Wednesday at the Louvre: On Paying Respects

While in Paris recently, practising my own art and photographing the city, I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The pilgrimage I had anticipated as an eager six-year-old proved the closest I have yet come to the documented neuro-chemical feelings typically attributed to religious experience (and is, hopefully, the last time I have an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment in a public place for a while).
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We recognise these iconic glass pyramids and think of culture, of mastery, and perhaps, even, of perfection in the field. We see their reflection, itself an impressionist image glittering on the surface of now-calmer metaphoric waters, and in it, the sins of the historically-elitist ‘Academie’ are more easily distorted, or even washed away, hiding in folded curtains of water (perhaps, themselves, so becoming art).

It was fated that the days of Van Gogh would see him misunderstood and rejected by the very same community which would one day study and celebrate him perhaps above all others. Of Da Vinci, to be persecuted on the grounds of Christian morality — of Caravaggio, to be skewered for boisterous recklessness — and of countless other artists’, whose work is not displayed on the more heavily-trafficked floors, their names all but lost to history, eroded from the stone — and for thousands of others, their work to become the dirt beneath our cities, our towns, and our streets, where dust settles on them even now.

It is they to whom I sought to pay my respects, poring over paintings and sculpture and textile for hours, wandering endless rooms filled with art, in a graveyard as much as in a dream. It remains our duty to the global art community to remember them — all of them — through our current actions, as much as it is in our best interest and the best interest of our children (viz. our young students) to examine the works of the masters in our museums.

Buy local art. Encourage others and yourself to enjoy and explore expression: it is here we will find our voice in history. Pay attention to the art made by the artists from lesser-acknowledged communities, because those long-dead masters won’t benefit from your belated respect and adoration… They will.

 

The Alpacalypse – “Aplacas on Campus” Charity Event at Glasgow University Sparks Hearty, Entertaining Debate (First News Article with the Glasgow Guardian)

After the Rectorial election coverage, I was keen on writing something a bit less serious. My wish was granted in a pitch from my editor which I snapped up as quickly as I could: an on-campus fundraising event which boasts anti-stress Alpacas, part of a week of such called Raising and Giving (or RAG) Week on campus at Glasgow University sparked digital controversy as a flurry of animal rights activists descended upon the event’s page, citing concerns for the animals’ welfare at being put on display in an urban environment. Read about the Alpacalypse here.

It is important to note that I am very much a proponent of enforcing and expanding animal rights, and would not take a humorous tone unless I felt it was doing no harm to the situation. It is also important to note that I am in favour of education on animals,  and feel that this event will not harm the beasts in question. The owner of the animals reached out to the organizers of the event to assuage the fears of those expressing concern: explaining how, among many other points, her Alpacas were accustomed to going into urban environments for educational events and as such, are not your garden-variety Camelid. But many students weren’t convinced, and then things got heated…

“Concerns as far-reaching as the alpacas’ distance from their native habitat in Peru to those more focused on addressing the animals’ immediate stress levels at being introduced to a heavily urban environment have been voiced, with many suggesting the exploitative nature of the event and rebuking the idea of animals being put on display for human enjoyment. Several attendees in favour of the event have returned these concerns by satirising the concerns of the minority – asking for the alpacas’ stance on fracking, demanding SRC release the wage allowances of the alpacas in question, and more. On social media, the “alpacalypse” unfolded by way of comments, hashtags, and all-out tagging war.”

In a statement for the Glasgow Guardian given by the Vice President of Student Activities, Mhari Harris also detailed the precautions taken in planning the event and reassured students that no Alpacas would be in any way harmed in the making of this charity event.

I feel it is probable that anyone looking at the breadth of my coverage for the Glasgow Guardian thus far may suggest that I have been demoted in covering this event (which, I feel, is an added, entertaining benefit to having done so): going from writing on political protests, Glaswegian culture, more reflective pieces, election coverage and more to a digital exchange belonging in many ways to the theatre of the absurd. On the contrary, this event gave me the rare opportunity to feel a connection with my physical home from abroad.

Connecticut communities are absurd, quirky, and often very strange places to live, and having grown up in one for the entirety of the first two decades of my life and more, I have been trained to recognise Connecticut-brand-absurdity like a pro.  This event, while of course important to cover in its own right, fit that bill precisely.

I’ve been away from home in some incarnation for what feels like a very long time, and am glad to have had the opportunity to highlight a bit of an absurdist controversy in the wake of a contentious election season. Read up on other insights into life in Glasgow on the Glasgow Guardian’s website and support student journalism.

Glasgow Guardian Issue IV – Recent Photo Credits and Illustration

The University of Glasgow’s fourth issue of the student newspaper, The Glasgow Guardian, is out in print and online now! Lots of great work went into this issue and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I am continually impressed by the caliber of people I get to work with and so thankful for these opportunities.

Several of my photographs are featured in online articles this month as well as in print, with a shot of Glasgow’s The People’s Palace making the centre spread this issue and an illustration of Robert Burns (the first piece of ink work I have done in a long while) featured in-print for a news article also available online.

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“The People’s Palace”, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, The Glasgow Guardian Issue IV, Centre Spread, In Print Only

The content this month is particularly amazing, with several important news and features investigations, interesting commentary in views and culture, and entertaining sports section pieces. There’s something for everyone, so if you’re keen on having an interesting morning read, support student journalism, art, and activities, and please check out the website!

Links to online articles featuring my photographs:

“University bosses criticised for expensive claims”, by Katy Scott

“GU Medics can opt out of bad news sessions”, by Osama Abou-zeid

“Rent struggles affect 4 in 10”, by Austen Shakespeare

“Glasgow protests Trump inauguration”, by Thomas J. McDonald

 

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Robert “Side” Burns, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, The Glasgow Guardian Issue IV, In Print Only

Robert “Side” Burns, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, Glasgow Guardian Issue IV Print

 

Glasgow Protests Trump’s Muslim Ban, Showing Solidarity and Love – Photo Series

A boy called Blue held a hand-drawn sign on Monday, January 30th, 2017 with the words “Mr Trump [,] everyone is the same change your ways” written in pencil and marker, reflecting sentiments shared by the nearly two thousand protesters within City Centre, Glasgow, UK attending two separate protests*.

I have been photographing recent Trump protest rallies for  The Glasgow Guardian* for the past several weeks, but the turn out for this event was by far the most expansive. People from the whole of the city: men, women, children, gay, bi, trans, questioning, non-gender-conforming, transmasculine, transfeminine, and people from as many races as Glasgow could produce gathered in a mass show of peaceful solidarity.

History will remember the faces around the world who stood in opposition to one of the greatest challenges the march of intellect has faced in many generations. Likewise, history will not forget the names of those who were silent in their comfort and privilege as others suffered.

The question the world must ask itself, if no other avenue is able to convince it to rise to action is this: is it better to be remembered by name, or by face? By a title, assigned arbitrarily, or by your human features — your humanity? By the group you stand for, or the people you stand with?History is watching, and I urge the world to help make it happen.

These are the shots which will likely not all make it into circulation or publication, but which echo the sentiments shared by both groups of protesters despite the division between them: the faces of people who wish to see change. The faces of those who stood in solidarity with the American people, the seven nations which are immediately affected by this ban, and the world.

I want the world to remember their faces.

And a note to ‘Blue’, should he or his Dad ever stumble across this page:

The world is grateful for you being brave tonight, taking a stand with your brothers and sisters all over the world. Your family is very proud of you, of that I have no doubt. You will make big changes in the world as long as you keep fighting bravely, holding your beliefs high and allowing them to precede your entry into every interaction you may face — without losing your willingness to talk with others. Thank you so much for letting me take your picture! You turned an otherwise-ordinary Glasgow night into something truly fantastic — people coming together in support of one another. I hope I get to be like you when I grow up.

* In my first News piece for the Glasgow Guardian, I will discuss the reason for the two separate protests and its implications for similar, future protests in Glasgow.

Winter Gardens – The People’s Palace, Glasgow, Scotland, Photo Series

The winds are still bitingly cold here in Glasgow, but nature is trying to convince us all it hasn’t let us down. Winter is waining here steadily by the day, and as if to spite the cold, the earliest traces of buds are appearing on some of the city’s more brazen trees (viz., those farther from the banks of the River Clyde and / or the coast).

Glasgow’s People’s Palace features an impressive collection of plants and flowering flora which offer a pleasant distraction from the damp, raw winds and unabating, early fall of the sun. All else of what’s on offer at the fantastic corresponding museum aside, the flora itself allows visitors to get lost in a peaceful, tropical version of an English garden.

A lovely respite from the cold (or the endless heaps of paperwork which accompany the commencement of second term in graduate school).

 

Hues of Old Glasgow

Glasgow is a friendly city rife for exploration even on the coldest of days. The winter brings with it the evocation of drab imagery: it is expected that every day spent wandering in this bitter season will include only gales from the North Atlantic to match the monochrome surrounding denizens whose wardrobes seem to have submitted to the bleak conditions. Fortunately, aside from the frigidity of the atmosphere, none of that is accurate… at least not all of the time.

The city is, of course, unforgivingly cold in the winter. Humidity hangs motionless in the air and sinks into even the most weatherproof of clothes indiscriminately. Citisens and visitors old enough to have errands appear as regularly as ever, going about their duties, where children seem less easily affected by the cold, darting between alleys and streets chasing one another on scooters and bikes. Aside from the historic tenement flats overlooking some of the city’s most popular roads, their ancient architecture looms over modernised storefronts as occasional, glamorously sleek structures blink between them.

Living here demands recognition of this fact: it is a confluence of old and new at every turn, an undeniable embodiment of the cyclical nature of life. History is patchworked into every element of life here even in the most modernised parts. Often, this overlap is felt most strongly through the creative freedoms taken by residents of tucked-away homes and buildings: using colour and quirkiness to underline the overlapping ages through architectural self-expression.

“It’s Not About the Shoes”: The Ruby Slipper Project

Turn it off”, she said, almost in a whisper. It was one of the bad days nearing the end, and the frustration was bearing down on her in ways her cancer had robbed her the ability to express. I could hear the tears gathering in her eyes, but she ensured I could not see them as she turned away in the bed which took up most of the available floor space in the already-cramped living room.

My mother made her swift and decisive way toward her, weaving through furniture and boxes and plastic cups, books, and folded napkins balanced precariously on footstools, through the living room in which my maternal Grandmother, Phyllis Granata Evans, was living her last.

The colours and light levity of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ had burst through the barriers of fate onto our living room television screen – a screen blacker and less dramatic than the silver one upon which she would have first seen those dancing, vivid depictions of lovable characters and yellow brick roads reminiscent of the gold-paved streets her family had sought in coming to America from Italy so many years before. It was one of her favourite movies, and something she and I had shared for years.

Something about it all had long captivated both of us for as long as I could remember, and more times than I could remember, I on her knee in her coincidentally ruby red velvet armchair, I kicked together the heels of those shoes three times, and as promised, I was home. The vibrant colours, the vivid imagery, the powerful, understated simplicity – it was beautiful.

We would delight for hours on end in Judy Garland’s character – and as we watched together, so she became a silver-screen embodiment of Gram. That same strength and the class of its delivery, the bravery in standing up humbly with what knowledge she had, acknowledging fear, and those big, brown doe eyes. Judy Garland had been every little girl’s idol in my Grandmother’s day, surely – but only I was lucky enough to know a real-life version. We knew the lines by heart, though after the first or second time, I was really only watching her. Her undying, enduring fascination with the film reflected a great reverence for life and a joy besides which she retained to her last.

As soon as I was old enough to ask, I received and cherished my own “ruby slippers” – a plain pair of red leather Mary Jane shoes bows on the toes which I wore at every available opportunity. Gram was always the first to remind me to click my heels together and say the magic words which would get me home.

            Cancer had also robbed part of her ability to communicate in her trademark, descriptive way, and the resulting directness was always a bare, minimalist version of what she really wanted to say and a reminder of the way things were ‘before’. But in her typical grace, she drove the disparity between communications past and present with great competence and careful consideration, crafting her responses thoughtfully but quickly in order to make the most of the changes like an artist working with a new medium.

Like a dance, my Mother’s agility and competency under pressure were among the only things she could give to ease her dying mother’s finals days, and she gave them freely with that singular goal in mind. Mom turned the television off at the end of an abrupt series of motions and with it, my childhood entered its final phase. “You want it off, Mom? Okay, she wants it off; Caroline, where’s the remote?” The screen went black, and then there was silence.

In my own attempts to ease our communal, hovering state of dread, I had been the one to surreptitiously stumble across those slippers, and like Dorothy, had found an unwanted assignment as my Glinda departed. Like my Mother, it was all I could do – flipping through channels, contributing to day to day goings on – all I could offer to our dying matriarch whose self-educated grace had held our family’s seams together even at their most vulnerable. And especially then. I was incapacitated by my inability to help, or to control the rapid passage of time like so much sand through some wicked witch’s poison hourglass.

At the time, I was newly seventeen with plenty of the less endearing characteristics that brings, a petulant teenager prone to frustration and misdirection thereof. But she, of course, ever tolerant in her aged wisdom in her mid-eighties and having lost none of her astuteness to the disease which had rendered her housebound and living with us in our already-cramped house, had not lost her ability to recognise that petulance.

Once, as my Mother and I concluded an explosive, nonsensical argument concerning the criminal misplacement of my high-top Chuck Taylor shoes – too close to the radius of the front door’s inward swing – she consoled my overworked mother, saying with wisdom and understated humour; “Sandra… It’s not about the shoes”. For the years of her absence to come, both of ‘her girls’ – my Mother and I – would cite that line like a ruling from the Geneva convention, mandatorily preceding the apology for each regrettable argument of similar calibre. She was “Mom”, she was “Gram”, and she had our number until the last.
This time, it was too great on the compressed emotions of a moody high school senior – we would not watch our movie. We could not watch our movie, and that meant that things were not normal. I didn’t press the issue because I saw her pain, and so I saw her pain as it became ours. She did not want to show the sadness she would otherwise have been incapable of hiding, she wanted to hide her sadness to remain strong. She couldn’t bear to see us see the effect it would have on her, to see her in the pain her brain tumour never delivered due to its merciful placement. I did understand. It would – and had – become a sad thing. We would never watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ together again.

Perhaps she remembered the last time we watched it together where I had forgotten it without realising its value. Perhaps she wished to keep it in her memory for its pleasantness or more frivolous circumstance. Perhaps the memory of me on her knee was too valuable to replace with these unhappy circumstances.

For years, I couldn’t grasp the emotional magnitude of her request to simply turn it off, her concession to privately experience her emotions where I denied myself the same experience. I noted my Mother’s swift follow-through and tight-lipped silence. I reeled in shocked silence, I grasped at the absence of experience, thoughts swimming in a sea of vacant space bereft of the familiar comforting songs and joyful imagery, a shock like the missed step of a staircase. I walked myself through it a thousand times.

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We had sat together in the silent living room on days just like that before, but there was never a lack of movement and life about her like there was in the moments which followed that decision – whether reading or watching my parents go about the day to day, flitting from work to chores to family time to sleep and back again to start each day, she faced the future as boldly as she had lived her past.

She died on a quiet morning as Mom and I slept on the floor next to her bedside in the living room – only after looking up one last time to be sure we were there, together. Mom put on Israel Kamkawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Wonderful World”, and to this day, I can’t listen to it without crying every tear I held in during her illness. Her soul left her body on the holy ground she had built – she had given my parents a place to raise me in her tiny nine-hundred-and-fifty-square foot home which now hosted her death bed.

The days following her death were first years, then moments, and finally seconds. Time has since quickened the course of the hourglass, only slowing down for moments in which we choose to acknowledge memory, and within those moments, more are made.

At first, her absence made home an impossible place to return to by its original definition. No matter how many times I clicked my heels, no matter how many times I closed my eyes and said the words (figuratively and sometimes in desperation, literally), I couldn’t seem to get ‘home’, and my spirit sunk. For the years which followed, and as the world threw me to the wind as it does many young people, I searched for a path by which to return to it wildly, incensed at its evermore present inaccessibility, not understanding how to return to what I would only understand to be an intangible concept after leaving it.

I felt at home only when I lived within the memories she shared which so had made our own memories as a unit, and therein her laughter would surface in my memory at last. The bitter moments of her absence would teach me that, while you really can’t go home again, the power to do so truly is within you just as it was within Dorothy.

Three years after leaving the town in which we said our goodbyes and two after leaving the state I had called home for over twenty years, I came into the belated but clear understanding that home was not a place to return to – it has no familiar qualities, no tangible way of entry, no key which directly signifies its locked up return address.            Home is the construct of memory alone, of relayed generational experience, and critically, at the centre still, anecdotes, stories, and oral tradition. We are each the construct of innumerable overlapping fractured pieces represented only by the retelling of memory and buried if not cared for – the stories which make it across generations and ages which perpetuate not only our personal and cultural identities but our sense of family and so, home. Those memories transcend genealogical significance or pure cultural pride and themselves hold the power to unite the entire human race through the commonality of this overlap. A tale of adventure from one city to the next – a snippet of someone’s life passed down over generations will reveal coincidence and irony evident only to later generations, proving global citizenship and unfolding a valuable story to understanding our humanity.

My Grandmother was a champion of liberal ideology: she won her open-minded, humanist intellect through self-bought and hard won education. She was flawed as all human beings are, but she was strong, kind, persevering, educated, and all the things I aspire to be. She believed in equality for all, she listened to all, and she cared for all, and through her stories, she imparted these values on all who knew her. Her journey through life embodies the experiences which become stories and so build the house upon which a ‘home’ stands.
Our remembrance of family stories is of integral value to broad-scale cultural acceptance in a world which desperately needs reminders of it. Within these stories, proof of cultural overlap abounds, proving both multiculturalism and global citizenship at their most deeply-rooted levels – and proving to be a powerful tool in gaining ground on cultural acceptance. No person belongs purely to a single race or culture but instead are each the construct of every culture which has, even minimally, touched our own, and within our stories, those cultures deserve recognition. It is critical to our acknowledgement of ourselves as cultural beings to examine and revisit these stories, memories, and to embark on our own journeys towards self-discovery so that we can, in turn, contribute to the cycle. To place our pride in people, not in place, is at the centre of our ability to understand ‘home’.

I can’t go home again – not to the place I knew, because her final lesson has divorced me from my faith in place and instead seen me place my faith in time and memory. Home is all about me because of what she taught me. But nearly ten years later, it’s just about time to symbolically watch that movie together.

We are living in a world which could have benefited greatly from her presence, and so, in her absence, I found a pair of modern-day ruby slippers, and for the next year, I will be undertaking a project which aims to document the stories in my family through travel, photography, and writing – travelling all over the world in these shoes on a pilgrimage which acknowledges my own origins and exemplifies the global citisenship of humanity through story to prove that there really is ‘no place like home’ in the hope that others will do the same.

This is a journey through life in her shoes, viewed through the lenses of love and will to learn through which she saw the world. It exists to exemplify the confluence of cultures in our lives and to honour her memory by illustrating the multicultural facets which construct each of our life stories. And yes, Gram, you’re right…

It’s still not about the shoes.

Winter in Storrs

I was back in the Northeastern United States for the holiday interim, back in the [strange] Connecticut town I called ‘home’ for twenty odd years once again. Same quirky neighbourhood, same interesting townsfolk, same local paper, same solitarily inexpensive coffeeshop I used to avoid for fear of bumping into the past.

Anyone who has been generally rootless for any number of years can attest to the fact that, when the world barrages you with images you’ve never before processed, your analytical side is sharpened as finely as your subjectivity is tested.

I have found over the past few years that this test has awakened an excitement for the simple things I had, maybe, missed in the past. The town which (in the high school just a few moments walk from my front door) my peers and I would minimally complain about to foster within us a unifying hatred for a common enemy has suddenly become visible through a new lens by most of us who have returned to see the colours we couldn’t before.

I once found this scenery bleak in winter — devoid of colour and bereft of life’s motions (and then I met Glasgow [haha]). Coming back to town after months away in a new city, and after over a year on the other side of the country has changed that perspective: there’s colour exploding everywhere here almost as vibrantly if not more as in autumn.

It’s still not exciting here in a cosmopolitain sense which would excite a teenager or young adult. The biggest town scandals usually centre around the neighbouring Willimantic, Connecticut (still a hotbed for drug activity despite continued success with gentrification attempts) and the latest developments near and around the University of Connecticut. The people here love puns, bookstores, eclectically sensitive musicians posted on street corners, and eccentric characters. Things change year to year, but every year, most things remain the same. It is a community of people in a beautiful setting.

It’s still a sleepy town in the winter, and when it’s this cold outside (in the subzero celsius range), no one wants to part with the fireplace, but we like our spiced alcohol, our funny stories, our town anecdotes, and I am so grateful to have this community to come back to in a life which, by all other accounts, has stripped me of static roots… though I’m definitely not complaining about that.

This was always enough for me, and if nothing else, travel has validated the fact that there truly is beauty here unlike anywhere else in the world.

Origin Story: Visiting Ancestral Graves

Yesterday, I visited Old Dalnottar Cemetery, Glasgow to pay my respects at the family grave. I laid down a wreath procured from a friendly Glaswegian flower shoppe, took a bus to the nearest stop (with the assistance of an absolutely lovely older woman whose parents were buried in the same cemetery — who waited with me to be sure I got the right bus), scrubbed and cleaned the stone, and took some photos beside it (something of a new tradition in my family).  Additionally, it was confirmed that my hair has most certainly “gone native”.

The names of my direct descendants line the stone, none of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in this life… but all of whom I know through the stories, anecdotes, and fastidious work of my relatives to maintain their presence and stories through oral tradition and careful documentation.

I have not known them in the living sense, no. But for the memories detailed by all members of my family who did, I love and respect them as members of theirs — and for their contributions to my own story, my path, and my character.

To Sydney Gilchrist Abbott and Margaret McAllister Abbott, Papa and Mama, as they were lovingly called, I owe my Father’s outstandingly kind and loving character. To Thomas Abbott and Isabel Gilchrist Abbott, I owe our family’s legacy in the Scottish community. I am proud to be their great and great-great grandchild, to carry their name, and, in the case of Papa, to attend his alma mater, The University of Glasgow.

Planted at the base of the stone, an elegant metal plaque bears the name of my great-aunt, who recently passed. She was a fixture of love and light not only for her immediate family, but for all those who touched her life in times of their need. I owe to her efforts immense gratitude for my Father’s incredibly high moral caliber and personal strength — for keeping his love and faith in family alive and well always. I am perhaps most proud to have known her for all of her beauty, inside and out, something the plaque captures well: “loving, gracious, cherished”.

Older Scottish cemeteries carry with them an ominous appeal — the dark shade of the trees, lush grass, and wet moss accent a carpet of fallen leaves and provide hushing acoustic resonance to the place of reflection. But they are a place to remember the love — and sustain it — which exists in all of us, respecting those who have fallen to time.