A month before I turned twenty-one, I bought a one-way ticket on Air France from New York to Paris, not knowing when or if I would return. Hungry for adventure, eager to write my adult life on a new page, I set off for Europe, Leica in hand, beginning my version of the "Grand Tour," a traditional jaunt offered to well-heeled young adults in the prior century. I, however, was not funded by an upper-class family, but had a lump sum of cash from a settlement I'd won against an elderly gentleman whose car had collided with me on my bicycle when I was 9, leaving me to recuperate immobilized in hospital and at home for half that year, a frozen bridge to puberty. In many ways, the use of this "award" for a non-defined trip through the foreign world seemed just right: It gave me the wings and time to wander, unencumbered. It seemed inevitable to me- in the spirit of Hemingway, or photographic and artistic American forbears, to land in France and discover Spain, observing, absorbing and recording other, more and historic ways of life aboard, perhaps to find a life of my own there, in fact.
I did find adventures: of the heart, gastronomic, musical, and visual: through landscapes urban, mountainous, seaside and historical; yet as the months rolled by I began to long for the forested mountains of the east coast of my home country. Ultimately and gradually, I surprised myself in deciding to return to the U.S.
I discovered unknown aspects of my American identity reflected by the attitudes of the others, and as I absorbed them, wondered: Am I worthy? Am I different? Am I safe?
There are memories etched clearly still- of the French off-duty "air hostess" I met on the plane over who offered me lodging at her home when she learned I'd not made hotel reservations, meeting her family and being refused the opportunity to contribute to the cost of a a restaurant dinner by her mother, who said: "This is for 1945."
Memories haunt me of the terrifying midnight drive through the Pyrenees hugging the curving steep edge of the mountain, barely visible through the clouds, wishing to sleep in a shed next to the sheep who huddled together along the sloping hillside, just until dawn; visiting the sprawling castles of the Loire Valley; stopping to wander through the indoor markets of Zaragoza, and the pea-sized country of Andorra; landing in Madrid, Andalucia, Malaga, Alicante, Murcia, and Valencia, under the ever-present stare of Franco's military Guardia Civil armed with machine guns, empowered to shoot if you didn't obey them; of being arrested in Malaga for selling my own handmade leather goods on the street during business hours, transported to the police station and waiting on a bench, thinking: My parents will never know what happened to me! I have no right to an attorney or due process, and will never be heard from again! Then, luckily released, returning to my pensión room to flush my boyfriend's hashish down the toilet, just in case. Somehow I have no pictures of armed guards.
As I read the Pelican paperback editions of Hemingway in Spanish, and met no-one who spoke English, my schoolgirl Spanish became the language of my thoughts, and I realized another month in France would have done the same for my mastery of French. I became acculturated in various ways: to not touch fruit before buying, while away time playing pinball in bars where men drank cognac and coffee, appreciate the soulful wails of Flamenco, and be afraid of the government.
One day in early spring I returned to our room after spending several hours photographing the Semana Santa (Easter Week) procession in Murcia, and found my Spanish boyfriend drunk on cognac, furious that I'd left him alone all day. When he circled my throat with his hands in anger, I stared and realized I would never stay there. He retreated to a corner of the room, played his guitar, singing beautifully. I contemplated my future to the characteristic dissonance and descending tendency of Flamenco.
There is a word in Spanish that at first I thought I understood, then experienced layers of its meaning: "estranjero". Its dictionary definition eluded me: I'd never heard or read the word before, but felt it when spoken to me, as the unknown, the stranger, the other. It could be place, as well as person. A place strange to us; foreign. I was. The stranger. I was . There.
Years later, my travels across the United States were no less confounding or interesting. Awed by endless skies stretching above the desert, a stark yet aging crop of hotels in Las Vegas, flatness and mundaneness of inland towns like Bakerfield, the odd landscape of Joshua Tree at night like humans reaching their twisted figures toward the stars, the unsettling freedom animals enjoyed at the San Diego Zoo, an eerily frightening awareness of feeling dangerously foreign among local farmers and hardhats, as a Jewish female New Yorker eating breakfast in an Iowa diner.
My endless thanks to my husband, John, who through his own curiosity found genuine value in my photographs and offers continuous encouragement and assistance in motivating me to share them with the world; likewise to Alice Lombardo Maher and the late Tanya Sparer; to Paul McDonough who early on advised me to look the pictures over, and later helped to edit them; to Donald Kuspit who called my pictures "credible" and offered to write an intro to my book; and to Sergio Purtell for his support and the excitement he expressed and pleasure he took in finding them while printing them.