Reading on the Road

I haven’t entirely lost my taste for reading matter during travels, though it’s definitely taken a back seat.  At Carole’s, I read one New Yorker story set in London, with inklings of Spanish and Moroccan settings—a  simple commoner’s love story set amid shady brokers, low crimes, and hit men.

This story swept me away in spirit from the grand Taos mountain surroundings into the intimacy between two people whose private love notes, call and response, are hidden away in a notebook tucked into a drawer and not spoken of until the story’s last moments.

“Good Book,” by Keith Ridgway, The New Yorker, April 11, 2011

“They couldn’t talk.  They were not good talkers, either of them.  And once, long ago now, she had bought a notebook for a course.  It lay empty and forgotten on the kitchen table until one afternoon, when she had gone out to the shops and he was worried that she would be killed by a bus or by lightning, he opened the notebook and he wrote lines about how he loved her, the way he loved her. . . All that. . .

And it wasn’t until about a week later that he noticed it again, and he flicked it open, and he saw his lines followed by lines from her.  She’d written words that she had never said . . . It was like the book freed stuff up, allowed it to happen, that the tenderness was covered, they had it covered, they had all the love and kindness and gentleness covered, and the sex became something else.”

Tony O’Brien’s Light in the Desert:  Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert


Tony O’Brien, Meditation

I found the next piece among New Mexico arts/culture magazines, an interview with Tony O’Brien, photographer and author of Light in the Desert:  Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, published fall 2011 by the Museum of New Mexico Press.  (More on the arts magazine at:

O’Brien had been a well-known war correspondent who took assignments in Northern Ireland, Central America, India, Pakistan, and, finally, Afghanistan, where he was subsequently captured by the Afghan Secret Police and imprisoned for six weeks.

While confined, O’Brien interacted at length with his cellmate, Nadr Ali, a devout Muslim, and they  exchanged profound thoughts and shared beliefs on freedom, family, and faith,  The encounter changed him fundamentally and forever.

On his return to Santa Fe, O’Brien sought refuge and a measure of closure on his capture experiences by taking a photographic journey into the lives of Benedictine monks living in the high desert countryside of New Mexico.  He was accepted into the community, assigned his own “cell,” and took part in daily routines of prayer, silence, and manual labor.

Publication of O’Brien’s work coincides with an exhibition, Contemplative Landscape, at the New Mexico History Museum showing “twenty of O’Brien’s photographs recently donated to the Photo Archives at the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum by the Scanlon Foundation.”[1]

Excerpt from near the close of the interview:

“Padilla:  Would Christ in the Desert be what it is without the landscape?

O’Brien:  I don’t think it would.  Part of it is the landscape, the canyon.  There is spirituality there, just as there is spirituality throughout New Mexico, that comes from pre-Hispanic times.  You see history in the canyon walls, and not just the last few hundred years, but throughout the history of this world.

On the one hand, it’s beautiful, it’s magnificent.  And yet it’s hard, it’s rugged, it’s not easy country, it’s unforgiving.  I remember trying to think about how do I incorporate the landscape into this, how do I make it fit.  I was almost more frightened about trying to photograph the landscape than I was about photographing the monks.”

The interview closing:

“Padilla:  What do you want people to take away from your book?

O’Brien:  Less of me, more of the monks and the monastery.  I would hope people would be able to sit with it and just be quiet for a while.  The idea of hospitality, of taking time out of the work day.  The idea of community, that life is a journey.  That it’s the little things, not the big things, it’s bit by bit, and if you want an answer, then you’ve got to go somewhere else.

I think I was given an extraordinary gift.  The book is done, but the journey continues. I’m still looking for the light every day.”[2]

Information about the publication can be found at:
View O’Brien’s photos in the Verve Gallery, room 3 site at:

 “Trying to Photograph God, Tony O’Brien with Carmella Padilla,” an interview in El Palacio, Art, History, and Culture of the Southwest, Fall 2011, Vol 116, No. 3.

[2]   From “Trying to Photograph God, Tony O’Brien with Carmella Padilla,” an interview in El Palacio, Art, History, and Culture of the Southwest, Fall 2011, Vol 116, No. 3, pp. 32-33.



About jillscherb7

Retired intercultural educator & speech/English faculty; traveller to China, Europe-France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Mexico (who's lived in China & Bulgaria); lover of books, poetry, film, narratives, music & art; sometime book reviewer; and Austinite (Texas, U.S.A.)
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