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Michael Moore forever

Saturday in New York – not too hot, thunderstorm predicted that never arrived – lucky indeed. I walked to the Met, was there as it opened, and once more – as with the British Museum this spring – was grateful to know of the alternate entrance. A huge lineup of people at the main doors, but at the ground level doors to the south, almost no one. Straight to the Irving Penn exhibition. I would never have known about this gifted, sensitive photographer, who worked for Vogue for years photographing models, one of whom he married, but who also made stunning portraits of the indigenous people of Mexico, tribal people in Africa, working people in France, England and the U.S., and cigarette butts looking like sculpture. Once again, as with writing, I note that great photography is all about paying attention.

Walked around the museum, saw the giant altarpiece on loan from Mexico – hard to image transporting it, it’s two stories high – and many favourites. Did not go to see the Vermeers this time. Instead, I left and walked a bit further north on Fifth Avenue to find the NYC address of one Paul McCartney. Yes, I admit, I went to find it. It’s under renovations. His apartment cost 13 million dollars. Big windows with a nice view of the park.

Down – via, second confession, the Mephisto shoestore on Madison Ave. that was having a sale and where I managed to buy a pair of walking shoes, much needed for my throbbing feet – to Times Square for the matinee of an extraordinary show, Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 1812. If someone told you they wanted to do a musical adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the round with some twenty or more actors weaving their way through the audience, much of which would be sitting at tables onstage, you’d tell them they were crazy, right? But there it is, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, wild, nutty, and yet – there’s Tolstoy’s heroine, sweet Natasha, about to throw her life away, there’s poor Pierre, suffering in his study, there are all the others, dancers, musicians – one of them tossed me a warm perogie in a take-out container – a mesmerizing spectacle, very enjoyable, if a bit too frenetic to be moving.

With 3 hours to kill in the area until Michael Moore at 8, I went in search of something important – my birthplace. I was born in Manhattan’s Polytechnic Hospital, but until recently, information was scarce about a hospital that had closed down. This time I’d searched for the exact address online and found it, in a section of NYC called Hell’s Kitchen – amazingly, an area once full of poor Irish, as was Cabbagetown, where I now live, and then an area popular with actors. The hospital is now an apartment building. I stood outside, imagining my panicked young parents rushing there during a heat wave on August 1 1950, in a car they’d borrowed from one of Dad’s uncles. Dad dropped Mum off and sped away to get drunk, as men did. After my birth, he rushed back, parked, opened the car door to step out – and the door was smashed clean off by a passing auto. I was almost fatherless at an hour old. Mum was one of only two women in the entire ward who breastfed. I cannot tell you what it meant to stand on West 50th and feel, in a very strange and distant way, that this was home.

Nearby was a quiet open space and restaurant patio, so I sat outside and ordered – O America! – a beer and a burger. The waitress, embarrassed, said she had to card me. Thrilling.

Afterward I happened upon the 7th Avenue street fair, just closing down.
Wandered down to Bryant Park, where a young troupe was performing outside on the grass – why not? – Twelfth Night. Watched a bit and headed for Michael Moore’s second preview of his show, was excited to see a huge lineup, all kindred spirits. The woman next to me was a musician from New Jersey, a cancer survivor who visited Banff last summer. The women next to me in the balcony of the theatre were living in a conservative enclave of Long Island where their neighbours were Trump supporters. We were all soulmates, united in solidarity. 

The man of the hour walked out in front of a set that was a
giant wooden American flag, a portly schlub in a loose shirt, jeans, sneakers,
and baseball cap. He looked at us and said, “How the fuck did this happen?!”
and we were off. It renewed my faith in humanity, this show, in which he urged all of us to get involved, showing that even small individual actions can have a huge impact, telling stories of his own activism, starting at age 16, and of others who’ve made a difference. It was very funny – especially for me, a segment called “Stop the Canadian!” about the debasement of the American education system. There was a long segment on what happened after he denounced the Iraq war from the stage of the Oscars, the death threats, including from right-wing radio nutbars. Throughout, his ease, honesty, sense of humour. I left deeply grateful, with renewed energy and joy.

Sunday morning, I tidied Ted’s, admiring his incredible collection of antiquities from around the world – like sleeping in a  museum –

and walked along Third Avenue to Lola’s for a last visit, before taking the subway to Grand Central to find the Newark Airport shuttle. As I waited, I noticed the decoration on the building opposite. Thanks to Irving Penn, I was paying attention.

And so – home. As the plane crossed the great lake into Canada, I felt the tension ease from my body. This city is a miracle of riches, I’d thought – but get me out of this country before Trump bombs North Korea and starts the next world war.

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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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