This city! So noisy and crowded and frantic and overwhelming, I keep swearing I’ll never come again. The wind tears at you, the sirens shriek, the homeless people, the disgusting displays of wealth, consumption, shopping, the exhausted workers keeping this insane place going – why am I here?! I sometimes ask. Get me out!
Well, because, first, there’s family. In fact, most of my family, with the exception of my children, is here, since through my mother I have only two cousins left. Here, a few more and memories of many – my grandmother had ten siblings, though she wasn’t speaking to many of them, and my grandfather had six. There were a lot of people to visit when we came during my childhood. Now, I see my father’s cousins Ted and Lola. Who incidentally have not spoken in years. But there’s also Ted’s husband Henry and Lola’s daughter Patti and sometimes, for celebratory events, there are others, lots of others.
Plus theatre and museums and more fascinating people per square inch … but it’s still frantic and overwhelming.
The trip here wasn’t great. With my usual nervous miscalculation I was at the gate nearly two hours early, but I’d rather that than having to rush. We were sitting on the plane when they told us there was a mechanical problem, we’d have to deplane, another one was on the way. We had to go through the chaos of new boarding passes and milling about waiting, but it was a very Canadian event, hardly any bitching. And we got there, two and a half hours late.
Just in time for the build up to New York’s rush hour. I thought La Guardia would be easier than Newark – it used to be – but now they’re renovating, and now to get a cab you have to line up and get on a shuttle bus to the cab area. Anyway, again, eventually, I got to 77th and 3rd, not mid-afternoon as I’d planned but at dinnertime, deeply grateful I hadn’t missed a connecting flight or an afternoon appointment. Ted came home with a superb bottle of red wine for me – he knows me well – Henry came in from Northport, which is their real home, and we walked a few blocks for a superb Chinese meal. It means so much that Ted adored my dad – “I thought of him as the big brother I never had” – and knew Mum, and I knew his eccentric artistic mother Hazel and lawyer father Leo. Family. Blood.
Today Ted went to work – he’s a lawyer in the firm Leo founded, along with his older brother to whom he barely speaks – are you seeing a pattern here? Henry and I went out for a bagel and lox – (click to enlarge)
Fifty-six kinds of cream cheese
and then he went to his volunteer activities and I to MOMA, the brand new building for the Museum of Modern Art. I only found out they’d done a huge renovation from the New Yorker. It’s an incredible building, spacious, elegant, even with the crowds there seemed to be lots of room. The collection is vast and they’ll change what’s on the walls regularly. I didn’t go to the modern stuff, but to the fifth floor, 1880-1940 – Impressionists, Bauhaus furniture, photographs, film, prints, a room simply devoted to shapes – glorious. My favourites in all the world – Matisse and Kandinsky – but also a room for folk art, non-professional artists given pride of place, and a great effort to include women artists. One of the best museum experiences anywhere.
Kandinsky – the best. “Picture with an archer.”
A close-up of Matisse’s pot of pencils or brushes in his red studio.
An amateur artist who did some 800 detailed drawings of household artefacts on looseleaf paper, discovered after her death. Pearl Blauvelt. How wonderful that she and others like her are at MOMA.
Water lilies to sooth the weary soul.
Nearly two hours there, and then, saturated, out into the bitter wind. From the sublime to the ridiculous – to Bloomingdales, to see if I could find a winter coat. Mine, I bought on sale, 25% off, at Bloomie’s with my uncle’s chargecard 25 years ago. I was amazed to find exactly what I was looking for, a Canadian brand that’s light and very warm, and started trying them on – sale 25% off! Another woman was looking and I told her, these are Canadian and really good, so she got interested, found one in size large and decided to buy it. I wanted a large too – the medium was too small. But there wasn’t one. They went to look for another in the stock room. None.
When will I learn to shut my mouth? Oh well. My old coat is still warm. Looked around at others but was glad to get out of there.
Then I got on the wrong subway and ended up going west instead of north, got out before ending up way west, started to walk instead, froze, got a cab 12 blocks. Heaven. Bought some soup and cheese at Citarella’s and came back to Ted’s to rest.
Out again to another feast – of theatre. It’s thanks to Ted I came to see Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish; he said it was a superb production that made Henry cry. This time I’d got the subway figured out – Lexington Ave. to Grand Central, transfer to the 7 to Times Square. Emerge into insanity, four trillion people in the dazzle and glare and harsh wind.
The theatre was so far along 42nd Street, it’s considered off-Broadway. Oh, my friends, what a treat was in store. I saw Fiddler at Stratford with my friend Brent Carver playing Tevye, thought it was wonderful, and recently saw a documentary about the making of the musical, how difficult it was to produce, how dubious everyone was about its success, and how it has gone on to international renown – not limited to Jews, relevant for everyone.
But seeing it in Yiddish – with English and Russian subtitles – with an enormous mostly Jewish cast – and yet still its universality shone. It’s about the devastating difficulties of change, about how hard it is to be a good father. The cast was fabulous, and the music – the music is breathtaking. It meant so much. I started weeping almost as soon as it began, and so did the woman I talked with at the intermission who’d come from Portland, Oregon to see it. The moment when Tevye has to contend for the first time, thanks to his daughters, with the word ‘love’ in connection with marriage, and he turns shyly to his wife and asks, Do you love me?
More weeping. Very lucky to be there.
And then out, walk along 42nd to the 7, change at Grand Central, Lex north to 77th – leapt onto the train and then asked anxiously, “Is this going uptown?” and several kind New Yorkers assured me it was and laughed about how often they’d gone the wrong way. Home to Ted’s – the boys are back in Northport, I have the apartment to myself, had some more soup, wrote to my ex that he has to come and see the show, now writing to you. My legs and feet ache and my eyes are puffy and sore from wind and tears. I will be very happy to go back home. I’m so glad I came.