18 October 2009
Mysterious Women in Amsterdam
I found this photograph in an old, musty, dark second-hand movie bookshop in Amsterdam. Mistaking it for a regular second-hand bookshop, Dalia and I walked in. On the left, boxes full of black-and-white photographs from old films – most of them too tacky for my taste. Dalia, however, immersed herself in the box, and started rummaging through, looking for photographs of couples in romantic scenes. The photograph of the two women caught my eye just for a split second before it was again buried among cowboys on horses and scenes of prairies.
Dalia had meanwhile already found some couples she wanted for her apartment. I got a bit bored, so I went further into the shop, asking the bookseller if he had any books in English. “All the books are in English. This is a movie bookshop, and all the books are about movies.” Great, I thought to myself. I looked around, more boxes of photographs, a couple of stands with big tacky posters, some albums with rare photographs, and more boxes of more tacky photographs.
I went back over to Dalia’s box, where she was choosing which of the couples will make it back home with her. Then I remembered the two women. I retrieved the photograph, and was mesmerized by it. At first glance, they are just two ordinary women. But when I began contemplating the relationship between them, I realized how ambiguous and enigmatic it is.
One moment they are mother and daughter, the next moment they are sisters, and yet they tease me as if they were lovers.
A mother consoling her daughter, trying to erase the sadness in her eyes, or an angry daughter turning away from her mother?
A scene of two lovers – is one turning away from the other in sorrow, or is it the initial scene of seduction?
I knew this photograph will have a special place – a place of its own – in my life. As I paid for it, I felt elation mingled with exhilaration. As we walked out of the bookshop, I said to Dalia, “I wonder who these women are, from what movie…” Dalia said, very practically, “You want to go back and ask the bookseller? He should know.” I hesitated a moment, my curiosity trying its best to persuade me, the need for knowledge gnawing at the edge of my mind. At last, I said, “No. I actually like the mystery of them. I don’t want to know who they are. Their mystery is what makes the photograph so unearthly. It’s perfect just like it is. Knowing who they are would make it just too ordinary, sucking away all the magic.”
I have hung the photograph over my computer in my office. I know it will travel between my office and my home in the next few months, depending on my mood and my desire to see it. Every time I look up from the computer, I see it, and I spend a few moments contemplating its mysteries. Life is so much more when we have these small, delightful mysteries.