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Mark Rylance, Peter O’Toole, New York

I have visited New York almost every year of my life – so, more than 50 times, besides, of course, being born here. But I do not remember a trip as replete as this one. Perhaps there will never be another visit like it. Something is different, and it’s not New York, it’s me.

Before, I was anxious, hurried, overwhelmed – and also greedy for the riches this city offers. This time, for whatever reason, I was not. And so the city and its people opened. I have talked and become friends with just about every shop clerk I’ve dealt with, waiters, people in theatres, in the streets. Yesterday, as I squeezed my way through the mess in Times Square, a smiling woman tapped me on the shoulder. “I saw you in the subway yesterday,” she said.
“I’m following you,” I said, we laughed, she vanished. On Friday, a woman in a black mink coat standing with an elderly man stopped me. “Do you live around here?” she asked.
“No, sorry,” I said.
“You were walking with such authority, I assumed you were local,” she said.
“Perhaps I can help you anyway,” I said, and she asked if I knew somewhere nice for lunch nearby. And, as it turned out, I did – Lola had taken me once to the little restaurant in the Asia Society a block away, very quiet in a lovely atrium, so I told her about that.

Today, I had the choice of going to the Metropolitan Museum, which is my Sunday morning ritual here, or going to Bloomingdales. Because you know I am a shallow person, you also know which won. I got the Lexington Avenue bus to 50th and ventured into Bloomingdales not long after it opened, before it got crazy. I wasn’t expecting the tribute to Nelson Mandela just inside the front door:

In the shoe department, there were boots on sale, in my size. Donna, the saleslady, thought I’d be crazy not to get them; when I said I’d prefer a pair that were a bit tighter to the leg, she said, Sure, we’ve got those, they’re only $500 more. When I appeared at the cash register, she said, “Hooray!” They were half price, and then further reduced – $67. $67, for a pair of knee-high leather boots that fit my awkward feet. Oh, I could love Bloomingdales if it weren’t such a lunatic place. Every single salesperson you encounter in this city, in every store, even if you’re just wandering through, smiles at you. Take that, France!

Back up 3rd Ave. to Citarella’s, a fantastic gourmet take-out place, to buy a big lunch for me and Lola, and to a new bakery on 3rd, Maison Kayser, with the best baguettes and croissants in NYC, easily as good as Paris.

We had a great time as we ate, my 91-year old first cousin once removed and I. Her mother Belle was my grandfather Mike’s younger sister. Lola loves to tell stories about them all, about my dad, who was two months younger, my grandparents, her parents. I learned that it was her mother and father who took Mike to the Catskills to recover from his broken heart – the woman he loved had been forced by her parents to give him up because he had a lame leg – and that’s where he met Nettie, my grandmother. And so I owe my life to Lola’s parents.

And then walked – IN MY NEW BOOTS  – in the sun, because though yesterday was a blizzard, today was sun and melting snow – downtown, from 70th to 44th, to the theatre, to see my beloved Mark Rylance yet again, in Twelfth Night. And once again, tears of joy. Stunning gorgeous theatre.

So – Mark Rylance. Watching him is a master class in art. The man is a technical wizard, his voice, body, movements and line readings, he is in complete control of his craft – and so he can let loose. He makes hard work look like play. And I wondered if perhaps all great artists do that – they have such technical mastery that they make work look like play. Before the show we watched the actors, again, get into costume, and as his dresser fussed, Mark was getting into his feminine role as Olivia, waving his wrists loosely, softening his body. He fluttered about the stage with tiny steps as this confused woman, again turning to the audience, including them, again, that ridiculous laugh. Almost everyone, it seems, prefers the Twelfth Night to the Richard, but I am the opposite. Yesterday, he said a line about nobody loving Richard, and broke my heart. Today, he made me adore him all the more, but my heart did not break.

Another star of both shows – a young actor called Samuel Barnett, playing women both times, only in Twelfth Night, as Viola, a man playing a woman playing a man, a feat he carried off with skill and stunning grace. A great actor. As were they all.

At the end, after the curtain call with all the actors on stage, a transcendent moment: the magnificent Stephen Fry, who’d played Malvolio, called for quiet and told us that Peter O’Toole had died. He told a few funny stories about Peter, told us how much he was adored by his peers, and there we were, a great crowd in New York, silent, mourning with a group of British actors the death of a great artist. I will never forget it.

Home via Citarella, to buy some soup and salad for dinner here, to wait for Cousin Ted to return to the city. Tomorrow, back to Sotheby’s with Dad, and then home. So so so much richer, stuffed with family, kinship and great, great art.

And, yes, a $67 pair of boots.



4 Responses to “Mark Rylance, Peter O’Toole, New York”

  1. theresa says:

    It all sounds so wonderful, Beth. Thanks for giving us such a vivid account. And oh, Peter O'Toole. In 1978 I lived on a small island off the west coast of Ireland and I could see Peter O'Toole's beautiful pink granite house from my cottage.It was on a hill overlooking Eyrephort Strand. Sometimes when I was walking from the strand to the nearby town, he'd pass in a car — he didn't drive it but was taken around by a local man who also cared for the property. He had such a good profile as he passed, like a king. The parties he held at that house were legendary, though I (a poor young poet in those days, living off mussels and nettles in a cold stone cottage) was never invited! I wish. He will be missed. A man of stories and the most beautiful blue eyes and a huge talent.

  2. beth says:

    Talk about a vivid account! I hope you have written about your time in Ireland, Theresa. Last night's tribute to O'Toole, with all the assembled actors, made me remember again the brotherhood of the stage – truly like a family, with the best and worst that entails.

  3. theresa says:

    I did write about Ireland, yes, Beth, in a novella called Inishbream. It's a fictional account of that year and written when I was 23. So it has a young woman's wildly emotional engagement with the world, that world, and it's kind of exhausting for me to read now. But also sort of moving. Was I ever that young, did I actually do that — live on a little island and try to find my voice as a writer?
    And by the way, the boots sound perfect.

  4. beth says:

    How wonderful that you wrote a novella at 23. I have my embarrassing diaries to remind me of my over-emotional youth, luckily unpublished. And yes, for $67, the boots, classic riding boots, are wonderful, if a little loose on the leg. But Donna at Bloomingdale's was right – "How can you lose?"

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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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