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Friday Slide Show: The Mandolin Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 February 2019

We happen to have Uncle Louie's mandolin. In all the years we knew Uncle Louie, we never heard him play. He emigrated to this country at the beginning of the last century, unwillingly because he had to leave his beloved pet goat behind.

The mandolin was no substitute.

His younger brother John, our grandfather, did play. The mandolin and the banjo. His mandolin and banjo were inherited by our brother Dan, who also passed along Louie's mandolin to us one day years ago.

Now and then we take it down and strum the strings just to see what they'll say. My dog has fleas, usually.

Louie graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and became a pharmacist in North Beach, a doctor to the poor who had no other option. At his funeral in Saints Peter and Paul church, an old woman took us aside to ask who had died and when we told her, she wept. "He was a saint," she said.

It is not a very fancy mandolin.... And it has its scratches. Who doesn't?

We'd visit him as kids at the Lovotti-Rossi pharmacy he owned on Columbus Ave. And even as young adults, bringing our girlfriends to meet him. It's now The Stinking Rose restaurant. He wouldn't have minded.

He sold leeches there, one of the last outlets for them in the U.S. Herb Caen wrote him up because you needed a lot of items to make a column in three-dot journalism. And Louie was an item.

His first wife became ill in some way we were never told about and he took up with a former dancer we all called Jimmie. She was a kick. He gave her a watch ringed with diamonds and they married when she was 50.

At her 90th birthday party, she went around to all the older unmarried people telling them, "You never know."

All that came back to us as we took the mandolin from the mantel and considered how to photograph it. We'd always wanted to do that and the occasional shots we'd taken of it we'd liked very much. It's photogenic.

That was all just warming up to the task, you might say.

It is not a very fancy mandolin. There's no label on the inside and nothing on the outside to identify it. And it has its scratches. Who doesn't?

We put it on his brother's chair as an appropriate backdrop. And we angled the blinds to let the light from an overcast sky shine on it. That's it.

We used the Olympus E-PL1 at ISO 1600 with a Lensbaby Tilt Transformer at f8 and a +4 macro attachment for all but the full-size shot. Hand held. In fact, a few of them required us to handhold both the camera and the mandolin.

The Raw images, converted to DNG, got very little editing in Lightroom CC Classic. We liked the dark, rich, warm tone of the images. We just dropped the noise down and sharpened the microcontrast.

There was something antique about the focus, fading off at the edges. And something golden about the set. A memory turned into a tribute.

Like music you remember when you can't hear it any more.

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