The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Picture I Can't Take

Continuing the theme of people one encounters on the streets of Lyon:

You'll have to imagine this picture yourself, first because I never have my camera with me when I see this woman (maybe once a week or so, usually on my way home after work), and second because I'm not sure how to set the shutter speed and depth of focus to capture the effect I'd want.

She is kneeling, this woman; not sitting back with her thighs resting on her heels, but straight, as if at prayer. Her knees support her entire weight on the rough flagstones of Rue de la Republique. Her head is bowed, as if in shame; both hands extend palms-up as if in supplication.

She is perfectly still. The river of humanity that is the rush-hour crowd along La Re parts and eddies around her like a rock in a stream. In my imaginary photograph, the colors and faces of the passersby are blured by motion, while she remains in sharp focus.

Her hajab (I believe that's the right term) is white, as is the headscarf that covers her head and neck and drapes down over her shoulders. Only the downcast face and upturned hands are uncovered, and they are brown an weathered. I cannot determine her age. A battered cardboard sign in front of her has Arabic script in black marker, followed by French: Please help me I have four children one sick.

What is arresting is not that she is begging--there are plenty of bums, panhandlers, gutterpunks, and scammers in Lyon (oddly, just like back home, they all just need some gas money to get to Greensboro)--but her penitent pose and perfect stillness, as if she is being punished. My imagination, tweaked by reading about Nazi atrocites during the Occupation and several viewings of Miller's Crossing, easily completes the picture by conjuring someone standing behind her with a gun to her head.

I've never given her any money. I don't usually give handouts to panhandlers anyway, but for some reason she appears to be beset not just by misfortune but by actual oppression or evil. Maybe I'm afraid some of it will rub off on me. Maybe I'm just uncomfortable with the intrusion into my happy insulated little bourgeois world.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run pick up the antique jewelry I bought for my wife.

(Sorry for the downer post... my Mom and Dad are in town visiting and I've been too busy while at home to upload pictures of fun stuff. We took a drive up to the Beaujolais on Monday; it's harvest time right now, so we got to eat grapes right off the vine and warm from the sun while tractorloads of grapes in vats rumbled by. Pics coming but probably not until after M&D leave.)

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