Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It's A Long Way From Zanzibar To Spring Street

It is hard to imagine a real life love story unfolding itself on the walls of 11 Spring Street in December of 2006, but it did and what you are about to read is true.

Unfortunately the story does not have a happy ending. As many people in the neighborhood know , 11 Spring Street had become a a legendary street art shrine and as of June 2007 the exterior was still covered with some some works of art, but the process of removing them had already begun.

During the fall and winter and well into 2007 I was busy photographing the ever changing site. It was there in December of 2006 that I discovered a small handwritten love note taped to the wall. It was evident from the content of the note that a woman named Ida had fallen in love with one of the street artists whose work was on display outside the building. I met Ida at 11 Spring Street several days before I found and photographed her love note. When I first saw her she was photographing the Elizabeth Street side of the building. We got to talking and I found out that she was a street art fan from England who came to New York twice a year to look at the street art in Manhattan and Brooklyn. On one of her trips she saw the work of an artist using the tag of Faile and had fallen in love with him. At that time she did not know that Faile was a crew and she did not even know if he was a male. She found out all of that a little later when both of us were talking to a graffiti artist who used the name of Rambo. He told us about the Faile crew and said that one of them was a woman. Ida asked how she could get in touch with them and he made a few calls on his cell phone and came up with nothing. Much later I found out that two members of the crew are named Patrick.

After failing to find out more about the Faile crew we walked around lower Manhattan looking at the street art. Both of us were intent on photographing whatever was out there. Then she was off to Williamsburg in Brooklyn and we said goodby after exchanging email addresses. She wanted to be alerted if I met any of the Faile crew in my daily walks around lower Manhattan. At that time I did not know that she was going to leave a love note taped to the wall at 11 Spring Street.

After she left for Williamsburg and then went back to England I put Ida out of my mind. A few days later I went back to 11 Spring Street to see if anything new had gone up and I saw a small group of people looking at something on the Elizabeth side of the building. I went up to the crowd and asked if I could have a look. They cleared a path for me and it was then that I saw, read and photographed Ida's love note. I posted the photo on my Flickr web site because it had become a part of the story of 11 Spring Street. I also thought that perhaps a member of the Faile crew would see it. The latter turned out to be a false hope.

Soon after uploading the photo I got a frantic email from Ida in England. She was in a tizzy because I had photographed her love note and had posted it on my Flickr site. She said that people who saw it would think that she was crazy. I wrote back and pointed out to her that she had left her note in a public place and in fact when I photographed it a group of people were busy reading it and none of them thought she was crazy. I told her that most of the people thought that the note was sweet. That calmed her down a bit. She said in a subsequent email that in thinking it over the posting of the note on my Flickr site was probably not a bad thing. In fact, it might turn out to be a good thing. She reasoned that the Faile crew might see the note and get in touch with me or her.

It was at that point that she enlisted my help as her personal cupid and asked me what she should do next. I advised her to play it cool and wait and see if any of them got in touch with her or with me. None of them did. The situation now looked bleak. Time was passing and nothing was happening for Ida.

After waiting for what must have seemed an eternity for her, Ida had a bit of luck. It turned out that the Faile crew were going to have big gallery show in England and Ida had read about it. Now she would have a chance to meet them at the opening, but once again her hopes were dashed. It turned out that because of some confusion Ida did not get to the opening, but she did manage to get to the show and inquired about buying one of their works. So she made arrangements to come to New York to pick out the piece she wanted. That is the reason we met in New York in April of 2007.

Prior to her visit to their studio and while still in England Ida told me all about her plans and asked how she should handle herself at the forthcoming meeting. I told her to act cool and act like an art buyer. This is the part of the story when her earlier visit to Zanzibar becomes important. When Ida was about 20 she had gone to Zanzibar for a vacation and spent most of her time smoking pot and sunbathing on the beach. She was having a wonderful time when it occurred to her that she ought to do some sightseeing. It would just not do to go home and have to tell people that she had done nothing but loll around on the beach smoking pot. So she booked passage on a boat to take her to a small island which was a part of Zanzibar but where few outsiders ever go because there was not much to see there. At least she could say that she went somewhere and did something. When she arrived at the port, or when she was on the boat , she met a witchdoctor from Oman who was on a buying trip to the small island. There, he said, he could get magic potions and other things to take back with him. So they struck up a friendship and Ida asked if she could come along with him on his buying trip to the interior. Now that was something all her friends back home would be interested in. After all, who gets to travel through the jungle with a witchdoctor from Oman on a buying trip? The witchdoctor agreed to take her along and they both set out into the jungle on foot for their meeting. When they finally arrived at the designated spot they found themselves in a mud hut filled with magical potions and a variety of other things. The witchdoctor from Oman transacted his business and then the local witchdoctor asked Ida if she would like some protection for her subsequent voyage home. It was at that moment that she thought that she might be in big trouble. She thought that she might very well be raped or killed or God knows what and nobody would ever know a thing. What was she going to do? After all, there she was, all alone, in the middle of the jungle with two male witchdoctors.

Luckily she made the right decision and said that of course she wanted some protection. The ritual involved some bloodletting and then the local witchdoctor told her that nothing bad would happen to her for about six months. The spell he had cast using her blood was that powerful. Apparently he had taken a shine to Ida and as a parting gift he gave her a very small stick which he said would make any man fall in love with her if she put it in her mouth when she met and talked with him.

After she had fallen in love with the Faile crew, or at least one of them, she dug out that old stick and sent me an urgent email from London. She wanted to know if she should use it when she picked out her work of art in New York or was she just being silly? By that time she had found out that one of the men in the group was single. She was also afraid that she might become so nervous that she would possibly choke on the small stick if she put it into her mouth. I told her that that was unlikely and that she should use it. I further remarked that she had nothing to lose and everything gain if it worked. I also told her that if she was nervous she just had to be very careful and tuck the stick between her gum and her cheek so she could still talk, but in a place where she would not choke on it by mistake.

To make a long story short she met with the group and was so nervous that she forgot to put the magic stick she got from the witchdoctor from Zanzibar into her mouth. Hence the spell could not work. But Ida did manage to make her purchase and even met the unmarried member of the group. Things were looking up.

She called me from their studio and we agreed to meet at 55 Prince Street where she could calm her nerves and meet my family. After meeting Gwen and the kids she said she needed some coffee so we went to a nearby cafe where we could talk. She wanted to tell me all the details of her meeting and ask what she should do next. She was leaving for England the next say so if there was going to be any romance it was going to have to commence with an exchange of emails.

It was then that I sprang into action. As her personal cupid I felt I had an obligation to encourage her romance. That is what cupids are supposed to do. I told her that she had missed the boat as far as using her magic stick was concerned but I had something else which might do the trick. I told her that about a year before I had found a voodoo doll outside our loft and had taken it in because I felt that it might come in handy someday. This was the day. I said that it was a fertility doll and that it could obviously stimulate a romance. The doll was handmade of cloth and twigs and represented a mother carrying a small baby doll. Between the body of the baby and the mother there was a small pouch into which fingernail clippings, hair, dried blood and other types of dried bodily fluids could be placed as well as well as any part of an object the man to be bewitched had touched. Ida was dubious. She said how did I know that it was a real voodoo doll? I said that I had made a study of wax figures, mannequins and dolls and had seen a similar figurein one of my reference books. The one illustrated in the book was almost identical to the one I found and it was from Haiti. I urged her to take the doll back to England with her. She agreed but then told me that she did not have any fingernail clippings, hair or dried blood from the man handy, much less any dried bodily fluids. It was not that kind of meeting she said. This presented a problem.

I knew enough about ritual magic to understand that certain objects needed to be activated before they could be made to work and that she needed something from the man himself. The voodoo doll and the object from the man needed to be activated. I told her that for a start she had to rub the voodoo doll up against the work of art she had just acquired and that would transfer the the necessary energy from him to the doll. Then the doll itself needed to be activated. Ida saw the logic of it. Ida would have to find a voodoo priestess in London to activate the doll. My only real concern was that even if the doll was activated it had to cast a spell across the Atlantic ocean. That is quite a distance for any spell to work.

Ida wrote to me from England that she was looking for a voodoo priestess. She also said that her potential lover had sent her an email saying how much he had enjoyed her visit. That was a very good sign. I was confident that armed with her magic stick and her soon to be activated voodoo doll Ida would prevail . Alas, although the handwriting was on the wall the romance fizzled.

Ida has been unable to further her long distance and one sided romance. The love affair, such as it was, had fallen flat and I had proved to be an impotent cupid. Most surprisingly the voodoo doll, although clearly magical, did not have any effect , probably because it had not been correctly activated. Looking back on all of these events with the advantage of hindsight, I see now that the beginning of the end probably occurred when Ida forgot to put the magic stick into her mouth when she met the member of the Faile crew. That was her big chance and she blew it. Proximity is everything in matters of love. Ida must now begin her quest for true love again.


Haiku575 said...

That is the best story I've read in a long while. Thank you.

Steve Harlow said...

Yep, she blew it. Well told story. Thanks.