Scenes of relationship deserta

November 17, 2009 at 4:36 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’ve been reading Scenes in America Deserta (1982), a little bit each night; now about 2/3 of the way through.  I adore Banham so much I’d like to be him —  the architectural writer who is smart but not snobbish.  Even better, about half the time he doesn’t write about architecture at all.  This book is an exploration of the American desert landscape, and he spends a chapter talking about Taliesin West and Arcosonti, but spends more pages with vastly more interesting and entertaining material — such as how he accidentally learned how to drive a rental car through a dry quicksand bog.

When I’m going more slowly through a book I like, I often interrupt the reading to plow through a trashy novel or two.  This time I picked up The Bridges of Madison County.  I’d heard the title before but had no idea of the storyline, when I bought it for a dollar at a used book sale this summer.  I’d just go ahead and say it’s a chick novel, if I were misogynistic or insensitive.  Let’s just say that once in awhile I find myself in a book or movie that, for whatever reason plays to a mostly female audience.  I don’t let gender stereotyping run me away from a good story, though.

And this is a great story!  At least up until the point where one starts looking critically at its details.  I always get taken up with the plot twists and forget about the premise and underlying philosophy until later.  The story in this book is supposedly true, embellished only enough to ‘fill in the blanks’ where information was lacking, according to the Introduction.

The basic story line: a visiting National Geographic photographer stops at a woman’s house to ask directions, and they end up falling in love; having a steamy five day long affair while her husband and three children are out of town.  At the end of their time together, he reluctantly drives away, leaving both to wonder for the rest of their lives what might have been, had she acted truer to her impulse and with less concern for disrupting her family.

The description of the woman is easy to imagine — classical beauty, met and married in Italy at the end of WWII and transported to a family farm in rural Iowa.  Out of her element but she adapted beautifully.  She’s maybe 44 when the story takes place, and in her prime in all respects.  The photographer is 52, gray haired and absolutely masculine.  As described, the most physically perfect hunk of a man a woman could ever want — remarkable, considering he eats well (sometimes), exercise consists of walking around photo shoots carrying a camera bag; and he smokes two and a half packs a day and drinks six or eight bottles of beer in the evening.  Oh well, some people just have it in their genes, right?

The photographer, like a lot of artists has a combination of creative approach, high self-worth and delusion that are enough to get him both into and out of hot water.  Before he leaves on the last morning, he tells her, you see that fence post outside?  Be there in 10 minutes and make sure you’re wearing only jeans, sandals and this white shirt — and I will show you what you have been looking like, these last few days.

He asks if she would like to leave with him, and travel the world on photo assignments.  He tells her, he will break the news to her husband, and he will work it out with him, taking a half hour or so.  We never get to find out how that conversation really would have gone.  I speculated it would be a bit more intense and unpredictable, something like: “The hell you are!  I’m gonna go out and get my shotgun, and y’all had better not be here when I get back!”  Her husband was described as devoted, generous and imaginative, but I’m guessing not exactly a pacifist, boxed into that corner.

This month, advice columnist Carolyn Hax, writing to a reader invovled with a married man, wryly observed:

Sucker-bait bulletin: Adulterers have a funny way of being married to the worstest people ever.

Ha ha!  The Madison County wife’s decision to not break up her family may have been based on three factors:

  1. Her husband was a disappointment, but he wasn’t abusive.  Later, on his deathbed he apologized to her for ‘having to give up on her dreams’ — something she took a slightly different meaning from what he meant, as I read it.
  2. She wasn’t happy, but wasn’t really unhappy either.
  3. The level her unhappiness rose to wasn’t enough to trump the unfairness to her husband, had she departed cruelly and suddenly (see #1).

This sort of situation must happen a lot.  What’s different here is that neither the photographer or the farmer’s wife had subsequent relationships; she told her children (via notes left for them to be read after her own death) about the affair; and the children in turn told the story to an author who turned it into a bestseller.

I always try to take one good lesson away from each book.  When describing the methodical but creative approach the photographer took at one of the covered bridges, the author mentions the technique of bracketing — that is, when working with a tripod shot, and you know the one you’re taking is a keeper, you take three exposures.  The first, at the settings according to your exposure meter and the other two a half stop under- and over-exposed.  This way, if the meter reading is slightly off, or you lose detail you have some options.  I have to remember to do this more.

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