By Bruce Northam



Roman artifact (foot in sandal) in Tunisia

Your originality is your greatest legacy.

As a teenager, I had the privilege
of living across the hall from my grandmother, Edith, until she passed away at
101 years of age. We attribute her radiant longevity to three factors: cottage
cheese with pears, a daily Bufferin aspirin, and a shot of bargain Scotch
before bedtime.

A loyal ally, she didn’t
report my playing hooky from school, or the high school parties I threw while
my parents were away at our cabin in the Adirondacks. At such parties—my living
room transformed into a classic rock-blaring suburban hippie den—my British-raised
grandmother would make 11pm bathrobed appearances in our den-adjoined kitchen
to fetch and sip that medicinal shot of Scotch. We’d then give her a rousing
ovation, as if she were on stage. She then shuffle back to her bedroom,
giggling all the way.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

North Africa

Palm strike to forehead: when
in Rome, dress on your own. Real style shouldn’t give a damn.While creating North African episodes
of American Detour, I featured athletic
sandals in a video. Soon after, the sandal theme ran away with itself—becoming a
time to ponder masculinity and the art of footwear.

The world over, men and women
have their respective roles, as do married and single men. Like most bachelors,
I have nearly full control of my wardrobe. When I’m in a country boasting ruins
from the Roman Empire (and there are dozens), they seem a fit locale to
highlight the crucial wardrobe component of footwear. Slaves to fashion
perceive the donning of utilitarian Velcro-strapped sandals as a catastrophic
style no-no. Yet, in virtually all surviving outposts of the Empire, every male
statue features a Herculean God wearing simple sandals—sandalias, flat-footed Roman shoes tied around the ankle with thin
leather strips that omit gender distinction. Why aren’t they cool anymore?

Footwear, like zip codes, now
influences with whom you mingle. High-heeled ladies, who won’t give a double-take
to any fellow sporting open-toed shoes, tend to flirt with slick shiny-shoed guys.
When did contemporary men and women lose sight of the shoes that made and
shaped history? Fierce Romans conquered the world in sandals, maybe even with black

What do modern Roman guys
think about this? Wait, all they want to do is flirt with flashily dressed
American chicks. We’ve got to get back to basics—or create sandalias with laces
that go boot-high. Versatile footwear should also be sexy in a world where people
in flip-flops can still rock it. Perhaps I’ve taken the footwear metaphor too
far in search of a means of helping people blindly crisscross the fashion
finish line. If only those sandal-wearing Roman big-shot statues could speak…

“It never troubles the wolf
how many the sheep may be.” —Virgil, 70-19 B.C.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

“Don’t age. Mature.” —A New
Caledonian antique buff’s advice…after picking me up hitching, but actually
swindling me into an hour of yard work.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Manila, Philippines

A photographer sets up a
tripod on a roadside in a dingy, untouristed neighborhood outside Manila, the Philippine
city of 17 million. He aims to freeze-frame the charm of an old rusting bicycle
that’s leaning against a blue stucco wall flocked by birds-of-paradise. Dozens
of elementary students on recess crowd around to watch him vary compositions shot
with different lenses from different angles. Halfway through the shoot, one
wholly engrossed little boy couldn’t resist asking why he was taking so many photographs
of the weathered bike, “when there are so many new ones around the corner?”

(from: The
Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons

Tunisia: filming American Detour with Lawrence Whiteside