It was something Amanda had written to me about weeks before I got to California and like most things we have no real basis for, the old zoo was something completely different in my mind – it was old circus cages and homeless men sleeping in loose piles and it was the scent of cruelty that never really goes away. You can always tell it was there, whether years and years ago or just last week. There is a taste in the air; there is a hum.
In my mind the zoo was in the middle of nowhere, but in reality it was exactly where we had sat, a week earlier, to watch Shakespeare in the park. We laughed about it as we approached. We bought bars of ice cream and ate them quickly. The zoo is small and if you walk up around the back of it, you emerge into a sort of plateau that looks out over a part of the city that is not particularly pretty. It is just rows of houses and it is open and the sun beats down relentlessly and Amanda hands me a coat and says, Here, put this on. I’ll buy you an iced coffee after this.
I stand in a beaten-down building that might have been some sort of staff house. Inside, graffiti covers every inch of wall and outside there are cages stacked one on top of the other and I duck inside one and straighten up and try not to squint my eyes too much.
Are you OK? Are you too hot? Amanda asks after a while. She has led me around to the back of the building; there’s a foot and a half wide space between the back wall and a barbed wire fence. I climb up onto a skinny platform carefully, worried about tetanus, worried about bugs. Fine, I say. I’m fine. Getting anything good?
After a minute, she takes the camera away from her face. I think I just took the prettiest picture I have ever taken of you, she says.
She tries to help me down but I have to do it by myself or I’m scared I’ll fall.
Do you want to see? she asks, offering me the camera.
I look. We gather up the bags. I am getting a blister. We limp back to the car.
In her apartment, I squat in the bathtub and splash water over my legs.
Are you OK in there? she shouts through the door and I shout back that I am.
all photographs taken by amanda. go and see her site immediately; she is a genius.