocked because I am asked to eat with the families so often and they send food home with me.

Abu'l Ezz and Family

One evening I arrived at Ezz’s place for dinner and he insisted I take off my shoes to rest myself on the divan and stretch out. Then he noticed how dusty they had become so he called his youngest daughter Amira to come and clean them. She did so with good nature.

When I go shopping with Hagag he never accepts commission for food or cloth. That would raise the price. I pay Egyptian prices and have saved a lot letting him go ahead of me. How could I make money off of you, he asks, you are my brother! 

Hagag and his Family

When I go somewhere, one of my brothers is with me as guardian and helpmate. Hagag even walks me home, to be sure there are no hassles. When I am with Ezz, he sends his son to fetch the Mercedes to give me a ride home. It is an inside joke . . . but I am just fine with laying back in the cool night air and letting the boy drive the donkey ahead.

With the coming of winter, air goes from hot to cool more rapidly and many people are sick with a cold or cough. It happened to me. Hagag insisted I go to a doctor. So I went. Both Ezz and Hagag went with me at night and stayed by my side.

They are taking me on a boating for Christmas. It is not their holiday. Both are Muslim, but care so much for me that they want me to celebrate the big American holiday. The true gift they bring me is brotherly love.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Three-In-One Day

There are days that I call three-in-one days. They usually occur while I am traveling. Events are so fantastic and magical that they embed in my psyche indelibly and deeply, filling my being in such a satisfying way that I swear I have lived three days in the span of one. Yesterday was like that.

It began before dawn when I am typically asleep. I woke, made breakfast and coffee, then walked in the dark along the dirt road on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor. In a few minutes I arrived at my Egyptian brother Hegag’s home. It was quiet and a light shone from within. The doors are never closed so I stepped to the passage. Edleah, Hegag’s wife came forward from the back and motioned me to sit inside. Hegag soon appeared and we sat drinking hibiscus tea. Edleah’s brother, Adil, came with a car. We set out driving in twilight.

I was in the back seat, noticing the earthen homes, sugar cane fields, and morning haze—vapors from the canals by the fields. We reached a rundown paved road and took off as the sun rose behind us. It came up glowing orange behind distant blue mountains.

People appeared along the way, beginning their daily tasks . . . turbaned men in Jellabiya, the loose gown that flows down to the feet, and women in hijab’s and scarves covering their head.

We were going to Isna, where a big Saturday souk for trading animals occurs. The ride would have taken less than an hour, but speed humps to slow down traffic caused Adil to brake often. It took about an hour and half. At Isna we had to ask directions. Hegag said the location changes week to week. We knew we arrived when we could go no further because of the crowd.

Hegag and I set out walking with Adil staying behind. Within a minute we were in a crush of men and animals. I had my camera in hand and was so dazzled by the scene I began snapping photos left and right. Hegag kept close watch over me, keeping me from being trampled by buffalo, camel or cow, and making sure I was free, but tethered to him.

Big masculine energy abounded with carousing, exclamations, excitement, joking, shouting, and fraternity. I knew I was the only “different” one, and thought a couple times this was no place for wimps. But SPIRIT was holding sway and I pointed my camera and shot. Sometimes, a man or boy wanted his picture taken next to a friend or holding a beast. Occasionally I would hear “hello”, or “welcome”. I gave a lot of thumbs up and pressed flesh with the guys.

We took a break for tea and falafel lunch with pita bread, then we dove in one more time. I wondered about the complete absence of women. Hegag said it was not their job to buy and sell animals. “If a woman’s husband dies, and she needs to sell an animal, she gets a neighbor, or relative to help.”
He showed me where animals were being butchered and I walked in bloody mud while the butcher posed with his long blades in front of hanging carcasses.

As we began the drive back, I told Hegag, OK, the long drive was worth it.

I joked with Adil about all the humps home.

Late afternoon my other Egyptian brother, Abu’l Ezz met me by the Nile and off we went in his motorboat to cruise at sunset. “This is your boat! Any time!” he said, grinning. “Are you happy?’ I said yes, and he replied, “Then I am very very, very, happy!” Indeed I felt happy—languidly floating on my favorite river in the world, chasing after felluca, the traditional Nile River sailboats. Ezz would align us for just the right pictures. I especially enjoyed seeing the felluca with the sun going down behind them.

When the sun set and Ezz took me back to the river bank outside my flat, he asked me to come to dinner the next day, after another boating at sunset. I look forward to being in his earth home with his children and served a tasty Egyptian supper prepared by Saida, the best cook in Luxor.

When I reached my flat, I made dinner. Walking back to Hegag’s home for tea I thought . . . OK this has been one of those three days in one.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ciao Venezia

The fog I hoped for never arrived during my month in Venice. I kissed the city goodbye—with light so brilliant it seemed the canals were alive, covered with glistening jewels.

Cristiana stopped by to bid farewell. We embraced, took a last deep look into each others eyes and she went off to work while I headed through the passageways with my luggage.

I walked slowly. Passageways are intimate, only three people wide. An excited, bubbling boy brushed by with his mother. He seemed about nine years old and brimming with enthusiasm. It’s good, I thought.

Suddenly I wanted to hold the last moments and looked intensely around. Campo stones, crumbling brick walls, windows with green shutters, the trembling canal waters underneath foot bridges in all directions—pressed to my soul for safe keeping.

For some reason I felt healthier, stronger than when I arrived. The luggage was not so burdensome and my spirit felt light.

At the Grand Canal I waited to catch the boat to the airport. Everything was at peak brilliance in early afternoon light. I felt remorse having to leave. My camera was packed and I wanted it. Wow, I thought, look at the sun glowing from the buildings. Reflections on water danced and leapt like light from iridescent scales of fish.

I finished four paintings and shipped them back the United States. The last five days found me with my camera walking endlessly through the sestieri, hunting for reflections, for gondolas in canals passing beneath bridges or bobbing alongside the lagoon. I went numerous times to Piazza San Marco and reveled in its dimension and supreme workmanship, photographing with throngs of people becoming a blur of motion.

Up until the last day I added to a series of pictures of tourists taking “selfie” photographs. Just on Rialto Bridge I figure about 3000 a day are made.

Ciao Venezia.