When I got on the bus from Morphou/Güzelyurt to Lefke on this day last year, I noticed that the dials on the dash were all marked with Chinese characters. Wild. Here are a few short sketches from the cramped ride:
Before we left, the driver hauled two spare tires into the front seat, buoying the confidence of all my fellow passengers.
We also got a new driver for the outward journey-a young, slick looking guy with sunglasses and extremely short, spiky hair which emerged only from the highest altitudes of his head.
We stopped on a dusty road to pick up an old man carrying bags full of milk, bread and newspapers. 50 meters later, we stopped again for a guy with mullet and his three kids, all of whom were forced to sit on the floor. They got off at the next stop. The man’s windbreaker puffed up in the breeze and I forgot entirely what decade I was living in. He herded his daughter with a gentle hand on her knee-high shoulder as his son lagged behind to examine a piece of garbage. He was squatting down to grab it when the bus groaned and rolled away.
April 2009, Rome
This was probably the first time I tried to cover an event as a photographer and create a comprehensive photo essay. The occasion was a Communist rally on a warm spring day in Rome, where I had arrived days before for the second leg of a study abroad program. I can’t remember how my friends and I heard about the rally, but it was a Saturday morning, and we took the worlds’ worst metro system to the Pyramid stop, where we emerged, wide-eyed, to a sea of red flags and hammers and sickles. It was overwhelming for my midwestern senses, which were still adjusting to a world outside of Minnesota, much less the USA. But then the adrenaline kicked in and we started to follow the parade towards the Colosseum.
I stayed on the outside of the parade, working my way toward the front. I took a lot of pictures of people’s backs and sides, much to my irritation nowadays. Nearly an hour into the march, I found the beginning of the pack and the leaders of the action. They were riding in the back of this white pickup truck which was advancing at a crawl down the middle of the street. One shouted into a megaphone in Italian. An old man wearing a red scarf walked on the passenger side of the truck. But most of all, I was transfixed by this young woman who seemed to rally the crowd with ease, starting chants and directing the fists of Italian youth. I read her as a symbol of the movement. She was young, maybe as young as I was, and her behavior was a fascinating split between powerful and frail, anonymous and strangely familiar.
As the parade approached the Colosseum, the men in the very front produced giant sparklers which gave off a tremendous amount of smoke when lit. It was the climax of the entire morning and emotions ran high. I began a flat out dash to the very front, planning to throw myself in front of the marchers to get the shot: the men with the angry red sparklers against the backdrop of the Colosseum. Suddenly, other photographers were there, all with giant lenses. I jockeyed with professionals for space, also for the first time, watching to see where they would try and shoot from. And then, my camera ran out of battery. Just like that. Dead. No more photos. I never got the shot. Although the friends I came with were behind me, at least a few of them snapped photos that could have ran on AP with ease. Most of the work is showing up and finding the right place at the right time, but it doesn’t count when your equipment doesn’t show up with you.
I learned a hard lesson that day, but since then, I’ve never ran out of battery at an event. However, I still hate photographing flags, fundamentally fickle in the wind.
The car is overcrowded, and passengers linger in the hallway, hanging their heads out the window for fresh air. I find a compartment with a seat and betray myself by asking in English, “may I sit here?” No news is good news, so I plant myself between an older man who wears a suit and occupies twice the space he should, and the belongings of a young woman who stands in the aisle, smiling carefully and adjusting her hair. Everyone has stowed a suitcase, so my backpack remains on the floor in the space meant for my legs. As the train groans away from the platform and into the dark network of tracks beneath the city, my knees are already protesting their confinement.
At the first stop, more people pack themselves onto the train and one seat becomes two with no small effort. I know I should expect additional passengers on the way out of town, but rarely remember to, and the newcomers have forgotten this rule of train travel as well, looking distressed by the crowding in our compartment. Suddenly, two women decide to seek their fortunes elsewhere on the train. The giant man who just arrived can now sit opposite me and I can breath deeply again. I reach into my pocket for my iPod with newfound elbow room as I appraise him out of the corner of my eye. He wears a checkerboard flannel shirt, yellow and black, and smells faintly of labor and sweat. He is graying reluctantly and his face is deeply lined, topography that speaks silently of years. He sits restlessly, eyes closed with his head in his hands, hunched under some invisible load. My imagination casts him as a woodcutter, returning home from some unknown errand. He answers two phone calls. He helps a girl with her suitcase. He wears no wedding band. I cannot guess his business on this foggy night.
Our train is slow, slow enough to examine the graffiti at each dingy station we pass, lit by unfaithful fluorescent lights. But none of these platforms is the right one and the journey drags on, further east than I have ever been with each passing kilometer. There are three students in my compartment. One diligently reads a chemistry book in the corner, fixated and unmoving, except to turn pages. Another writes steadily, page after page of Polish script. The other listens to electronic music loud enough for all of us to hear while browsing a magazine. She wears a tank top with sequins and periodically pulls mysterious things from her purse. I always feel a vague kinship with anonymous travel companions as we find ourselves sharing space and a destination. But I never express this, instead I make up stories and personalities for the people I find on trains, crammed in a 6 by 4 compartment, and planes, somehow brought together at 35,000 feet. It’s a fleeting connection, a weak spell that is broken upon safe arrival. Finally, the chemist stops reading, the introverted writer puts away her journal, the fashionista packs up her bag, and the woodcutter snaps awake and rises to his full height. We have arrived. The doors of the train open with a hiss and like a horde of ants, its passengers emerge, streaming into the orange glow of street lamps and mist without looking back.