A project I have been working on with my aunt has been published by Antenna's Press Street Press and is available for $10 here.
The book is a selection of letters written from an established artist to an emerging one (who also happen to be aunt and niece) from 2002-2012. The letters are written after the fact, but all the events, dates, locations...etc are accurate. The letters touch on themes of love, art, travel, sacrifice and more. Photographs I made at the time of the letters accompany them in this chapbook.
Barbara Hammond is a playwright in NYC, www.barbarahammond.com
I spent December in Paris, in Montmartre in a dark flat on
la rue des Abbesses. A sister of a friend in Dublin owned
the place and gave me the key and I flew over, hoping, I
don’t know, hoping for beauty. I love Paris, its metro,
its people, its indifference. I walked and walked and
lived on the edge of loneliness most of the time. I had a
few visitors, some romance, and yet, it felt, as it always
feels to me in Paris, that I am looking for people long-
dead, salons long-silent, ideas long-discarded. I was looking for the new in an old place, a place preserved so that the old still clings to the buildings, the gravestones, the Moulin Rouge sign, the boucheries, the cafés, the doorknobs, the motorbikes, old/new, past/present – but no one to talk to – no one seeking me out and no one to seek out.
I had a friend visit from New York – or, I never know what
to call a friend who you are dating, but anyhow it
was that kind of friend. He arrived, and I had changed in
the months apart, and maybe he had too, and we faced days
ahead of us, stuck in this dark, cramped flat, without the
closeness he had been expecting and hoping to find for his
trip to Paris, and we had a sobering discussion, awkward
and heavy, and the next morning he went out and he didn’t
come back for hours. I wasn’t certain he’d come back at
all. I’d disappointed him and, wrongly, I felt irritated
that he had expected anything else. I was not being the
bigger person. He found me at a café and handed me a bag.
He’d been shopping. Inside: a small set of watercolor
paints and a sketchbook. He asked for a cup of water from
the waiter. I watched the side of his face as the late
morning light touched his cheek and the side of his nose
and glinted against the frame of his glasses. He had
bought new boots for his trip to Paris. He had been very
excited to come. He started with a blank page, uncreased
it, and looked across the street, then down at the paper.
In a few minutes he had layered on color and shape and a
street scene emerged, impressionistic. The boulangerie,
the fruit stand, the shoeshine shop with its proprietor
leaning against its sign – the sky above.
He pushed the paper over to me. You try. I can’t, I said.
The thing is, you can’t go wrong. You can’t make a
mistake. You’re creating something new. He was hurt, and
he was trying, in his own words, in his southwestern
accent, to “turn it around.” We read to each other in the
evening from a history of Paris. We found the catacombs in
Montparnasse, get lost in the cool dark caves with its
piles of skulls and limbs and clavicles, and stumbled back
out into the light a few hours later, very glad to be
alive. I wish I could have loved him. “Bad timing. Wrong
guy maybe. Wrong time definitely,” he said. “It’s okay.”
Such goodness should be rewarded, I
thought, though the reward it sought I couldn’t give --
but when I think of Paris,
I either think of myself, alone, exploring, or I
think of him, teaching me how to watercolor, and
demonstrating a kind of manhood I had never seen or heard
Cities can break you. You have to be careful where you go
and who you travel with. I think, at some point, I’m going
to have to stop moving, but I don’t know how, and it feels
like it would be a little like death. Some part of me
would fold up and disappear. But I know that if I keep
moving nothing truly new can happen anymore. I can see and
experience and taste and discover but I will not heal.
I want to go home but I don’t know where that is. It isn’t
Dublin; it isn’t Paris; it definitely isn’t Wisconsin; and
it isn’t even New York. But it has to exist, doesn’t it?
It seems everybody should have someplace
that feels like home.
*excerpt is from a letter that is not in this volume of the book.