I received two photos today:
One from overseas, his view of his desk overlooking a countryside I never had heard of, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, or close by. This place has a name that sounds difficult, or dirty, in English. Beautiful in what may be an esoteric meaning. His writing desk is small, just right for getting the necessary work done: a closed notebook in the bottom-right corner, a thin laptop on the left, a book with a pen holding open the pages that fan out. A glass of water is paired with a mug of coffee, presumably. The sides of the desk are slightly rounded, like parentheses holding in his work, containing him in his presence sitting there although he is not in the picture. The view through the open doors overlooks a countryside of sprawling green, an old house that appears as though the roof has caved in, tree boughs sprouting. It's peaceful and quaint in the way of the Olde World. It is manicured and romantic in the way one envisions a place granted for working, far from the city, certainly not in New York. It is what many would assume to be the ideal if your idea of such a place is a house a few hundreds of years old, the address name sounding like palace although I look up a translation and there is none, no cognates. Just this view of the sprawling countryside, another era from another people in another language. A horse and a donkey live in a field out of the frame of the photo, he writes.
He writes that he has driven from city to city to city, through the coast to the south then back north. He visited the place considered - once - to be the end of the world. I look at the photo of his writing desk. I can see the horizon. I can see the end of his view. I see no coast, I see no extension; what must be traveled does not exist until you find it. What is beyond is only as real as the stories, the letters of travels.
He was in a different country with a different tongue when he received my original message, "much more a letter than an email." Travels are consuming though, a month of different cities and traditions, friends and sciences and theories and translations he's encountered like an odyssey of collaborations. "I wish I'd given you the address here," he writes. "It would have been so perfect to get your letters in this faraway place." I look back at his writing desk, how small it is, and wonder how much space is out of frame in the room, behind the camera, behind the parenthetical table: is it just big enough to hardly sleep in, are there shelves for the books, for the letters? Do the horse and the donkey in the field to the left outside the window make conversation in another tongue? Can they see the horizon, the end of the view?
The second photo I received came domestic. An attic room full of geometry: slanting walls at 45-degree angles, a flattened top to where they would otherwise create a triangle, the window there a half-oval rather than a circle or a square. The view beyond is pure white. Can I zoom touch? What is in the white? This is not the end of the world, in present or in past. He writes there is a pond below the white window, and the Atlantic Ocean, again, is beyond that. What kind of view is there when a horizon does not exist? Can one call it a landscape or a plane if placement cannot be situated? Or can one be situated without placement and the coordinates are "floating, suspended"?
The sloped walls are all white inside the attic room, just like the blank view through the window. Only the bed sheets pop in the pale pink of fleshy tones, like a thumb or a tongue when you wake up, sleepy and thick. Again I find myself wondering what is out of frame, behind his camera, what kind of space exists other than the bed that takes up the frame, looking sleepy with disheveled sheets, sleepy and thick.
"Falling asleep to the sound of crickets accompanied by the draw and lull of the waves," he writes, "is overwhelmingly comforting and nostalgic." To the water, through his blank window, I can imagine the no-horizon and the no-plane, I can imagine the end of the world over the waves of the Atlantic even though I know on the other side is land.
I received two photos today from two friends: one on the left, one on the right, with an ocean between them holding the same water, the same salt, and me.