Friday, August 14, 2009

I Heart Film

The first time I fell in love, I was nine years old. I was visiting Cuba for the first time and meeting family members that until then had only existed in delicate black & white photographs, and handwritten charts my mother meticulously drew out for me to study. I rehearsed vigorously the week leading up to my very first anticipated return to the motherland. “Tio Niño is Tia Rosita’s husband and they have two children: Rafael and Ana Eva. Ana Eva is married to Javier.” The visual aids that went with these charts consisted of old-fashioned images of dust-covered relatives dressed in stoic expressions and styles from a bygone era. My nine year-old self found it so romantic that my personal history existed in an antique-finish, when life at the time occurred in Technicolor.

On that first trip to Cuba, I began what would become a family tradition: the pouring over and selecting of photographs for my collection. Tia Rosita was the keeper of all family heirlooms and all photographs were carefully preserved in plastic shopping bags. Piles of fairy-tale snapshots sat neatly, one on top of another, with little regard to rhyme or reason. In any one bag you could find images of my first day at school, sent from Miami, with pictures of my mother’s quinceañera party in front of the ancient house in Vazques. Sitting Indian-style on my grandmother's old stiff bed in my family’s museum, I gravitated towards those beautiful old photographs and interviewed my aunt.

“Who is this young guy standing next to Rafael?” I would ask.

“That is your father, niña… when he used to have hair,” she would reply with a smile.

The bags of inconsistency would morph into neatly organized timelines. Right next to me would sit my most prized possession: the collectables Tia Rosita was allowing to disappear from her life forever. When she had had enough, and it was time to put the bags away, she'd examine the photographs one last time. Slowly sifting through the Miami-bound collection, she would stop for a few short seconds on every single image, burning them into her memory. A small tear would greet the side of her face and she would say:

“Ay niña, I can’t believe you love such old things. Enjoy them, but you better send me new ones!”

Each and every time I returned home from visiting family in Cuba, my mother would reprimand me for arriving with these gifts. It is an unspoken rule that after a trip to Cuba you return to Miami with almost none of your belongings. It was especially embarrassing for my mother to contend with the fact that I even so much as had the gall to ask for something, when my sole mission was to give. But, to my mother’s continued horror, I could never ignore my fascination and love for black & white film and continued to amass quite the series over 7 trips. I recently rediscovered my old flame, after relying on the instant gratification of digital for so long. And this week, I’m purchasing a Nikon FM10 35mm camera to finally send Tia Rosita some new ones. 

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