Tuesday, February 2, 2010
#46 – THE PARK
On the main floor in the Met, on the way to the circular restaurant and the 20th century wing, I would visit a larger than life-size late classical Greek high-relief of a clearly nurturing woman on what remained of a funeral stele, a standing slab of white marble. It was said by whoever wrote the identification card that this was a farewell scene, and this big warm woman did seem to be saying a calm sad farewell, her beauty still there on what was left of a standing slap of marble, still there despite broken parts of the stone, including some of the part that was her nose. I saw her with her nose intact. This woman who brought comfort that I felt I needed now – just as I got comfort from the lively combinations of shapes and colors in a Deibenkorn, or the green banks in a Daubigny, or the mood of a Monet garden, or from lively exuberance in a Joan Mitchell abstract, or Hopper’s sunlight on his nude wife as well as on buildings. I would look at these works again and again to conjure up this needed comfort and counteract the equally true versions of the opposite, which I also needed – as in the edge of horror of Gorky’s diagrams into the end of life, or Matisse’s trapped boy at a piano lesson with a harsh gray woman just above him.
And there were these places in the parks that I was constantly revisiting. There was the stately grand passage between evenly spaced old trees through the Mall in Central Park, about which I made, to myself, a bon mot – “A place for important duels” – then realized I was constricting myself, categorizing much the way, it seemed to me, my brother would – categorizing and diminishing it and making it if not safe at least something very small. It did not seem small. I could not recall ever seeing the Mall before this new time.
From the Mall I went past the band shell and along to the heavy stone railings from which you looked down to the ornate Bethesda Fountain, which I had missed in its 60s heyday when it was a rallying point for the young. It was still there, and like so much else in life this year it seemed to me that, fears to the contrary, I was not too late. The people sill looked like sixties and seventies people, and walking through them on stilts were representatives form Vermont’s pure sixties Bread and Puppet Theater. I descended the wide steps leading down to the fountain. And from there I walked along a pathway following the fenced in side of the lake to an old boathouse restaurant and my memories of girls I used to take there. Amazed with each step how much more I could see now.
And then over to the Dairy, a rococo stage-set version of a building connected to a dairy, and on the way an octangular house on a hill with outdoor tables where old men played chess. I did remember this chess place. I remembered the spring afternoon that I had discovered the old chess players and the Dairy. I was 17 then and ready to leave childish nightmares, feeling strong and happy despite my throbbing head, that day being the day of my first hangover. In the night I had been with a group of boys from boarding school. They had accepted me at last as for some reason we were continually ordering rounds of a sickly sweet gin concoction called a pink lady. We had been in the many places where kids underage but in tweed jacket could get served – the men’s bar of the Biltmore, One Fifth Avenue, Eddie Condon’s, Julius’s. We had spent the night, five of us on a damp, smelly carpet in a room at the seedy Carter Hotel on seedy 42nd Street just in from Times Square. I went to sleep, or passed out, while singing something on the floor after announcing that I was suddenly able to sing. We had thought this was the hotel Holden Caulfield went to in The Catcher in the Rye, though unlike Holden we could not get anyone to send up a prostitute.
And then the next afternoon I had been in sunlight in the park looking at the octangular building and the Dairy. I had moved from the Carter Hotel to my grandmother’s. From the park, I stopped at a bakery on Third to pick up a cake she had ordered. I was served by a young and happy seeming, heavily accented Polish girl who seemed as excited as I was. I did not try to linger. The next day I would go to Elysa in Greenwich.