This is one of the oddest experiences so far - choosing a tree to 'follow' in an entirely unfamiliar setting. I find I don't even know how to photograph an urban tree. How do I take a picture without including a whole load of people who don't want to be in it? How do I avoid registration numbers? How many cars can the eye take without exploding?
And as for context . . . an urban tree lives in several all at the same time. There may be other trees nearby but there are buildings, buses, litter, people too. If I were a tree in Dorset there would me and the sea and the hedgerow and we'd all be in some sort of harmony. Insects would flit from me to the next bush or flower along; no obstacles. But in the middle of a town . . . it's all disjointed. All trees are individuals of course, but those sticking out of the pavement seem too much alone even when planted in a row. Where do the insects go? It's very disconcerting.
My tree is the middle one. The most difficult to photograph because it's squashed between two others. It's probably the least interesting of the three. It's certainly the least pretty of them. But I chose it because it has lights in its branches.
In a series of novels about a Greek Village (by Sara Alexi) there's a character called 'Stella'. She's one of several women at the heart of the tale - and at the heart of the community. She runs a little cafe that sells chips, chicken and lemon sauce. And outside her cafe is a tree where she has hung fairy lights. They aren't artfully placed and they aren't specially beautiful but they are a symbol of liberation and an intriguing beacon for hungry locals and visitors.
|The rather overbearing|
National Headquarters of the
Halifax Building Society
is on the other side of the road
from 'our tree'.
Stella is a gypsy. At school she was taunted because her mother was a gypsy. As an adult, she discovered her biological father was a gypsy too. While we read this comfortably at home it might seem rather romantic. But in the story, gypsies and non-gypsies live separately and in hostility. Worse, her mother's relations aren't actually very nice people. And worse again her (first) husband is a brute. Stella is gentle and tough and the freedom to stick fairy-lights in the tree outside her cafe is hard won. So, even if they are naff they are a symbol of inner strength and ultimate freedom.
I'll have to go and look at this tree at night. The likelyhood of it giving a sophisticated atmosphere to what Halifax has hopefully designated as 'The Theatre Quarter' is pretty remote. But they may be warm and pretty. And, secretly, we will know it stands for something far beyond itself, even if it is disguised as a rather boring blob between elegant silver birches.
Not that I know what it is.
What is it?