The vehicle in which I rode as an infant was a kind of horseless barouche, black as a hearse, with a large hood that could be folded back to allow for the beneficial effects of sunshine. Set high on its four wheels, it enabled the adult pushing it to maintain uninterrupted eye contact with the infant contained in its depths. It had excellent suspension—I can still feel its comfortable bounce as my mother wheeled me over the cobbled streets of Barcelona.
Once I was old enough to sit up, my mother removed the middle portion of the carriage bed, which left two small benches at either end. How I loved those benches! The endless possibility of choice they offered–now the front one! Now the back one!–in a life otherwise ruled entirely by others, made me feel powerful, self-reliant, free.
I owe my earliest memory to that baby carriage. It is the summer before my first birthday—it has to be summer because in the photo the carriage is parked on a dirt road, and dirt roads belonged to summer. Someone is telling me to be still so that I can have my picture taken, but instead of sitting still I plop my bottom back and forth from one of the little benches to the other. With the big head and black hair of a court dwarf by Velázquez, my eyes squinting in the sun and my tongue poking out of my toothless mouth, I am being disobedient, and bursting at the seams with the sheer gloriousness of me.
There is no question of the identity of the photographer. My father’s camera is as much an expression of his masculinity as his violin, and it would no more occur to my mother to take a picture than he would be inspired to fry a sardine for my dinner. I also know that my father was the photographer because of the certainty, which has remained intact for three-quarters of a century, that my momentary misbehavior is being watched with smiling benevolence, a quality that I associate with my father rather than my mother, who despite her affection is unswerving in the immediate enforcement of her commands.
My father, summer-brown in his white polo shirt, the only garment that exposed his hairy forearms. My father, who loved the countryside with the fervent passion of the city-dweller and who, freed from the round of rehearsals and performances, would, during the siesta hour when he could neither practice the violin nor compose at the piano, take my grandparents’ horse and cart for a leisurely ride to the next village, feasting his eyes on the orchards, fields, and hedgerows of my mother’s native landscape. My father, the all-but invisible recorder of my childhood, who would suddenly materialize with his camera, saying, “Quick, go outside! I want to take your picture.”
And I would stand, more obediently with each passing year, my espadrilles sunk in white summer dust, my skin tanned the color of a hazelnut, and my eyes squeezed tight against the glare of the Mediterranean sun.
How cool that you remember that — before your first birthday! Also, what a wonderful carriage.
Usually I think I can't remember anything about my early life, but then a trigger appears–Nabokov's \”Speak, Memory!\” is the most recent.
Oh, this photo.