Thursday, February 18, 2010
#61 – ORIENTATION
I am well oriented here again with this girl in an Italian restaurant – south of Chelsea and just down Sixth Avenue from the corner where my old street, Waverly Place, comes in, which is near the Barrow Street site of Joan’s New Year’s Eve Party, which now seems to have been on a dividing line between the end of one life and the start of another. And I am a short walk from St. Mark’s Place, a touchstone block for both past and present lives, in this of town where 30 years ago I had started out. Political activism, and unpublished novels, and news work and art too, and so many old and new friends, so many girls. Winning many but not all battles in my war with despair. It was also the part of town where Vannie lived, and also my 11th Street tenement was a mere block from where, still earlier, on a cold college vacation night in an unused basement studio, with Christmas check in hand, I lost the domestic version of my virginity to a touching dance hall girl who said her name was Alma (which I had been pleased to note was also the name of the sweet, unhappy prostitute in From Here to Eternity). So near from here to the used book stores that once lined 4th Avenue and where when 16 and 17 I found the models – Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Farrell and Wolfe – for the life I hoped to put together. But I am not concerned with characters in books now. I am so calm and so aware of how well oriented I have become in this year of change. Even here with Gillian talking, my whole life is flashing before me, which is something that has been happening often recently and apparently has nothing to do with the cliché version of lives flashing by just at the point death. Well oriented here in New York as spring it beginning, this year so different from last. In my mind I see a little platform across from the Sunset Hill House looking down on an old copper semi-circular chart that showed peaks of the Franconia and Presidential ranges. It had a copper marker you could swivel around to line up the mountains named on the chart with the actual mountain. Pointing to peaks and pointing to horizons. Like a marker in my head that I could always point towards Managua and Port-au-Prince and Havana in certain orientations, to Sarajevo and Athens and Africa in others, also to the Middle East, and most especially the far reaches of the Far East from Borneo to Burma. And also down towards Washington and Atlanta, and out to Indianapolis and Chicago and then California. And yes, I could not escape it, up towards those very mountains in New Hampshire that until recently I would have told myself had been blotted out. Here in this Italian garden where I have situated myself a few blocks east of the East Village galleries, and a few more north of the Soho galleries, and well south of the Modern on 53rd Street and the galleries on 57th , and up into the 80s, and the Frick and the Met and Guggenheim, and across the river the amazingly grounded Brooklyn Museum. As well as distance from and proximity to the parks I was exploring, and also to all the places where these meetings are held, and the places where we go afterwards for coffee and connection. What do not appear are the places all over town that I have visited in another life to work on publications or in daily journalism or to see agents and book editors. Here so far in distance and time from Beirut with Linda, Singapore with Sheila, Bangkok with Bonnie, Greece with Vannie, and so many others, including girls of the night from Djakarta to Piraeus, Rome to Taipei, Bangkok to Malta. And now across from Gillian I am also thinking about my Saturday mornings in the Met when I pass through the Roman room on my way to the Greeks and the grave stile woman in her farewell scene, and the stately circular domed restaurant with its tablecloths and old waiters from another time, and then through what is art in Oceana to the new 20th century wing in which I know, because a young woman from the meetings told me, there is pastiche painting by Abraham Walkowtiz that is a swirl of places and people, mountains and a pretty girl – a painting that the young woman said reminds her of my story. And then the recent Saturday I actually paused in the Roman room, realizing that in all the times I had been through it these past months I had not stopped to look around – as if the room were one of those areas in memory that I had for so long avoided. That day I paused in the Roman room among the portrait busts and saw all around me these heartless intelligent faces of men and a few women who had been in charge. These faces of people whose greatest delight was in irony when not in cruelty. And I heard myself saying thank God Christianity came along when it did – which was as puzzling to me as hearing myself say my heart is breaking. Saying it in the Met where live people, many of them lovely artistic girls from Europe, come and go.