There is a photograph that's been seen around the world this week. It seems to hold both civilization and destruction in the same frame.
The photo shows a white-haired man sitting on a bed in the midst of rubble. He sits in front of broad windows, which have been shattered; and gauzy white curtains, which flap like wounded white birds.
There are deep gouges in the walls. The man wears--can it be?--house slippers as he sits in the litter of debris and smokes--can this be?--a pipe. You see the ruins of what must have once been a splendid city apartment. White wicker furniture has been splintered and scorched. White walls have been blasted into rubbish and dust.
There is an old crank-up gramophone at the edge of the bed. There is a record on the turntable, and the needle is down. The man holds his pipe in contemplation.
A great photograph invites our minds inside the frame. This photograph might make you wonder: what is that man listening to? What does he think? Who does he miss?
The photograph was taken by Joseph Eid, an AFP photojournalist from Lebanon who has covered the war in Syria. He has photographed that man before. He is Mohammed Anis, who refused to leave Aleppo as government forces surrounded and besieged the city with bombs, mortar fire, and starvation.
Mohammed Anis has a collection of old vintage American cars. He says he admires their durability and style. He has just returned to his apartment, after the last push of the Assad regime obliterated so much of the city. Joseph Eid and a crew from AFP went to find the man they remembered as so determined.
He still is.
Many of his cars have been flattened. Mohammed Anis told the photographer that he will repair them. "It's my home," he says of Aleppo. He wants his children to inherit those cars, for their beauty and artisanship, and the city that once bristled with life.
When the photographer saw the phonograph had survived, Mohammed Anis told him, "I will play it for you... But first, I have to light my pipe. Because I never listen to music without it."
And this week, the photographer wrote on the AFP blog:
"Anis puffed on his pipe. He seemed to be somewhere else as well. He seemed to forget that we were there. He looked out the window and he had a look on his face of a person watching a beautiful sunset. He sat there, puffing on his broken pipe and staring out the window as the music floated over the ruins of his house and the city outside...After six years of war, the Syrians want life. They just want to let the music play."