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Saturday, January 29, 2011


Friday is market day on my street and it's a busy day for our local mendicant population. Petra is at his post in front of the G20 supermarket where I usually buy milk and cereal. I'm not normally very generous but there's something about the way that this fellow makes eye contact, clutching a photo of his wife and eight children in his left hand, his right hand cupped in supplication - dipping his head and stretching out his hand as each potential donor passes by.

Once, during the holidays, I gave him a two euro coin, and was rewarded with a blessing for my entire family as he pointed to the sky beaming and gesturing. "Dio bene toda sua familia." Spanish? Italian? What language is he speaking? It doesn't sound like French.

I have a homework assignment for my photography class and after placing a coin in his palm, I ask permission to take his photograph. He's clearly delighted. He stands tall, holds his photograph proudly in front of him and puts on his most distinguished face.

I was hoping to capture that disarming smile of his or the blessing I'd received before. But no, photographs are a proud and serious business. I try to get him to relax by engaging him in conversation. I ask about the family in the photograph. "Si, mi familia" he manages to convey - but I can see we have a serious language obstacle. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his identity card. He proudly shows me his name "Petra" and I can see that he is from Romania. No wonder we have a language barrier.

I returned this morning with a copy of the photo that I've taken. He's sitting down today, and when he sees the photo he's delighted. He immediately takes off his hat and asks me to take more photos. He also offers his hand. I shake his hand and in a gallant gesture he kisses the back of my hand and offers another blessing as he points to the sky.

I leave him holding his new photograph. What have I started?

1 comment:

  1. have you seen a film "Women are heroes"? The french photograph and film maker went to the poorest places in the world and he just made photos of the women, which in my opinion rebuild in their hearts the sense of dignity. I think you did the same...You can see this in his eyes.