Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rowing Lessons

There are so many flaws in this photograph that I don't even know where to begin.  As it turns out, it's my favorite because it's the image I love most of my mother.
copyright Jack Aiello
Summer Vacation, 1978  •  Italy
My sister took this photo - Thank you, Rosella.
One summer in Italy, my mother wanted to take me and my sister to the more popular and attractive beach that was separated from us by a wall of grottos and cliffs.  It could only be accessed by boat and not finding anyone to take us, mom rented one and began to row us there.

That's me sitting behind her. I don't remember anything about that day or how we spent it once we got to the beach. The only thing I can recall is feeling badly for her. She hadn't rowed a boat in years and was struggling to steer it correctly. She was getting tired and would stop every so often to catch her breath. Fortunately, the waters weren't too choppy that day, but she had to maneuver constantly to avoid the sharp  and shallow rock beds that were just barely submerged.

I'm endeared to this photo for the memory it conjures and how it reminds me of everything I know to be true of my mother. She is not exactly an alpha matriarch. She always remained on the side, but kept a watchful eye. She doesn't dole out little nuggets of wisdom on life or matters of the heart. She gets comfort from her religion, but she never uses it as an excuse to make herself better than anyone.

A practical woman, she isn't a talker, but a doer. The sum of all the mundane activities that make up a life, my mom performed without once bothering to wax philosophical. Maybe she was incapable of it, but I think she just comes from that post World-War Italian generation that grew up so poor they didn't have time to bother about the whys. She did the laundry, cooked and cleaned.  She lived for sales and trolled for coupons on every grocery store circular. She balanced the checkbook, budgeted the finances, tended to us when we were sick. She made sure we were fed and clothed.

But nothing stands out more when she rowed her children to a more beautiful place.

That's why I love this beat-up, badly exposed photo. It's a perfect candid of my mom performing her act of kindness; zaftig physique frozen in mid stroke, determined to repeat the exhausting and tedious chore of rowing. Since then, and to my dying breath, any time I see someone rowing a boat, I always equate it with an act of love.

Happy Mother's Day Mom

Monday, March 28, 2016

Travelogue 6 - Provincetown - September 25 - 29, 2015


This recent trip to Provincetown marks my 6th or 7th time there, I lost count. I also lost most of the details of this trip because I waited too long to write my impressions.  Then again, I really don't need to rely on memory to remind me why I love to come back to Provincetown time and again. It's the New England style architecture; the little coastal style cottages that hark back to America's colonial past. It's also the great little shops, art galleries, and restaurants that populate the main spine of Commercial Street.
Jack Aiello Photography
Typical house at Provincetown    ©Jack Aiello Photography
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It's definitely the liberal vibe of a town that used to be an LGBT vacation spot for so many decades. P-Town gets extremely crowded during the summer months. I pretty much avoid it during July, August and the better part of September.  Towards October, the weather is still amenable and the town has a chance to breathe. It's still crowded, but less so. It's a manageable chaos.

I spent my days walking up and down Commercial Street, finding usual and unusual spots to photograph.
Copyright Jack Aiello Photography
Alley that leads to the Beach - Provincetown, 2015
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I got my coffee and pastry every morning from the Portuguese bakery.  I tried to photograph the blood moon that was going to make an appearance during my stay here. While it escaped my photographic talents, that rust colored moon will always be etched in my mind. I managed to get this instead:
Jack Aiello Photography
Provincetown Harbor at dusk. ©Jack Aiello Photography
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I had Lobster Newburg at the Lobster Pot Restaurant, lazily sipped even more coffee at The Wired Puppy and shopped for overpriced knick knacks at shops all along the way. Truthfully, I wish I could have enjoyed Provincetown more this time around, but it was my fault for bringing work into the equation. Sometimes I don't know how to shut it out or turn it off. Nevertheless, this place has a way of drawing you out of yourself, to enjoy the weather, the crowds, the food and the seaside simplicity of a town that manages to slow time for a bit.
© Jack Aiello Photography
In front of a shop window, Provincetown, 2015
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The Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown 2015
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Sunflower in front of a cottage  •  Provincetown, 2015
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Commercial Street, Provincetown 2015
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Monday, October 5, 2015

What is it about fall?

Who writes about their favorite season? You'd think this was a fourth grade essay assignment. Worse, that I have nothing better to do than darn socks and brush my cat's teeth. What can I say, autumn inspires me. If summer is about the sun and beach with long hot days of endless activities, then fall reminds me of the pause. The weather crisps and the leaves change into fiery colors. It's about going on road trips to fairs, hay rides, apple orchards, and hikes. It's the mark of the harvest season and better still, ushers in the holiday trifecta of Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving with the culmination into Christmas.

You have to start dressing in layers. Some people swear by the heat, but I've always hated it. Best yet, fall means tons of photographic opportunities. For as long as I live on the East Coast I won't pass the fall season without a ritual road trip to New York's Finger Lakes region. Skaneateles, Ithaca, Hammondsport, Letchworth State Park... I can't stop returning to these idyllic destinations. Another destination favorite is Provincetown.


Living in New York City all my life, the pendulum finally swung the other way and I've come to appreciate the smaller scale of towns and villages. It pulls to my subconscious calling for a simpler way of living. As I get older I feel the need to un-complicate myself. It's a reaction to the big changes that have recently happened in my life and the changes about to come (a promotion at work, my 84-year-old father coming to live with me next year, my retirement plans, emerging health issues).

In many ways, I've entered the autumn stage of life. While I'm nowhere near the end, I've been far along enough to see the end in the distance - a blurry dot, faint but ineluctable. I'm determined not to finish this entry on such a glum note, especially when I still have so many places to visit crowned in this season, and all the other seasons, which in my estimation, must all bow to fall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Smell of Old Yellow Paper

Earlier this month, I donated my entire comic book collection to charity. It's a 33-year old collection that dates back to one of my first books, Uncanny X-Men #171, the issue when Rogue first joins the team.  For 60 cents, I was hooked, and the cover still gives me a thrill: Rogue running from the rest of The X-Men with the tag line stamped, "Welcome to The X-Men, Rogue...Hope you Survive the Experience!"  Eventually I went on to collect other titles in the Marvel and DC canon like The New Teen Titans, SpiderMan, Alpha Flight, Justice League and many more.

Uncanny X-Men #171
During inventory, I noticed most of the titles dated back as early as 1983 to 1986/ '87, after which everything stops cold. Even my collection's chronology tells an unlikely story about me; because that was around the time my father, in one of his black rages, ordered I never collect comics again. I still remember how he sealed the demand with a crack across my face. Not to veer too far off topic, I'll just say that I wish I can tell you my father was an evil man. It would be easier to hate him and put him in a neat little box with a label on it.  But the fact is, like all of us, my father had his demons. It's not excusing some of the lousy things he did, but it's a hard-won sense of peace when you realize and learn your parents are only human too.  But that's for another time.

Eventually, I went off to Binghamton and living away granted me the autonomy to pick up where I left off, which explains why my collection grew again with titles dating back from 1990 to 1993. It trailed off again when I graduated college. I was coming out of the closet, coming to terms with my identity, all while trying to figure out the complications of dating, a rite of passage for which the teenage years are usually reserved. On top of this, the pressure to find steady work became one of my foremost priorities. Still, I always returned to take a peek and see what was going on, buying an issue here and there to read what my favorite heroes were doing.

Over time, I carefully bagged my collection away in the basement, gathering dust, waiting to get forgotten. So maybe I was ready to let go. And then I knew I was ready to let go when I re-read the story line from one of my first and favorite series, Batman and The Outsiders #1. I found it unreadable. It seemed flat and unrealistic. I didn't have the fantasy and suspension of disbelief filter as I once had, and worst of all, the sour realization flashed before me that comic books were nothing but socially acceptable soap operas for boys.

Batman and The Outsiders #1

But even if there was no rush of childhood nostalgia, that doesn't mean I still can't honor what comic books meant to me. Comic books made me fall in love with the written word. My vocabulary increased exponentially. So what if I never get the occasion to use words like polyglot, higgledy-piggledy or quidnunc in a sentence? At least once a year, I still manage to work words like kerfuffle and scuttlebutt in a conversation. But more importantly, for a kid who held his secrets hard in his heart, I loved the fantasy and escape they provided.

While I was rummaging through my collection, getting it ready for donation, what really got me was the particular damp and musty smell of old yellowing paper, the thin, cheap kind on which most comics were printed before the 1990s. The scent shot me back to an image of that hideous blood-red velvet sofa my parents must have bought out of a pimp's truck.  I remember storing my cherished copy of Alpha Flight #1 underneath the cushions, hoping it would remain flat and safe.

Alpha Flight #1 John Byrne

And I also  remember begging my mom for 60 cents so I could buy the latest copy of Amazing Spiderman #252, the issue that debuted his new black costume.

Amazing Spiderman #252
Sometimes I don't know if I'll ever feel like a kid again, but looking at these old covers gives me some hope. Though most of my books are gone now, I kept a few back to remind me of that hopeful possibility.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Travelogue 5 - Bora Bora!

Bora Bora  •  January 15-23, 2015
One of the beach resorts whose name escapes me now.
Main island in the background
When I told friends and family that I was going to Bora Bora for my next trip, I have to admit I drew some pleasure in the announcement. I heard the response so often that I was able to mentally mouth the words, "You're going to Bora Bora!? I hate you, that's on my bucket list".

It was an expensive trip, but not nearly as expensive as some would think. The huts floating over those powder blue waters are Bora Bora's visual calling card. Mostly located on the motus (islets) that surround the main island proper, the huts snake into the waters like bacteria sprouting in a petri dish (it's an awful simile, but if you ever see an aerial view, that's exactly what it looks like). Instead of lounging for a week in one of these hovering fantasies, my friends and I decided to rent one just for an afternoon.
Huts over the clear waters of Bora Bora - Le Meridien Resort

Still, it was generally agreed that the choice to rent a modest condo on the main island proved more rewarding. Saving a ton of money was the residual benefit for having the actual privilege to live among the locals. Bundled in the apartment rental agreement was a beat-up Hyundai with balding tires. We drove along the perimeter of the entire island on a single, pock-marked road, and experienced a lived-in Bora Bora that we would have otherwise been denied.

Without sugar coating or alternately sounding too harsh, the people of Bora Bora are poor and the living conditions reflect this status. While it shouldn't suggest visions of third-world hovels or crime-ridden tropical ghettos, it's still a dramatic contrast to the sprawling and luxurious resorts built for the vacationing jet-set. It's a very simple and somewhat stripped way of living. I also never met a friendlier people; a small, generally content populace that welcomes visitors, travelers, vagabonds and honeymooners alike. Io Orana is the Tahitian salutation and I must have been warmly greeted with this phrase dozens of times a day.

Jack Aiello Photography
Woman selling tropical fruits and vegetables on the side of the road © Jack Aiello Photography
With no cemeteries, the locals honor their dead with mausoleums stationed in the front yard or at the side of the house. As we drove along, it was Mike who first noticed the curious structures that resembled mini-houses.

Rows of silvery tuna freshly plucked from the waters hung in rows like shimmering scale armor on the side of the road. It was on sale for passersby to inspect.

At dusk, it was common to find people gathering on the shores with jerry-built barbecues, the comforting smell of burning wood complementing the sight of a fiery sunset.

Bora Bora's answer to Shop Rite and CVS was Chin Lee Supermarket. I'm so accustomed to supermarkets being sterile aisle after aisle of product arranged in Warholian allure, that I didn't know what to make of Chin Lee's scattershot and grey arrangement. Weirdly now, I miss the sticks of freshly baked baguettes stationed at the entrance.

Chin Lee Supermarket, Bora Bora

So what else did we do?

Swim with the sharks?
Check.

Swim with the manta rays?
Check.

Swim the turtles?
Check.

Was I awestruck by the coral reefs?
Taken with my iPhone camera and waterproof case.©Jack Aiello Photography www.jackaiello.com
...you get the picture.

For me, travel destinations always beg a second visit. It's just the way my mind works. I process experiences more slowly, my impressions always maturing and becoming more fully realized after the fact. It's not a good thing for my wallet, for sure. The real Bora Bora didn't didn't veer too far from those glossy brochure photos. The turquoise lagoon shimmered with so many shades of blue and green it broke my heart. And living on the main island, we were afforded a view behind the curtain, and I have to say it was a privilege to experience how the island locals really live.

Will I go back? I can't say. Do I want to go back? With all my heart.

Main Port at Bora Bora
Mike and Rachel, my partners in crime, enjoying drinks at Bloody Mary's
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Boy diving off main pier, Bora Bora, ©Jack Aiello Photography






Sunday, February 22, 2015

Get Your Ass to Portland

I've never been to Portland.  And I never met Steve McCall.

Never.

Over the years, Steve and I became cyber friends, first through Epinions and then through Facebook. I grew to respect him as a writer primarily because of an article he wrote about Sedona. It was a piece that was so unpretentious and beautifully written, that it inspired me actually to visit this place. Years later, I'm seriously considering Sedona as the place to retire.

Between now and then, I still have miles to go and Steve recently managed to write a traveler's guide to his home city, Portland. I really hate him because my traveling budget can stretch only so far.
Copyright Steve McCall, photography by Astragal
No surprise it's a quick, great read and it proves what I've long suspected about Portland - that it deserves a visit.  My poor wallet.

Steve's book is available through Amazon here.