My Husband Mike and I are getting ready to go on a vacation / photography expedition (his vacation, my expedition). It’s a 3 week road trip from Southern California to Nova Scotia and back…something that I dreamed up a while back. Believe it or not, this destination is based on a plane that left NYC and crashed into the shores of Nova Scotia . You may even remember it though it was years ago. What stuck in my mind was the people of that area that opened their hearts and homes to the Families that had lost loved ones, allowing them to be there for the recovery. I never forgot it and from that day to this, I have always wanted to meet the folks who populate Nova Scotia.
As I sit writing this, I can’t help but think about previous journeys, two in the aftermath of disaster.
Most of my previous trips were camping in Yosemite or traveling to New Mexico. My greatest dream had always been to see Europe, England mostly, as I love British history as much as American. I’m one of those people who can sit and watch a British mini series period drama from beginning to end, mesmerized. My Husband doesn’t like to travel much. He believes he lives in the best area in the world already, but I’m convinced it’s because he used to travel so much for his job. For my 40th birthday, he broke down and realized I wasn’t going to give up on Europe so the tickets were purchased.
One week before our departure, Princess Diana was killed in that horrible car accident and of course we landed on the day of her funeral procession. There were no black cabs in the streets… no red double decker buses…as a matter of fact, there was no one anywhere! The Tube was deserted, except for one man, as I recall. Now for those of you that have been to England, you will be shocked…but this was my first impression of England! We walked the streets and made it to Kensington Palace just as the people were disbanding. I had my video camera at that time (I didn’t shoot stills then) and I was terrified to used it as I felt like a voyeur to a Country utterly distraught.
I will never forget the overwhelming smell of those flowers nor the sheer amount of them. They were layered back at least 300 feet. I will never forget the items left for her… life size paintings of her, dolls, bears, hearts and endless notes of love and sympathy to her boys. I had made a simple cross and was allowed to attach it to her entrance gate… the fancy gold and black one you see in pictures in front of her home. I felt so honored that they allowed me this small gesture. We had planned to travel to each and every Royale castle so I could see in person what I had read about my whole life. Upon arrival, the flowers were there at every destination along with books to sign. I wrote something in every one, knowing full well that we were all creating another chapter in history, a sad one, but an important one just the same.
When we got to Paris, not looking for it, we came upon the tunnel in which she and the others parished that night. There is a beautiful golden sculpture at the entrance. It’s a replica (or maybe the original?) of the flame that tops our Statue of Liberty’s torch and it had been smothered in a sea of flowers. It was very sad standing there with others in silence, reflecting on this young woman’s life and sad end, but it was a life experience that I am glad to have been a part of. I have never to this day viewed my videos taken of everything I saw. I know I should because they are important to photojournalism. Someone has to tell the stories, both good and bad but I’m not sure it’s something I’m meant to do.
My second planned trip was to see both New York City and Washington DC. The flights were made and yes, we were to leave one week after 9/11 happened. The flight was canceled and we took our first long road trip across the United States, one that is forever burned in my memory. Upon arriving in Washington DC, the streets were deserted. I will never forget the hotel we pulled up to…right to the front door. The Bellhops, the doormen, the waiters and the maids greeted us at the door step. We were two of 4 guests in the entire hotel. They were so grateful to have something to do… it made my heart break. When I saw the Pentagon later, I dropped to my knees when I realized we were finally a Country not as bullet proof as we believed. I will never forget that giant flag hanging over that big hole in the side of that building and the Military walking the surrounding grounds. We were the only non official people but they let us stay. I must have stared for an hour at that gaping, burn hole… just sickened.
When we traveled on, we picked up our friends who had recently moved to New York, then took the train into the city. I will never forget the anger I felt, looking at the destruction, watching tanks park throughout the city. To this day, I still remember how I felt… scared, angry, very sad…trying to make some sense out of something so senseless. The people that worked tirelessly cleaning up the debris were extraordinary heroes and yet just regular folks like you and me. The smells of airplane fluids and other toxins were overwhelming and the field of debris was a horrifying thing to look upon. I took very few shots…it was just too personal for me.
I brought back with me 3 vivid memories, the first being a photo I took in Grand Central Station where the wall of missing people was built to keep photos fresh in everyone’s mind. There was a sign hanging… from a Kindergarden class that made a flag from their tiny handprints dipped in red, white and blue paint. We used that shot at my work for our Christmas card that year. It pretty much said everything needed to be said.
The second memory was finally getting to see the section in Central Park where Strawberry Field’s is. I remember a guy on a bench trying to order gas masks from his cell phone and people suddenly running in terror. We took off pretty quickly in the panic and made it to Little Italy. I remember thinking… how could this be happening here?
This is where my most important memory was defined. You must understand I’m a staunch Californian and the rivalry between NY and CA has always been to be the biggest and best. I remember as a kid, rejoicing when the population of California surpassed New York…I was so proud.
We found an Italian restaurant and sat down to eat pizza, something I do not even enjoy. I realized at my arrival that the owner was an Elvis impersonator but what you have to picture is a restaurant with TV’S in all the corners and handful of very nervous people, sitting together all watching as the first bomb was dropped on Afganistan. As we sat there staring, trying to be normal, eating pizza, the owner appeared with the cooks and the waiters. They began singing together…”start spreading the news…I’m leaving today…”. The entire room broke out in that song and me the staunch Californian, who had never uttered the words of that hated song…was crying as she sang at the top of her lungs…surreal, hell yes…but it wells up my eyes just to think of now… 5 years later. And I Loved New York from that moment on…even got a broach pin to prove it!
As I get my gear ready for this next trip…I feel both the excitement and the fear of the unknown coming upon me. I haven’t decided yet if I will post from the road or take a break. I guess you will see (or not) soon enough… But I promise to take some memorable images along the way and share them with all of you… that care to see what I’ve seen… whether good or bad, when I can.