In my parents’ backyard, despite the large “Misbelieve Tree” (a Japanese plum) and pecan trees, the summer heat pounded us in the shade. I was visiting home after my first year of college. Though my mother and best friend said I wouldn’t do it, I took the biggest bite my mouth allowed then swallowed the rotting onion we’d found.
I’ve always liked a good dare: a challenge of your mental and physical abilities, a test of how far you are willing to go. This mental boundary-pushing has extended to my writing (where I wonder how much truth I can tell), my dress, and even my athletic prowess. The Olympics are full of all three of these things: stories, styles, and skills. Before I attended graduate school, I told myself that I would be like Pheidippides, the Greek messenger, who ran twenty-six miles to deliver news and then died from overexertion. Clearly, I didn’t desire the same fate—only to exhaust my intellectual capacity while in journalism school.
I’m not sure I accomplished that, but I did get the most out of a study-abroad trip while seeking my journalism degree. In 2006, during Christmas break, I flew to Paris for a few days; I went alone and didn’t know French. I joined a group of classmates in Italy for two weeks, then returned to Paris for a few more days before I came home to New Orleans. I was studying magazine publishing with Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, but also learned a lot about art, architecture, and style, all of which still influence my photography.
I constantly dared myself to try new things in Italy; I walked alone in the streets for hours. I observed the handcrafted shoes contrasted against the stone streets, made in the same careful way centuries ago. I looked at how people wore scarves and men put vests over or under their slim-fitting suits. I stopped and talked with strangers and had dinner with families. I immersed myself in the culture—although I did eat cheeseburgers a few times (it was bowl season for college football), and they might have been the best burgers I’ve ever had. I managed to do just about everything I wanted to in Rome during that brief trip. But there was one thing I left undone—until a week ago.
Seeing a big car in old Rome is about as rare as seeing someone sporting an Afro and dashiki at the Republican National Convention. In old Rome, because of congestion and preservation, you mostly see these tiny vintage cars. And I badly wanted to jump over one. I wanted to challenge my athletic abilities and get my Olympian on. But, too much was in my way: my Banana Republic pea coat, a camera, and walls everywhere. These vintage cars never seemed to be parked in open spaces.
Last week, I treated my boy to a birthday meal at Parkway Tavern in New Orleans. And after watching the Olympics and downing po-boys, he wanted dessert. We headed to Angelo Brocato's Italian Ice Cream Parlor, and on a nearby side street, I saw the object of my desire parked in an open area. I always visualize an outfit and try it on before appearing in public. I did the same before hurdling that vintage car. Dared or not, a bad ensemble, an athletic failure, or even toppling over a car can be equally disastrous.
Photos from Italy