Pictured is my son Max, age 7, a week ago at bedtime. Moments earlier, the usual mini-drama to wind up the day, urging and cajoling him and younger brother Sam through their evening routine, had me lose Max momentarily, only to discover him at his whiteboard, quietly, carefully penning number after number, 1 to 100. He was so absorbed I went unnoticed. To me there was something magical in it.
Max came along in 2016. Just five years earlier, I would not have guessed I would be starting a family; I already had one... though it had been hit hard and was taking on water. My ex and I fell apart in 2011. Living abroad, financial stress, my "career" as an artist-photographer all took their toll. First she wanted out of the marriage, then she didn't. As a colleague of mine said, "Once that elephant starts sliding down the hill..." Still, we dutifully enriched half a dozen therapists and attorneys on the way to our divorce: a rough outcome for us and our two kids Tekla and Elio, ages 11 and 9 at the time.
Ups and downs followed. Single dad, Tekla and Elio living mostly with me so forget traveling for shoots so bye-bye photography (just as well, editorial day rates remained frozen from 1995 through 2005, then fell and fell further as digital photography displaced the chemical kind). I was lucky to find a well-paid tech-related job working from home. I first met my new life partner Giovanna, 17 years my junior, in 2012. By the time Sam was born in 2018, my inner circle had been transformed beyond my wildest imagining.
Nearly six years have passed since the above family portrait was made in the waiting room of the maternity ward where Sam was born (he's about 12 hours old in the picture). Peak moment, would that it could be sustained. Life, as we know, is complicated. Wounds and entanglements, fraught choices, hidden vulnerabilities, also romance, elation, hope, and effort upon flawed effort to rebuild a family. Giovanna and Tekla bore the brunt of the change and even the youngest felt the strain. I was determined, frustrated by the difficulties and struggled too. We all pushed through imperfectly.
My father's dismal health from the mid-twentytens precluded excessive navel-gazing. I think it may have been 2016, about five years before he died, when he sat me, Tekla and Elio down to ask if we could imagine really tuning in and caring deeply for Poggiosole's land, trees and buildings. He was seeking reassurance I think, probing for our commitment. No one quite knew what to say. Then came the pandemic, which, though it touched our family lightly, made for a pause that had me review the property calmly, nearly empty of guests, still and dusty like a dog-eared photograph. I imagined what would happen as dad and mom let go. By 2019 plenty of deferred maintenance had piled up. Rebuild that too? From April of 2021 it was no longer a question.
Jump forward to today, immediate family gathering for the holidays. The lingering image of Max quietly writing out numbers at bedtime. His model, presumably, is big brother Elio's more elaborate (and to me, incomprehensible) scribbling on the whiteboard in the bedroom next door, steps towards a physics degree. Plenty of numbers in my own head too: inflows and outflows at Poggiosole, OPEX and CAPEX, the prospect of a viable business against the possibility of a mere vanity project. Hope, and, as ever, effort upon effort. Might hope and effort be a recipe for living well? Add a ladle of love and a heap of humility.
Tekla, my eldest, arrived here in Florence yesterday, visiting us from Brussels, where she recently earned her BFA in sculpture, and is now pursuing an MFA while building a life: her life. My friend Chuck, also visiting, this time from London, saw our family photo of 2018 and posed us for another portrait,
another moment, fleeting and ephemeral. Little Sam stealing the show from mom this time: a compact, bewildered-looking epicenter of love on our giant, silly yellow sofa.
Just the other day, a family friend, a big-hearted Italian priest working on a Catholic mission in the hinterlands of northern Brazil, died suddenly, age 51. Word is he collapsed while sweeping. On hearing the news I was in disbelief. I recalled the voice over (and Paul Bowles cameo) in the final minute of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1990 film "A Sheltering Sky." Now I'm thinking again of Max and his long line of numbers, the wooden toy clock-calendar on the bed next to him. Time we're given, time remaining.
Wishing good holidays to all.