Sunday, November 26, 2023

What are friends for?

Meryll, Lenny and Steve in the Prosecco Hills.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to friendship lately. First, I found myself making a list of “best” or “real” friends, a purely gut level endeavor since you can’t really know. The exercise may have risen out of my rekindled friendship with Lenny Levenson in Italy after 39 years. Our instant mind meld and that we could have been continuing a conversation that began in the spring of 1984 touched me. Then on Tuesday last week I had lunch with Mark Asmus to share war stories about our recent trips to Europe. Mark and his partner, Lawrence, were in Paris for a month while Peggy and I hopscotched around Italy for three weeks. All four of us had a hard time of it for similar reasons, not the least of which being jet lagged and having long-lasting colds. Mark allowed that they might not “cross the pond” again. Peggy and I are pondering the same.

Mark Asmus, all 6"-5" of him.

But that’s not the essence of this tale. This is about deep and abiding friendship. I’d suggest that you may not know if the relationship is profound and unbreakable till it’s tested. And you hope it won’t be. Bill Roquemore whom I speak of below, says a real friend is the one who will be at your side, no matter what, in your time of need. When I met Mark Asmus for lunch on Tuesday, we shared that we have lots of social friends but not many with whom we can have full throated conversations. I suspect that’s a universal condition. People with whom you have the confidence to share more than small talk are rare and to be treasured. That’s why Mark and I look forward to our get-togethers so much.  

I told Mark that the previous day I had made a list of people who might be real friends. What’s the adage? “If you have more than one good friend, you’re a lucky person.” There are approximately 700 variations on that nugget, namely that real friends are rare. Count your blessings if you have several. And I just might.

The handsome specimen behind me is Bill Roquemore. You already know the Colonel. It was 1977 so I was a 36 year old Vice President of KFC Corporation while Bill was still in his twenties and already a District Manager in Columbus. He was a star and destined for big things. That white belt is cringe worthy isn't it?

Later that day I got a text message on my cell saying something like “You need to check your mailbox immediately” from my friend of fifty years, Bill Roquemore. I rushed to the post office where I found a yellow card saying I had a package for pick up. But it was after five, so I returned the next morning to find a rather heavy package. Since I knew of no occasions warranting a gift of any sort, I was intrigued. When home I opened the package and found a perfectly packed book, Koudelka Ikonar, Archival Constellations, a monograph of the photographs of the legendary Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka. In the book was a typed letter from Bill describing the path the book took to reach my hands more than a year later. It was signed “Your lifetime Friend.” In Bill’s elegant letter, he describes the story behind my signed copy of the book. Bill’s son Jonathon, a long-time photography impresario who lives in Switzerland, was finalizing a gallery show of Koudelka’s work at the Photo Elysée Gallery in Lausanne. According to Bill it was the best attended exhibition in the gallery’s storied history. The night before the opening Jonathon had hosted a dinner for Koudelka. At the gala dinner Bill and his wife Tracy spent time with Koudelka whom Bill describes as “a very eloquent elderly gentleman.” He’s 86. Reputedly, Bill calls me “A very elderly gentleman.”

2,500 copies of Koudelka Ikonar were printed, but only 50 were signed by Josef. At the opening Bill and his wife Tracy received one of the fifty prized editions. Knowing my love for photography, Bill requested a signed book for me, as well. Jonathon told Bill that Koudelka didn’t like signing books and those 50 signed editions were it.

Then in Bill and Tracy’s latest visit to Jonathon and his family in Switzerland Bill had a surprise in store. Jonathon handed him a copy signed “To Steve Thank you, Josef” When I read the inscription, Bill’s heartfelt letter and leafed through book I cried like a baby.

Yesterday I learned that Koudelka Ikonar was awarded the Gold Medal for Germany Switzerland and Austria at the International Festival Fotografischer Bilder. So, in Bill's words the book is officially a Collector's item especially a signed copy.

Here's to true friends. 


Blacks Crossing said...

You are the consummate story teller, Steve, and I don't use that description lightly. Your stories in words and images work their way into one's heart nearly every time. Friendships are the elixir of life, and as you said, when you have a good one, it is to be treasured. And despite time and distance, a new conversation can feel like it happened yesterday. Salud, Amigo!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks, Daryl. I wasn't sure about this one. I had made it less personal and visceral than originally written because it was too revealing and could have been a breach of trust. In the softened version I was afraid that I'd killed the poor thing. But when I read it this morning I was satisfied if not giddy.