Another Perfect Scene, New York City

I was relaxing at my favourite French restaurant when I saw them.  Two charming old world European gentlemen sitting at a window table near mine, pre-dusk rays slanting down behind them.  I longed to slip my camera out of my purse, but I didn’t want to intrude on the perfect scene.

Someone else did.  A beeper rung, and one of them wandered off, disconcerted, to find a phone.  I offered mine.  Twice it happened, and the second time I took my chance.  Turning to the gentleman still seated, I asked if I could take his photo. Surprised, he agreed.  While I readied my camera, he studied me.

“We met in Auschwitz,” he said out of nowhere.

I looked up.  I opened my mouth and shut it again.  Then I spoke, saying the kind of thing, frankly, that makes one wonder about me.  Especially if one is me.  🙂

“Not as guards, I hope.”

He smiled sadly. “No.”  He turned his glass on the table. “Not as guards.”

Over tea, he told me their story.  A Frenchman and a Pole who met in the camps, who survived the war there, and who even survived liberation and the long treks to their distant homes.  They stayed in touch.  Now, whenever they were in the same country, they met up.  My French restaurant was theirs, too.

His friend returned to the table, and I took their photos and their addresses.  A few days later, I developed the prints.  The light had affected the quality of the shots, and I had them printed in sepia and black and white.  I wrote a card and placed the photos in it, penning the address on the envelope.  The photos stayed like that in my purse for two weeks.  I never closed the envelope, and kept pulling out their photos to look at them.  They captivated me, and I lingered before sending them off.

One drizzly evening I left work in a passionate anger over something or another.  I wove through the rain-chastened crowds, ducking under an awning on Madison Avenue to escape the wet.  I looked out, deliberating on the perfect time to leap back into the fray of the rush hour street.

And there, walking toward me through the slight mist–was one of my European gentleman, the Pole, seemingly right out of my own imagination.  I gasped and stepped forward into the rain.

“Hello,” I stuttered.  His eyebrows rose. “We met at–”

“I know where we met,” he said, and gestured for us to get out of the rain.

I followed him back under the awning. He looked around. “How did you know I work here?”

“You do?”  I looked around disoriented, then shook my head and opened my purse. “These are for you,” I said as I handed the envelope over.

He laughed in surprise, and looked through them, thanking me.  A few moments later and we had parted again, my mood altered to that lovely delighted kaleidoscope of surprise and awe that New York must always produce.  A day later the Frenchman wrote me, asking me to send the photos when I could.  I sent them off post-haste.

I returned to the French place.  The owner was leaning over the bar, smiling at some photos.  I looked closer.  I’d given the European gentlemen some photos of the restaurant too, in order to remind them where we’d met.  These were the shots he was looking at with glee. “My restaurant,” he said to me, pointing.

“I know,” I smiled. “I took the photos.”

Free champagne on the house.  A few days later I looked up the two European gentlemen I’d met, and found one had written a book on his experiences during the war.  It’s on my shelf now, together with my photos.  And as for the memories of the dusking sun, the drily humorous stories and the mirage in the rain–well, they’re closer still.

Gotta love New York.  City of a million stories…and a million more. 🙂

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
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18 Responses to Another Perfect Scene, New York City

  1. J says:

    I loved this entry! I can’t wait to read more…

  2. Yarnspnr says:

    You shoot film!! I’m deeply impressed! I don’t think there are too many of us out there! What kind of camera(s)?

    Oh, and the story was fantastic as well! You weave a great yarn. If your book is as good as your ability to spin a yarn – it’ll be a best seller for sure!

    • sputnitsa says:

      Oh, I shoot, but I don’t know that I kill that often. 🙂

      I had one camera with great zoom. Not an SLR. It began to develop problems and honestly I haven’t seen hide nor hair of it for years, what with my Peace Corps service recently. I can’t even recall if it was a Canon. I loved it while it lived. I used to walk the streets of NYC at dawn and in the evenings, snapping photos of our insane, gorgeous, vibrant life here. All the photos in the blog (other than snapshots of history) are mine. 🙂

      What about you? What do you use, and what scenes do you tend to shoot?

      And thank you muchly for the compliment on my little tale. 🙂 That would be my hope–that my book does end up being utterly captivating and fun to read… Inshallah, as I like to say. 🙂 🙂

      • Yarnspnr says:

        I use a Canon T-90 (film) and 2 Canon A-1 cameras for 35mm work. Of course, they use film. I have 2 Mamiya RB67 which are a 5×7 format for landscape work and portraiture. I have an assortment of fixed focus lenses and zooms for the Canon. In the old days I’d carry 3 around my neck, one mid range zoom, one 28mm and one 200mm or 300mm depending on what or where I was shooting. I have 4 lenses for the RB67 as well. Finally (I hate to admit this) I own a Fugi FinePix S5600 digital zoom. I use it for snaps around the house (read the dogs), my eBay store pix, and stuff like that. It weighs about 1/3 of what the T-90 does but it feels more like a toy than a camera. And, of course, I can’t change out the glass. I’m sure when you get to my age you’ll have quite a collection of gear too. It just sorta happens. The top picture on my blog site is a double exposure taken with one of the RB67. It’s a monster camera but produces an excellent, clear, negative. I hefted it up one of the mountains at the Phoenix zoo park and the double exposure worked well.

        • sputnitsa says:

          Wow.

          I haven’t amassed nearly that level of equipment. 🙂 🙂 🙂

          What sorts of shots do you tend to enjoy taking?

        • Yarnspnr says:

          Well, ya know, I’ve been doing this since ’68, although as a kid I loved shooting with my Brownie. I bought a Minolta 101 and a couple of lenses before leaving for England. A couple months later I got my first medium format camera – a Mamiya C220 2-1/4 square format. These lasted until the late 70’s when I picked up the RB67s and the Canon stuff. (By the way, the RB67s are 6×7 negs, not 5×7. Hit the wrong key.) I shot a lot of portraiture, kids, guys, gals, whatever – no weddings. I hated doing weddings. I only did one and that was enough. But I loved landscapes and odds and ends like old railroad stuff, trucks, heck – you name it, I was pretty eclectic. Kind of like what you posted on your site. When you’ve been taking pictures for over 40 years, you end up with a lot of negs and slides. Probably out of all the pictures I’ve taken, I have a shot of Louis Gonzales taken during his last days with the Diamondbacks. He’s watching the pre-game flag ceremony in the outfield, flanked by two umpires. Just a great impromptu shot. There are a lot of others over the years. Before I left for England I did some work for the Doylestown Daily Intelligencer – opening little league ceremonies. They were published. LOL And so ended my career as a newspaper sports photographer. 🙂 I did a lot of part-time stuff for people, got a rep in the areas I lived. It was good under the table income. 🙂

  3. You have such a great voice, and way of reaching out to the reader. Very, very engaging writing style.

    And impossible not to be touched by this story.

  4. Beth says:

    I love these stories! They are very engaging and fun to read. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Thanks, Beth!! 🙂

      Funny how moving got me musing. I do love my city, though, and once I moved back from Peace Corps I knew I didn’t want to leave again… A very rare thing for me–wanting to stay somewhere… 🙂

  5. sputnitsa says:

    Yarnspnr,

    That rocks. I have given photos away for organizations–refugee work, youth work–but never asked for pay. I used to want to be a professional photographer, but I think my strength is not really there.

    The dedication to craft for me lies with language and with writing. Photography I love as a hobby, and have wandered about town and country to photograph folk, landscapes and whatnot, but the science of it has never stuck with me. Aperature sounds like an operation with deadly consequences…but I reckon that’s not what it is.

    🙂 But I love photography. One of my ‘great links’ on the right-hand navigation bar is of a photographer whose work I love…

    • Yarnspnr says:

      We do seem to share the same hobbies in photography and writing. And speaking of language, I’ve been meaning to ask, have you read either John McWhorter’s “The Power of Babel, A Natural History of Language” or Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”? Both were helpful in my research in constructing the languages I use in my novels.

      • sputnitsa says:

        Interesting! No, I haven’t, but I’ll pick them up. I’m a lover of language for its own sake as well as for crossing cultural barriers, and have never really studied them from a purely linguistic standpoint. Having studied several, I naturally compare them, but I’ve never read any literature about language, per se.

        Can’t wait! 🙂

  6. Yarnspnr says:

    Cool. If/when you get them, let me know what you think!

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