by Brian Kerstetter
O. and I have some pleasant routines when we travel. We’ll drink cold Coke on a Tokyo train platform in the summer. Or we’ll make four or five trips to the breakfast buffet in Ghana and stretch out our legs until we’ve finished two cappuccinos. In the evenings O. will debate with the waiter who knows nothing about wine about which wine to select before choosing one he finds unsatisfactory. These pleasant diversions are in the majority when we travel. But it would be misleading to say that our harmless habits weren’t offset by by the odd bad one. This particular weakness, like any bad habit worth its salt, manifests itself while drinking.
When we go out to dinner, whether half way across the world or at home in New York, we take our digital cameras. O. hangs his Leica around his neck like a tourist. I place my Sony on the table next to the salt and pepper shakers. By the end of dinner, we’ll generally have consumed a cocktail, a bottle of wine and several carafes of water, which causes us to make frequent trips to the bathroom. Somehow, years back, one of us (O.) started taking his camera to the bathroom and photographing the pee as it streamed into the toilet. I suppose the size of his brain and the wine combined to convince him this was funny. He discovered that, if you use the flash and get the right angle, you can capture the urine in mid air so it looks like a string of individual, resplendent, perfectly shaped diamonds. Back at the table he showed me the results and, sadly, I was most impressed.
Over the years, due to varying levels of dehydration, we’ve photographed not only diamonds but rare stones of exotic hues and shapes all over the world – in Peru, O. came up with an impressive opal necklace, on Lake Titicaca I managed a string of rubies that would rival any museum piece, and once, after a long night of drinking in Kyoto, O. miraculously produced such a vivid shade of topaz stones that I thought he might need to be hospitalized. Our fascination with photographing our own urine wasn’t due to drinking – even sober, when we would look at the photos the next day, we were amazed at how much our own pee looked like priceless jewels.
Whether we’re in a traditional tatami restaurant in Kyoto or a dive bar in South America, O. takes his camera to the bathroom, makes diamonds, and returns to the table in time to order an espresso and finish complaining about the wine. We have hundreds of pictures like this – on a normal trip, we take 500 to 600 pictures, which is why over the years I have hundreds of “jewelry” photos. When friends and family ask to see pictures of my trip I hesitate because of what happened after our first trip to Peru. I took a disk of photos back to Ohio to show my family and after showing them the ruins of Macchu Picchu, the medieval town of Cuzco, and a 16thcentury monastery, a photo of O. creating a pearl necklace in the bathroom of a pizza restaurant filled the computer screen.
Of all our pleasant routines while traveling, you’ll forgive me for going into such detail about the regrettable one. Neither O. nor I are proud of these photos. It’s only to show that, even amid a collection of civilized routines that revolve around the pleasures of food, wine, and exotic destinations, there is the odd bad habit that just seems to tag along.