Sunday 31 May 2020

Blog Post, 31 May, 2020. "Touching Jesus"

I recently entered the Prince Edward Arts Council and Quinte Arts Council’s second annual “Wind & Water” writing contest. The theme of this year’s contest was “Memory”.  

My submission, “Touching Jesus,” was a memoir based on an experience I had in Rome in 1972. Recollecting that carefree Roman holiday was a delight, especially in the context of the current pandemic. I also thoroughly enjoyed the actual writing – a useful, creative experience, including the editing. In our household, we call editing “Alice Munro-ing”. (Both Bill and I are great fans of Alice Munro’s lean, focused writing.) 

Many thanks to the Prince Edward Arts Council and Quinte Arts Council for this opportunity, with special thanks to the judges, Kelly S. Thompson and Dorian Widling.

Bill also submitted a piece to the contest, “At Peace...A Memory,” which was shortlisted by the judges. It is both beautiful and insightful – I hope you will have the opportunity to read it.

Although “Touching Jesus” didn’t get short-listed, I am pleased with the result. I hope you enjoy reading it. The photos at the end reflect the last day of an exquisite bouquet of tulips that graced our home recently.

Touching Jesus

Part A 
Flashbacks  to 1972

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City 
(Sunday, May 21, 1972, Feast of the Pentecost)

Michelangelo’s famous sculpture La Pietà  was severely damaged today when a disturbed Australian geologist, Laszlo Toth, attacked the sculpture with a hammer. Shouting, “I am Jesus Christ – I have risen from the dead!”, Toth struck the sculpture fifteen times before being forcibly restrained by Robert Cassilly, a visiting American sculptor. The figure of Mary suffered most of the damage: her left forearm was destroyed; one of her eyelids was chipped; and part of her nose was knocked off. Chips of marble flew during the attack, with bystanders grabbing most before members of the Swiss Guard could intervene...

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City 
(Friday, May 26, 1972)

Laszlo Toth is being examined by psychiatrists to determine his state of mind during the feverish attack on La Pietà. So far, no charges have been laid. After a public appeal, most of the marble chips removed by onlookers after the attack have been returned for use in the eventual restoration. Mary’s nose, however, has not yet returned...

Part B
The Memoir of a Glorious 1972 Trip to Italy, 
in Two Contrasting Movements

First Movement – The Coming-of-Age Narrative 

So picture this: I was a naïve kid from Prince Edward County who wanted to see the world. A bad case of itchy feet and irritable home syndrome. I’d been born in the County and attended school there for thirteen years. Then I went to university and teachers’ college before short-circuiting my way back to The County for my first teaching job. After three years, I got restless and started plotting escape routes to the wider world. Which is how I ended up heading to Australia, having sold my car and cashed in my teachers’ pension to finance the one-way flight to Sydney, where a teaching appointment awaited me. 

That was 1971, the beginning of a life-long love affair with Australia. Part of that love affair was a mad-crazy – and totally  unrequited – crush on a cute Sydneysider who barely knew I existed. Rather than actually confess my feelings, I fled Australia after less than a year. (Bravery in the ways of the heart was not my strong suit.) 

Which is why, on April 2, 1972, I boarded the SS Guglielmo Marconi, a sleek Italian liner, for a 29-day voyage to Naples via Cape Town. With the unfinished Sydney Opera House receding in the Marconi’s  wake, I headed out on the next adventure. My plans after arriving in Naples were vague, but they involved exploring Italy until the money ran out and then flying back to Canada. 

Which brought me to Rome in May, 1972. I had studied (and loved) Roman history at university and knew enough Italian to bluff my way through most encounters. And high-school Latin helped decipher the lettering on ancient Roman ruins. 

And what a glorious time I had! I was totally smitten with the energy, the architecture, the food, the wine – even the crowded buses. For someone who was accustomed to the sluggishness of Picton and the sedateness of Sydney (boy, has that changed!), life in Rome was a revelation and an inoculation against any form of joylessness. 

I did everything the typical tourist would do: climbed the Spanish Steps, visited Hadrian’s tomb, wandered the Circus Maximus, tossed three coins in the Trevi Fountain, made friends with feral cats in the Coliseum, marvelled at the Pantheon...and walked untold kilometres in total rapture. My very special Roman Holiday.

Second Movement – The Spiritual Gift. 

So, this is where the mood changes. We are now leaving Kansas. 

Stick with me.

The peak experience of my time in Rome was visiting the Vatican, an encounter that still elevates me to tears. I am not a Roman Catholic, preferring the sturdy directness of my Quakerism. However, I was swept up in the grandeur and superhuman scale of everything that I saw that day – the basilica’s magnificent dome, the fabulous Bernini altar, the vastness of St. Peter’s Square, the unexpected intimacy of the Sistine Chapel, the infinity of the Vatican Museums. They collectively provided me with a sustained emotional high. I even climbed to the very top of the dome – the cupola – to look down at the roof of the basilica and the welcoming arms of the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square far below. 

One searing memory of that day occupies a treasured niche in my soul: seeing Michelangelo’s La Pietà. The visual impact was stunning. La Pietà’s    humanity – the profound depiction of a mother’s love and grief for her dying son – was beyond measure. The adjective ‘breathtaking’ does it no justice.

And, most memorably for me, I saw La Pietà  three days – three days! – before that mad Australian geologist took a hammer to it. This realization still leaves me speechless. 

You see, before Laszlo Toth’s descent into his personal hell, La Pietà  was totally accessible to anyone  who entered St. Peter’s Basilica. La Pietà  simply sat there, in all its pristine, unshielded glory, against a wall near the entrance. 

You could simply walk up and touch it. 


Which I did, in an experience that remains beyond time and measure. My fingers still recall reaching out tentatively to touch the cool Carrara marble of Jesus’s leg. 

And, in a contradiction that defies logic, my fingers also felt warmth – WARMTH! – at exactly the same time. 

Coolness. Warmth. Beginnings. Endings. Alpha. Omega. 

All there in one light touch of Jesus’s body. His Mystery made human. 

And His Mystery remains human. 

And totally unfathomable. 

When I try to give words to my faith in God – clumsily, haltingly to be sure – I fall back on the sense memory of my humble fingers on that spring day in St. Peter’s Basilica. What my mind and my soul cannot fully comprehend, my fingers take delight in having experienced directly. 

And then – and then – Laszlo Toth took his murderous hammer to that wondrous sculpture three days later. 

This fused experience – my revelation + Toth’s desecration – endures as a primal source of both joy and grief. Each element reinforces and illuminates the other. The contradictions implicit in my experience of La Pietà  dwell also at the heart of Christianity itself – in all its glorious ambiguities, paradoxes, and inconsistencies.

Coolness. Warmth. Beginnings. Endings. Alpha. Omega. 

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada    

Sunday 24 May 2020

Blog Post - May 24, 2020: "Being There"

Nothing terribly profound today. Actually, I’m returning to a theme I’ve written about before. 

Pierre Elliott Trudeau once famously quipped, “Luck, that’s when preparation and opportunity meet.” 

And Woody Allen once riffed on a quotation by the composer Richard Rodgers and declared, “90% of life is showing up.” (Rodgers set the threshold at 80%.)

Trudeau and Allen point toward a fundamental truth about photography – as a photographer, you have to show up. It’s that simple. You can have the best camera and lenses in town, but unless you’re actively clicking that shutter, no photos get made.

Which brings me to one of my favourite movies –  director Hal Ashby’s 1979 Being There, starring Peter Sellers. (See trailer here.) Based on the 1970 novel by Jerzy Kosiński, it is the story of how Chance, the humble gardener, morphs into Chauncey Gardiner, the man who unwittingly rises to the top of Washington society simply by showing being there. 

The parallels between Chauncey Gardiner’s inadvertent rise to fame and making photographs break down quickly, but I repeat the point I made above: unless you’re actively out there with your camera, the photographs will all be lost. Every one of them. Which is why you see me wandering the streets of Belleville with Edna so much these days – I’m actively showing up. Actively being there.

The photos below come from my pandemic wanderings. It’s their random quality that appeals to me. None was pre-planned. None was expected. It’s an eclectic collection, with no thematic connection...other than being at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

So, my friends, here’s my advice for living: Prepare. Show up. And be there. Really be there. Oh, and take your camera. Enjoy!

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday 17 May 2020

Blog Post - May 17, 2020: "Time Passages"

I’m not sure why Al Stewart’s 1978 song “Time Passages” popped into my head this week. (YouTube link) It’s been decades since I’ve heard it. In the late 1970s, I was an Al Stewart fan and regularly played his albums, especially 1976’s The Year of the Cat, on my car’s very cool 8-track tape deck. Listening to “Time Passages” this week brought back memories – perhaps too many memories – of plaid bell-bottoms, platform shoes, gold chains... 

I can only hope that when I look back on my current fashion choices, they don’t seem as unwise as my 1970s choices. 

The song itself now strikes me as slight – nowhere near as insightful as it sounded in 1978. Funny how the passage of time can transform yesterday’s profundity into today’s What was I thinking?

There is one line in “Time Passages”, however, that continues to resonate: “The years run too short and the days too fast.”

As we head into the third month of isolation, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I perceive the passage of time, a subject that has always fascinated me. 

My maternal grandmother, Lydia Pearl Walters, told me shortly before her death, “As I age, the years fly by, but the days drag on.” Her comment sticks with me 45 years later. I share my grandmother’s perception that the years do, indeed, seem to fly, but not her follow-up conclusion that the days drag.

Al Stewart captures it for me – my days run fast, including these days of isolation. In fact, all time – both days and nights – seems to have sped up. Even when I’m depressed or filled with anxiety. Or when I wake up, worried, at 4 am and can’t get back to sleep.

Many factors shape my perception of time. For one, I love the man I’m isolated with. I enjoy his company, his endless complexity, his energy, his creativity, his sense of fun, his cooking... Well, you get the picture. I also enjoy my own company. My daily five-kilometre walks with Edna and my SONY camera are highlights of the day. They get me out of the house, nurturing my creativity and curiosity. 

Another factor that keeps time moving quickly is that I have things to do, creative things that I really enjoy: making and processing photos, creating slideshows, connecting with people, reading, writing... In fact, the last two months have been enormously productive. Having said that, however, I also recognize that I’m experiencing the world from a place of enormous privilege, being both securely housed and fed. Bottom line: I am humbled and grateful for the many blessings in my life.

The discipline of writing blog posts each week has been an enormous gift. It allows me the ongoing opportunity to put into words the flood of feelings, fears, joys, and ambiguities that are surfacing during the pandemic. I am pleased by the positive feedback these posts have received. It is deeply rewarding to know that my thoughts are resonating with others. I’m also gratified that my blog’s readership has doubled since mid-March, with most followers now coming from the USA.

Looking ahead, will I be happy to see fewer restrictions in our lives? Hug grandchildren? Welcome people into our home ? Take the train to Toronto for a day of photography? Absolutely! 

And...will I also miss the discipline of COVID-19 restrictions? And the slower, quieter pace of life? A muted, qualified ‘yes’. 

The photos: our front doors are portals into hospitality, celebration, and welcome. I have noticed lately that a growing number of east end Belleville homes feature cheerful, elaborate wreaths on their front doors. They offer the promise of days ahead when we can start welcoming people back into our homes. I offer these photos to help prepare us for that happy day. Enjoy.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday 10 May 2020

Blog Post, May 10, 2020: "The Journeys Ahead"

A reflection this week on the journeys ahead. 

Note the plural – journeys. 

The first journey is the one we are all travelling as we adjust to the COVID-19 world. In the weeks – months – years ahead, we will be adapting to the altered dynamics of existence. 

Questions to consider: How will we ensure equity and fairness in this new world? Will we embrace a guaranteed annual income to cushion the impact of future disruptions? How can we ensure that nursing homes and long-term care facilities protect both their residents and their workers? How do essential workers get paid enough to match their importance? How can we use the pandemic as an opportunity to embrace a low-carbon world? How will our democracy adapt to an increasingly virtual world? Same question for our hospitals, schools, businesses, and courts. What will our workplaces look like? And our restaurants, theatres, playing fields, concert halls, and tourist attractions? How will newspapers and social media evolve?

And how will our artists – professional adapters that they are – respond to the new realities? 

There will be blessings and bumps along the way.

The second journey is the one that Bill and I are embarking upon – selling our beautiful home in Belleville and moving to our new home in Picton. How will the current uncertainties affect this process? We could have backed out of the purchase, but we decided to dive in with all flags flying. Are we sages? Or fools? Or both? In any case, this second journey will weave back and forth with the first journey, with question marks blossoming along the path. And yet again, there will be blessings and bumps.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, my camera continues to be a source of creativity and engagement. And, as I’ve already written, our Basset Hound, Edna, has been a marvellous companion on my daily expeditions.

There is no profound theme in this collection of east-end Belleville photos. About the only things holding them together are their humour and celebration of colour. Enjoy.

And one last Bill and I prepare to sell our home and move, my posts may become shorter and less frequent. Thank you for your understanding.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Sunday 3 May 2020

Blog Post - May 3, 2020: "At Risk With Edna, Part 2"

“If you don’t shed tears here, you have missed the point.”
 – Ellen Davis, Duke University Theologian

So, let’s begin with tears. 

Sometimes, your heart just has to break. And sometimes, you just have to cry. 

(Stick with me – I’ll get to joy.)

Lord knows there are enough things to cry about right now, things we face together and things we face alone. Or at least it feels like we’re facing them alone.

We are all dealing with the collective reality of COVID-19’s reaching its tentacles into our hospitals, our nursing homes, our streets, our factories, our schools, our theatres, our galleries, our bookstores, our stadiums...

And we are all dealing with the individual reality of COVID-19’s reaching into our psyches...and reaching into our assumptions.

Combine our collective grief and our individual grief and, yes, there’s a lot to cry about.

That combination struck home for me last week when a friend’s 98-year-old mother died of COVID-19 in her nursing home.

When I join grief about COVID-19 with other sadness in my life – losing a cousin to cancer; mourning the deaths in Nova Scotia; watching a relative’s marriage disintegrate – I have done my share of crying.

Crying heals. Tears heal. They don’t change what has happened. But they do change how I feel about what has happened. Which is really important.

And then I start counting the joys in my life – my husband, his wondrous quilts, and his generous spirit; my family, my friends, my photography, and my writing; my home, my country, and my planet – and I realize that joys and tears work together. They are inseparable. If you want joy in your life, you have to take the tears as well. And, as my husband gently reminded me this week, tears express joy, too.

Which brings us to Edna, our Basset Hound, who has been accompanying me on my safely distanced photo expeditions around east-end Belleville. According to my iPhone’s pedometer, we clocked 152 km in April.

One reason I enjoy sharing walks with Edna is that she brings out the best in people. And she brings people joy. Strangers smile at her. Street conversations pop up spontaneously. People call her by name. (More people know her in the neighbourhood than me!) 

Edna engages people’s “ahhhhhh” reflex. She allows people to emerge from their protective shells and engage with others, even in times such as now. Maybe especially in times such as now.

And gentle, loving Edna just carries on. 

Bless her.

And bless all of you.

Stay safe. Stay well. 

Let your hearts break when they need to. And then let them heal.

Tears and joy. A package deal.

Enjoy these Belleville photos. Edna helped make most of them.

Belleville General Hospital

Mudcat Road

Mudcat Road

Mudcat Road

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada