October 29th, 2017
Sometimes my friend Cate Poe, amazing activist & organizer in “retirement,” intrepid traveler, gifted writer, asks me a question.
Most of Cate’s questions send me on a journey, reminding me of journeys I took across space & time in response to a question asked in a classroom.
Cate & her constant companion “Tejano” Jeff are currently traveling & exploring Italy. Cate posts observations & photos in all their travels & explorations.
Through those observations & photos I, along with many of Cate’s readers, travel vicariously. Sometimes back to places we have been to, sometimes to places we have on a bucket list, sometimes to places & wonders we never imagined.
Yesterday, Cate posted a series of what she described as random photos from a walk in Genoa, Italy. But the one I am featuring is the one I told her was my favorite in a group she posted.
And Cate, always curious, asked:
How interesting! What is it you like?
So this is my response.
When I came across this photo, I thought instantly – a gate, a path, steps leading to a door & a threshold. Possibility for either transformation or transgression.
Windows, bars on windows, a single piece of cloth hanging, a statement on a wall resembling a hand. A perspective always leading up & forward – to where? To what? To whom?
My obsession with thresholds & windows & gates & spaces is a direct result of a course I took because I needed it for my major in English Lit – Renaissance Drama. The concept of thresholds as a possibility for either transgression or transformation is not mine.
I read it in a book, exploring architectural space & its symbolism in literature & art in the Architectural Library on the University of Houston main campus.
The professor of that Renaissance Drama course, a Shakespeare scholar, was already a bit of a legend in the UH English department. Not yet tenured, no one took her classes & left quite the same.
I convinced a group of slightly older than the average women at most colleges (who adopted me & allowed me into their worlds), all English majors, to take the class with me.
Of course, I would like to write that I convinced those talented women to take the course for noble reasons.
That would be more than disingenuous – it would be a lie.
I needed those talented, gifted women around me to take a course required for my major, for support & to deflect my fear of a not yet tenured but legendary professor.
When I think of who I was then, who we all were, who that amazing instructor was, I find it hard to fear a woman who inspired me to always keep a copy of Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness on the bookshelves in my offices & now next to my bed.
Annie, as my friends & I called that legend when talking about her, was fierce. My friends & I were equally fierce & Annie dubbed us the “Bombast Queens.” A term from a Renaissance play.
We were a thorn in the side of our fellow classmates. We read, we studied, we voiced our take on the texts. We were older, we understood the importance of the moment.
Annie met the man she married while jogging in her inner-city neighborhood. He was an architect. When Annie spoke about a scene or a staging in a play, the space, the architecture, was essential to an interpretation of the narrative.
And I began to think, much in the same way. My perception & focus changed when I see a space in a photo or a text & when Cate asks me a question.
I wondered. Why do so many moments in Jane Eyre happen after or during Jane sitting at a window? Why does it matter when a character in Faulkner, or any other novel by any other author, stands on a threshold? Why is Michal, King David’s first wife, seen in Biblical narrative looking outside an upper level window, her husband positioned & framed below her view? David, in charge & chosen. Michal, gazing from within a frame of the window. Why?
What does architectural space have to do with literature or interpretation or imagination?
Everything. Something I learned in a Renaissance Drama course by way of Dr. Anne Christensen.
Annie, & that trip to the Architectural Library (a really fine place for quiet studying) on the UH campus to secure a source, are responsible for my obsession with thresholds & other spaces of possibility for transgression or transformation.
I see the gate & ask why it is there – to protect what is within or restrict access to those wanting to enter or to block a feared Other? I wonder, what if I opened it, what if I walked that path, climbed those steps & knocked at the door?
What if I demanded someone answer my call at the door?
I wonder who is behind those windows? If they watch my quest past the gate to get to the door, to be allowed access to what is within?
What about what I cannot see in the photo? What is on either side of the doorway & its threshold? How far does the building promising that threshold soar beyond the frame?
So, Cate, in answer to your question – that is what I find interesting about your photo.
Possibilities & questions.