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picnic in Times Square etc.

Home to the loveliest quietest garden in the world. That’s how I always feel, coming back from New York. But particularly this time, because I flew back on September 11th.


That Sunday morning, church bells all over the city rang four times, at exactly the times the planes hit. It was very moving. The cab driver to Penn Station told me that the whole lower end of the city and various roads in and out were shut down for security reasons, and in the station, young soldiers in camouflage were on guard, holding assault rifles, AK 47’s, terrifyingly huge guns. There is a great view of the New York skyline from the Skytrain to Newark Airport; that morning, I confess that it was a relief to see the metropolis at a safe distance.

I shared the train compartment out with 3 insurance adjusters from Pennsylvania, going home. The men wore jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, the woman a sundress and flipflops; they sipped their giant coffees and conversed so loudly, one of the men with the relaxed drawl of Jack Nicholson, I now know a great deal about the insurance business. I couldn’t help but imagine a group of French insurance adjusters on a train. America is surely the most casual society on earth. People walk around in their skintight gymwear, and the preferred summer footwear, for everyone, is flipflops. Just try to imagine a French person on the street in gymwear and flipflops … Impossible.

Further to the fashion report, women of all ages, but especially the young, specialize in winter boots and tiny shorts or dresses, worn together. In fact, nearly every woman in New York was wearing either boots, flipflops, or towering spindly stilettos. I was wearing my Mephisto sandals, so was able to walk comfortably and fast. Which used to be the point of shoes.

There was a grand reunion on Saturday night of a lot of the Kaplan family, at Cousin Ted’s 70th birthday extravaganza at the Century Club on W. 43rd. We had cocktails in the library room and then went upstairs for dinner with 150 of Ted’s closest friends and family. I chatted with Cousins Debbie, Susan, Dick, Lori and Robert, met some of Ted’s friends, met Ted’s spouse Henry’s family, and hugged Ted and Henry, who were married yesterday after many years together. Dick told me I look just like my father, which made me very happy. I ate and drank too much and enjoyed it all.

It had already been a busy day – I walked from the East Village at 1st Ave. and 9th, right up Broadway to meet Lola at a theatre at Central Park West and 63rd. It rained partway on my journey, so I scampered into Macy’s and entertained myself watching capitalism at work. I’d brought some sushi with me, had a picnic lunch at one of the little tables right in the middle of Times Square. Lola and I saw a marvellous play, “Freud’s Last Session,” which posits that Sigmund Freud, dying of cancer in his 80’s, met C. S. Lewis, half his age and a Catholic convert, to debate the existence of God. It was funny, beautifully acted and stimulating; Lola and I both loved it. We went back to her place on the East Side, where we strolled around the 3rd Avenue Street Fair and then she showed me her latest creations – Lola is a jewellery artist, still, at 88; I have three of her beautiful rings. And then I walked back down 5th Avenue to celebrate Ted.

A few last observations about life in NYC: Air conditioning – what’s wrong with these people, are they all in menopause? Inside, almost everywhere, was freezing. The theatre was like a meat locker; I wrapped myself in the program for additional warmth. What a waste.
There are more babies and children per square foot than I’ve ever seen in NYC, all with their own enormous conveyances, of course.
I walk around with a half-smile on my face, and it’s amazing how many people smiled back, how many actually spoke to me. At the same time, there’s a New York kind of sour, sulky dismissal that’s repellant. I saw a young couple at an outdoor restaurant, and the expression on her face as she looked at the menu – I wouldn’t be him for the world.
I wandered around the Strand Bookstore, one of the best anywhere; there was a $2 table and I cast a hurried look, terrified that I’d see my book there. Did not.
In Union Square Park, a man let his pet bunny out of its carrier for a quick hop on the grass. When I stopped to look, he said, “Only in New York, right?”

For the first time, I came back from my trip energized, not utterly exhausted – because I didn’t try to do too much. New York is so rich with possibility, there is so @#$#% much going on everywhere, that trying to see even a minuscule percentage is an impossibility. So I did less than usual – and, incidentally, bought very little, a few t-shirts on sale – and was able to hang onto my sanity.

But what joy, to land in my own lovely city – yes, being battered to bits by its neanderthal mayor – and then my own garden, my oasis and shelter. Home home home home. Home.

P.S. For any of you interested in Fashion’s Night Out, the inimitable Bill Cunningham has done one of his video pieces about it, in the current NYT. I gather that I saw only a tiny bit – it was uptown as well, and certainly a vibrant affair. Just a little too manic for this old bird in her sensible Mephistos.

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2 Responses to “picnic in Times Square etc.”

  1. Lyn says:

    I love New York (how cliche, I know)and your reports from the street captured the essence of that bustling city. I feel the same way about shoes … at 51 I have no patience for pain and discomfort. I want to have the same freedom and ease of movement as men enjoy and not be tottering around in sky high stilettos that are clearly designed to satisfy men's ideal of sexy. Glad you got home safe and sound and most importantly — energized.

  2. beth says:

    Thanks for your feedback and encouragement, Lyn. And yes – one of the best things about going away – is coming home.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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