Monday, February 13, 2012

A Stranger

February 13, 2012 – A Stranger
I decide to play along with the February Photo A Day Challenge created by FatMumSlim. It’s easy. Each day has a key word or phrase like: blue, something you ate, button, dinner, sun. The rules are simple. All I’ve got to do is take a picture of said thing and post it on a variety of social networking sites as I see fit. This appeals to the artistic nature of my personality and I jump in to the imagery. I mark the words on my calendar and get my thinking cap down off my closet shelf.

Pueblo Libre Plaza
On the fourth day the prompt is a stranger. This is daunting. There’s something so sneaky about taking pictures of people, especially if they’re unaware. How would I feel if someone did this to me? I debate taking a photo of the kids who run about in the playground outside my bedroom window. I think about capturing a passing stranger through the window of my study. I contemplate taking a bus ride and catching some weird angle shots from under the folds of my bag. I scrap all those ideas. Better than all that, I’ll go down to the plaza in Pueblo Libre. It’s a more touristy place since there’s a museum right off the square. Lots of the locals come to let their kids play near the fountain, talk with an old crony on a bench in the shade, watch the pigeons, watch the tourists. People flash their cameras around like Ansel Adams. I figure I can just join in the throng.  

There I can be safe, surreptitious, and sneaky all at the same time.
With this plan in mind, I pack my camera, an apple, and a powerbar in my bag, pour some coffee into Katrina’s to-go cup, slap some sunscreen on my nose and on my tattoo and head out the door and down the sidewalk.

I’m scouting faces as I go. I pass a serious looking policeman, several embassy guards, a street cleaner with the breathing mask up over her nose and mouth, a ponytailed girl clutching her mom’s hand, a cyclist, an old man with a cane.
I want to take pictures of them all. I want them to pose for me while I capture them in motion. I want to get the timelines around their eyes, the serious press of their lips, the various shades of their skin, the concerns of the day that plane their cheeks. I want contrast and similarity. I want beauty and pain, joy and ugliness to be digitally imprinted in my memory card. I want to hear their stories and yet stay a stranger to them too.

But I keep my camera in my bag and walk on.
The cars zip by. The bus Cobradors shout out the streets from the open doors of their combis, try to convince me to take a ride. Taxis honk. Taxi. Taxi? Taxi. They slow in the hope that I’ll leave off walking and choose their mode of transportation. I get a few whistles from motorcyclists, workers, drivers.

I wipe sweat from my brow and upper lip. It’s still early, but the day is already a hot one. I should have brought the sunscreen with me.
Pausing on a curb, I wait for my path to clear so I can cross the street. The one way traffic zooms by. A long nosed white car turns in front of me, taking a left. Cutting the meters between us to centimeters. The driver is so close, I could reach out and touch his arm, I can almost catch the odor of his breath.

He slows to a crawl, leans out closer. “Que rica,” he drawls, making the rrrrrr roll and trill. Yummy. Tasty. How delicious. Any of those translations carry the insult I take from his two words.
Que horrible,” I reply from across the street, making the distance longer and longer. He’s a stranger who can stay a stranger, and unphotographed as well.  

When I reach the plaza it’s already busy. There’s a stage platform at the end of the square. Booths line the walkways and men and women are setting up shop. I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what party is being planned, I don’t know when it’s going to start, but I do know that I’m surrounded by strangers.  And that is glorious.

I stare without being blatant, looking at faces from under the brim of my eyelids. I snap a couple shots as I go. Strangers are marvelous. They’re full of all the stories I’ve never heard. They’ve experienced these lives I’ve never imagined. They have heartbreaks I can’t fathom. Joys I’ve never been bubbled up in.

The old man on the bench has a story. The policeman standing nearby has his own. The passing man with greasy hair and a sketchbook in his hand has another. I want to eavesdrop on their lives.
Instead I walk to the opposite end of the square and sit on a bench. I take out my coffee and angle my face up toward the sun.

There’s a taxi parked cattycorner from me. The driver leans against the red panels of his car and smokes cigarette after cigarette. I think about taking his picture. He’s waiting for the perfect fare. When the suited owner of the black car parked behind him returns to get his suit coat, the taxista asks him to move his car back a ways so that he can get out easier when it’s time to go. The suited owner does, puts his coat on, and goes away again.
Right in front of me is a wood carved Jesus face. More than anything, I suddenly want to have my stranger stand beside the whittled Lord and stare where he stares into the summer air.

I search for the perfect face. I look for the best stranger.
An attractive couple walk by. The guy would look nice next to the Christ, but the girlfriend looks the jealous type so I don’t ask. A young woman walks past with her brother, her friend, her charge? I don’t know. He puts his fingers to his face and gestures repetitively, mumbles under his breath, shuffles by. She encourages him on. A mother and her little boy come from the opposite direction. Good faces, but not the rights ones. An older gentleman strolls by. He catches me looking. His step catches like he’s going to speak to me, but he thinks better of it and keeps on.

Two dark headed youths walk too far off to my left for me to capture. The ponytailed, singer-type would have made a nice portrait. I’m eager to get my stranger, but not willing to risk being too exuberant.  
And then she comes into view. The most beautiful stranger I’ve ever seen. Hatted and matching.

Our eyes meet. “Buenos dias,” she tells me with a friendly smile. I’m in love. I want to tell her buenos dias and smile in return. To have that stranger to stranger connection. But I don’t let it lie. I become that hated one who asks for something when eye contact is made.
Permiso (excuse me),” I say. “I’m doing a photo project and was wondering if I could take your picture next to this image.”

“What do I have to do?” she asks, reaching for the camera.
“I mean,” I say, “Would you mind if I take your photo?”

She’s generous with her strangeness. She lets me take her picture. I show her the result. She nods. I thank her. Thank her again. She walks away, out of my life. Strangers still.
I finish my coffee. Over the taxi driver’s head is a banner that announces The Day of the Pisco Sour. And that’s today. The party is getting ready to start. I walk through the plaza watching the venders set up for the day’s activities. Boxes of limes, bottles of Pisco get carted in. I’m sure the eggs and sugar will follow.

I walk past the ladies selling trinkets. The umbrella man holds out an umbrella, encourages me to buy one. I decide to go home instead.
As the blocks shorten between me and my apartment, I clutch my bag up close to my side. My hand balances over where my camera is, holding safe the pictures I’ve taken. All these strangers. All these strangers of mine.

At home and with the photos downloaded to my computer I post my stranger for the world to see.  
Already I’m thinking ahead to the next day. What will I do for 10 AM? What will I focus on? What will I see? What will I choose to represent it? How will I see the world differently through the lens of that word?

How will I see the world differently through the lens of my own eyes, of my own words?

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