Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Route 66 Peace Sign, 24 1/2 miles east of Amarillo...

I didn't get it.  Was it an illusion, a mirage, a byproduct of heat stroke?   Right there, as clear as day for all the world to see both at 70 miles per hour along interstate 40 and at a more leisurely pace on Route 66, about 24.5 miles east of Amarillo, Texas is this fantastic leap of faith/imagination in the form of a peace park apparently conceived and built by one Richard Daniel Baker, born June 19, 1951 where we stopped and spent an hour amazed at the spectacle which we were a part of as we roamed alone through this monument of peace, strength, whimsy and faith, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Returning home, I eagerly googled this phenomena in every search permutation possible to find out something about what we experienced and came up with nothing.  Got Jackie, the master of the search on the case, and she too was stymied.  Not a reference, image, or entry to be found of this obviously spectacular and prominent landmark that had to have been passed by thousands of pilgrims making the 66 trek.  Finally, confirmation that it was not a dream.  There, on a web page documenting the Wehner family vacation of 2013, was a snapshot of the kids posing in and around the central peace sign.  Validation at last, but was that it for such an imposing presence along such a fabled and well visited road.  And as for Richard Daniel Baker, creator of all this, not a word.

In the spirit of the experience, I sat in this chair overlooking his creation, closed my eyes, hoped and dreamed that I might be beamed up, but alas, no luck, I opened my eyes and there I sat with nothing more than the good fortune to share Richard's dream.

 As I have said before when trying to somehow communicate the experience of being in a certain place at a certain time in a certain state of mind, it is no more possible to do justice to this experience than it is to bring the Sistene Chapel home on a post card.  So too, this paean to peace.  So the following are the view from the peace chair and the results of my struggle to come to terms with this unexpected experience.

Although it remains hidden in plain sight, they say that sometimes, in order to find something, you need to know what to look for and to be open to the experience.   I am thankful for the clouds in the sky that afternoon and thankful to you,  Richard Daniel Baker, born June 19, 1951 for what you've created. 


Addendum, mystery solved...
Received an e-mail this week regarding this posting from Barbara Chittenden who knows Richard Baker well and was actually involved in the creation of the peace monument.  I want to share this with everyone who has expressed interest in the Peace Farm.  Thanks Barbara!!!

Dear Mr. Shapiro,
I discovered your blog when searching the Internet for posts of Mr. Baker's peace farm.
You see, he is a dear friend of mine and my husband and I participated in the unveiling of his creation.   When he first conceived the idea, he contacted his dearest friends and asked them to submit a date that was an important date in history.  As you probably noticed, many of the pedestals have only a date on them.  It is left to the traveler/visitor to figure out what significance that date represented.  At the base of the Peace sign itself, are the signatures of all of us who were asked to participate.  After we each painted our pedestal, he threw a huge BBQ with all the fixins for us and many others.  That is just his way.  Quiet and unassuming and ornery as a little brother.  I say that with great affection.
Richard D Baker is a unique individual whom I have known for 38 years.  He is a farmer, a philanthropist and retired telephone repairman.  His family have farmed in the panhandle of Texas for over a hundred years.  He is a good hearted man and a good friend to many.
Thanks for highlighting his Peace Farm. 
Barbara Chittenden

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Felix Shapiro, a eulogy...

This is supposed to be a photo blog so why not start with a photo I took in the street in front of a fruit stand in Florida where I am shopping right now under quite sad circumstances.  The photo has no particular relevance here, or does it...

It is February 14, 2014, my birthday, and I am in Boynton Beach, Florida, presiding over the lingering demise of my 93 year old father who fell and broke his good hip 3 weeks ago and then suffered a stroke that further immobilized and impaired him to the extent that he now hovers in that netherworld between life and death from which there is no return but in which he was left with the intact cognitive capacity to be both painfully aware of his situation and to communicate coherently, which has been a blessing.  He is a stoic and pragmatic man who understands his situation and only wants to die to end the indignity his incapacity has forced upon him, but can't.  He says he will stop eating and drinking, like he says his father did at the end, and then eats and drinks.  He is ready to go, but in spite of it all, can't let go of life, because if he does, that will be it and that must be a very hard thought to have when it is no longer just one of those hypothetically,  casually brave things younger people say when they imagine themselves far in the future as being old and infirmed.

I just turned 67, the age my father was when my mother died in October 1987.  My father lives in one of those ubiquitous gated communities/senior ghettos that comprise a large part of south Florida, and I have been staying at his place during this difficult time.  Over the years, when people used to ask me if I lived there, I always said "no, just visiting my father", but now this no longer seems true, just a convenient lie I tell to mask the truth that I am indeed one of them, more or less the age my father was when he re-married and moved in there.  And now, my father may not return home, the home I temporarily occupy as I watch over him.  I am now him.

I do not feel sad that he is dying exactly.  It happens, and he has lived long and well.  In spite of it all, I love him and he has come to appreciate me.  But I do feel sad that he might not come home, and one day I won't go home.  What happens to all your stuff that was your life, that is still sitting on your desk that you were meaning to attend to just hours earlier, before the fall,  that other people are now left to dispose of.  All that stuff that was so meaningful to you.  I have been looking through photo albums at his parents as young people and imagining the joy they felt at the birth of their first born little boy who is now a decrepit old man lying in a nursing home bed, dying.  Someone's little baby boy is now old and dying.   And I am inconsolably sad.  I am flooded with thoughts I do not want to be thinking.

During this difficult time, I am surrounded by old people, cloistered in their self imposed senior ghetto, engaged in an artificial social construct peculiar to American life, self segregation, toward what end  I'm not sure, although being warm and far away from your family seems to have a lot to do with it, which  appears to come at a certain cost.  More painful is seeing people my own age, defying impending old age and sheltering themselves from their irrelevance behind the walls of the gated community and living as if the 60's and 70's and 80's never ended.  Their only concession to old age is to yammer on incessantly about their exceptional children and grand children, as if anyone else is actually listening or really cares.  The others are just waiting for a pause in the monologue so they can counterblab about their own extraordinary progeny.  It sounds like I am going on about this to deflect my inconsolable sadness, so enough.


March 29, 2014,   9:30 pm or so my father died.  If it wasn't for him, this blog would not exist.  Since  1968 I had been a b&w film photographer, and more recently, with all the bluster of the relic I had become, I swore that I would keep shooting till they stopped producing film, at which time I would retire.  But my photographic productivity had been diminishing as I found less and less to see, and my enthusiasm about darkroom work had diminished as well, primarily due to printer's block.  Nothing I printed seemed good enough...too dark...too light...too this... too that...never quite right.  I began to fear the darkroom and was fading away.

For a few years, my father had been urging me to buy a digital camera, which he would get me for my birthday.  I refused, standing fast by my rapidly diminishing career in film.  But one day about 4 years ago I took him up on his offer.  I became enamored with the Olympus Pen digital camera, and decided to give it a try.  I became hooked, and all the color work in the blog is a result of his encouragement.  I have not looked back.  I have stopped shooting film, but return to the darkroom on and off to work on my backlog of negs, and have stopped beating myself up about my prints (more or less) and am producing good work.

I owe that guy a lot, everything really, feel at peace with it all and understand the wisdom of how things played out.  And regarding the photo at the top, it is quite relevant.


June 29, 2014,  Noon...
As per my father's wishes, his ashes were deposited in Far Rockaway today, at Beach 41st Street, a barren, desolate stretch of sand, punctuated only by the cracked and broken remnants of roads that used to lead to the summer bungalows that once filled the beaches for 100 blocks until they were all torn down in the 1970's and 1980's wiping out an entire important chapter in NYC history now alive only in the memories of those of us who spent the summer there escaping the hot streets and stifling NYC apartment in the 40's and 50's.  Now there is nothing left other than a boardwalk and a great place to bury a body, and I'm sure there are more than one there.  I'm sure if you dig deep enough, you might find Jimmy Hoffa.  So under that gray, heavy sky, shedding the occasional tear, we buried Felix and next to him, my cousin Steven brought the ashes of my father's brother Cyril two guys who loved each other and loved "Far Rock", two guys who were best friends in life and now back home together for the last time.

That's me and Steven in the dunes taken by my daughter Devora on her cell phone.  On the sand in front of us are an F and C where Felix and Cyril are buried.  If I look overwhelmed with grief, maybe I am, but it is not for the burial, it is because I have been slowly feeling my father's presence slip away and while this may be another step in moving along,  I don't necessarily want to.  I was comforted by the enhanced sense of closeness that seemed to inhabit me after his death and I am reluctant to let it go, but I feel like it is going and there is nothing to be done about it.