When Pixels Fail

Since the opportunity for an impromptu visit to New York City presented itself this weekend, I had planned on spending the day doing some street photography and checking out the fall offerings in the galleries and museums. Instead, news of the intensifying air strikes against Gaza had me too distracted and depressed to focus on anything else. Rather than head to the Met or Chelsea, as I had planned, I walked to 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street to have a look at the face of the Israeli Consulate. Somehow I wanted to know if the important people inside felt any joy at their deadly fireworks display, or any remorse at the blood being spilled in their names. But nobody was around. The consulate is closed on Saturday. The building met me with a steely, indifferent facade, opaque and inscrutable to my gaze. I wanted to throw rocks, but the sidewalk offered no ammunition, and even if I had thought to bring some with me, my arm would have lacked the strength to propel them even to the first floor of the building. Had I howled in rage, my voice would have disappeared into the wind. The bag of expensive lenses hanging from my shoulder, each one carefully chosen for its ability to reveal a different aspect of the world around me, was powerless to visualize the violence emanating from the masters of that faceless edifice. The sidewalk outside was deserted, save for a bored looking security guard trapped in a little glassed in kiosk at the front of the building. Even the Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the ground floor had an abandoned air. The United Nations Plaza a couple of blocks away exuded a similar forlorn emptiness. Nothing to see here, move along.

Feeling a bit lost, I walked slowly up 5th Avenue past throngs of shoppers in fashionable clothes browsing the sumptuous displays of luxury goods already set out for the holidays. The sidewalks were crowded with women turned out in furs, ski leggings, and tall boots, even thought the day was barely cold enough to require an overcoat. Madison Avenue was blocked off for several blocks, not in anticipation of social unrest and outrage at America’s involvement in so many unjust wars, but so that bargain hunters could enjoy the bounty of Chinese knockoff purses, Kashmiri scarves, Greek gyros, and stamped imitation Nepali costume jewelry set up on folding card tables all along the road. Trying to somehow join in the spirit of the season, I bought my girlfriend some beautiful soft cashmere wool scarves and lovely 1000 thread count sheets, but even as I searched for the right color scarf to match her winter coat, I couldn’t get the images of the charred babies I had awoken to on my Facebook feed out of my head. I tried to make some photographs of the lush spectacle of consumerism, hoping to use the images in ironic juxtaposition to the pictures of misery that had been seared into my brain, but my camera battery and the backup both died prematurely, as if to underscore the uselessness of attempting to transcribe my mental state in the form of some clever arrangement of pixels.

As I walked back to my hotel, I passed the vendors with charcoal fires on pushcarts, filling the air with the scents of barbecued meat to tempt hungry passersby. My mouth watered involuntarily as the nostalgic smoke of roasting chestnuts and beef kebabs stung my eyes, but my hunger soon turned to nausea as I remembered the scent of burning human flesh incinerated in the sacred cremation fires on the banks of the Ganges River that I experienced over ten years ago on my first trip to India. No amount of time elapsed will erase that smell from my memory. I wondered if the smoke rising from the burning homes in Gaza carries that same acrid aroma. Israel may well bomb that city back into the middle ages, as the country’s Interior Minister bragged he would do today in order to ensure his country’s security, but surely he must understand that those who survive to remember the scent of the burning flesh of their relatives and friends will dedicate their lives to ending Israel’s reign of terror by any means possible. Each child killed in today’s bombardment will push the hope of peace and security in the region farther away than ever, as today Israel chose to renew the cycle of killing once again.

Posted by scoopneil

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