Photographs, A Story

It won’t come as a surprise to say that everyone is feeling unmoored. Drifting. Weightless space travellers with the preserving line to the mother ship severed. In free fall parachute form, arms and legs extended, eventually we are only a speck on some limitless horizon.

But here’s the thing. Some many years ago, before digital photography was as commonplace as everyone’s pocket, a photograph was an object you could leave a thumbprint on. Glossy or matte-finished prints or the undeveloped film itself, there was a surface on which you could leave an impression, could hold firmly in two hands, one on each edge, or tentatively between the index finger and thumb—a minimal exhalation, a bare puff of a touch—a photograph was a thing. A thing with perimeters and edges. Containment. The record of some time that began and ended and in-between a bracketed narrative, however fragmentary. An entity, a material record of a first birthday, a family vacation, a road trip as eternal as a secondary two-lane highway in Nevada, as grateful as a graduation, as flat as a mid-40s birthday, number 43, but a record with a start and a finish and an envelope or packet or album to put it in. Or a tight metal canister, not much bigger than a spool of thread or a starter pack of poker chips, that represented a beginning and the conclusion of a record, 12, 24, 36. A roll of undeveloped film, and inside was some thing.

So, imagine finding, just happening upon such a roll or spool of undeveloped film. From before digital. A taut canister of a photo record of someone’s intentions. You could tell it. It could go like this.

I am visiting New York. It has a reputation. It’s a big city but I visit often enough that I feel some comfortable familiarity. But there was this one time at the gutter of one of the less attractive streets on the edge of the East Village when I came upon a single roll of undeveloped film. Anyone who thinks about photographs and their history at all recognizes the weight of the term “loading your camera.” It’s like “arm your camera.” It’s not “fill your camera,” or “dress your camera,” or “insert the film.” It’s “load your camera.” Blam! This canister—it was dynamite; it was hot; acid leaking onto my fingers like a battery gone cheesy.

I was getting out of a taxi and there it was and there I was and who but a visitor, or someone desperate, picks up anything from the gutter? But a roll of film. It’s a cellular entity holding its breath, waiting for release. It’s “Drink me,” it’s inevitable, it’s a trap. Because, pick it up and you know what’s next. Maybe not directly next but eventually next. Immediately, there’s the furtive response. This isn’t a penny. It isn’t a rose. It’s sure not a puppy. Who saw me pick it up? Why’d she pick it up? What’s it to her? Who is she anyway? and I’m flattened to a brick wall and someone’s light is in my face.

Time passes and I’m standing on the sidewalk right near the curb. I’m okay, someone jostles me, not me especially, just a jostle. They haven’t seen me dip and rise holding the canister, but I am holding it in my bare hand—and now what do I do with it. Into my pocket, my bag, let it grow damp in my hand, rust and commingle with my sweat and skin, be absorbed, smeary images and all through my pores into my soul so I’m twinned with strangers? Drop it? Never.

I carry a handkerchief. I’m probably one of the few remaining people who does who isn’t old enough to have voted for Kennedy or quickened at the thoughts of his thick boyish hair on his east coast head. But I do carry a hankie and I could wrap the film in that but that’s too contrived and stashy and the kind of gesture that’s so deliberate someone would see me for sure and push me up against that same brick wall. So there I am with the roll in my hand and I give it a small casual toss to settle it to the back of my palm and I close my fingers around it and drop it into the pocket of my coat where it sears a hole in the silk lining.

The inevitable next, now that I’ve taken full possession, is to get the film developed, of course. Just like that. I’ll take it in to the nearest 24-hour place, why here’s one right on the corner. I may not be from New York but I’m not without wits either.

Clearly, what I have on this roll of film is the sequence of events, captured by telephoto lens, of a crime committed by a known political figure, horrendous events leading to the murder of a noted journalist who’d been found dead, no traces of motive or perpetrator and the police were turning Manhattan upside down until it teetered on the points of its tallest buildings and threatened to crash to the ground, crushing all its screaming inhabitants under its gorgeous and celebrated weight. That’s what the film would show.

Or, some couple’s private sexual moments and I would be privy to what he found adorable and how she liked it and her shy and wary, nervous but finally acquiescing eyes would meet mine and her betrayal would stain my conscience forever.

Or the fabulous apartment of someone who was clearly wealthy— even beyond the full-colour displays of material goods in the issues of lavish European magazines—would be photographed in odd but minute detail, which finally revealed, on close scrutiny, that someone with access was setting the place up for robbery of a magnitude second only to theft of two floors of the Louvre and the person with the film was taking it to be developed at a private lab that did these things and where employees keep their mouths shut or had their tongues cut out and he was jostled on the street and the roll slipped out of his leather folio and rolled into the street where it nestled against the curb and the carrier who didn’t know it happened is now the fifth homicide of the day and once again, no motives are known at present. I think I’ll just run it into the nearest photo lab, the one right here, and see what I have.

Once I was back home it took me six months to get the roll developed. It sat on my desk with a couple of other rolls, innocent, familiar rolls but nothing urgent and I took it to a place I always go to and then, I’ll tell you, I picked up four rolls of film and they each came in their own envelope, one per roll, and nothing on the package said which were the benign and friendly packs and which one was hair-triggered to explode upon opening and it may interest you to know that Russian roulette is a game I wouldn’t play even if someone held a gun to my head.

Now, three of the envelopes, you remember, are perfectly fine, neutral successful simulacra of family, a casual dinner party with old friends visiting from out of town and one that was work-related—a studio visit to an artist— and then there was the other one and one way or another, I was in for it now.

What I’m holding here, behind the steering wheel of my car, is hot, loaded, and of course I’m going to tell you why I’m doing this. It’s because I’m hooked and I’m writing, committed to story. I’m helpless to stop and I don’t know what to do with what I have. I can describe the 20 or so photos, knowing that no description is neutral and with that we’ll have abandoned the conceit of writing. I can reassemble them in their envelope, say no more about them, place an ad in the personal columns of the New York Times, maybe search out some local community papers and have it read: “Inadvertently I picked up, kept, took home and had developed your roll of 35mm colour film. The photographs appear to have been taken on vacation in a semi-tropical setting and Santa Claus appears in several. I looked only briefly at them and returned them to their envelope. If you wish to retrieve them please contact me at the post box address listed below and provide a brief description of the contents. Forgive me.”

Or I can describe them as I wish—staying as close to the visual contents as a pretty clear eye for detail will allow—and reveal, for no reason and given no cause by the photographs’ takers or subjects beyond their inadvertent carelessness, what I see imprinted. Now, the people whose life and vacation this was are innocent. I mean, innocent in this story. They may be venal, wicked, cruel, greedy, even murderous, all except for the child. But I don’t know this or even think so. They could as likely be splendid, altruistic, self-sacrificing and on the verge of an important medical breakthrough. I don’t know this either but when I look at these ordinary, not well-taken photographs, these appear to be nice, pleasant, normal, absolutely fine people on a holiday, which they appear to be enjoying and which seems to me to be dismal beyond imagining. I could do neither. I could throw them away and speak no more about it. I could throw them away and tell this story at dinner. I could keep them and tell, or be silent.

Whatever it is, however I choose, I’m implicated. Implicated in fact, having picked up, kept, developed and looked, and implicated emotionally because I’m wrestling with a choice and can’t toss it off, and professionally, too, because I want to keep writing and telling it whatever way I wish, however the story leads me. And I’ll mention a moral component also, because that’s probably the barb that leads to the hook that is, finally, implication. What right have I to reveal, make public, turn into language, hold up for scrutiny, entertainment, casual interest, the brief segment of this unwary family (that’s what they appear to be: a mother, a father and their son). None at all. Just chance—the finding of the film, and my inevitable and unscrupulous compulsion to turn this incident into language.

So far stepped am I in this whole process that I could no more stop now than reverse the course of blood that is quickening as I proceed. I can hold back the full catalogue of details and save their identity in that way, I can omit certain of the photos entirely, but I can’t pull back this whole unscrupulous fictiondriven probe. And now, as I look at the photographs, snapshots, laid out on the table where I’m working, I’m ashamed to acknowledge some distaste—for my entanglement, for their lack of glamour, even for their guilelessness, which now—impossible—seems assumed.

The man, the father, sits alone on a bench on a deck. This photograph, taken at night, outside, is improperly lit and is incomplete for that reason—that and the fact that photographs are always incomplete narratives and hence their appeal. What I mean is that contrary to the notion that they represent the subject or situation exactly as it was—the truth, in other words—the reason people love them, truly love them is that in private, alone with the photos, they construct their own stories and are grateful, perhaps without being aware, to the medium for its inclusive generosity. And here I am, of course, slavering to do the same. The man sits on the bench. The backdrop is a black space, indicating depth of field because small flares or torches are visible as irregular gold marks in the distance. His face, which is nicely fleshed without being jowly—he’s also young, no more than 38—is well-formed, tidy with a square jaw, broad forehead, smallish nose, nice ears flat to his head. His hair, dark brown peppered with grey, recedes a little on his forehead, but this serves only to broaden it and gives a serious intelligence to the features, which are perhaps a little small—his nose, lips a bit thin, eyes too willing and open to belong to, say, a lawyer or top-level businessman or a chief executive officer in a large company trading on the market. He has fine teeth, white and even. He would be just under six feet, but I speculate because in none of the photos is he standing. Around his neck he wears a long corded ribbon from which hangs the room key, standard issue since it appears on the necks of others in the crowd scenes. By chance it matches his casual open-necked shirt, which is a rust-checkered cotton. He wears comfortably worn chinos and fabric and rubber sports sandals. He is appropriately dressed, just this side of snappy. The camera has caught him looking down and his mouth is open as if he were about to speak.

The woman is solid, fleshy, a size 14 I’d guess, maybe a 12. She is sitting on what appears to be the edge of a raised wooden walkway since others are standing behind her. The photograph shows her from the waist. She has jaw-length straight red hair and she too has a high forehead but not because her hair recedes. Much of it must be pulled back in a tail and only a few pieces show around her face. Her eyes are behind white plastic sunglasses, which are slightly cat’s-eye, and she wears no makeup. She has heavy arms and a full bosom, which is loosely supported by what looks to be an older, stretched-out bathing suit top in dark blue fabric with white polka dots and banding. The skin on her chest is lightly freckled. Around her waist and midriff she wears a pareo in a printed batik fabric. She is relaxed, calm, and seems solid, serene and bountiful rather than overweight. She appears unselfconscious and wears a two-piece bathing suit because it’s the one she has or it’s the one that fits or because she likes how it feels and how she looks in it. One of the white straps is twisted and cuts a little into her shoulder. This draws my eyes and I find it endearing.

The boy is buckled into the back seat of a leather-upholstered car; the photo is taken from the front seat. He is blond and tousle-haired from what I would guess would be the flight to their vacation. This must be a taxi he’s in, and through the back window, too infused with light to read, are the stacked signs common to airports. A number of cars are also visible. His face is a miniature version of his father’s except that his eyes are blue and his father’s, or the man’s, are dark. Someone has said “smile” and he does, showing baby teeth in two even rows. He wears an unadorned short-sleeved t-shirt in teal blue and loose jersey trousers in a nice rusty red.

For the purpose of this story they are a family and the father is Jack, the mother is Julia and the boy is Scott. Now, this family has taken a vacation over Christmas because they can’t bear Christmas at home one more time. Jack’s family dotes on him, has always adored him, believed, with his easy, pleasant good looks, that he could have done extremely well in the family business, a leading New England insurance company, and are bewildered that he early on showed neither aptitude nor interest. At this stage in the company’s growth, with its well-established clientele and solid conservative operations, not to overlook a loyal staff of senior managers, it would have been necessary for him only to conduct himself fairly on the golf course, to enjoy solid steak and potato dinners at this club or that, to keep his fingernails clean, his life scandal-free and his suits well-pressed. People liked him, warmed to him right off. He was the perfect, low-key scion of a modestly prosperous family with a good business. But he wanted to teach. High school, public high school, and nothing could be done. Okay, leave the boy alone. And then he met, while taking education, this perfectly ordinary, rather plain but pleasant, plump girl and that was that. To Julia’s credit, while they struggled on his miserable salary she went back to school to study law. Her, not him. Sacrificing when they could have been sailing and skiing and living decently inside the comfort of his ready-to-be-forgiving family. She practises law, something they call public advocacy, and her office is a second-floor walk-up in what no one could call anything other than a slum.

Christmases spent at his family’s more than comfortable old house are taut with tension. In spite of her substance Julia might as well have been transparent. No one addresses her directly. For Jack, whether it happens or not, he feels his father shaking his head in bewilderment or disbelief and his mother appears to lose weight over the period, so tightly pressed together are her thin lips. And never has either inquired about his work or hers, since working on someone else’s behalf, while recognized as an obligation, is the sort of thing dealt with in a single decent cheque to the local community charity, and not a vocation. What could they possibly talk about? Scotty alone has enjoyed these Christmas visits, carried about and handed over from one benign stranger to another, served hot chocolate with marshmallows, given a stocking that had once been his father’s and finding it filled with small wind-up toys, wooden trucks and candy. “Sunny,” they were always saying to him and he with his young smiles—simple, direct and straight from storybook association—would point to the nearest window and smile. Jack’s mother, seeing the grey day beyond the curtains or the black square of night sky before they were drawn, was disturbed and worried that the boy was being raised with confused notions but who was she to interfere?

Why should every Christmas be a nightmare? And so they ceased their visits. Julia’s family lived in the city in one of those small, close-together houses you see driving in from airports everywhere. The dining room was barely an alcove. The family, large and usually noisy, grew silent, always, in Jack’s company, thinking he judged them and found their resources inadequate, which he did not. The show they staged, the bravura or the alternating painful self-effacement, was a swing that made Julia and Jack queasy and nothing they could do or say about the abundance of what was offered reassured her family sufficiently for these nice people to be happy with their previous selves. Everyone was uncomfortable and then resentful, so Julia and Jack decided it would be simpler for all if they just stayed away. This made Julia sad, made Jack feel like he was a sham at the life he’d chosen and to which he so willingly dedicated himself. Scott, alone, remained untouched.

So, drawing on the year’s earned interest from a small trust his granny had left him, Jack arranged for their little family of three to spend Christmas away.

Christmas always seems false in places where there is no snow and it is, since it’s a Western import to the tropics. On the other hand, if the whole story of the nativity and origins is believed, there was traditionally very little snow in Bethlehem and there were palm trees, date palms, but no lush vegetation. Snow or not, at a resort Christmas seems forced. In most cases the larger family has been left at home and people registered at a hotel quickly and briefly stand in as people for whom genuine warmth and concern are felt. Rarely are the friendships established in these settings maintained and displacement is the sauce that’s served with Christmas dinner. Resorts that cater to children become the natural choice for those leaving originating family behind and that alone, that fixed intention to set distance between travellers and home, is a less than ideal structure on which to build a swell time.

The grim commitment to party and be happy precludes spontaneity and chance—exactly the components usually sought in a memorable vacation. And the management and conveners of these resorts know that what they’re providing at this holiday time is compensatory at best. As a result the good will and forced appreciation that seep around, or lower over every event like the scent of, say, reheated frozen boiled carrots, causes these fêtes to resemble holidays in nursing homes and hospitals rather than the middling expensive, planned family good times they are intended to be.

A little girl in a violet maillot-style suit with white shorts pulled over strides resolutely beside Santa Claus. She is no more than nine years old, slender, and her hair is pulled into a ponytail, which looks like it had been dipped into the swimming pool many times that day. She and Santa, whose escort she is, walk on a planked path set into the concrete patio around which the hotel’s balconied rooms are arranged. Santa is, as we’ve come to expect, portly; his knee-length coat is red velvet trimmed in white fur of some sort, but a Caribbean element has been added. He wears pantaloons in red and gold striped fabric and the cuffs that emerge from his tunic are the same. Tassled toque, of course, and on his feet swashbuckler boots. Knee-high brown with a wide cuff and shiny black leather feet. I think pirates, then I think some form of riding boots, but they’re cuffed too extravagantly for that and then I recognize that the jolly chap wears his own black leather shoes and the brown boot affair is a pull-on, like extended spats, and probably came with the rental of the suit. Since everyone else is in shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits and he, to his face muffled behind a full white beard, is covered, every inch of him but his eyes and the bridge of his nose, discomfort must be his prevailing state and how much of this Christmas cheer can he abide? The pair—Santa Claus and small earnest escort—are heading toward an evergreen tree set on a red-skirted table. It is decorated as though part of a display for pricey cosmetics in a department store, covered in stiff organdy bows, swags of faux pearls and clusters of white plastic grapes. Santa waves one arm.

Beside the tree is a wing chair upholstered in brown leather, tufted and brass-studded, just the kind the old gent would have in his study up at the North Pole, and he has settled himself, velvet to leather in the tropics, in the afternoon with a white balcony and the bare round trunk of a palm tree behind him. His cotton-gloved hands are firmly placed, fingers splayed, on the middle of Scott, who is as reluctant as children in malls all over North America are to have a stranger’s fat knees under their little legs and hot breath encased in whiskers such as fathers never have, insisting a request in his ear. Scotty’s fists are clenched and his angled body speaks of departure. His face is flushed not from heat or pleasure but anxiety, and what appears to be an angel in drag pushes a stuffed tiger under his arm. Very little, except the repeated nature of the anxiety thrust annually upon children, fits in this picture and nothing speaks of joy. Neither Jack nor Julia is present; one is holding the camera and the other must have pressed the child forward. What they want, this couple from somewhere else, is a photograph to send to the grandparents, both sets, to show them the dear child, to tell them they are preserving Christmas, even if away, to establish themselves as an independent family unit capable of determining affairs for themselves in their own good manner, to record their well-being and self-sufficiency. Instead, the photo they’ll never send fails in every regard, save to record an unhappy boy in a manufactured setting, surrounded by costumed strangers who want nothing more than for the day to end. Now this is not a crime, or neglect, or reprehensible in any way. This is an experience of collective good intent. No one is there to be mean or less than generous and full-hearted. All these waifling, truncated, interrupted family units, all the severed siblings, left-behind aunts, abandoned barely known cousins, teary grandmothers who recognize failure but can’t say why. All those people who had to travel a distance, pick and pack bulky gifts, not have their own personal piney trees and faithful odd ornaments, all these people who know only each other here—to all of them the only thing to say is—go home, wrestle with the familiar worn grief, listen again to the irritating failure to understand, embrace the perpetual reluctance to grant you yours, celebrate the petty legacy of grievances never resolved. Recognize this weave and fabric that is your own and particular swaddling cloth. Go home.

Scotty wants to go home. He with a gang of other children all around his age and size have been assembled in rows for something. This straggly assemblage must have been pulled together for some reason; they wouldn’t have come together by chance or luck, all drawn together from their various engagements with sand pails or pool slides, to gaze at the spectacle of a school of dolphins leaping at once on the points of their tails. No miracle of such sort has drawn them together. I’d say there was going to be a parade.

Still, Scotty wants to go home. He and the others are standing facing directly into the sun, which none would volunteer to do. All squint or close one eye or try to find shelter from the relentless light in some way. Scotty has placed one hand entirely over his eyes. He might be making a wish or playing hide and seek or absenting himself as witness. His other hand clutches the front of his shorts. He has to pee, he’s chafing from sand or heat and chlorinated water or he’s uneasy and wants to assure himself that he stands intact, his self accounted for and located somewhere familiar. One parent holds the camera. Where is the other?

Jack and Julia have, in their life together, always sought the authentic. That was the impetus of Jack’s choosing to teach at an inner city school. He wanted to live his life with his eyes open, sharing the world as a participant, with the larger populous and not the privileged few. He would be a citizen in the true sense. He would vote, march, sign petitions, worry about providing for his family, look from one paycheque to the next, find resources sometimes in short supply and worry, like the average guy. For the most part he saw himself shoulder to shoulder with his co-workers, all workers in a brotherhood unbuffered by family money, small trust from Granny aside.

Julia, too, wanted to share the journey in some meaningful way, and while privilege was not a condition of familiarity, she was smart enough to know that seeking and getting a good education and a professional degree were, in themselves, a privilege. Mindful of a crowded world and the constraints imposed by the necessity of work, they’d determined to limit their family to one child.

How, they were now asking each other quietly, late at night, since they’d taken one hotel room, which included a chaise made up as a bed for Scott, how had they, with their deliberation in almost all things, their careful conscious choices, how had they come to be celebrating Christmas this way? Well, they’d been unhappy with the family Christmases, it’s true, and wanted to do something on their own that would puff and swell and inflate into a buoyant happy sphere of a holiday, a memorable Christmas they would all recall with pleasure, and maybe even be the beginning of their own special Christmas tradition.

Maybe in deciding they’d been pressed for time, or swayed by ads in the weekend papers or gulled into believing the good times related by friends, other couples who’d themselves signed up for Christmas on the beach in years past and who, to save themselves failure and despair in recounting or memory, glossed or lied about the rightness of their choices.

Whatever it was, here they were, money spent and Scotty without benefit of cousins or grandparents and all, and they, counting without acknowledging it to each other, counting how much longer until they could be done and go home. But the boy was entitled to a good Christmas since he was blameless in the situation and he would have a good time so long as they said this was a good time, and now done, he’d need have no more contact with velvet-suited strangers.

One photograph is a nighttime photo taken in the hotel room. Father and son are lying on top of the spread, pillows plumped behind their heads. Scotty is in patterned jersey shortie pyjamas. His face is flushed from a day in the sun; he’s at ease and the flush is not discomfort. He looks with interest at the book his father holds. His mouth is open slightly in the rapt way children listen when trust and comfort are the cotton that clothes them. His knees are bent and one foot is tucked a little under his father’s flank. All children are entitled to such a setting. Jack lies with his knees bent, too, and he wears worn grey jersey exercise shorts. One hand is behind his head, one leg is crooked across the knee of the other. I’m in no position to be shocked and under no compulsion, really, to look away, but the leg of Jack’s shorts is stretched and falls away to reveal his scrotum, part of it only. He’s not indecorous, I am. Bless his heart, he’s reading Stuart Little and I know it’s for the merits of the book because these photos predate the failed movie. If they’re reading EB White they probably like the New Yorker, too, and we could all be friends, except altogether I’ve seen too much and know about them things they might have culled before showing anyone, anyone.

Scott will grow up loving books because his daddy read to him and mommy, too, because the photo shows she valued this encounter and wanted to record it, although, because of the fallen away shorts, no one but the three of us would see it and maybe Scott, who hasn’t yet been schooled to look away.

People don’t usually take all their photographs at once; they pick up the camera throughout the vacation, so I’m making assumptions on the sequence and duration and I’m saying, based on the red and brownness of Jack’s face and arms and the roasted glazed look of Julia’s full shoulders that three of the photographs were taken as the vacation draws to a close and they fit together as records of the same event. I’d say it was the concluding banquet or buffet feast, an extravaganza designed to represent fullness, generosity, good value and positive memories. Also, to be fair, there’s a rhythm to organized vacations and it’s natural to conclude grandly.

So Scotty and Dad are dressed, Scotty in a very nice blue plaid shirt and navy overall shorts, his hair slicked and dear. Dad wears what he’s worn in other photos—checked shirt and chinos. They sit on Scotty’s bed and Dad holds the remote. Mother has been dressing, has just emerged from the bathroom and has captured her two splendid men dressed for dinner. The guys look pleased.

Jack, who has been the recorded rather than the recorder, has taken the camera and placed Julia with her red hair and red lips and glazed shoulders in front of what looks to be a small stage, or the steps to a small stage, draped in white table linens and flanked on both sides by brass rails. Like the chorus from a Las Vegas review, the centre panel is featured, in this case by a cascade of crushed foil that glitters and reflects the light as it was intended to do. Very festive. But in this case the centre stage and banked wings are not occupied by young women in scanty dress and elaborate headpieces. In this case the stars, the spectacle, are dozens and dozens and dozens of crimson lobsters, whole and waiting, draped and supine on the tiered construction. The red of the crustaceans, the glitter of the foil, the white of the linens have been tastefully offset by branches of greenery, the kind florists use for fill. Not unmindful of the excess, not unschooled in irony, Julia smiles, looks both rapacious and complicit. Bib, butter and picks wait offstage.

Another photograph is surely part of this same elaborate buffet. It can only have provoked awe and amazement. Being unable to see it first-hand, I add bewilderment concerning theme and material. What we have is a diorama, a tableau for the table, a still life in three dimensions. A cowboy campfire scene complete with two cactuses and a joint roasting on a spit. In white, all white except for the black dots the size of peppercorns for the eyes, the cowboy, the horse and the dog. The material is opaque and not shiny. It is cream cheese, butter, sugar or white chocolate. It sits on a table next to a stack of dinner plates that provides scale. It is therefore probably three feet by two feet by one foot high. There is no title and no explanation. A small sign sits on the edge of the board or tray on which this sculpture rests. It is held in place by a mound of the white material, which I’m prepared to assert is white chocolate. The sign reads Please Do Not Touch, Ne Toucher Pas. A brief hint as to place? Guadeloupe? Martinique? No caution has been asserted concerning the other senses, no requests to refrain from sniffing or licking. What we have is a virtuoso work on the part of the pastry chef in a motif familiar to North American vacationers.

Packing to return home, with home now in sight, Julia and Jack, rested, full, warm and sun-grilled, Scotty fast asleep on his made-up bed, confirm for each other that this has been a nice vacation.

Please, if these photos are yours, don’t contact me. ❚