Saturday, September 25, 2010
Round and round I’ve gone in my head, trying to find the precise words to describe taking part of an Italian tradition: the lifelong ritual of picking grapes to initiate the procedure of making wine. However, I soon realized this poetic business just wasn’t working out. The job was simple, and so my words must follow suit.
Plucking grapes may sound exhilarating and pictorial, but the truth is… it’s pretty straightforward and to the point. Grab some work scissors, get out there in the vineyard, and cut down those grapes. You can slash through the stems to get to the grapes, or you can sever a few fruit filled vines, leaving them for others to finish off. The outgrowth goes into baskets, which later will be collected and transferred to the bed of a tractor, soon to be driven off and put to wine-ly use.
It may sound like a piece of cake, but you can actually build up quite a sweat. There are no fifteen minute breaks. No air-conditioning offices to cool down in. No outdoor furniture to relax in. You arrive on a full stomach ready to work and you keep going straight-through till sundown.
You get tired. You get thirsty and hungry. Your hands get roughened and sore. You’re practically a human-buffet for the insects lining up waiting to have a bite at you. And yet… with it all is a sense of appreciation for hard labor. You get a feeling of pride as you use your hands to work. A notion of kinship grows amongst all of us who refuse to give in to fatigue. We seem content to be rewarded by two things. The scent of the grapes, which is so pungent and sharp one can almost taste them - the aroma is sweet and juicy, like a mixture of fruit and candy that lingers in the air. And by the overwhelming impression of satisfaction that seeps in after a long day of hard work.
As for me, I was no expert. In fact, it was my first time picking grapes. I sure hoped I was of help, although I’m almost certain I might have slowed down their party. But regardless of this, I was still excited because for one day, I got to do things the traditional Italian way.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I remember when I took this picture. I was walking down a sidewalk when I noticed this man sitting on the ground. There was something about him that made me slow down. What was it, I wondered perplexed. He had black tangled hair and a bushy beard, his clothing was worn and tattered, and his fingernails were black. He looked like so many others who begged for money on the streets. It’s not an uncommon trait from where I come from.
Trying not to stare or be rude, I moved on. But soon, I found myself looking over my shoulder, thinking and wondering about him. What was his story? And what was it about him that made him stand out? I turned back. Hesitantly, I approached him. His dark brown eyes were steady and straightforward as he looked up at me. I paused. He didn’t ask me for anything. Not sure what else to do, I put some change into his cup.
Back then, I carried my camera with me at all times and I was bold enough to ask if I could take his picture. The man nodded without a word. He looked straight at me as I aimed the camera. He was still, he was quiet and he was firm. His eyes. His eyes were what had caught and held my attention. They were… faintly intense. There was no sadness or apology in his eyes, no pain or indignation. His stare wasn’t pleading in anyway. To me, he seemed dignified and proud, and that diminished his appearance of poverty. It made him stand out as a man.
I took his picture years ago. And till this day, I find the intensity in his eyes unforgettable.