Friday, September 17, 2010

The Leather man - E.L. Doctorow





E.L. Doctorow - January 6, 1931

I’ve written a lot about perspectives here. Mostly about my attempts at looking at my life and situations I find myself in from a different perspective.

E.L. Doctorow drops an interesting story that not only forces me to revisit a former home….and see it from heights…but he also manages to create a story that wiggles into the mind of Godwin and Ravenel.

I’ve written a couple of times here about my time in Negresti.

A week ago, a few photos surfaced on a particular social network site that allowed me to see a place that was once a major part of my life from a whole new perspective.

I always knew Negresti was a small town and I always considered whether to call it a village.

A little diversion first…

I questioned why I was sent to Negresti from the time I was told by my country director and my sector leader that they felt I was a perfect match for Negresti.

I remember stating in my placement interview that I would welcome being sent to a smaller town. The director took me up on that offer and sent me to the smallest town they could offer.

I’d like to think that they saw something in me that they felt would allow me to survive in such inhospitable conditions.

The side of me that likes to dwell on self-doubt caused me to think that I was sent there because the town was small, and I was being “sent away”.

I’ve come to realize that this thought was silly, and due to the results of my time there…I realize that I was sent there for the very reason the director wanted me there.

Talk about the ultimate perspective change – I was about to enter in the largest most influential shift in perspective that I have ever encountered.

Now, back to the photos.

Here are a few shots from a larger group of photos that surfaced showing Negresti from the air.

In the past, and during my time there, I was always able to envision Negresti from the air but these photos turn that vision into a reality.

In the photo below, I can see M’s apartment. It’s old, the roof is a mash of materials but the memories are safe under them.


I can also see the alley.

I can see the alley I walked down daily to enter the town to buy bread.

The same alley that I stumbled down countless nights after spending too many hours in one of the town’s MANY bars.

The same alley where I saw young boys torturing a kitten.

The same ally I saw a frozen cat lay for months in the winter.

The same alley that has a large trash receptacle which I set fire to after dumping my mouse urine covered wardrobe in.

The same alley I watched students walk down arm in arm on their way to meet me.

The ally was sort of an entrance to and an exit from my small reality in that town.

More on Entrances and Exits- In the photo below, I can see a very special street.


This street was my road to freedom. This was the road that was an entrance to, and an exit from, my large reality in that town and country.

I walked on this road sometimes as early as 2:30 to catch a connecting train to another city.

Negresti wasn’t on a main train line so the schedule wasn’t exactly tailored for easy exits.

I walked on this road in sub-zero temperatures…making my way towards the train station…already a little buzzed from the flask of cognac I had stuffed in my winter coat. The alcohol keeping me warm…warding off boredom and giving me a little fortitude to handle the situation I was inevitably going to encounter upon reaching the station and then later, aboard the train.

Sometimes as I walked this road early on early spring mornings, I smelled the sweetest air I’ve ever encountered. My heart expanded as I heard the world awaken around me. Chickens, cows and birds could be heard stirring in the yards lining the road. The dew…appearing in these early hours awakened the smells around me and in combination with the excitement of travel, bringing me close to tears.

My entrances and return to the town were memorable as well.

Sometimes when I returned, it would be so cold and dark, the town covered in thick fog, that you couldn’t make out the station from the train window.

Dread would descend upon me and I questioned my existence in this corner of the world.

Then there were times when I had been away for some time. I’d see the small station, hop off the train and see a familiar face along the road back to my room.

I’d be happy to be back.

After several months in the town, I had a longing to see the town from as many perspectives as I could.

Here is a photo I took of the town from the hills (hardly) that overlooked the town.


I had been having a particularly hard few days, and I need to get out of the town.

I think I drank a few beers, and threw a couple into my backpack along with my camera. I made it to the top of the hill in about an hour and a half.

I remember how peaceful it was up there. I heard cows and dogs barking in the distance.

I cried.

I worked over my life while I was up on that hill. The sun was setting and I followed it as it finally disappeared over the horizon.

I drank a beer or two. I pulled myself together and walked back down the hill.

I don’t remember the rest of that evening.

But the perspective on the town and my life in Negresti had changed from my little pep talk in combination with my time on that hill.

I slip into my memories of Negresti quite frequently during this time of the year. I think it has something to do with the temperature change and the light.

I settled into Negresti right around this time 12 years ago.

So…now…with the appearance of these photos, I can add a whole new perspective on the town and my time there.

Gail Godwin writes in her introduction:

“Who is this Slater, do you think?” I asked Shannon Ravenel on Sunday in February, when I had phoned her long distance to inquire about the eligibility of a story I wanted to include. Then we got around to discussing some of the other stories, which brought us to ‘The Leather man.”

“I’m not sure,” said Shannon, who speaks with those soft consonants that make me nostalgic for my Southern childhood. “But I think he and the other man are sort of a combination policemen and psychologists.”

We kept the wires humming between Woodstock and St. Louis a little longer, mulling over why this story had illuminated some problematic corner of existence for us and made us meditate on our condition as solitary souls living tenuously on a crowded earth, but inveterately curious about one another.

“Well, anyway,” Shannon concluded, “I really like that story.”

I still don’t know who Slater is, but I really like it too.

Searching and viewing a story from two perspectives…not finding an answer.

I’m still searching for answers in my life – I haven’t found all the answers and I doubt I ever will – but the exercise of perspective change sure makes it interesting.

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