On Aging Gracefully

“When you’re running at my age, after a major heart operation, your body does not respond with the necessary speed. In Aleppo, Syria, the bullets were just winging over the top of my helmet. It wasn’t the same old Don McCullin as in the old days, when I could run like a greyhound.”

— Photographer Don McCullin, 77, quoted in British Journal of Photography, “Coming of Age” by Olivier Laurent

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Don McCullin has covered war and conflict in Vietnam, Biafra, Northern Ireland, El Salvador and Cyprus, as well as Syria. He also took the photographs of Maryon Park in London which were used in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up (1966). In 1968, McCullin’s Nikon camera stopped a bullet.

Riding with Aéropostale


In 1932, a French illustrator named Georges Hamel, who worked as “Géo Ham,” sent a letter via air mail to a friend in Santiago, Chile, and began to wonder how it traveled and how many men risked their lives to see that it was delivered. So he arranged to fly with the French Aéropostale on the same route as the letter. Over the desert coast of Africa, he roasted by day and froze by night; a mail boat took him across the Atlantic to South America, where he continued by air down the coast and then over the Andes mountains. His watercolors of the 21,000-mile journey were published in L’Illustration magazine; here are six of them:


Mail is loaded onto a Latécoere 26 airplane at an Aéropostale outpost, Cape Juby, in the Spanish Sahara.


Hamel’s interpreter rides with the mail bags from Cape Juby to Dakar.


The mail boat Aéropostale II in heavy seas crosses from Africa to South America.


Approaching Sugar Loaf at the entrance to Rio de Janeiro Bay, Brazil.


The Latécoere 26 with its wheel-mounted landing lights flies into Mendoza, Argentina, where the mail is transferred to a high-flying Potez 25 biplane piloted by Henri Guillaumet for the flight over the Andes.


On the final, turbulent leg over the mountains to Santiago, Hamel’s leather flying suit is stuffed with newspapers for insulation from the -35 degree cold, and he is secured in the mail compartment with ropes.

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My thanks to Flying the Mail (1982) by Donald Dale Jackson.

The Stone Chapel at Yaddo


The Stone Chapel on the Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs was built for the servants of Spencer and Katrina Trask, and has also been known as the Trask Chapel, the Tower, the Acosta Nichols Stone Tower* and the Tower Studio.

Spencer Trask (1844-1909) was an American financier and venture capitalist who invested in the electric light, the wireless telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the trolley car, the automobile, and the New York Times. He did well.

Yaddo 2The name for Yaddo came from Trask’s young daughter, Christina, who referred to shadows cast on the lawn as “yaddos.” We often think of the rich as having an easier time of it, but Christina and her siblings all died young: Alanson at 18 months of meningitis; Christina at 11 years of diptheria; Spencer Jr., age five, also of diptheria, three days after his sister; and the last, Katrina, just 12 days after her birth. Eighteen months later, the Trask mansion burned to the ground.

The Trasks rebuilt, completing the present-day Yaddo in 1893, but, with no heirs, wondered what would become of their estate when they died. By 1900, they had fixed upon the idea of a retreat where artists could come to “create, create, create,” in Katrina’s words.

Yaddo 3

It was good that they discussed this in advance. On New Year’s Eve in 1909, Spencer Trask was traveling by train from Saratoga Springs to New York City; the train had stopped on the tracks and he was shaving in the last car when an oncoming freight train failed to stop and crushed him.

In 1921, Katrina Trask married George Foster Peabody; she died less than a year later. Since that time, Yaddo has served as an artists’ colony, hosting thousands of “guests” from literature, painting, film, music, choreography, photography, sculpture, video and print making.

The Chapel became a studio for such artists. In 1930, Aaron Copland composed his “Piano Variations” there. And in 1939, another composer staying in the Chapel hosted a party for stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

gypsy rose lee

Looking at the Tower postcards, I would never have imagined that.

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*Acosta Nichols was the brother of Katrina Trask

My thanks to Rob Hoover for the postcard that began the quest.