A couple of months ago, I wandered through the historic center for the first time in very long time, perhaps as many as two years. I was astonished by what I saw. While in the intervening years Sessa had remained fixed and unchanging in my mind, there in the streets I found differences everywhere, both small and profound. Mostly they were signs of further deterioration, like centering built to support crumbling arches, or padlocked doors to formerly inhabited houses. But there were also improvements, and to me these were the most profound of the changes because they were unexpected.
Among them was this newly plastered and painted facade in the neighborhood of the cathedral. I gasped when I saw it, and not because of its color. I had taken a picture of the same facade five years before, when it looked very different, and that photo has been my favorite of all the ones I’ve taken of Sessa, ever since.
After the initial shock, I winced. Several months before, my computer had ceased to function, and I hadn’t backed up most of my files, including several years of photos. This was a particularly egregious oversight given that the computer had been displaying signs of imminent death for weeks. I put it away on a shelf in N’s office, waiting for the moment when we’d have the time and resources to attempt to save the data on the disk. I consoled myself by thinking that I could reshoot all my favorite photos, because, after all, Sessa was Sessa, and certainly not going anywhere.
Now the bright orange of the new facade loomed large before my eyes and became a symbol of things irretrievably lost (and of my own stupidity.) I made a conscious effort not to think of the lost photos, though memories of them intruded into my thoughts from time to time, in particular, an unusually insistent one of a photo of a squirrel holding and eating a lollipop the morning after Halloween 2011. I avoided walking in the center, despite the risk of losing ever more opportunities to retake the lost photos.
One morning last month I woke with the thought that I should take out the old computer and try to turn it on. I ignored it for the better part of the day, thinking it was stupid, until I couldn’t anymore, and then, right as I should have started preparing dinner, I took it down from the shelf, plugged it in, and gingerly pressed the on button.
‘Please turn on, please turn on, please turn on,’ I begged it in a little voice.
It answered me with its chime.
This is the original photo, no longer irretrievably lost, even if the facade it depicts is, now covered with fresh plaster and bright new plaint. To me it is a truer image of Sessa than the new, true one, which conceals the city’s decrepit glory, its built-up layers of history. It’s more honest about the uneasiness of the coexistence of old with the new. The uneven, unmatched layers of plaster draw attention to the the juxtaposition of architectural styles, and together with the network of wires of varying sizes, colors and age, each one superimposed one upon the other, unequivocally proclaim the passage of time. And then there is the game of the two street lamps: the newer one, in a style that speaks of a remote past, pretending to be old, while the older one sports a modernist style, dated now, but still more recent than the other. The lamps appear in the newer photo as well, but the full force of their play is lost when deprived of its former palimpsestic context.
Since my walk in the center, and regaining my old photos, I’ve become ever more interested in observing the changes that have occurred since taking them, which is to say that in the near future I will probably be boring anyone still reading this blog with more posts like this one.