Benchmarks

A bench is like an old shoe.  Whether in use at the moment…

…or long since abandoned…

…its former occupants leave their mark.

All over the world, these are the true thrones of the people.

They provide company…

…entertainment…

…a sense of belonging…

…a place to rest…

…to reflect…

…to escape the worries of the workaday world…

…or not.

Oh, the stories they have heard…

The sights they have seen…

Those benches have been warmed by the flesh and blood of people who have loved…

…and sometimes lost. Who’s to say?


But the next time you see one, sit and rest a spell.  As you take the bench, and watch the world go by, don’t judge too harshly.

Listen to the stories it has to tell.  They won’t be so very different from your own.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of Travel Words Bench Series#9.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Benches.

Life Will Out

While traveling in Argentina, we visited La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.   Since 1822, nearly 5,000 mausoleums have been constructed  in the highest fashion of the times, from Baroque and Neo-Gothic to Art Deco and Art Nouveau.   La Recoleta is a city for the dead, with elegant marble tombs neatly laid out in blocks over fourteen acres.

Some are maintained, for love or pride. Others, like the poet Shelley’s statue of Ozymandias, have fallen into disrepair, covered with spider webs and graffiti, littered with broken glass and faded plastic flowers.  Feral cats stare warily from marble perches and skulk away sideways if approached.

We saw the grave of Eva Peron, and other statesmen, poets, generals, and presidents.

More interesting to me was the final resting place for a mother and her infant.  They were not famous, but clearly they were loved.  Did she and the child die in childbirth or were they swept away by an epidemic? In any case, a grieving husband and father was spared to erect this memorial. Was he able to pick up the pieces of his broken life to find happiness again?

Wherever we go, we find reminders of all the stories in this world that will never be told.  When I photographed this memorial, I could be certain of only two things.  Both mother and child were subject to an early and tragic demise.  And, as seen by the lush green fern sprouting from the dust collecting in the cracks in the stone, life goes on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare.

Unique New York!


Open mouth.  Insert foot.  Things happen.  At least that’s what happens to me.  At 85, my mother’s sister Loena suffers from heart trouble and Quilter’s Thumb, but she never complains.  She uses a cane on good days, a walker or wheelchair the rest of the time.  Aunt Loena lives in Detroit, but was always too busy taking care of everyone else to travel.  A couple years ago, with my Michigan sister Lee, my aunt flew to Seattle to come see us.

She was frail and tired easily.  Once, when we couldn’t hear her snoring, I tiptoed in to see if she was still breathing.  But we laughed often and loudly; I felt my mother’s presence so strongly I wanted to pour Mom a cup of coffee too.  The visit went so well I asked my aunt where she’d like to go next.  I figured Holland, Michigan, perhaps, to see the tulips.  But no.  Aunt Loena said, “Your mother and I were planning a trip to New York, to see the Statue of Liberty and lots of Broadway musicals.  That was before she got sick.”

I’ll take you!” I blurted.  Then I felt sick.  I’ve always suffered from Foot in Mouth disease.  My other chronic illness was Newyorkaphobia.  In my mind NYC was big, bad, dangerous.  AND expensive.  I had the money, but it was tucked away for a trip to England, a place I really did want to see. But a promise is a promise.

I researched airfare, hotels, even how to hail a cab.  We picked up travel companions right and left, like Dorothy on her way to Emerald City.  I ordered show tickets, mailed maps and instructions to them all.  My daughter Bea and I flew into JFK.  My sister Con flew from Alaska to her daughter Jane’s, and they trained in from Boston.  Lee and Aunt Loena flew into Newark from Detroit.  We all arrived within twenty minutes of each other at the Casablanca Hotel, half a block from Times Square!

I chose the hotel for its proximity to theaters and its uniqueness–the breakfast room is called Rick’s, after Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca.  Six women crammed themselves into a suite meant for four, but the staff didn’t seem to mind.  Everyone was helpful; they even provided a wheelchair.  At  Casablanca’s Happy Hour, we had fruit, cookies, wine and cheese.

Jane, Constance, Bea, Lee, and Aunt Loena at a Very Happy Hour.

Then it was time to go to our first Broadway musical, Billy Elliot.  Jane had made other plans, so five of us stood outside the hotel while I hailed a cab.  It pulled over to the curb and we all crowded in.

“Only four, please.”  The driver had an accent, and was clearly from somewhere in Africa.

“The theater is just a few blocks,” I said, “but my auntie can’t walk.”

“I cannot take more than four passengers.”

“We don’t mind Cozy.”

“No, no, no.  I mean I get into big trouble for carrying more than four passengers.”

“Oh, we don’t want to get you in trouble.  It’s not far.  My sisters can walk, and we’ll meet them there.”

Lee and Con got out and started walking. He put his hand to his forehead and sighed.  “Call them back.”

“Really?”  I hollered for my sisters, and soon we were all back in the cab, with Bea ducked down out of sight.

Our driver was Daniel, a doctor from Togo, who was making better money driving a cab in NYC than in the medical profession in Togo.  We asked about his family, and whether he missed his home.  “It’s best for the children,” he said. He was curious about our lives too.  As we talked, my fears dropped away.

Fool’s luck must have sent Mr. Adenje to us on our first evening in New York.  I knew we were in good hands, even before he refused any money for the ride, even the twenty dollar tip I tried to give him.  Where does THAT ever happen?  Certainly not in Seattle!  This couldn’t be the ugly city that so terrified me!  At first I thought Mr Adenje was an angel in disguise; I have come to think of him as the spirit of New York.

The whole time we were there we never met an unkind person.  Everyone had a story to tell, like Fergus, the driver who gave Aunt Loena her first buggy ride.  He told us he gained fifteen pounds in one week when his mother came from Ireland to visit and meet her first grandchild.

Fergus, Bea, and Aunt Loena.

At a hot dog stand in Central Park, the elderly gent ahead of us insisted on treating.  Aunt Loena was convinced he was Scottish, despite his yarmulke and Yiddish accent.  “In any case,” I told her, “you’ve still got what it takes!”   My aunt laughed and pshawed, but still she blushed like a young girl.

Central Park is an oasis in a concrete jungle.

The next night, by the time Aunt Loena could shuffle out of the theater, where we saw Phantom of the Opera, the cabs were all gone.  But a man in a rickshaw pedaled up; another ‘first’ for my aunt.  She and I sat with Bea on my lap, as Rene from El Salvador wove through late-night traffic, cutting off stretch limousines, jumping potholes like a Latin Evil Knievel, and cutting through dark alleys.  He hadn’t been home for six years, and had a daughter he had never seen.  He said he liked working the late night shift, because the days could be so very hot.  While we talked with Rene, Aunt Loena smiled and waved to strangers on the street, and they all smiled and waved back.

Bea and Auntie Lee on our city bus tour.

Ghosts of New York’s past can still be seen.

And then there is the Natural History Museum.  Very Educational.

 Since then I have returned to the Big Apple of my own free will.   I brought my husband, my kids, and an open heart.


I am learning to let go of my fears.  There are so many places I still want to see, too many stories out in that wide world I have yet to hear.  I hope I never get too old to enjoy them, or too afraid to try.  After all, I’ve already seen how high an old lady can kick up her heels while keeping a sturdy grip on her walker.

All images and words copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

For more great photos of New York, check out “I Love New York” in writer Kourteny Heintz’s Journal!