November the 11th, 2009, Remembrance Day.
As Joelle and Alix sleep we leave quietly.
A hug goodbye.
5.55am. The plane pushes off. 9½ hours later; in The Birth of Tragedy & The Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche, writes about pasts and futures.
With tragedy the Greeks had given up the belief in immortality: not only a belief in an ideal past, but also the belief in an ideal future. In The Will To Power Nietzsche had written about moments; If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event – and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good redeemed, justified, and affirmed.
The back of seat screen LCD jet crawls across;
The Indian Ocean.
The Arabian Sea.
Flying away from the sun the sky darkens only a few hours out from London. Dubai 1.17 pm. We’re late. The connecting flight leaves in less than an hour. The Dubai haze thicker than Beijing’s. This trip to London so unexpected. Whenever I’ve left London it has always been too soon.
6.30pm. The Piccadilly line moves in slow motion. Sounds muffled in the underground darkness recall Wim Wender’s movie Wings of Desire and the silent thoughts of commuters and apartment dwellers listened to by unseen angels’ ears. Baron’s Court; a family dressed in formal garb boards. Musicians on the way to a recital. They’ve been rushing. Polite English voices and flushed English faces chat. I’m invisible. South Kensington Underground Station’s Snax convenience store sells beer at £1.49 a can or 4 cans for 5 quid. Off
Exhibition Road, into the Mews, knock on Alistair’s door once, twice. No answer. By my feet an envelope. The key hangs in the Olive tree on the left. Sky News; the same stories repeat every 15 minutes. The news readers over act concern. 3 of the beers are drunk watching the news 3 times then time for bed. I’ll see Alistair in the morning perhaps before leaving for Fulham to photograph The Elephants’ Graveyard. Tarzan The Ape Man was produced in 1932. I saw the movie in the 1950s at the suburban Gaiety Cinema. We called movies flicks or films then. The secret location of The Elephant’s Graveyard revealed to Tarzan as an aged elephant, trailed by cagey treasure hunters, plods into a waterfall, splashes through the wall of water and enters the hidden, cavernous and ivory rich graveyard. A 1950s Alan Ginsberg photo pictures Neil Cassidy in front of a New York cinema showing The Wild One, Stranger Wore A Gun and Tarzan The Ape Man. Still showing since 1932 Tarzan The Ape Man had a long half-life. Stumbling into an elephants’ graveyard, a post war, post atomic bomb, 1950s‘ yearning.
Commuting from North London to SW6 Fulham on the District Line, I would arrive at Putney Bridge, then walk along Fulham Palace Road to Finlay Street. But if I’d travelled on the Victoria Line, I would walk home along Fulham Palace Road from the Hammersmith direction. After meeting Joelle; she lived in Richmond, I most commonly walked home down Fulham Palace Road from Hammersmith. That was in 1975. This 2009 November morning, two Hammersmith policeman suspect I’m al-Qaeda. “You can’t be too careful with photographs,” says a policeman. The number of crosses and churches along Fulham Palace Road are more than I remember. The phone rings, it’s working, it’s Joelle, there’s a delay. We talk over each over. I had left home without saying goodbye; she hears police and ambulance sirens, she wonders where I am. I’m a few street corners from where The Greyhound Pub used to be. Fulham Cemetery; a large bird with a tube like beak and striking blue feathers scattered amongst drab brown and grey feathers looks at me suspiciously. This is my first visit to Fulham cemetery. A young woman sits alone on a bench. She looks troubled. When visiting London with Joelle December, 2008, and walking down Finlay Street for the first time after so many years, I saw myself, a 25 year old; I saw the faded blue of the denim shirt and jeans, the favourite, warm jacket, the hands fumbling in pockets for the Underground pass and the boyish body hurrying to Putney Bridge Station. The 25 year old didn’t see me standing by the schoolyard fence. I was a ghost. At the charity store near the corner of Cowan Street, £1.50 buys a plastic angel to decorate our Commercial Road Christmas tree and 2 port glasses for a Christmas toast. A young mother pleased with the purchase of a new second hand coat thanks the shopkeeper. It’s still here. It must be the last greasy spoon restaurant in Fulham. It’s bright and cheerily painted in Monet kitchen yellow. A father and son serve breakfast all day. 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, 2 toasts, tea or coffee for £3.90. In heavy metal, gothic vein blue, Brighton Rock pink lettering on the son’s ample forearm is tattooed Arsenal. Two women sit nearby, sisters, twins? They are so alike. The sister dressed in jeans, scarf, jacket, beanie and boots is leaving her husband. She would be in her 40s. She’s dressed for the cold. Is Fulham playing this weekend? No it’s all internationals this weekend. Extra salt and vinegar please.
At the entrance to Putney Bridge Underground Station; reloading the Rolleiflex, an unlikely couple sit nearby. A talkative man with stylish grey hair, a smart black overcoat; and the looks of a used car salesman, and a bit like Rod Stewart is accompanied by a beefy, saying nothing, shaved head looking like a night club bouncer man. The talkative one had a camera just like the Rolleiflex. A Box Brownie? They stand for the incoming bus. Now they purchase underground tickets. Now they approach me on the footbridge over the Thames. The stranger wore a gun. I leave Fulham for the Strand. The Courtauld Museum has a Fra Angelica predella.
It’s early, still dark and raining heavily on the South Kensington cobblestones. The sound of a fast train or a conga line of supermarket shopping trolleys being pushed across a car park. Letters slide from the soft lead pencil and words take shape, like a drawing. Writing, like photographing, makes strange, delightful, unsettling, mysterious moments last. The pencil is blunt, the lead is too soft. This morning a return to Fulham to photograph Bishop’s Park, there wasn’t time yesterday. Bishop’s Park where the first roll of film was shot in the new Pentax. Bishop’s Park Remembrance Day flowers dress up the International Brigade’s Memorial with out of season roses. Two crows drink from a puddle. There’s something about crows. Do two crows make a murder? Wednesday a fast train to Paris to catch up with Max. In 1976 it took all day to travel to Paris from London.