At my neighborhood cineplex, along with the usual preliminary announcements about silencing your cellphone and being courteous during the feature, the management has added a caution to “report anything suspicious.”
Although the language is politely vague, I assume it was inspired by at least two tragic incidents, including one in Lafayette, in which a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater, snuffing out the lives of patrons who had wanted nothing more than a couple of hours away from their cares.
I was feeling a little glum about all of this when a copy of “If You See Something, Say Something,” a new book by my friend, Willard Spiegelman, arrived in the mail. The title, which plays on an all-too-common call to vigilance in this age of domestic terror, has a brighter meaning for Willard’s readers. His basic message is that if we see something good, like a nice building or picture or statue, then we should say something about that, too.
It’s a philosophy that Willard has actively embraced, traveling around the South for many years from his home in Dallas, then filing lively stories about the region’s art and architecture scene for The Wall Street Journal. “If You See Something, Say Something” collects the best of these pieces, including two dispatches from Louisiana.
In “Audubon: The Joys of Slow Looking,” one of the book’s more memorable chapters, Willard reports from LSU’s Hill Memorial Library, which has hosted an annual Audubon Day in which staffers haul out the bird artist’s mammoth, four-volume “The Birds of America,” and then, while wearing white gloves, carefully turn each page as visitors “ooh” and “aah.” There are 435 images in all, so this page-turner takes a while.
The luxuriously glacial pace of the proceedings, it turned out, was exactly what Willard liked. At Audubon Day, writes Willard, “one got a welcome reminder of what used to take place in libraries around the world for millennia: people reading, or looking at books, closely observing their physical properties, attending to words and images, the texture of paper and the elegance of binding, every sensory part … The experience is analogous to the new ‘slow food’ movement. But instead of slow cooking, think of slow looking. It’s simple: You turn one page at a time. Then you pause. Then you turn another one.”
“If You See Something, Say Something” also features a dispatch from Shreveport, home of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, a beautiful, sprawling complex that many Louisiana residents — even lifelong ones — know nothing about.
Displaying the works of Rodin, Frederick Remington and Mary Cassatt, the Norton rests within a 43-acre garden that’s “the spot of choice for local couples posing for wedding photos,” Willard notes.
His book is available at smu.edu/CUL/DeGolyer/Publications/DeGolyer. It’s abiding proof that in paying attention, we can also see a lot of promise among the perils of the day.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.