Friday, September 4, 2009

further enlightenment

or, looking closely at lights. This lamp use to be in the hallway in 962 N Hoover Street. Now it's in our downstairs - what would you call it? In England, it would be a cloakroom; here I guess it's a bathroom, despite a total absence of bath; our painter labelled it the powder room - in there, anyway, where one has plenty of occasion to look at it (when, that is, one's not reading Weird N.J.). For years, I've thought of it as - and referred to it as - the dragonfly lamp. Only now I see it's a butterfly, and even the base, which I'd taken to be unequivocally of the infraorder Anisoptera (clearly I'm influenced now by having heard a program on the BBC Today show about a concert of songs about or mimicking insects), isn't a dragonfly at all - it's just that the lamp stem curves up like the dragonfly's thin tail.

I found a good reminder not to take lamps for granted, today, in the collection of photographs called New Londoners, that came out of a project run by PhotoVoice, and which I was looking at for possible materials to use later in my "Changing Britain" course. These are pictures that have all been taken by young refugees, asylum seekers. One of them, Mussie Haile, from Eritrea, provides a picture of a very ordinary ceiling light, and writes "I haven't seen this before. A bulb with protection. When I was in my country, there was no electricity in the countryside where I lived. Even in Asmara I never saw a bulb with protection like this." The whole collection manages to be a display of ordinariness and the more or less exotic seen side by side - and thus functions as an instant reminder that one person's ordinary is another person's strange and foreign.

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