Strangers in strange lands Melissa Catanese’s Voy­agers

Melissa Catanese’s Voy­agers

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco

Aschool­girl is poised on a small bench, one leg tucked be­neath the other, book in hand. What is she read­ing? What vi­sions of places near or far do the words on the pages spark in her mind? Per­haps she’s read­ing noth­ing more than a text­book of bor­ing equa­tions or facts to be mem­o­rized. Per­haps it is a tale of en­chanted lands full of hero­ines, mon­sters, and ma­gi­cians. Maybe her pulse races out of fear for a princess of renowned beauty, brought un­der the spell of a witch’s curse. But she could also be read­ing about Pol­ish sci­en­tist Marie Curie and her pi­o­neer­ing work in ra­dioac­tiv­ity, or Bri­tish bio­physi­cist Rosalind Franklin and the dis­cov­ery of DNA.

A stout man in mid­dle age, los­ing his hair, scours the Beth­le­hem Globe-Times, hold­ing his head in dis­be­lief. Per­haps he’s shocked to learn of a de­ci­sion by the city coun­cil that will af­fect his busi­ness, or dis­mayed by the har­row­ing ac­counts of a war over­seas.

A younger man, nat­tily dressed in clothes from a by­gone era, sits in a rock­ing chair, a small tome open on his lap, a slight smile in­di­cat­ing his amuse­ment. Maybe it’s the lat­est ad­ven­ture penned by his fa­vorite mys­tery writer or fan­ta­sist — Arthur Co­nan Doyle, per­haps, or H. Rider Hag­gard. It could also be a bawdy tale of wan­ton lust or a com­pen­dium of off-color jokes loaned to him by an im­per­ti­nent col­lege buddy.

A woman sits in a dark­ened room, read­ing by the sharp glow of an elec­tric lamp she’s po­si­tioned toward the pages, mak­ing max­i­mum use of its bril­liance. She might be moved by the fates of star-crossed lovers meet­ing in clan­des­tine lo­ca­tions, des­tined for a tragic end. Or maybe she reads of bearded vil­lains plot­ting mur­der at mid­night on a fog-shrouded Lon­don pier, or of gang­sters drink­ing gin from cof­fee mugs in a Pro­hi­bi­tion-era speakeasy and plan­ning a bank heist. What­ever sto­ries the pages hold for her, she bears a dev­il­ish grin.

What all these read­ers have in com­mon is that they are trav­el­ers, even though they are sit­ting still, en­sconced in easy chairs, nes­tled on benches, or loung­ing on their beds. They are moved by words strung to­gether into sen­tences, sen­tences ar­ranged into para­graphs, and para­graphs com­pris­ing tall tales, true tales, bi­ogra­phies, his­to­ries, nov­els, po­ems, and ev­ery pos­si­ble writ­ten form. They are voy­agers whose jour­neys tran­scend time and place, trans­port­ing them out of the mun­dane tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the here and now. Their trav­els live on in their minds long after they’ve turned the last page.

These read­ers — these time-trav­el­ers and globe-trot­ters — are the sub­jects of Voy­agers, be­guil­ing col­lec­tion of can­did black-and­white pho­to­graphs as­sem­bled by Melissa Catanese, a cre­ator of art books in which she ar­ranges trea­suries of ver­nac­u­lar pho­to­graphs into word­less nar­ra­tives. She culled the largely anony­mous pho­to­graphs from a col­lec­tion of more than 30,000. The im­ages show all sorts of peo­ple from all walks of life por­ing over books, mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers, jour­nals — any man­ner of printed ma­te­rial. In much the same way as we imag­ine the books in these im­ages speak­ing to their read­ers, the pho­tos from Voy­agers also speak for them­selves.

All we can do is imag­ine in what dis­tant ports of call these voy­agers make their steady ways, page by page. And that is what Pasatiempo’s an­nual writ­ing con­test is ul­ti­mately about: won­der and imag­i­na­tion. We ex­tend a heart­felt thank you to Catanese for the use of the im­ages from Voy­agers to il­lus­trate this spe­cial is­sue.

Voy­agers by Melissa Catanese is pub­lished by The Ice Plant.

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