The Other Side of the Ocean
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
The buck stops here. I’m NOT into body piercing.
1. I missed the bus from Chicago to Madison by minutes and was therefore forced to wait for hours until the next one.
2. I nursed my sorrows at the Hilton bar.
3. My suitcases and bags were heavy, but they had to be lugged (in Madison) over to the parking lot at the Business School, where my car was parked.
4. The Business School was locked up for the holiday and so I had to walk, suitcases and all, down the serpentine driveway, all the way down down down to the car.
5. The car would not start. Dead. Completely.
6. The wonderful custodial staff offered to jump start it for me.
7. It did not work. The car is more than dead. It is negative dead.
8. The wonderful custodial staff offered to give me a ride home.
9. I wanted to log on last night, but I had lost my link card in one of those frantic searches for computer hook up in Europe.
10. So instead I used the phone to conduct unpleasant business.
11. There was no pleasant offset.
12. I fell asleep sometime when I think in Europe people were already on their lunch hour.
As a post script, I have to say the following:
1. The day is sunny. Things look saner under a bright blue sky.
2. I found an extra link card at home for my computer and so I am back on line.
3. Being on line allowed me to discover some pretty special notes from people who had been tracking my travels. Given the above twelve points, I’d say they could not have come at a better time. So thank you. I promise to make this needy stretch as short as possible.
4. The irises are blooming in the back yard. I may hereafter forever hate irises, but they are blooming, and they are pretty.
Monday, May 30, 2005
I don’t think about where to eat in Paris. If I am here only for a day or two, I check the menu of an old standby and if it looks good (as it always does) then I go there. This isn’t the time to step outside the box – it’s a time to snuggle into a familiar setting and enjoy the parade of pleasurable sights and tastes.
So, I’m ending my Europe posts with a parade of pleasurable sights and tastes of my last evening on this side of the ocean.
Early in the evening, I considered grabbing a snack. Street food tempts.
Next to me, two women were doing a perfect rendition of multi-tasking: savoring the food, the wine, speaking in animated tones and puffing away at their cigarettes. I do not want to exalt smoking of course, but I so completely associate restaurants with smoking in France that I will feel a layer of sensations will be erased the day the last stub is crushed into an ash tray and France becomes smoke free.
One of the best things about the last two weeks was that those traveling with me avoided bringing out the obvious labels in thinking about the countries we were in. Raking in experiences pure and simple, as they are presented, without reservation, without distrust. Liking some things, disliking others, based on how they felt then and there, rather than on how they were supposed to feel.
Okay, the end of the meal, and the end of the trip. Dessert: a simple ice cream, a caramelized mousse, and a farina cookie. With an espresso. Ocean returns tomorrow, from Madison.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
Of course, this time Paris isn’t fresh for me. I had just been here, I had walked on rainy sidewalks with a broken umbrella or sometimes no umbrella at all. I had eaten crepes with melted cheeses and I had argued about who first discovered the blue and yellow Matisse painting at the Luxembourg Palace gallery.
Still, Paris always manages to rub its suave and sensual fingers along your spine and kick you into a wonderful state of awakedness. I had been speaking with a couple from the States on a train in Poland. They had moved to Europe (Switzerland at this point) in search of a balanced life and they love what they have created for themselves here. And they said – when we need to believe again in what we did, when we need to find excitement in our directions, we go for a few days to Paris.
Me too. And so I am here.
Can you tell? Even without a single tell-tale sight or street sign, this photo is a dead giveaway of where I am.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
I keep noticing the children. These were my parks too, when I was their age. And where will you be forty, fifty years from now? In Warsaw? Away in some place across the ocean? Where?
You play so hard right now! You do! I played hard too. I splashed and climbed and begged for ice cream cones.
Children. And flowers. And parks. Bring them on, bring on the children, let them play, let them play hard and long.
I go to the place where Oscar faithfully posted during his stay in Krakow. They are saintlier than saints. The computer is fixed (thanks for cooperating, Dell-o-licious!) and I am made richer by a heapin' glassful of black currant juice, two cappucinos and a perfect Polish apple cake.
Life is good.
I only hope I don't miss my train to Warsaw.
And so I cannot write about the bloggers that I spend an evening with last night, I cannot write about my last dinner with my father, I cannot write in any detail about this next 24 hours, where I will have come full circle, traveling from Zakopane, to Krakow, to Warsaw, to Paris and then on Monday – home again.
I’m not mad – I know you are trying to eek out these last words for me, but I do wish you would give it one last effort before I retire you and search for a replacement. Really. I’ve shown you the world, I’ve introduced you to new experiences – it’s time for you to demonstrate some affection and appreciation for my efforts. Okay? OKAY?????
Each time I see it, I am overwhelmed. Rynias: it’s not even a village. Just three homes in a hidden valley, at the foot of the Tatras, near the Slovakian border.
Pan Stas and Pani Anna
I have to bribe someone to drive me from Zakopane to the village from where I can begin my hike to visit my aging Rynias highlanders, P. Stas and P. Anna. Easy. People need cash. My driver is a highlander himself. Nie boji sie pani niedzwiedzi (aren’t you afraid of bears)? – he asks. Damn! What I didn’t know wasn’t going to hurt me. Now I find myself listening for bear noises as I walk through the deep forest.
We had a feeling you'd be coming this week!
Such joy to see them! And it’s mutual. I had been here in December, but I had missed Pani Anna, who had gone off for the day to the store. But today both are there – just finishing their drugie sniadanie (second breakfast).
I eat eggs and bread with them as well as her baked sugar cookies, along with a glass of tea. A pang of guilt hits me: I almost did not come. Were it not for my father in Zakopane, I may have neglected this promised visit. [Did I promise? I must have.]
What can I bring you next time?
They have so little! They eat and cook in the little hut, on a wood-burning stove. Their lives do not vary. She has to hike up the mountain and down the other side to get supplies: an hour trek for me, but getting to be two hours each way for her. And so they buy almost nothing.
I bring them sweets and food treats, but this time I feel that maybe I should look for something that would make their lives just that much easier and so I ask – what do you need?
Good scissors for shearing sheep! They show me what they use: paper scissors, cheaply made at that. Once, our uncle found a pair in America, he said they were cheap, and they were wonderful! [Does Menards carry sheep shearing scissors??]
Do all good things come from America?
Yesterday I wore my flowered skirt to church, Pani Anna tells me. The highlanders all dressed in colorful clothing. They sang our old songs. But you know, I bought the skirt in town and they told me it was made in America, not here! And so I paid a fortune for it! After all, it was imported.
Oh, Pani Anna, I don’t think so! You’ve been had! I’m thinking this, but I say nothing. I admire it as she puts it against her middle, the rubber-band waist extending over her hips.
A sad good-bye
I walk with them as they send their sheep out to pasture. I listen to them talk about the absence of mushrooms in the forest, about who died when, about the wheat that will grow in their small field this summer. They don’t complain, they just tell me things, matter of factly, earnestly.
When will you come for a longer spell? When will your husband come? Your daughters? Oh, I cannot be honest now! I cannot say “never.” And so I say, as I always do – soon. Next year maybe. And here comes the promise again: I’ll come next time. Really I will..
Zakopane. It’s like Aspen, Colorado. These days, no true mountain nut would choose it as a place to go to in order to get a whiff of mountain air. But for us older types who were raised to love its magic way back in the fifties and sixties (to say nothing of those who knew it even earlier), this place resonates with a nostalgic beauty. It is a mountain resort perfectly positioned at the foot of the High Tatras – the Alps of Eastern Europe.
I came on a slow moving train. It took four hours to make the 120 kilometer run from Krakow. I needed those four hours. Some people process days and events quickly, off-handedly. I need deliberate processing time. I got it on this local little chugging train. [That night, for the first time in months, I slept without guilt.]
Remember: the sky is brilliant, the air is warm. That backdrop adds to the surreal quality of these days.
I had time for a hike into the mountains before supper. Up high, there is a tea hut in a valley just at the base of one of the peaks and even though it was late (I was to meet my dad for supper that evening) I took a cup of tea, a smoked chunk of sheep cheese and a wedge of home made honey cake to a spot in the rapidly receding sun and had perhaps the most peaceful, nourishing snack ever.
The hike back to Zakopane was remarkable. No, really, I amazed myself. [A hefty amount of bragging is about to ensue.] In stretches where this was at all possible, I ran down the rocky path, jumping over protruding stones much like I imagine a mountain goat would do were she escaping some demons. I thought for the rest of the evening: hey, I am as strong as I have ever been in my life.
Mountains allow you to think in grandiose ways.
Friday, May 27, 2005
I feel sorry for Ocean readers. Tomorrow the posts are going to be awfully long, what with the backlog...
Oh, cyberspace, how dare you bypass the mountains of Poland! All I have is the pine forests and the jagged peaks. WiFi, bulldoze your way over here -- I miss you!
Thursday, May 26, 2005
True, on the main square, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the Polish tourists from the locals. Yesterday, as I strolled past dozens and dozens of packed coffee shops, I could tell that there were plenty of locals spinning tales over a coffee or ice cream. Out on the streets, it can be harder to tell one from the other.
But here, take a look at the photos below – all locals for sure. They are what makes this into a city with vitality as opposed to a small town with an interesting past.
I’m leaving this morning and already I know I will miss this energy (Warsaw has it as well). People move differently here and I move like them. Their rhythm is my rhythm. Their talk is my talk.
p.s. Dinner last night was a blow out meal of Polish food. I am still recovering. For the reader who asked for photos of traditional dishes – I’m happy to oblige. Oscar, B and I rampaged the menu – so much so that the waitress told us meekly that she thought we were ordering too much. We smiled, shrugged and kept on eating.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
That’s what I am thinking on this bright May morning as I’m passing hour upon hour, sitting on the Main Square of Krakow, not doing much of anything.
No event or epiphanous thought has crossed my path, and yet – I know something: a change has occurred.
And so take heed good friends and readers: the author of Ocean is entering a new era. It’s as if my counting backwards has come to a 0 and a count forward begins. In this case, with no apologies. It’s just the way it is.
So, let me just note here the one change that will be evident on this blog:
There will be days when instead of text, you will see the following post here: “today, Ocean is taking a nap.” I do believe in writing every day, but sometimes that is all the posting I feel I can offer. I’ve posted daily for just about a year and a half now, and if I am to continue blogging, I have to take occasional days off.
Other changes? What’s life without mystery! Wait and see.
But Oscar and B are leaving for Germany tomorrow and with their departure, my time with Madisonians in Poland comes to end.
It has been a transformative experience for me to be with all these guys here, that’s for sure. It would be almost too personal for me to write at length about it, but I do want to note here my most general thoughts about these days of black currant juice and lilies of the valley:
- a revelation for me: yes, yes, an outsider can appreciate what an insider may be feeling. And, they can understand and have a greater tolerance than you for malfunctions and indelicacies, and they can take a greater delight and show a finer appreciation than you for the intricate fabric of your homeland.
- Poland is not for the fainthearted. The often violent and sometimes tender past are part of every cobblestone. But Poland is discoverable. I didn’t think it could be done well, and yet, all four travelers faced her squarely and with compassion.
- The language is not impossible. It’s not it’s not, it’s not! Right Oscar?
- You can eat a whole poppyseed cake and walk away with clean teeth.
- A café latte here can be superb: better than at any number of places in Madison. And it often comes with a view.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Is it really the case that I was treated to the best red barszcz ever?
Is it really the case that these delicately knit (by a Polish artist) earrings are now mine?
Thanks, Oscar and B. You really know how to make this Pole feel good.
Seriously, hair color ideas have taken some extreme directions around town. The blue is rarer than the carrot top, but still... And certainly the carrot top is oranger than orange.
My man Jason would make a fortune by restoring sanity to the world of hair color. If ever there was a need, I see it here, right now, immediately. Please!
But what started as an innocent candy bar carried into the room late at night, now has developed into a virtual industry, feeding his admitted craving as well as mine. Last night I was amused (astonished?) to see the size of his supplies as he brought out the stuff. Not only was there choice, but there were multiple bars, just in case some beggar (me) dug in too deeply into a certain favorite.
I'm grateful. It's always nice to have partners in crime. Ones that get to the candy stores before they close.
Monday, May 23, 2005
[BTW, I asked Oscar and B their impressions, now that they have spent some time in both Krakow and Warsaw, and I have to say they won my heart when they said: Krakow is precious. Warsaw is a city. Krakow was allowed to be old. Warsaw was allowed to be new. Krakow is small. Warsaw is cosmopolitan. You cannot see one without the other. You have to experience both. I am paraphrasing, but I think I got the tenor of it right. Oscar is trying desperately to blog and inhale the city all in the course of a day with the limited hours available to us. I know what that’s like. Do check out his blog. It’s a marvel, especially, but not only, given how difficult it is for all of us to hook up -- in the most innocent of ways!]
What are they?
Answer: actually, as far as I’m concerned, there are two answers: nuns and Krakowskie obwazanki [i.e. Krakow bagels (to me, they look more like pretzels, and they're often with poppy-seeds), sold from a stand]. The penultimate? When you see a nun eating an obwazanek. Krakow, through and through.
She cannot answer. It’s a nonquestion for her. She tells me what I already know. She says “I was born in Warsaw, so that is my home, my city. I don’t know how it would be to be from elsewhere.”
I think you cannot understand this feeling of belonging unless you live in a place like this, where you would no more switch towns than families.
Driving back from the country yesterday, my friends took shortcuts through remote neighborhoods. As markers of where to go, they used homes of relatives. “And now you should turn into this street, as if you were going to Aunt Eva’s house.”
This morning I’m coming back to Krakow, with the confusion of just having been there under different circumstances. People, sights, sounds, walks, foods, everything swimming in one big caldron of events. But of this I am certain: I approach the city as a tourist. My Polishness gives me a jump-start, but I know Krakow not from its core – merely its tourist shell.
A lovely shell it is though. And its magic, so palpable just days ago as I walked its evenly spaced blocks, is still there, now with an added layer of memories, ingrained permanently, much like a tattoo would be, for those audacious enough to succumb to it all.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
I have no reason to believe that this is solely a French thing, but you can’t fight images readily and besides, French painters have appropriated this title for monumentally significant canvases and so I feel okay stepping on French toes and appropriating it for my own Polish Sunday in the country.
While Oscar and B made their way to Krakow for an early glimpse of the city, I spent the day with old friends in their country home outside Warsaw.
It was another one of those brightest of bright days. The sun shone, the flies buzzed and Basia, Tomek and their daughter Ania served food while Marcin, Wanda and I ate. And ate. And ate. In the midst of this we took a stroll, in much the same way I imagine turn-of-the-century French men and women took walks through fields, with the men throwing jackets over damp spots so that women would not muddy their footware.
Marcin and Tomek did not throw jackets, but nonetheless they were gallant and kind and the whole day reminded me again that I do well with friends when I see them. Distance makes me distrustful and edgy. Proximity creates the warmth and comfort that allow me to close my eyes and exhale.
Oscar and B push for the detail. They are contemplative travelers, taking detours and long pauses, creating mental chronicles and written texts, precious documents from these amazing bright sunny days.
On a walk past the University of Warsaw they ask if we can wander around campus some and as I open doors for them to buildings and auditoriums that were once my stomping ground some 35 years ago, I am reminded of how little has changed: not only do the rooms look the same, but I feel the same within them. It’s deeply disturbing to know that adolescent angst never quite resolves itself, but instead comes back again and again to remind you how small and imperfect you are in the scheme of things.
The sun is relentlessly pushing its way in. Women and children are returning to their villages with purchases made that morning in the city. Others, the town dwellers, are escaping for an afternoon in the country. A child stares at us as we talk quietly in English. Everyone is aware of us, but also of their fellow travelers.
Oscar marvels at the fellowship that exists among these people. People in adverse circumstances, looking out for each other. “In this together” rather than “everyone for him or herself.” People squeeze to make room for a child. They get up and assist a woman who is feeling faint, placing her in a more favorable spot. Others open windows to help create a breeze for her. It is like that here.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
But what of poor Warsaw? Have we given her a chance?
Madeline and I did. Yesterday we ventured to Hest, a place where you can wax your skin away to smooth and beautiful perfection. Under the experienced eyes of Aneta.
Let not the garish colors of the entry way fool you: Aneta is no fun and games kind of woman. She is thorough. She is methodical. She will leave no hair undisturbed. She will fight the battle against fuzz and growth in the way the Polish people fought against the invasion of the Tartars: with brute force and a good dose of paraffin.*
Me, I am a novice at the entire waxing game. It’s been only months since my brows were shaped by wax dripping onto my lids. As Aneta looked at me, she said: “you are about to experience a new kind of pain.”
In the end I assured her that she is a woman of great talent. Indeed, I could not imagine a more beautifully creative approach to the entire project. From now on, no trip to Poland will be complete without a knock on her door. Poles are artists at the core and it shows, believe me – it really shows.
*what kind of waxing job are we taking about here? One has to be discreet. Let me just say – it does rhyme with crostini.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Everything and everyone pushes me to slow down and so eventually I do. Oscar is speaking Polish and I am listening. Czy pani mowi po Angielsku?
The sun is trying desperately to take the chill out of the air. We set out to explore Warsaw and as always, I gravitate towards the parks. There, we join the countless others who use this setting to talk. Because really, talking, in one form or other is what we, humans do best.
Out on the street, we come face to face with a large protest march. Miners and laborers demanding improved working conditions. What’s interesting is that none of the people out and about seem to care. I ask several to tell me about the march and most shrug with indifference. The police expect altercations. We leave before we’re swept away by the force of a defiant protesters.
In the afternoon some of us eat delicious salads and pastries and some of us feel obliged to clean the apartment that was left abandoned after the party of the night before. And those of us who clean, talk. Talk is good, talk is forward moving even as it relies on recounting the past.
Madeline and I move to the hotel where Oscar and B are staying. I remark on how I feel like Martha Stewart, switching residences from her estate to a more institutional setting. The new hotel is actually an old hotel and I like it for its location and clean sheets. That’s all.
We visit a gallery in the Old Town where a friend and photographer, Konrad, is displaying his work. I have one of his pieces back in the States and I have blogged about him here. In the gallery I am extremely aware of how different the light is. The sun is winning the battle against the cold, wet skies.
We sit at the Old Town Square and drink beers and black currant juice – two beverages that to me are as Polish as… apple pie.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
I sweated that one.
Really? I didn’t.
You weren’t hosting.
No, I was sitting back and thinking that this was the perfect tableau: books piled high to the ceiling, mountains of food everyone, people exchanging stories.
Food piled high? I know, I probably wasn’t serving it in a fast enough way.
Such fascinating conversation! Didn’t you hear it?
I was thinking that maybe mixing different worlds is not the right thing to do.
Really? If I hadn’t been more tired, you would still find me there right now.
Honestly? I like that image…
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
But when we walked through Lazienki Park, it was gray. It was gray even among the lilacs. Peacocks paced the park, moving slowly among gray statues, resting occasionally, waiting for a warmer moment.
But the moods were gray.
And it was gray on the streets, and in the buses we rode to and from the Old Town. And on the Square it rained.
Inside the souvenir store, Madeline, Jeremy and I shake off the wetness. The saleslady is looking at us as we stand there dripping, me shivering, Madeline clutching an umbrella. And she scolds: “how can you ladies let that poor man suffer so? Why doesn’t he have a sweater or a wrap on? He’ll catch a cold! Can’t you find him something to keep him warm?”
A hand plough pulled by a horse, an orchard, a forest. Dirt roads with farm wagon tracks. No cars. Chickens let loose in a field, willows bending down, wooden fences made of brittle gray boards, unpainted.
Is this my home? Is this no longer my home?
Returning with sentimental thoughts but also returning with an understanding that because I left so long ago, I think it is no longer possible for me to live here (even as it is not possible for me to feel that home is elsewhere).
Wild lilacs blooming against the side of the tracks, a small train station – Dziadowki – passed slowly. No one there anyway, no one in sight anywhere, in fact.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Poland for me demands both blogging and my attention. I want to write when I am here more than at any time or place in my days, at the same time that I want to not lock myself in my room just now.
One day at a time. Today I blogged. Tomorrow I will try very very hard. But it may be the first day where I will just have to hang up my posting mittens for a day. Understand, it will be a miracle to work through all that has to be done and no time will I be anywhere near a computer.
At least when an impatient reader clicks on Ocean, they will see the lilies of the valley. Life’s not bad if you can see all those lilies of the valley in buckets, everywhere.
Can two cemeteries adequately commemorate those who lost their lives here?
Monday, May 16, 2005
Why do horses rest on only three feet?
Why don’t we get a tattoo?
Answers to some of the above and to random other questions buzzing around:
Not old things are worth preserving:
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Well no, not so fast. We are held up. The leaders of EU nations are congregating in Warsaw this week and they have chosen to land at the same time that we did. And the roads close to allow for their passage.
Okay, eventually we make it to the train station. We’re not talking about some fancy train station in the style of the renovated Grand Central. We are talking about the Central Station in Warsaw, where trains come and pick up additional passengers before heading out to wherever. In my case, Krakow. It’s a gray, somber building and if the country were under a different political system at the moment, people would shake their heads and say: it would not be so gray if only we had a different political system going.
Put two bloggers and Madeline in an old-fashioned compartment with two Poles and you have a remarkable combination of the friendly and the tired and wired.
Out in Krakow: wheeling the suitcases across cobbled streets that I last slipped on in a frozen drizzle last December.
It’s late. Dinner’s late. Hungry, tired. Hit the bread before the pierogi. What’s that in the dish beside the bread? Farmers’ cheese and chives? And in the other? Did you say lard??
It’s morning. The city obviously has been sprayed with some toxic chemical that has a different impact on different people. It makes my cotraveler, Madeline, sleep more. It makes me sleep even less than my usual four hours. It makes my other cotraveler, Jeremy, take on a mellow and relaxed manner (not something that I am used to seeing in him back in Madison). It makes some Parisians sing with reckless abandon outside hotel windows late at night. It makes waiters wink and umbrellas disappear. It makes women (and men, but especially women) wear (protective?) scarves all year long. It makes (Madeline’s point) normally sane parents pluck their ugly children off the streets and hide them in the closet, so that only the beautiful are ever seen in public. It makes frugal people spend money on yellow-polka-dotted skirts and chocolate laced with strong spices. It makes adult people with good, strong limbs give up “le promenade” in favor of this:
Saturday, May 14, 2005
No, probably not. Of course, they can always set up their own blog, with the promise that weather will never be mentioned. I am not such a person.
Today’s weather was crucial to the progression of the day. It lead to lost umbrellas, borrowed umbrellas, purchased umbrellas, and broken umbrellas. It meant that you lingered less, entered sheltered paces more, ate more.
The rain stopped. The clouds stayed solidly together, though to me, Paris has the ability to transcend wetness, taking on a buoyancy and depth that defies images of grayness. Not unlike a Matisse painting, full of yellows and blues.I want to post photos. I should go to sleep. Does anyone ever want to sleep in Paris? I don't, especially with the dwindling hours left here.
Friday, May 13, 2005
1. I have never smoked cigarettes while in Paris. I just smoke everyone else’s secondhand smoke. Actually, it’s not unenjoyable in a short-term “live dangerously” sort of way.
2. As Paris is en route to Poland for me (and I would willingly make it en route to just about every other destination in the world, including, I am sure, Cincinnati, were time and money not an issue), I come here often. But I have never stayed on the Right Bank.
3. I have never stepped on dog poop on the sidewalk, missing it by a hair sometimes, but still, I have clean soles thus far.
4. I have never taken a boat ride along the river Seine.
5. I have never gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
3. How long is it reasonable to wait in line to purchase a city-bound metro ticket? Is one hour reasonable?
Traveling with me on this leg of the journey are Jeremy and Madeline (one of these is identified by their true name the other is not). Madeline was to meet me at Memorial Union to catch the bus to O’Hare. Jeremy was to meet us at O’Hare to catch our flight to Paris. I come to the Union, get on the bus – no Madeline. She missed the bus (for good reasons but who cares, Air France doesn’t reimburse for good reasons unless it’s a death or dismemberment and there was no death or dismemberment in this case).
I am at the airport now and I have no idea what’s going on. No Madeline, no Jeremy. Okay. DO I REALLY HAVE THE WRONG DATE??
No wrong date. Jeremy shows up. Madeline is en route, he tells me. There was confusion as to the departure time. She is now speeding with a co-opted friend. She may get here on time. Or not.
Meantime, Jeremy and I are given business lounge privileges and I am handed a dilemma. The AirFrance agent leans over and whispers: Madame, I can upgrade you up to business; you are our most favored customer [this is an artifact, btw, of this year where I have used AF for everything, including travel from Chicago to Tokyo: it earned me super brownie points, though only for 2005.]
What would the ethicist say? Abandon Jeremy and move to Business?? Here, I am proud to say that I did the honorable thing. And the more fun thing: I sat back with the sardines so that we could repeatedly beat each other in chess, checkers and hangman. [Jeremy will undoubtedly blog that he beat me at all these games but if you only knew how I set him up for a win you’d realize that I was the true victor.]
Madeline showed up as we were boarding. She showed up. On time. To board the plane.
Can this trip not be a success? No it cannot.
Damn it, in four hours I AM GOING TO BE IN FRANCE!!
Thursday, May 12, 2005
One reason why I like this site is because they are more optimistic than, say, cnn.com. Where the latter has been predicting “rain” for Paris consistently for the past several days, Weather Underground has been scoffing at that with a “scattered clouds” icon neatly in place: a little picture of a smiling sun in a circle of puffy clouds. I like that. (Okay, Saturday, I may have to take an umbrella, but at least Friday remains solidly dry.)
It’s the temps that puzzle me though. Each of my cities will have one day next week (a different one) where inexplicably, the temps are to dip by some 15 degrees (for a high of 51). And it’s not like it’ll be tomorrow or the next day. We’re talking about something like Tuesday.
In Europe, there are not these continental drifts where you can see something heading toward you like in Madison. Or, at least I have never figured out what the meteorological relationships between regions are. All I know is that storms in Spain have little to do with the weather in the Polish mountains.
So what’s with the Tuesday dip and where is it coming from? Weird.
Weather on the continent is beastly unpredictable at this time of the year. One has to go with the flow and not mind, but I have to say that if the sun barely comes out in the next days, I will be good and mad. And cold, since I refuse to pack warm stuff on the theory that if I don’t want it to be cold, my suitcase should reflect these weather hopes and not weather resignations.
Right now my suitcase reflects great emptiness. The bus for O'Hare leaves in a few hours. I am behind schedule already. Time to surrender the blog until tomorrow. From Paris. Under scattered clouds.
[It was fantastic having the daughters in Madison these past few days. Such total pleasure to have them accompany me on my daily ramblings...]
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Tomorrow morning I am heading out to Paris and by Sunday, I'll be in Warsaw and Krakow.
There are blogging challenges ahead: Obviously tomorrow's posting will be light as I will be traveling. However, there's more: out of the 18 days in Europe, only during the last 3 will I not be in the company of friends from Madison. This is a first for me. With the exception of an interlude some decades back, I have been going back to Poland at least once a year. Never ever has anyone volunteered to either travel with me there, nor to meet up in Poland. To France? Oh sure, many candidates, many trips with friends and strangers. But Poland has always brought forth this reaction:
So, you're going back to Poland! I really would love to go there someday!
And there it would end.
This Spring, I do not know what winds were blowing through Madison and messing with people's heads, but here I am now, setting out to Poland, with four Madisonians joining me for various portions of the trip.
I am still dizzy at the thought.
And -- weirder still, during the first week, one blogger will be tagging along and during the second week another blogger will be there to pick up any blogger slack.
Basically this will mean that you may well have more than one commentary on the places talked of (somewhat reverently, I admit) in Ocean. Sort of like point - counter point, where I write, for example: we just walked through the most beautiful park on the planet, and the other person notes: we just avoided being eaten alive by some vicious swans who thought they deserved a handout just because we're tourists passing through. Different perspectives.
Should be fun. And a writing nightmare! Poland has decent but not great Internet options and oftentimes I wind up posting from a hotel dial-up. But in addition, this time I will feel that my absolutely top priority is making sure that my cotravelers are happily experiencing Poland, to the max. That means I will probably blog between 2:30 and 4 am. When else will there be time? But post I will, for sure.
At least the posts will be shorter (especially as compared to this obscenely long one).
Okay, a few more parting words tomorrow a.m. and then Ocean does what it loves best: it transports itself across the ocean and takes up the story there.
Yesterday, he said this to the crowd: Pozdrawiam obecnych tu Polaków. W tych dniach razem z wami oddaję cześć świętemu Stanisławowi i polecam jego opiece cały Kościół w Polsce. Z serca wam błogosławię. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!*
A mouthful for a non-Pole, wouldn't you say?
* translation: oh, it's just the usual religious stuff, with a focus on St. Stanislaw and the Polish church.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
But you have to ask yourself why a mermaid would be the city’s mascot. As someone pointed out, Warsaw is some 300 kilometers away from the sea. What sense does it make to give a mermaid a shield and a couple of good looking breasts and place her on every moving piece of public transportation, to say nothing of stamps and municipal buildings, supplemented by a couple of monuments honoring her?
And mermaid legends are a little bit unreal. Typically they go something like this: a fisherman finds her, falls in love, rescues her or she him and then either he is forever satisfied with a mermaid in his chambers or she turns out to be, in real life, a lovely, wealthy princess, with her lower body then suddenly transformed as she becomes readily available for marital consumption in all ways – as opposed to the mermaid who has to satisfy and be satisfied basically with her top torso, with perhaps a smack of the tail thrown in for those who love a little pain on the side.
Warsaw’s mermaid has been around for centuries. Currently, her monument resides in the center of the Old Town Square, and there is another, bigger version by the river. I grew up in her shadow. I liked her sword raised high, I liked that she was a woman, I liked that she belonged to Warsaw, and not, say, to inferior Krakow (there is great rivalry between the two cities: it has been an ongoing sibling thing for some 1000 years; I don’t know if Americans can appreciate that, given the baby status of all urban centers here).
So, a mermaid it is: right there, in the center of the Old Town of Warsaw, with her bottom covered but her top exposed. She’s awesome, even if a little out of place. Warsaw’s protector in some spiritual sense. Triumphant and …mermaid-like.
My attempt at short:
Today (Monday) I get up worrying that maybe I have the beginnings of a tooth ache. I just had had everything checked several weeks ago, but I am having an acute attack of teeth hypochondria. So I go to the dentist.
Many people worry about being lost in a foreign country without knowing the language. That is never a concern for me. Instead, I have a hidden terror of being stuck in a country with a strange and frightening network of dentists incompetently playing with their instruments of torture. Like it’s a power trip or something to grind away at the exposed nerve endings of a person helplessly strapped to a chair.
Perhaps I remember too well what it was like going to the dentist as a kid in Poland. No pain killers. Just pain. Endless, horrible pain. I know much has changed since the fall of communism. I am sure market economy dentists are of a different breed and inflicting pain is not longer the top priority it once was. Still, I am left with an irrational fear of them and so I often find myself just hours before a flight sitting in a dentist’s chair here in Madison, attempting to convince my tooth doctor that there surely is a problem and could he please detect it and fix it before I take off.
My chart must have the following note scribbled in it: “this is one of those pre-departure emergency visits. If indulged, she will go away and leave us alone until the next planned crossing of the ocean." So this morning I am indulged. The dentist even took out some "special paint" and brushed it over the tooth in question with a “special formula” that would keep it from giving me trouble in the weeks to come. Even though, as he pointed out, there is nothing wrong with the tooth. (I think he just missed the emergent problem, that’s all. Still, I feel that I will survive the three weeks I am away.)
After my early trip to the dentist (I was there at 8:01, just as they were opening up), I deal with the suitcase issue (see post below).
Then I have a meeting at the Law School during which I feel like basically my entire professional life is being quickly, conspiratorily set for me as I am struggling to give coherent responses. I survive, but I come out sweating, being especially appreciative of Tom’s Natural Scent, because believe me, without it, I would have been too naturally scented for words.
Then, quickly in succession: a coffee meeting to talk about Poland, special dinner for a daughter, burgers with a couple of bloggers, a cosmo at Opus lounge with said daughter, and then, finally, a minute with the computer, with HENIEK blasting away in the background.
[HENIEK is a spirited Polish folk song that my pals in Poland presented me with (on a CD) a few years back. I listen to it more than I will EVER admit to (just about) anyone. ]
And before I know it, I wake up, find the half-written post, along with a toy bird perched at the side of the keyboard and a pair of sunglasses casually folded next to it. What was I doing? Could it be that I was singing HENIEK with sunglasses on? To a toy bird? I do not remember. Sleep took over. This morning (Tuesday), I am only cleaning up the pieces of an abrupt ending to a long day.
Monday, May 09, 2005
However, as I lifted it into my truck, I noticed that one of the zippers was broken: it was one of those situations where you think you’ve pulled the zipper shut, but it leaves a trail of unconnected little zipper teeth in its wake. It was not a crucial zipper, not the foundation that holds the whole bag together, but it does expand and contract the suitcase and so it does serve a function.
Dilemma: should I fix it before handing it over to the friend in Chicago? I mean, Cecil over at shoe repair is a magician with these things. But if I fix it, shouldn’t I unpack it first? [The friend cannot be consulted with on this one – he’s up in the air somewhere, flying around the States.]
I could unpack it and no one would ever know. Unless my friend put one of those crucial hairs or threads in a particular place to see if any person would poke around his personal belongings. But the ethics of such an intrusion notwithstanding, I do not really want to poke around someone’s stuff. There are things that one doesn’t really want to know, even about very very good friends. Like how many mismatched socks they have or if they fold shirts neatly.
Handing a filled suitcase to Cecil is also unfair. Do you know Cecil? He is old, stooped, frail. He should not have to muck around with packed suitcases.
What would the ethicist say?
Answer: for every ethical dilemma there is an innovative solution. Cecil solved this one for me by fixing it on the spot while I lifted and moved the bag around for him. The guy is a repair genius – always has been. My kids were raised to show great reverence and respect for the man, as he has bailed us out of many shoe and suitcase problems over the decades.
Cecil understood the dilemma. Of course! He’s the kind of guy who may have himself packed an odd little private something in his day. He’s a man of strange habits after all – the same man who kept cats in his store and got chased out of the strip mall because the cats peed on the hallway carpets. Cecil didn’t seem to mind. He loved his cats and proclaimed: if the cats go, I go. And so out he went, to a different strip mall, one without any carpeted hallway to pee on and mess with.
It says something about my days that this was by far the most interesting thing that happened to me all morning.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
So my first gift of the day – an e-card… mmmmm, so nice…
My second: come on, let’s not get up just yet, a few more hours! It was the longest repose I have had in years…
My third gift: a walk. To the Arboretum (a mere five miles away), then from the Arboretum to Borders (add three more) and then home (another three, easily);
My fourth gift: martini glasses from my girls (they read Ocean too carefully). Beautiful! With a swirl of blue!
My fifth gift: dinner out (where I meant to post pictures but ultimately forgot, as is my tendency these days);
My sixth gift: the best Cosmo I have ever had at Eno Vino. With cranberry essence swirling down the glass… yum!
My seventh gift: looking at the album of photos where my older daughter was learning to bond with her newborn sister. You wonder then: where is this heading? How strong will their connection be? So now, twenty years later I know. And it truly is the accomplishment of accomplishments for me: to know that I have not derailed (indeed, facilitated?) this deep bond between two sisters. Happy mother on this day, indeed.
Two parties: one -- a gathering of the Sad Liberals in the neighborhood, the other -- honoring Chef Tory, the new proprietor of Madison’s legendary restaurant downtown.
Snippets, I remember snippets. From the Sad Liberals:
Are our houses built on landfills? No, farmland.
But there is a landfill underneath the schools. Did you know it has been documented that men in this area have an unusually high degree of sexual (something or other: here my memory fails; what was it: impotence? malfunction? virility? what???)…
...No kidding, and then there’s that run off “stream” that comes out of nowhere. Where is that water from? The 100-year rain pond off of Mineral Point Road. The 100-year rain pond? It is 100 years old? No (explanation follows, I have little recollection of it).
...Oh, if you are making martinis, you can have the olives in my refrigerator. Go ahead and take them, the front door is open. (a few minutes later) You have absolutely no food in your refrigerator! You didn't see the organic eggs, organic skim milk and organic strawberries? Not nothing in my book.
Do you know that it has been said that there are six layers of meaning to every Dickens novel? And that it is nearly impossible to get at some of them? Classes are constructed to analyze just some of these layers from one text. Why do you write your blog (a direct reference to Ocean here) like a Dickens novel (this was not hurled as a compliment, nor was it received as such)? Why not just say what you mean so that we do not have to have a class to analyze the six layers of Ocean (this was perceived as a compliment even though it was probably not hurled as such)? Sometimes there are only three layers of meaning. Sometimes there is only one. Sometimes.
From the Tory night:
My sister is managing the business itself as I take charge of the kitchen. You know, if I had known half a year ago that I would be co-owner of a “French” (one could call the style of cooking here that, if pressed for a label, though Alice Waters would, I suppose, protest) restaurant, I would have paid attention to what and where I was eating when I happened to be visiting Paris.
I love some of the new things you are already doing with the menu! Like the chili pepper in the chocolate Vesuvius truffle. Yeah, that was awesome. We want to update the dining room. Soon! Of course, we have to be prudent. We just bought a restaurant!
This is the best damn sangria in the world... all in the quality of the wine and the cutting into it of the right fruits, don’t you think? When was the last time you have had great sangria?
After which I vaguely remember telling Tory’s sister (who maintains her residence and also work connection in Racine and is desperately looking for a decent and affordable place to stay in Madison) that she should stay at my house which is too big for me anyway, if indeed I myself am still staying at this house since it is too big for me anyway. Though, I forgot to warn her that men in this neighborhood have a high degree of sexual something or other. [I can’t believe I virtually gave away my residence to a person whom I barely know. I tend to do things like that if I like someone. And no, it is not the result of drinking too much sangria. Though it was really good sangria.]
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Things are spinning, spinning, oh! those of you who were children in the fifties and sixties: remember those tops we had? The ones where we wound the string around and around, climbing it up the sides of the top and then with one fast release – off it went!
Sometimes I think that I have been using my years to wind up this top of mine and now I am letting it fly. Wheeee! Such a cool toy (sometimes the spin is a dud, a failure).
So I’m spinning along, only it seems that, unlike the toy, my speed is increasing.
Diversions, there are diversions: currently I am enjoying the company of one daughter who is home for a few days. Another will join us soon. This is a movement I can live with. Their popping in for a brief spell is like a coating of rich dense chocolate over a candied orange peel. [Now why did I think of that? I am not sure…]
This morning I went to the Saturday market. My first this year! I’m posting three pictures: one of our local cooking hero of the year, Chef Tory, taking care of foraging for foods at the market because his employed forager (me) decided she didn’t feel like working today. [Does he look peeved? No, that’s what makes him cooler than cool. More Tory news later as I plan on celebrating his ascent this week to restaurant stardom later tonight.]
The second photo is of a person who loves her spice girl treat on a Saturday morning (a daughter who has heretofore resisted being part of an Ocean post, but for some reason decided to oblige today; the surprise of the moment was so great that I rushed with the shot blurring it to pieces, of course).
The third is of the bouquet that traveled home with us. If only I could post the incredible fragrance. It smells like…lilacs. Real, wonderful, blooming lilacs. No surprise there.
Okay, so it’s there, you’re happy, you hope they’re happy. And then pffft! They’re gone. Just like that.
This is the story of Eva, the waxing woman, the one who was the first to ever shape my eyebrows, the one whom I had just recently grown to rely on. I come home and there is a message on my machine: Eva has moved. She is no longer available. I need to schedule an appointment with someone else.
Easier said. As if I can just plunge right into another relationship. Eva, whom I trusted to be part of my Madison days for a long long time, Eva who loved to talk about how wonderful her visits to Warsaw had been, Eva, who convinced me that my future lies within the world of wax, Eva has betrayed me and moved to greener pastures. Thanks a lot.
Friday, May 06, 2005
Oscar remarked that the three of us were of different ethnicities and each of our heritages lead us to demand of parties that there be food. I had to answer that each of our heritages was actually uniquely focused on food and no one from our necks of the woods would regard a party a success unless people left saying “there’s too much food!”
We left early. It is a rule: you leave a party before the last piece of sushi gets taken. Take heed: never, ever run out of nibbles one hour before the guests are supposed to leave.
My future with the restaurant? No longer uncertain. I'm on board after the month of May -- with the coolest sign-on in the world: whichever Saturday I feel like working.
I love it, love it, love it!
I love reading it, eating it first thing in the morning, I love running into it in the course of the day – sends chills down my spine! You vamp! You monster you! Let me get a little closer so that I can feel a tingle from your impertinent and saucy self!
It’s like a cuddle with the devil: get rid of the pink, the fluff, let’s have a black & red attack, with fierce fires raging, pushing that steamy arrogance forward…mmmmmm, sexy, nice!
Oh, to trample down the timid wretches, the cowering cringing unassuming yielding, always goddam yielding spineless wimps: get out of my way!
Yeah, bring on the disdainful, domineering, self-centered ooooh, there are not enough adjectives out there to describe them: my kind of people! Come out, let’s play, I’m in the mood for YOU!
And now that we had our little play, can we all please settle down and try on kindness for size? **** (fill in your favorite curse word), it can't be that hard.
I, too, am enamored with this group: their stories are poignant and often brilliantly insightful. Their dilemmas are real and heartfelt. Their blogs are among the most captivating to read. And whereas the typical blogger makes a million references to every nuance of her or his latest little worry or disgruntlement (I include myself in this group), blogging moms are living the saintly lives where internal peace of mind always always has to be put aside when a kid calls. And a kid calls very often in the course of a childhood.
Oscar asked me if I minded being “outed” with my parenthood. He was right to ask as, for the most part, I keep my own daughters out of the blog. I traded away the right to comment here on their lives by writing under my own name. True, they live far away (in a small city on the east coast, easily recognizable by the careful reader as I visit there often enough) and they are older (23 and 20) and so stories of toddler antics would have to be replaced with their more adult cleverness and sharp wit. And they are the wittiest of all witty people out there! But I stay silent about their world.
One question that I have for you, the reader: so what has happened to all the women who are done with child-rearing? Are they too exhausted to blog? With one notable exception, every female blogger that I know is either prior to or in the midst of child rearing. And even if she decides not to have children – she is definitely under the age of fifty. Young voices permeate the blogosphere: they set the tone even as they write from a history that is very very short.
Oh point me to the blogging woman who is a decade older than I am! Missing, she is missing from my list of daily blogs. [The one small consolation is that Ocean has linked me with readers who fall into that group. They are among my favorite correspondents. They pick up things in Ocean – small, deliberate things that, with rare exceptions, a younger reader will have missed, being, it seems, forever in a hurry to get to the punch line and move on to the next blog.]
Still, I am mesmerized by the singular and yet familiar stories of the mommy blogs. And I read them with a smile, because I know that eighteen years of mommy-sainthood brings you the reward of an adult friendship that is indescribably wonderful. And strong. And enduring. Like no other.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Isn't it important to leave places with good and kind images? Isn't it entirely within us to think just in this way?
P.S. In the last possible second the purse issue resolved itself: small, sleek, marigold yellow, a pouch crossing over and freeing your hands, from Canada, sold with a smile.
Damn this city of many stores! New York is another matter altogether. You come here, you spend money, even money that you don’t have. One swipe of the plastic and you are four sacks of clothes richer and that much closer to entering credit card debt forever.
It’s in the walking, I know it is. You have to pass stores to get places. Stores with wonderful sales. Stores that have your size in everything. Stores that remind you what fun it is to put on a bright neon green skirt and set it off with a hot salmon shirt. Stores that tell you that there is a reason why you tend to your appearance (in Madison, I often wonder – why bother?). Devilishly self-indulgent places where you can focus on yourself: I am being good to me me me! I am layering protective armor that’ll keep me from tumbling into an abyss of despair!
And there’s the “this’ll be the last chance” bothersome thought. Man, I am retreating into a Neanderthal shopping cave, where I wont be buying much of anything. I better attend to my wardrobe now, because there may be no shopping tomorrow. Never mind that I wont even be in Madison a full week before I am out again, tempting myself even more.
I know. Many have walked this path of addictive buying before me. It is evil. It is vain. It is fantastic!
Ah, what the hell: I need the pick-me-up. I need the full blue skirt and the coffee pants and of course the neon green thing because everyone has something in neon green this season. I tell myself that I am a deserving professional woman (even though my acquisitions seem almost anti-professional) and that I buy everything on sale anyway.
Life is all about adornments and tragedy. Not that the former obliterates the latter but I can sure as hell deal with tragedy much better if I'm wearing the shoes with the yellow ribbon and a full skirt hugging the hips, with a cool little T just reaching the beltline.
Yes, definitely. Why is it that over the years I have shifted in my thinking so that these days, more often than not I am convinced that each day could have been done with greater panache, savvy, strength, cleverness? Only when I was much younger (twenties, thirties) did I believe that my days were forgivable lessons rather than correctable mistakes.
So on a practical note: what does one do with a last morning in NY?
The obvious is chasing down the cursed purse. Perhaps I should strive for the less obvious.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
This is not a post about how I could not get enough of Sean Penn’s face – especially in the last scene. Were I to write on that, I would have to add that in addition to great chefs and great writers I am prone to falling in love with men with expressive faces. Or at least with that particular expressive face.
It is, instead, a post about the UN – an organization that elicits tremendously strong feelings in me, though not of the “I am in love with Sean Penn’s expressive face” kind.
Now that I live in Wisconsin, the word brat connotes big greasy sausages, on a bun, with beer.
But many decades ago it was a label thrust upon me by virtue of my father’s work for the United Nations. I was a UN brat. We, children of the diplomatic corps, we ran around the UN building thinking our parents would save the planet for us. We believed in their work and in the hundreds of relief agencies that came to the aid of forgotten, neglected people in far off places.
And I am sure every one of us, even the greatest cynic who’ll flaunt countless examples of failure will acknowledge that the world without the UN, would be worse off. Even without the top fifteen floors of the Secretariat building, it would be worse off.
Today I watched the mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima sign declarations of peace just next to the General Assembly (Ocean felt that it ought to bear witness). The Japanese media were there en mass, but ours was conspicuously absent. It struck me right then that in the parts of the UN open to the public, foreign visitors outnumber Americans ten to one.
As I was waiting for the signing, I looked hard at the 1945 photos from Nagasaki on display in the background, the kind of photos that you don’t really want to remember.
Forty years ago, you did not have to pass through countless security stations to enter the UN. Forty years ago we, at the UN School sang songs about Zulu tribes and kookaburras and Per Spelman and his cow. Such brats we were!
And so where has this bold confidence taken us? We, the unhappy surveyors of the now damaged organization, resurrected to prominence in a movie, but not in real life. Even as it keeps chuggin’ away, mostly quietly, providing relief and promulgating dialogue. Not enough, we say, and kick it around some more, listing all its failings, in the same way that bodies were counted after epidemics, ethnic cleansing, nuclear blasts.
Two photos this morning of people waiting, just as a reminder that patience is needed here as well, every day, just to get by.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
There, I’m sure that eliminated no one from the reading pool. Ocean is a clean blog, but it would be difficult to keep to its regular standards of innocence and purity and still write in any meaningful way about this day.
Because after a morning of chasing down purse acquisition ideas – all the way down to Herald Square, I decided that I needed to pause for some culturally uplifting experience. So I went to the Museum of Sex.
I had passed this place before and had wondered if it was serious or seedy. I thought no more about it (really), but then, at various junctures, references to it kept cropping up. Like, Time Out Magazine lists it (“gawking is okay; snickering is not”). Gerry Frank’s guide to NY says this about it “the entire affair is a bit tawdry…but crowds are streaming to the place and its first exhibit at least tried very earnestly to take itself seriously.”
I was curious as much about the idea of people coming to a museum to see exhibits about sex as about the exhibits themselves. It becomes fascinating to consider when boundaries are crossed – from a display of porn for art’s sake, to a display of porn for the thrill of displaying porn. I had read that this place crosses over into softcore stuff, avoiding the out and out naughty hardcore porn.
Okay, so now I have a couple of observations:
Am I naïve or what? If, at least in the exhibit about the history of pornographic film, watching a series of flicks where there is absolutely nothing left to the imagination, save, perhaps the smell of it all, if that is not hardcore porn then I really have been using the term incorrectly all my life.
Secondly, I was astonished to see that you could pull this off and not have a bunch of deprived and depraved people basically sitting the afternoon long and enjoying themselves and I don’t mean in the “learning about the history of pornography” way. Perhaps the hefty entrance fee keeps a certain type of person away.
I did also wonder if the guard in the museum got tired of anything to do with sex – sort of like being in a relationship too long to get immediately excited when someone emerges from the bathroom less than fully attired.
The patrons were of mixed ages and groupings, but all were terribly serious, almost scholarly in appearance and demeanor. An older couple, several somewhat artsy-looking single people, groups of friends, all maintaining the dignity and quiet that one generally associates with museums. Except that (unlike in other museums) everyone read the explanation cards and postings very very carefully.
And indeed, it was a fascinating presentation. The photographs from the previous century were especially interesting: graphic and not unlovely, without the trashiness that later came to be associated with these kinds of distributions.
Alright, perhaps this is as far as I should take this post. Picture taking was permitted, but after the first photo or two, I decided that I was appearing like I wanted to take some thrills back home with me and so I put my camera away. I did take two shots: one of magnets in the gift shop (I carefully arranged for decent-ish ones to be visible) and the other of the top part of a quite old photo. You can imagine what the bottom of it is like and why she has that sweet little smile of pleasure on her face.
Monday, May 02, 2005
1. I looked for a summer purse. Anyone who has been to my house lately knows the saga of the summer purse -- I talk freely (and constantly) about it. And if you don’t know the saga of the summer purse, consider yourself lucky. It is the most indescribably boring story on earth, en par with reading a detailed account of the decision-making process involved in choosing the color of towels for your bathroom (spare yourself the tedium there: white always works). Suffice it to say that the summer purse issue remains unresolved.
2. I shopped for a Picasso. An original. To hang in the bedroom. More on this later.
3. I discovered that green and black/gray go well together. See photos below of black-clad park-goers.
4. I went grocery shopping and stood in line that was some 60 people deep at the checkout. Whole Foods is doing well in NY.
5. I read seminar papers.
About the Picasso. It’s brutally simple: I walked over to a small gallery on 79th that was displaying privately owned paintings by Picasso. (I sort of came across it by chance.) Thirteen canvases – none of them familiar to me nor probably to the general public, as most likely they had been hanging in various homes, only now the owners have keeled over and the next generation is lusciously picking through the riches and putting them up for sale in order to rake in some cash.
There were only three people in the gallery: a woman my age but way more polished and coiffed than I and her entourage of two: one gallery rep and one advisor.
The woman was deciding if she should purchase the biggest canvas of the lot – a nice blue and yellow rendition (Ocean perks up here) of people in some macabre poses. It was Picasso’s later work – maybe from the fifties – where the limbs and torsos were beginning to look….distorted.
I hung next to the little party of three (I’m sure they loved that) and listened to the back and forth, having never myself had the problem of laying out millions for a canvas for my bedroom. I was intrigued as to what would be the tipping point.
It seems that the gallery rep hit the right tone. He explained to her that the reason she (rather than me perhaps?) deserved that particular canvas was because she had enough Picassos to make her home a place where you could appreciate the progression of his work. He told her: you have a whole story of the artist… simply replace that painting you have in your bedroom (he knows her bedroom?) with this one (is it fair to the public at large to hide a huge Picasso canvas in a rich lady’s upper-eastside bedroom where presumably only her lovers enter?).
I left before she gave the final nod, but I could tell she was going to go for it. I would have taken a photo of the canvas – the last glimpse of a piece of art that would now be displayed only at the whim of just this one person – but I’ve been scolded so many times now for dangling a camera in private galleries that I no longer bother. It hurts each time.
Fascinating. Spending millions is actually quite easy. It works pretty much the same as handing $3 across the counter for a latte.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
I thought of this today as I walked the blocks of New Haven and looked up at the dazzling petals framing the spires and the buildings of Yale.
Last night it did not strike me until significantly into the evening that it would be cool to do something so New Yorkish as to be completely in the realm of the impossible back in Madison. I noted that Mstislav Rostropovich was conducting the NY Philharmonic in a program of Shostakovich and Prokofiev piano concertos. I wanted to be there! Suddenly, I knew, that more than anything, I wanted to lose myself in these works, looking up at a musical giant (how old is he now anyway?), taking it all in the gorgeous space of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
So I called and I begged to have one of the return tickets set aside (there are always at least two or three returns). I literally offered up my wealth and my labors for a chance at a seat. No luck.
In the alternative, I thought I’d walk to the NBC Tower to see if anyone was feeling sick and incapable of sitting through the live performance of SNL. Surely in this weather one person would be feeling sick and miserable enough to hand over their ticket to me. No. Throw up in the aisles why don’t you, but don’t give me your precious ticket. Fine. I wouldn’t either.
Perhaps drowning my disappointment up in the Rainbow Room would be the way to go? I mean, one drink, beautiful view (even if it was foggy, it’s always grand up there) – good plan! Except for the jeans. I hardly ever wear jeans back home (jeans capital of the world). I don’t even typically pack jeans when I go places (well, okay, as a standby for the mountains). But this time, I was on my way to SNL – how jeansy is that? Plus I put on my 70%-off-but-still-a-fortune Cambio jeans (never heard of them? neither have I, but the saleslady at Sassafras said they would put me in with the cooler if not totally coolest set). The elevator man took one look at my dangling from underneath the coat denim and pointed the elevator down, showing me the nearest exit sign.
Okay, plan number 4: stand around and look at Rockefeller Plaza at night. It’s campy. It’s touristy. It’s fun. Except when it is entirely covered by a huge tent for a private wedding function. Who the hell has the cash to rent the entire Rockefeller Plaza for a wedding??
Walking home I thought – there’s always Borders. In Madison, Saturdays are good Borders nights: the store is open, and it may be the only place outside of State Street where there are people mingling about. Take that image back to Madison. The NY Borders closes at 8 on the weekend. Of course. Who wants to sit at Borders when there are exciting things to do like the Philharmonic or SNL?
Of course, sitting at a bar, any old cheesy bar is always an option. Or getting out of the blasted Midtown. Spontaneity is more of a SoHo & Village thing. I should have known better.
Okay, but if I were the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, I’d keep my hands to the side when walking with Rumsfeld.
On why Bush was found walking hand-in-hand with Crown Prince Abdullah at the Crawford Ranch, see NYTimes story here.
But what of city mice? Do they trade in the open spaces, the clean feel of growing things for this?
How can you mark seasons if you are a downtown kind of a mouse? Sure, there are the strips of land snaking through the boulevards and avenues. Like this one: cant you tell what season were in now?