Tuesday, January 25, 2005

on being an angel

in November 1979, angered by American support for the Shah, who fled into exile in January 1979 and arrived in the United States in October for cancer treatment, a group of radical Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran, and took everyone inside captive - a total of 52 diplomats and embassy staff.

the students demanded the Shah's return to stand trial for alleged crimes in office.

they had the backing of the Iranian government, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. but their demands for the Shah's extradition were foiled when he fled to Cairo.

President Carter ordered sanctions and the freezing of Iranian assets in the US in an attempt to force Tehran to release the hostages. the Iranian Government did not give in so he ordered a rescue attempt. but the effort, in April 1980, had to be aborted after a sandstorm damaged some of the helicopters and a troop carrier to be used in the evacuation. eight American servicemen lost their lives. in the end, the Iranian captors were forced to give way when the Shah died in exile in Egypt - and Iraq invaded Iran.

Iran finally agreed to release the hostages after the US said it would release the $12 billion of Iranian assets frozen in American and other banks, including the Bank of England, since the embassy was seized. this deal, brokered by Algeria, was signed on January 19th 1981.

the actual release of the prisoners was delayed until two days later - the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration as president - in a final snub to President Carter.

on the morning of the same day this deal was being signed between the US and Iran in Algiers, a 23-year-old young woman looked out of her fifth-floor apartment window in the East Village onto the frozen streets of Manhattan and came to a decision. perhaps she saw herself as a hostage in some psychic drama that was all unravelling too fast to keep up with. but she wouldn't wait any longer for some liberator who was never going to come. she opened the window, stepped onto the ledge, and jumped.

it seems tragically to be the case that there is a kind of creative genius that obliges its hapless host to consume his or her days at a rate two or three times what's considered normal in those less affected.

the Mozart syndrome.

as a photographer, I wish I were a tenth as good as Francesca Woodman, but we mere artisans have to settle for the increasing dissatisfactions of survival, and count out our blessings in diurnal pennies instead of immortal nuggets. at least, we can say, we're alive. that's a start. we don't stock our shelves with memento mori any more. the skulls, the locks of hair, the grave art. who needs that, when we have the image - photographically frozen, if only in the imagination - of that endless falling moment of ending of a brilliant life lived too fast, too brilliantly.

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