Thursday, September 18, 2008

Secret Worlds

There’s a secret out there. You can find it if you simply take a second to look over an occasional hill. Usually it’s in a place the rest of the world is only marginally aware of, the kind of place people cease to see after a while.

But it’s there.

There are people in these secret worlds as well – but they are the kind of people you only see only out of the corner of your eye as they melt into the background. The years have made them experts at disappearing, and the selective perceptions we (on the other side of the hill) have developed makes it easier still for us not to see them.

Sheree and I went to one of these places last night.

The hill you have to look over is in a neighborhood formerly occupied by the military. It’s at the end of a nameless street. Watch carefully because, as with all enchanted places, you will miss the flash of color it offers if you aren’t watching for it. It’s there for a just a second and then it’s gone.

We were a fellowship of three: Sheree was taking one of her photography students out on a photo safari. I tagged along to drive the car and serve up tasty and nutritious snacks if called upon. The student was Laurie, a sweet young thing armed with a big Nikon.

I’d done a show recently in the neighbourhood and during my ritual pre-event pacing, I’d noticed a burned out building: deserted and old. All the windows were boarded over or smashed. It had the look of a toothless crone. I came to the conclusion that if a place was going to be haunted, this is probably it.

There was graffiti all over it and within it. This building was custom designed as a photographer’s feast. Since I was about to do a magic show, I didn’t have a camera with me – but I was delighted to be reunited with the building again.

I lobbied immediately for stopping there. But my wife suggested we go out to the end of the street. I was chaffing at the bit, but I drove to the end of the street anyway.

There was this hill, you see.

And on the other side of the hill – this. We were, all three, seized by the “OH! OH! OH!” photographer reflex. When this happens, you can’t get out of the car fast enough and even as you’re parking, you’re taking the lens pen to your lens and opening the car door. It’s been my experience that photographers in particular have the ability to recognize an enchanted second or a magical ray of light and they understand what rare and wonderful things they are.

As I crept deeper and deeper into the rabbit warren of fallen walls and cubbyholes, I noticed four people noticing me and immediately starting to disappear. I turned to see if the women were coming, and when I looked back the people had vanished, like a magician had waved a wand and they were gone. There wasn’t even a puff of smoke hanging in the air.

There was a sofa in the middle of a clearing. There was graffiti all around me. Broken pottery, smashed toilets and piles of garbage. The light was perfect and I kept shooting. As I did, I realized that I was actually taking shots inside someone’s home and the fact that this home was outside didn’t matter at all. I could feel eyes on me…but maybe it was just the ethereal-sort-of-spooky feel already there. But there was definitely charged atmosphere.

There were other deserted and destitute buildings we wanted to get to before the light went and we were happily photographing these when a voice came out of nowhere.

“What are you doing here?”

I turned and met Jeremy. He said he was one of the military police and that we were photographing in a restricted area. His credibility was hampered just a little because he was missing two front teeth, pushing a baby carriage and had two really odd looking women in tow.
With thoughts of little dark rooms with naked light bulbs, getting taped to a chair and beaten with rubber hoses dancing through my head, I explained that we were just taking pictures.

It didn’t take long for Jeremy to warm to us. (I used my most charming smile and when my wife and her companion joined us, his heart melted.)

“You saw the shack then?” he asked finally.

“The shack?” I repeated cleverly.

He nodded. “If you like stuff drawn on walls, you should go to the shack.”

“Where is it?” I asked – suddenly eager to get there before the light went.

“It’s just over the hill from where you were before,” he said.

“…there’s another hill?” I asked. I had been congratulating myself on looking over the first hill. Finding out there was a second hill deflated me just a little.

He nodded and led us past the first enchanted area into the fabulous treasure that waited just behind.

My eyes rested on what initially looked like a blot on the wall in the corner. As I looked at it, I began to see that the blot of black was actually a body outline. Then it looked like someone forced to stand in the corner…and that the bedspring mattress could be…what? Bars?

Look at this graffiti. It’s not a cave drawing. It’s art. The notion that someone did this in a remote cabin where only a handful of people will ever go is amazing to me. Have a look at the mattress. I was blown away. Then I noticed another painting.

Jeremy was telling me about his tactical handcuffs and that his aunt and uncle are on military tactical squads and I wasn’t even listening. True. It was the kind of talk that would have set off alarm bells in my mind before.

But now?

Nah. I was busy. I was looking at this astounding wall stuff, thinking about the mind that created it, the hands that executed it and the great honor we had to be looking at it. The image on the wall was one of such complete desolation that I couldn't hold back a sudden rush of emotion and empathy for the person who had done this wonderful artwork in this deserted and marked-for-demolition building. The idea of bulldozers destroying this was pretty hard to take.

A brass...thing....had been twisted up in a very specific way and I had the inspiration that this anonymous artist had placed it right where it was and in a curious way, it completed the picture.

When I was a kid, I was blown away by the notion that there really could be an enchanted world you accessed through the back of an ordinary wardrobe, that this mundane world really did have some magic to offer. I am so very glad I was right. And the magic is easier to find that I had originally thought.

You just have to look over a hill or two.

1 comment:

Ren said...

I love it...The outline is so...empty. Or desolate. Like the imprint of someone caught in pain during the nuclear blast.

I'm glad you climbed the 2nd hill :)