Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mimi and I watch 'Marley and Me'

It being Saturday night, and my having learned in Venice that to be alone is not to be abandoned, but a kind of silent privilege, it was with a peaceful heart that I stayed home, and turned on the TV. With luck (or Bershert I think it’s spelled, or Destiny it felt like in Venice) seeming strangely still operative, I tuned into a very bad print of the very bad movie, Xanadu, with my dancing teacher from Pittsburgh, Gene Kelly, in his fading role, unfortunate but fascinating, since his ego outweighed the wisdom of Cary Grant, who didn’t want his daughter to see him onscreen old, though old he still looked better than almost anyone else does young) and having had enough of the dark transmission and the sadly fading voice, I changed channels in time to catch the beginning of Marley and Me, which I had never seen, but doubtless unconsciously still resented, because I had better dogs with better stories than almost anyone, considering that Happy was on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Then even as the cast failed to capture me and I stopped feeling sorry for Jennifer Aniston’s being dumped by Brad because she truly has zip charisma, I got caught by what I knew was the inevitable ending, as everything ends for everyone but is somehow, like the loss of a child, particularly hard to face with the death of a dog. And as Marley packed it in, not only were my tear ducts but also my heart valves reengaged, and I remembered all my dogs.
The first was Bo. Spelt ‘Beau’ by the pretentious woman who owned him, a very rich lady who wanted to be in show business, so my husband went to have lunch with her at the Beverly Hills Hotel to raise money for a film project he had, where, instead, she sold him the dog. That will tell you a great deal about Don, my husband. “Say hello to Bo,” he said, coming home with this little Yorkie in his hand, and a sheepish expression, except it was more aptly puppyish, as he knew how pissed off I would be, as the last thing I needed or wanted at the time was a dog. Then, when I was at the height of my seeming success, on a book tour for The Pretenders, visiting the set of the Exorcist, Billy Friedkin sent me to the airport in his limo and when I got to LA my luggage was lost, and I freaked and was nasty, and the man at the counter said ‘It isn’t like it’s loss of life.’ When I got home they told me Bo was in the hospital, that Shani Wallis’ boxers had come down the hill, and in the words of my then little girl, Madeleine, “they made of Bo a trampoline.” I called the vets and they told me Bo would not live through the night, and I fell to my knees, honest to God I did, and prayed, and in the morning I went to the hospital, and he was alive. My friend Diane, my most spiritual buddy, called him ‘Bo, the Miracle Dog.’ He lived for many years, though with only one eye, so some were moved to refer to him as Sammy Davis, Jr.
When we were in-between homes, that is to say we were in escrow but couldn’t get our loan approved so went everywhere there was sanctuary, Diane’s home, and the farm Pat Paulsen had bought in Northern California where there were snakes, and which he had bought in a moment of not knowing where he would go either, to which he had absently invited us at a dinner party as he probably invited everyone and was stunned when we not only accepted but showed up, where Bo fell into a cattle crossing, and lost his sense of adventure. Then Marge Champion spoke to Mark Taper whom she was dating, and as he was on the board of the bank, our loan was approved and we lived there till and beyond the end of Bo’s life.
That sadly coincided with the untimely and agonizing last weeks of Don’s, when Norman Cousins sent us a healer, who first laid hands on Bo, who was failing, and Bo immediately became even more ill, so Robert, my son, said of the healer, “Don’t let that guy near Dad.” So I took him to the vets’ to be put down, and because I had a dying husband at home, did not have time to wait around or grieve. “Did the guy put a mask on before he brought down the blade?” Robert asked me, but I was in too much pain to realize how darkly funny and sad that was. And because I had Happy, the new puppy we had bought the kids for Christmas, the last Christmas we were to be a whole family, and there was so much on the unseen horizon that would tear us apart, I did not suffer over the death of Bo.
But when Happy died in Paris, at the Plaza Athenee, I fell apart, as Robert did when I called him to tell him I would have to put Happy to sleep, because Happy had had a heart attack running down the rue, and was suffering. I spoke very softly to Happy in the darkness, as he lay beside me on the bed, and soothed him, he was so frightened, and asked him to help me-- we had an appointment with a vet we didn’t know, to put him to sleep the next day. I stroked him in the darkness, and told him what a good boy he had been(the best, accompanying me everywhere in the world in the purse I smuggled him in until they started x-raying at airports, when he was busted.) When I turned on the lamp at four in the morning, he was gone, perfect and lovingly cooperative dog that he’d always been, so great he appeared on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Now all these histories and heart-searing moments came back to me last night as I watched with Mimi, my Bichon, so I guess I was off base in the beginning of this tale when I said I was alone. I wept into her soft, white, curly coat, and counted up her doggie years, and prayed she would have a very long life, as I pray for all of you, though I am embarrassed to pray. Camus, to drop an unloving name, said that people have invented God so they would not die, and it is hard to deal with being an ambivalent believer, struggling with Doubt, in this age of Sarah Palin, who has made religious feeling into an obscenity, or as Frank Rich put it so succinctly in his column this morning, “Oy.”
But whatever the absolute truth, if it turns out the truth can be absolute, there is no denying the spark of divinity that is in those little creatures, though Mimi showed signs of sibling rivalry this morning when I gave croissant crumbs to the birds in the park, so radiant with leaves that are even more colorful as they are dying, instead of her. But who says Divine Love can’t be jealous? Certainly not Oprah, who has given us two years to grieve not her passing, but her passing over, which some of us are hard put to do, since she didn’t show the book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Out of Venezia

Well, she might have had a House in Ahhhhhhfrica, but I have one in Venice. I cannot tell you what street it is on, because street names mean nothing here, it is all in knowing which side of the canal is yours. I wandered today for several hours on tiring feet(thank God for Puma, though a litter would have better) trying to find the Bigleterria I think it’s called(as you all know I have a hard enough time spelling in English, but as Herbie-Huhbie he called himself, being Southern) Merritt, my Olde English prof at Stanford told me, as he and Joe Herben (Huhben) my Chaucer professor at Bryn Mawr had told their classmate Scott at Princeton, ‘If you write well enough someone will spell for you.”
Finally found the ticket office and now have official card to go on the Vaporetto for a month which is the least time I stay here, I think, though never say ever. The place that sells Broadband I never found, and maybe that is for the best, as I don’t want to spend too much time on the e-mail so I will have full focus for the novel if it comes. Most of my morning was spent trying to send from a regular computer at the Internet place on the corner when you can find what corner it is, and because I had never used a mouse(I have a keypad) it took me fifty minutes to send two messages and that cost six Euros.
But the Daily Word, (the magazine of Unity to which I subscribe as those of you who know me well or even a little know, I am eclectic in my search for spiritual faith, often not having any) today was ‘Something New.’ So I decided to try Something New and live my life instead of just writing about it. I have missed most of the places I’ve been, so busy was I trying to create a book, a poem, an article, whatever would take me to a more interesting future and so I have failed to experience the present, where I am, as if I had been forever texting even before it became a disease. Today I was everywhere I actually was, and it was really wonderful, as I was in Venice. Could have done without San Marco and the Rialto where I was really afraid I might die and then that I wouldn’t, but I finally got to a salad on the deck by the canal, and actually tasted. The lettuce was nature fresh and good enough so you thought you could like lettuce.
Walking through those little alleyways afterwards I could not help thinking of times in Venice past when I was fixated on buying things, and thought ‘When you are happy and present you don’t need to buy things.’ Nevertheless I did buy a purse. Big and soft and a color of red just off enough so it isn’t obtrusive or offensive, and big enough to carry everything in. Then I got on the Vaporetto with my painfully acquired pass that nobody asked to see, and got off at what I hoped was the right vaporetto stop and walked up a pretty street where there was a snack place called ‘La Revista.’ Having passed up the public toilet and saved the 1 Euro 50 they charge you to pee in public places, figured the 7. 50 Euro sundae was a bargain, especially since it involved a clean loo. I ordered the extravagant sundae I had resisted eating my whole life, but did tell them to hold the whipped cream, and relieved, went inside and relieved myself.
There was an elderly couple at the next table when I returned and we started to talk and of course it turned out he had been a professor at Bryn Mawr when I was there. But he taught math and the reason I went to Bryn Mawr was that they didn’t have a Math requirement to graduate. Nevertheless he spoke in terms of mathematics being actually poetic and his sense of loss when I brilliant student of his opted out for a course with Marianne Moore who appeared that year at Bryn Mawr, her AlMA Mater that semester, and went on in sensitive terms about what mathematics was or is, and told me he had helped Nash get his Nobel prize(a Beautiful Mind, see Russell Crowe, but not too closely) and then he spoke of what a coincidence it was that he and his wife should be there and we should speak but I don’t think so, since I don’t believe in coincidence with something like that, because what would it be, as my friend Taffy used to say, but ‘of course.’ Of course I drove through Bali and standing in the road when I didn’t even know he was there or how to get in touch with him was Jack. So of course I would sit down in Venice next to a teacher who’d been at Bryn Mawr and his wide. She complimented me on my purse, and I confessed how compromised I felt having given in to material feelings in view of the spirituality I was operating on for the day, but she pronounced it “a happy purse,” and said I had done the right thing. I would have invited them to my house for a drink but I couldn’t remember quite where it was.
Trying to find my way home there was yet another adventure. M. Rusconi, the great gentleman recently retired as Director of the Cipriani, had a dog once named Iago who actually made his way back to his house after having followed his master to the train station unobserved and forgotten, but I am not so smart as Iago. Desperate, finally, I called Connie Rusconi, his wife and mother of Pietro whose beautiful little house I am lucky enough to be renting after my escape from Capranica and asked her the name of my street. But she didn’t know either, so I returned with her on the phone guiding me by way of landmarks, churches, the place where their older daughter Francesca went to school. And now I am safe, unless the waters rise(you have to put metal slats in the doors if you hear the sirens.)
I am so happy to be here. So much for Karen Blixen. Happily I have stopped looking for love, so have not got my eye peeled for Robert Redford, but Clooney IS in town for the Festival, though my friends the Meads are deeply disappointed at the Cipriani, where he is staying, that they haven’t seen him. Maybe it’s better.

You Have to Have it Stolen in New York

As those of you know who have been following my high (alta) adventures know, I have just returned from a joyful and productive sojourn in Venice, in the Dorsoduro, the quiet and lovely part of that magical city, marred only un po by having my wallet stolen on the Vaporetto a few days before I was to return. Happily, or as a kvetch would put it, Thank God, I had friends who fed and wined me, as the incident as reported to Citibank resulted in their failure to stop my ATM from being used, or their sending me any new credit cards, so fortunately friends also staked me to enough to get to the airport, and home, I guess you could say it was, where I am now banking with Chase, I wonder why.
So today I went to the DMV to get a replacement for my driver’s license, and having been through a saga to get it in the first place (I spent enough time at Social Security to read the whole of Thucydides History of the Pelopennysian(sp?) Wars waiting for my social security card which I needed to get my driver’s license, and then had to have my name changed, since my SS was under Mitchell, my husband’s name, so I went through another series of classics I had no intention of reading while going through the rigamarole of changing my name to my name.) So it was Gwen Davis’ wallet they stole with everything in it in Venice, where I spent an unhappy morning at the police station getting an official report. All of this is to tell you how fortified I was for my return to the DMV, where they needed a passport(had it) Birth certificate(got it) SS card(done it) mail,(check) together in a packet I feared losing lest I vanish from the earth officially, and the police report, which you had to produce to avoid the $17.00 fee.
Semi-fearlessly I went to the Express Office of the DMV with all that stuff, stepped up and filled out what I needed to when a license is stolen, my coat was admired by Mrs. Robinson, who loaned me a pen, and then, to my absolute amazement the number she gave me was called immediately, and I went to the window.
“I have everything I was told to bring,” I said to the woman at window 1. “I don’t need it,” she said, “and in a minute I’ll show you why.” With that she turned her screen around and showed me my photograph which looked curiously like me. “And here’s the police report,” I said, giving her the Italian precinct which noted all that had been stolen, including my license.
“Where’s that from?” she said.
“Venice,” I said, adding “Italy.”
“That’s no good,” she said. “You need a police report from New York.”
“But it was stolen in Venice.”
“I can’t help that,” she said. “You’re going to have to pay $17.00.”
The good news is Mrs. Robinson said I could keep the pen.
Anyway, it’s good to be home, I think it is, though having been without newspapers for two months except for the occasional check-in with the International Herald Tribune and the Gazzetta Della Sport, which is what Matteo kept in the bar where I had my morning cappucinos, I find the New York Times overwhelming, and the news about Sarah Palin alarming. I don’t think most people realize just how dangerous she is, stupidity aside. She is skipping New York very smartly, but as she knows and we don’t seem to realize, the country is not New York, and it elected George Bush, the second time, anyway.
Oh I was so illuminated when I was there, and here I am paying attention to politics. Anyway, hail and whatever the opposite of Farewell is. I’m here.

Full Moon Over Zattere

So tonight, having gotten the blessing of my family—my daughter-in-law said she is happy I am here, and Silas said it was okay that I called him during the football game—I watched a golden moon rise in a very dark sky, and listened to a lot of young people singing along to Italian Carioca, many more words than I could follow in a moment, projected on a screen. But I did get to see the words to Billie Jean, that I had never really quite heard before, and I am sorry Michael Jackson ended as he did when he was capable of such involuted lyrics, grateful to be in Venice, hopeful that my work will go well, but thankful I can be here at all, with a mild night glowing on the Grand Canal, and God in His/Her Heaven I sincerely hope.
I send you all the fruits of the season: your own special energies and the will to prevail. This would have been my mother and father’s Diamond anniversary, had they not divorced when I was eleven, tried to kill each other several times, and died. I hope you all still believe in love, but it really isn’t essential. What matters is a heart full of appreciation and gratitude for being alive, the moment, and catching it as it flies, which it does and will.
Much love from a beautiful sidestreet off the Dorsoduro, near the Chiesa San Trovaso, with a Madonna attributed to Jacobello del Fiore. But what difference if he didn’t do it: it’s there. xx

A FArewell to Cone

So inspired by my insightful editor not to try and be inspired, but instead take advantage of the fact that I am in Venice where, if I am not seeming to lord or lady it over you, so many of you might enjoy being, I continued my explorations of the artistic mind of Thomas Mann, and made my way on foot—I thought it would be longer,but once over the Accademia Bridge it was a very small stretch of the leg-- to La Fenice, the fabled opera house which has been here for centuries in between burning down, and is due to perform a new ballet by a company from Hamburg of Tod im Venedig. That’s Death in Venice in Deutsch which should give you some idea why I am so afraid of Deutsch. That Death should be Tod is not so bad, but that the lyricism or Venice, Venezia, can be transmuted to Venedig is what makes the language so formidable, and deepens even more the puzzle of how Goethe and Heine could have been so light on their linguistic feet, and given such beauty to the world with their masterpieces, which in German is Meisterstucken, and that’s pronounced ‘schtooken,’ making it even worse. Hamburg is even in the opinions of Germans a place of remote and cold people, except for the whores in the windows, so it will be interesting to see what they do to the ballet. The images of the Meister, Mann, do themselves dance in the mind: there is a feverish dream that the writer hero of the tale, Aschenbach, has shortly before his own finale that demands a ballet as many nightmares do, though few are so poetically transcribed.

So there I was at the box office and the ticket seller, Stefano, offered me the “least worst” seat, which was 35 euros, but not until after much delay and whatever the Venetian equivalent of ‘folderol’ is, where he said I had to come back tomorrow because the Internet was down and many people might have been trying for the same seat. I offered to deal with the Internet myself, a prospect more horrifying to me, secretly, than any thought of returning, but that seemed to bring him to full present attention and he sold me the least worst seat for opening night, which is the 29th, so stay tuned. Then I continued on to the important and grand local bookshop in St. Mark’s Square which I had been avoiding like the plague in ‘Death in Venice,’ and that, too, was surprisingly close. When you take the Vaporetto, as it glides so gently through the Canals, except when it bumps up sharply against the dock, shocking the vertebrae of all those waiting, there seems to be great distances between places which is not at all the fact. It was practically right there, as I discovered once I stopped to inquire at Fendi, which was unfortunate as they had a full length mirror and I saw for the first time where all that ice cream had gone. Pietro, my sweet landlord, is about six feet four so the mirrors above the two bathroom sinks are so he can comfortably see his face, so all I had been seeing was my eyes which had been unchanging and reasonably bright, so I imagined I was getting away with it. The saleswoman in Fendi wasn’t sure where the famous bookshop was, though it turned out to be almost facing. There I was able to buy the English language version of my guiding tale, which I thought I had read in my (it turns out) long-ago youth. Reading it though, as translated by Joachim Neugroschel, which should give you some idea, it seemed more heavy-handed and stilted than I remember anything of Mann’s, including or maybe especially The Magic Mountain. But even so, the writing is strangely gripping, particularly since Aschenbach is ‘too overburdened by the obligation to produce,’ which felt chillingly familiar, along with ‘his concern that the clock might run down before he had done his bit and given fully of himself.’ So there I was, my own hero, relating completely except for the fact that I have no international renown, knighthood or Nobel Prize, which my friend George D’Almeida told me years ago I could get along with anything else I wanted as long as I no longer wanted it, but I never really wanted or even dreamed of a Nobel prize, just a publisher who saw the good in my writing and stayed loyal and in business and alive which of course none of them has done.

I sat there in the almost square near San Barnabas, which is my ‘hood, at a small café called Imagine, eating a salad and devouring the tale, unable to leave until it and Aschenbach were finished. “Normally,” Mann wrote “whatever refreshment he gained from sleep, food or nature had been promptly expended on some work;” which is and was, alas, pretty much the truth about me, no matter how unrealized or failing to be accepted or lauded or recognized, poor Gwennie, but then, he goes on to say: “but now any daily strengthening by sun, sea air and idleness was generously and inefficiently consumed in euphoria and sensation,” which, alas, as all the publishers say when they are turning you down after telling you how much they enjoyed reading it, had not happened to me as there was no beautiful young boy I was trailing, that part of my life clearly being over, thank God and Gloria Steinem who to some are the same. What euphoria and sensation I have had have, as the full length-mirror showed me, have come from ice cream and pasta, which I understand now I must give up. Sigh.

But it was a great relief understanding that I am under no obligation to do anything more while I am here than enjoy and explore Venice, especially after making it clear to Citibank that I am really me, since my ATM card had stopped giving me any money until I answered the many security questions as they were sure it had been stolen, since I didn’t inform them, the supervisor told me after a half-hour of my asking to be connected with someone higher, that I was leaving the country(ours.) I didn’t know they were my mother. I only thought they were my bank.

At any rate I relaxed after that,(except I hope I left my Mastercard at the Café 1518 which I couldn’t find out until today since they’re closed on Tuesday and I’d hate to have to go through that grilling again.) Went last night to Arsenale to have dinner with Pietro at his other apartment which a French madwoman he befriended has stolen the keys of and denounced him to the tax police but that is another story. We had some takeaway fish from a junk tied up at the dock(very slow service but good calamari) and he told me the story of his apartment which is magnificent and was the home of the cannon maker from the Lepanto(I think it is) war, which was Christians against the Turks and if they hadn’t won with his cannons Europe would be Muslim, a fear that continues and renews to this day.

Then he walked me to the vaporetto(hoping she wouldn’t come while he was being such a gentleman and use the keys to steal things from or trash his apartment, as she is in a lunatic rage since she made a move on him that he rejected—I told him to explain that to the tax police and use the word ‘erotic’ which would get their full attention). I got off at Ca Rezzonica, my stop, and made my way through San Barnabas stopping at the overpriced and overrated especially by themselves as they advertise the flavor of the month outside ice cream stand, and ordered the very very chocolate for my final cone. The vendor gave me a taste of pistachio which was great deal better than the chocolate. “The test of ice cream,” said an oceanographer standing nearby with some colleagues who have come here for a conference, “is always pistachio. If it’s too green, go away.” My very very chocolate was icy and disappointing, rather like a fudgicle that had been watered. I threw it away half-eaten and did not go back for a redo in pistachio because once you have made up your mind this is the last one, it better be the last one as there are many full-length mirrors in America, to which I will return the 6th of October, as originally planned. There’s no point telling myself I have to write the new novel someplace else.

That burden having been lifted, I awoke this morning strangely light and carefree, so much so that I thought I would take my meditation in the bathtub. There was no hot water.

CORRECTION:To Die So Young and Singing, this one

The nuts at the Hotel Des Bains are rancid. That is the place in the Lido where Thomas Mann lived and wrote Death in Venice., which I had failed to visit on my first visit, trailing his footsteps and the advice of my editor, who said ‘Go get an English edition and then go where he went,’ followed by a second aviso to ‘lighten up.’ Those might seem to cancel each other out, but not really. These have been better days because I am actually looking at Venice rather than waiting for my Meisterstuck. His suggestions were augmented by an Englishman and his wife whom I met at the local wine bar who told me there was a ballet of the classic coming, and also that they had seen La Traviata at La Fenice, where the ballet is going to be but Traviata is no more. So I bought a ticket to Traviata that was to be perfomed last night at the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista- try asking directions for that one. But first I spent some time at the Hotel Des Bains, where I had the rancid nuts. It would hard for nuts not to be rancid at the Hotel Des Bains. It is imposing and impressively ancient, and, I would venture, unchanged since Mann wrote his Meisterstuck there, including clerks in long dark waistcoats and several scenes Stanley Kubrick left out of The Shining. So I sat on that regal porch and had my Aperol Spritz, a seemingly light aperitif to which one could easily become addicted, and the rancid nuts, to which a sensible person wouldn’t, unless driven by a strange intensity and being within hearing range of some people from New Jersey.
I used the ladies’ room downstairs, where the locks are as ancient as the hotel, and turned mine the wrong way. So I couldn’t get out. There was no one within hearing distance, the place is vast, so I had some anxious moments where I imagined it was my end, and the article would read ‘Author Found Dead in the Toilet,’ which is, I’m afraid, a projection of how I have felt about my career of late. But I finally got out and Vaporettoed back to San Marco to the Montadori bookshop which I told you was across from a narcissistic salesman at what turns out moré accurately to have been Hermes, to buy the Blue Guide to Venice, which my friend George D’Almeida who lives in Radda in Chianti said would be like having him with me, always a good idea, as there is little George doesn’t know about everything. When we were very young in Rome where he and Anne were living at the time, and I was living for a year, he gave an eloquent tour of the Sistine Chapel to Julius La Rosa whom I somehow had found, I can’t remember how, probably at American Express. So I bought the Blue Guide(25 Euros) and also a Donna Leon novel about Venice that my friend another Donna had recommended and I really resented because at this time I don’t want to read anything but Masters and myself if I ever produce again. Still, I am trying to follow the fin rouge, the little red ribbon according to Pietro who owns this little house, that connects you to whatever you’re supposed to find and learn. I hope he didn’t get that from the Da Vinci Code.
Then on to San Toma to begin to try and find the imposingly named place above. Grand is indeed the right description: a climb up marble stairs to the main room , a magnificently sculpted Madonna (unless it was the Evangelista, I haven’t read the Blue Guide yet) recessed in the back wall behind the stage where the performers were to sing. Violetta was blonde and actually quite pretty, not fat, a reality that factored in sympathetically when she was somewhat off key. But at that moment it became my madeleine, Proust’s, not my daughter, and all there had been in my life of opera came rushing back at me.
Puggy, my beloved stepfather, had been orphaned in his youth(read The Motherland, The Motherland, available at for $1.19,) and he and his brother had a monumental struggle to survive economically and make it on Wall Street. So when he became wealthy, which he was when my mother married him, he had a subscription to the Met, then an imposing building around 39th Street as I remembered, where we would be limousine on Thursday nights. This was preceded with a formal dinner in their dining room, also imposing, where he would sit at the head of the table and read aloud the Milton Cross book about what happens in what scene, and my Mother would shout ‘Skip, Skip,’ the same thing she would say at the Passover Seder. Then we would go to the opera, and thrilled as he was to be able to afford it, and in such a good row and on the aisle, he would fall asleep.
Later on, as it turned out, my life having been orchestrated better than a novel, he became involved with his son’s ex-fiancee(I never have to make anything up and if that prick Michael Korda hadn’t dissed my wanting to do a sequel, it might exist) an heiress from D.C. whose family had refused to let her marry Mickey, his son, b when they were in college, because he was a Jew. So Mickey tried to commit suicide, cutting his wrists only on the wrong side. Then lo, all those decades later, she came to Puggy for financial advice, my mother accused them of having an affair, so they did, divorce ensued, and he married Kathy, who was, she said and maybe even thought, a singer. I called him once when she was rehearsing for her debut, which he paid for in an invited concert at Spence, and as I remember she was in the background rehearsing. The Mad Scene from Tosca, I think it was, appropriately. Vocally it reminded me of nothing so much as Charles Foster Kane making whatever her name was sing at the opera house in Chicago. I mean he paid for it, Puggy.
So all of this went through my mind as I watched Traviata, the church, or Grand Scuola version, which was quite like a road company, only with a recessed Madonna or maybe Evangelista. The upside was, though, they gave you a flyer before that summarized what would happen, in a more succinct version than Milton Cross, so my mother wouldn’t have had to say ‘Skip, skip.’ I did, however, skip out before the finale, where, according to the flyer, she sings ‘To Die So Young,’ which it constantly surprises me I no longer am.
Then I stopped in at a little garden restaurant and had some terrible fish as I am trying to swear off pasta and ice cream and saw an adorable two year old who reminded me of my Robert when he was that age and irresistible and could also read minds(a nanny we had while we were living in London said she was thinking: ‘Robert, you’re irresistible,’ and two year old Robert turned to her and lisped “Whath irrethithible mean?” She had to lie down for several hours. I took his picture which upset his mother and I apologized. People were always taking his picture she said, because he was so adorable. His name was Akki, and his father is here to do a study at some university on ants. Later I saw them in Santa Margherita, a piazza where hundreds of students were gathered, I thought to have a protest, but they turned out just to be drinking and being students.
Many of them were Polish, two of them were beautiful archeologists, who feel this is the right place to be, because everything is about the past. I’m not sure I think so.

To Die so Young, and Singing

Dante’s Beatrice died of the plague. So probably did Petrarch’s Laura. So it’s a good idea not to get involved with an Italian poet in the age of Swine Flu. Still, having been instructed by my faithful editor and unofficial therapist to “lighten up,” after a day at the Lido and several ice creams, and a Jacuzzi finally taken, I followed, not my heart, but the music, and came upon a jazz band playing their pecs out on the Zattere, their imitation of Ray Charles flawless, and their rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ with sax, electric guitar, keyboard and drums (Batteria, I love that) fine enough so I bought their CD(the Trio Santi Bailer, no matter that there were four of them, the Italians do not insist on accuracy in the face of pleasure) and felt merry, continuing on to a waterside(redundant,almost everything in Venice is waterside) pizzeria. I should have looked at their menu before my last REPORT: it’s spelled UOVA. But then as you may already know, I am not that good a speller even in English. My Olde English teacher at Stanford, Huhbie Merrit(Actually Herbie but his southern accent was very thick) had gone to Princeton with my Chaucer teacher, Joe Herben(no accent); the two of them had been there with Fitzgerald. He asked me “Mees Davis, what you want with a Master’s Degree anyway? I told Scott: ‘If you write well enough, someone will spell fo you.’.
Back at the pizzeria, the wine was watered, so I invited the couple at the next table, really cute Greeks, to share an actual bottle of wine. They were grateful and affectionate, and it was not until the second glass that the girl,Elli, an accountant, said they had to leave because Dimitri, a cafeteria owner, had a fever and was on medication he had to return to his Pensione to take. I tried to remember if we had actually embraced, and wondered if I drank my bottle of Purel I would live long enough not to get it.
Then understanding that we only live once unless the Eastern religions have it right, I continued on to where the lights were even brighter: a cruise ship at anchor. Stopping just before I entered the police station which I guess is there to make sure no one is bringing in drugs or more Libyans, I turned right and heard the strains of a guitar, not that well-played, especially after what I had heard on the Zattere, but a voice was trying for ‘That’s Amore,’ so I went in. A great old guy named Italo played his heart out and the proprietress, a dark-eyed, warm smiling woman welcomed me and a Bangladeshi sold me flashing red glasses with hearts on them, while her daughter, so slender and tall it was a struggle not to dislike her, danced. I had a great glass of wine and met a Croatian,their new chef, whose name is Robert which is my once favorite name, so will go back there tonight, in my struggle to live in the moment which actually works if you can do it, and wake up to the fact that you are in Venice.
Now to the Guggenheim, to buy an English language copy of Death in Venice, as my editor Robert told me to do to get myself out of myself and moving around, suggesting I go to all those places Mann visited in the novel to cheer myself up. I mean, really. You can imagine how depressed I was if he suggested Death in Venice as a spirit-lifter.

The Uova and I

I am so happy to be in touch with you all. It wasn’t easy. Fifty euros and a chiavetti later (that’s the thing that connects you) I was finally able to figure out how to send a personal e-mail, and, piu importante, how to get one back, without using up all fifty euros. All through my so-called career at the Wall Street Journal it was the Reports that kept me sane, or sort of, because as great as it was to go to all those places, and for all the great people I met, I was alone. But I had you.
At the start of this adventure I complained to my daughter and myself that I had never really been anyplace I was, I was so busy writing, or writing about the place, that I never actually experienced it, for all my training with Jack, my beloved Jewru. I had never been there, that is to say HERE, or anywhere when you got down to it.
So determining to be in the present, I screwed myself again, by believing I was in Venice to write, as I had not been able to even try to do in Capranica, though I had managed to fall in love(Samuele was eighteen months old, built like a tank, with a haircut like Aldo Ray, so I told his mother to join Netflix, as if they could find Capranica, and watch Pat and Mike, Tracy and Hepburn for those of you who are young.) But when I wrote(I started the moment I was sort of settled) it was, according to my lifelong editor and friend, Bob, who for all his many brilliant careers was never in the diplomatic corps, ‘awful.’ That is a word that resonates deep in the belly, and when I recovered and spoke to him, he told me to take some days off. “I know you don’t like to think about it,” he said, insightfully, “but we’re not getting any younger.” In other words seize the giorno, and enjoy that you are in venice where a lot of people would like to be. He assigned me Lido, so I went on the vaporetto and found my way to the beach and sat on some rocks and looked at a sparkling sea and waited for an epiphany, but none came. I’d been vegetarianing since I got here, imagining I wanted to live as long as possible so I could write many books and plays and movies and songs, but as I am uninspired I ate prosciutto and melon and prayed that God would forgive me, especially since it is Rosh Hashonah and not give me trichinosis. Then I had an ice cream , rum raisin, and ate only the raisins, oh maybe just a bit of the ice cream, and then when I got to the port I had, oh just half of another flavor. There are no full length mirrors in Pietro’s house, which is either a curse or a mercy. When I got home I took a hot bath, which is a major endeavor, as the water, now that Pietro has fixed it so it’s hot—I had dinner with his parents when it wasn’t, so wanting to be clean but not complain I carried several pots of boiling water(I hadn’t watched them, but they still took a long time) up the slippery stairs, praying the whole time, and finally had enough to at least bathe my parts. Now the water, fixed, comes in scalding, so I have to wait till there’s so much of it and then turn on the cold. This process takes about an hour until the tub is a decent level but I have still not been able to take a Jacuzzi which is one of its adorable if impractical features since you have to get it to exactly the right level or it explodes. The tub itself is also a peculiar shape—if I had paid more attention in Biology I could probably tell you if it resembles a paramecium or something more specific like a sperm, but you have to be very careful getting out or you can’t.
One of the great features of Venice is that they pick up your garbage if you leave it outside your door early in the morning. I saved my really important garbage, the too soft figs I bought from the boat the is on one of the canals every morning and made jam out of, but not the too soft ones, and the shell of the melon, with all its seeds, and some teabags and really unpleasant things and put it out this morning. Elisa, my darling friend, Pietro’s sister, in giving me the tour of the house, neglected to tell me they didn’t pick it up on Domenica, which is today. But the alert apparently went out to the wild roaming dogs, and when I opened my front door this morning, it had been torn to shreds, the contents scattered all over the street. So I had to get down on my hands and knees which also are not getting any younger, and pick it all up, put it in many other bags as it appeared to have many times replicated itself, and then toss soap and water in great pails onto the street, very Anna Magnani it felt like, before mopping it all up.
I am put in mind of Mr. Blanding’s Dream House, though it is missing Cary Grant, or the Egg and I, except they don’t make movies like that anymore, as none of them could star Julia Roberts. For some peculiar reason she was on an Italian TV show last night(I watch TV to try and improve my Italian,) which was kind of, I have to guess, since my understanding isn’t that sharp, the local Oprah, a blonde woman with a basso voice who goes on and on telling the heart-wrenching story of the wife who looked like Lorraine Bracco, and kept reacting with pain and some tears to the story of her and her husband, who was on a different screen, looking abashed at what he had or hadn’t done, and in between there were long close-ups of Julia Roberts looking really moved and patient that it was going on and on and on and only a little uncomfortable that she had nothing to do or say and couldn’t really chew her gum except when she thought nobody was looking. I am assuming she was getting a translator feed, as she did manage to put a consoling hand on the poor wife at a moment of particular related (I’m guessing) anguish. Finally Julia was invited to speak (“now?” I caught her asking) and she first of all (saying “First of all”) congratulated him on having such a wonderful wife, and then told him not to squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube anymore, but otherwise there were no complaints, and then the wife came in in a wedding gown and crown and veil to the music from ‘Pretty Woman’, that song ‘SHE’ which I guess might have been Italian originally or at least is now, and they were allowed to have the wedding they apparently had been too hard[pressed for either time or money to have the first time, and Julia was the bridesmaid. It was all most peculiar, and I can’t imagine why she was there and could not help thinking, the whole time she was looking uncomfortable, that she was saying to herself “I must kill my fucking publicist.”
So that’s all the news from the Chiesa(thank you Howards) close to San Barnaba. I am going upstairs now to try and take a Jacuzzi. Perhaps by now it has cooled off, but if not, remember that I always loved you.

A Non-Death in Venice

So after a most daunting and un-auspicious beginning(there is a reason nobody ever heard of Capranica,) I am settled in my palazzetini(I don’t know if there is such a word, but the lovely Irish couple I met in my local wine-shop said this is not quite a palazzo,being very tiny but charming, and with a back garden,) near the Zattere, which yesterday was still slightly watered down or watered up== there were huge rainstorms two days before, giving rise to(not a pun) ‘High waters,’ so there are certain places in Venice you cannot walk, besides the canals. I have had many electronic adventures, including this one,the wireless that will connect only with a (try and find it in Venice) chiavetti and that erratic, so the e-mail unlike the pony express does not get through. I have no idea if or how many of you will get this. But I want you to know that I am thinking of you and trying to communicate, and if this doesn’t work there is always the iglesi(sp?) just a few meters away where I will send you my prayers, or the synagogue, if I make it to the Giudecca. I am trying not to be obsessed and do something besides my work, because my wise daughter said some eight or nine books ago(see Marriage) “That’s all you ever talk about—your work. You could make a recording.” So I am hoping to really look at Venice in-between trying to write this novel.
People are very calm here, as long as you stay away from San Marco where they get very excited and push, and my new Irish friends think it is because there are no cars so no traffic and much wine so no drugs, but I think it is because of all the pasta. And ice cream. Everywhere ice cream, the best in the world I think. It’s hard not to feel comforted.
I am going to try and send this now so I can get back to(switch on the recording.) Please let me know if you get this, and if not, know in your hearts that I am thinking about you, wishing those among you for whom it pertains, a Happy, Healthy, sweet and prosperous New Year, and the same to the rest of you who believe in everything else or nothing. Love from beautiful downtown Venezia.

In the Cell of Saint Somebody

Well, that was a short visit. Do you get a refund for not staying at that god awful place? And how long will you be in Venice? Can you write the book there? I'm so confused.
After reading your email I wanted to rent a helicopter and fly you out of there. It's like
you're in Somolia. Our heat wave has finally subsided which is a good thing. We had two weeks of almost 100 degrees daily. Miss you and hope everything works out...let me know when you are safely in Venice...

xxx J.

--- On Sun, 9/6/09, Gwen Davis wrote:

Date: Sunday, September 6, 2009, 7:01 AM
This place, where I sleep at least, brick floors, one tiny carpet too small to accommodate my yoga, not that I am that stretched out anymore, reminds me of a hotel I visited in my WSJ travels, overlooking somewhere I hoped I could find Thornton Wilder’s ghost. You know the place, where he was towards the end of his life--I just can’t remember the name, as I never knew where I was going while travel-writing, having no sense of direction and lacking the map-reading gene. Fortunately there were always people to Guide me(I have always relied on the kindness of strangers, and I spoke French=some.) It was West of Arles, that I remember, because I could understand why van Gogh cut off his ear, having spent too many days in that city, which seemed to me to lack a soul. This hotel was up a mountain looking down on whatever town it was, a few mountains in the distance, a garden below my window with a very happy, noisy young Italian family down there having a meal, calling to me to join them.
My room there was called the cell of St. Whoever, the place being a former monastery, all of the rooms and very small suites named after someone who had given their lives to the church, often literally. My particular cell—don’t suffer too much for me, it had become a Relais-Chateaux and there were live lobsters in a tank beside the dining room and you got to choose your victim, Michelin-prepared—was named after a saint who had pronounced the queen a slut or something worse, so she condemned him to death and while he was being Cheneyed, as I now like to think of it, he forgave her, so they made him a Saint, but not in time to stop the torture. I loved that cell. I was deep into a fantasy romance with a pallid youth who lived far away and was scared of me, so it was the right ambiance for yearning, much as I tried to keep it spiritual. The Italian family had a gorgeous brother who at their behest helicoptered down to meet me, I think, though I can no longer distinguish between the facts of my life and the fiction I was writing at the time, but yes, I think he actually arrived there. We had a delicious flirtation, or maybe it was the dinner, but he was a terrible kisser and I was still, though aging, in my late adolescence, so not really interested. But I loved that hotel the name of which is inscribed in an unpublished manuscript—it was really lightweight, as were my feelings at the time—so when I get home(if) I will let you know where/what it is, and what that place was the lights of which twinkled down below.
Today is the Festival of the Patron Saint of Capranica, whatever his name is, even the natives aren’t sure, so I went with Cristina, daughter of the proprietor who is mad at me for not loving it here, into the village, such as it is, to observe the celebration. There were cannon shots, and deafening firecrackers and ponderous brass music not unlike the parade in the Godfather, villagers dressed in short bright orange robes with gold braid carrying the huge gold and brass effigy of their Saint, radiating out from a painted wooden sun, looking almost more Buddhist/Hindu/Whatever than Catholic, it was so elaborate, the saint like Ganesha though missing the elephant nose. Anyway I will try and find out what he did before leaving here, which I do early tomorrow, having been rescued by my beloved friends the Rusconis, Pietro, their son, renting me his apartment in Venice, with a garden yet. There are just two obstacles between me and what sounds paradisiacal, and that is the Autostrada between here and Fiumicino Airport which I don’t know how to find( I have for some reason lost the gracious accompaniment of my host) and then getting to the train station in Rome. Oh, and getting a reservation. Trenitalia is closed on weekends, and online they said my credit card was unacceptable(they don’t take American Expresss, see the ads) and my MasterCard they will let me know within 48 hours if they can accept. Dispiriting as this is, I don’t want you to think I was able to overcome my fear and trembling in front of the computer. Cristina’s boyfriend is an electrical engineer at IBM and kindly did all the www. But even he was unable to get any satisfaction.
So pray for me, those of you who pray, that I will find the airport, not crash on the Autostrada(I did that once in Poggibonsi and broke my wrist in many pieces which offered me a nice exchange with John Updike some months later, at the New Yorker office, as being a golfer he had actually heard of Poggibonsi; as he shook my hand he noticed it was in a sling, and apologizing, asked if he had hurt me, and I told him “Not as much as the accident.) Those of you who don’t pray, visualize me arriving safely in Venice, happily puttering around my garden, being inspired at my computer. In the meantime I send monastic kisses to all of you and promise to let you know what the Saint of Capranica did, besides get the hell out of Capranica.

The Big News About Capranica

Besides that there are fig trees outside my little Casa door, the ripe upside of the locale, no hot water, towels that feel like Brillo and no place you can make a phone call—the checkout girl at the supermarket(where there is only an internal line) felt so sorry for me she gave me the nectarine for nothing, as I didn’t know where to weigh it, nobody has ever asked for a train schedule before from Rome to Venice so I am not sure what will happen when I try to leave, as I’m not sure I can find the airport to return the car and get to the Rome train station, passing on the dusty, barely maneuverable dirt road to I Castagni(the Chestnut)there is La Heaven Club. I took that as a good sign as once I wrote a charming movie about the afterlife for Jeff Bridges and Jamie Curtis with that title(don’t think either of them ever read it) so I thought I might have an unexpected blessing. Turns out La Club Heaven is a wife-swapping club in this place which has not even a cafe to have a coffee in the afternoon
I am hoping to live until Monday morning, having wasted completely six days of my life(“the problem is we think that we have time,” Jack says often in his talks) coming to this place I thought would be the perfect locale to write my great(have I still got it in me?) novel. As it is, I am still fucked-up in time, waking at three in the morning and then dosing myself to go back to sleep and waking at noon. Max Shulman, a darling man, a humorist from my extreme youth said the reason he wanted to be a writer was so he could sleep till noon, but I don’t think he meant after waking in the middle of the night and taking Atarax.
Went with Pepino, the scrabbly caretaker who is very calm and reassuring, to the railroad station to find out about the trains but as noted nobody had ever asked to go to Venice before. It is doubtful any of them have ever left Capranica, except perhaps the members of La Heaven Club who might have been looking for a heated pool. The lovely young daughter of Giuseppe, the owner of La Castagni, Cristina, came to introduce herself to me, and said she wanted to meet someone famous. I must assume my friend Kristin who found this place for me told Giuseppe I was this famous author, why he must be so offended that I fail to find it inspirational. This is sort of a suicidal version of A Year in Provence(Six Days in Capranica) except that nothing works out, and I have not learned to take joy in being here and, in fact, can’t wait to get out but am afraid of how I will get back to the airport to turn in my car, and rush to the arms of my beloved Rusconis who offer me shelter in Pietro’s apartment but first I have to get there.
So much for romantic plans of writing someplace exotic. Stay in your own houses and ask the Muses for clarity.

On the Road Again

It has been a long time since I literally faced something I HAD to do. Looking at the screen of the computer I am too tired to be really bright, too wiped to be ornery, having flown all night from NY to London, privileged to be actually stretched out on a semblance of a bed on the plane, but not comfortable enough to really sleep. I have lost the easily slipped on travel cloak, so apprehension built up in me on my way to this (I hope) great adventure, a country house some miles from Rome where I intend to (will I?) write my best book. The owner, Giuseppe Di Milia, is a retired Italian diplomat who bought it for when he retired for him and his wife, who has sadly died. I told Kristin, my friend who runs the travel service that found the place for me that if this were going to be a romance novel, I would get there and he would be Franco Nero. But it is not my intent to seek or even hope for love. I am fixed on the idea of my breaking through to a novel that is riveting, a tribute, un-put-downable. Tp dp that I must capture my own complete attention, and want nothing but art. Oh, and maybe Justice.

` Just do it.

The owner, Gisussepe, whom I believe to be in his seventies was to have met me at the airport, a gallant suggestion he made when I expressed some anxiety at finding my way to I Castagni myself. But he could not come and instead is sending his son. If this were a Nicholas Sparks novel, (see Message in a Bottle, the movie of which unleashed my first incident of projectile vomiting-really--) I would get to Rome, the son would have a yen for older women we would fall in love to the horror of the father, and, his objections finally overcome,Giorgio or Cesare or whatever his name turns out to be and I would finally get Papa's blessing, and he would go into town(there is one) to buy the ring- her hands(mine) have been bare since the early death of her husband. Whilst(I am on British Airways now) he drives to Rome for the jewel the widow waits, heart beating happily, her romantic optimism , her vanished dream of love restored. Then the son gets killed coming back on the Autostrada. (See Night at Rodanthe: that is his formula, love lost, love unexpectedly regained, and then he dies.) In their mutual grief, as Giuseppe consoles her, they fall in a sort of love, and she pretends to herself that old affection is as good as getting fucked.

I meant to write it last night on the plane from JFK to Heathrow, but I fell asleep, though I imagine if I knew how to touch-type I could have done it with my eyes closed.

ROME!!! There you are outside the window. Speak to me of Eternity, Art, Passion, the Glory of Nature, History, Women who Aspire, Five Coins in the Fountain(it's been a long time, and everything is more expensive.)

Not exactly how it turns out. Giuseppe is kind of a wreck, polite, gentille, showing up in place of his son, unable to drive my car as he has a tendency to stop short since it is an automatic, so I drive it myself. It takes forever, twisting road included, and Capranica is not a town, even, but a grocery store and a pizza parlor and one Gypsy with his wares, socks, potholders, strung on a line across what could generously be called a piazza. We dine in the pizza parlor, and he insists on picking up the check, which I allow him to do since there are, as Nancy Boyarsky predicted, no screens on the windows and no cross ventilation, so stuffy is too understated a word, and there are bees, even though G. promised me, charmingly, 'bugs are not available.' I have of course packed clothes for a Mardi Gras but understand now I can live in a T-shirt, and the pool, gotten to by tracking down an unmaneuverable staircase cut into the earth, with wooden slats, is too cold to swim in. Nothing works, not my cell phone, not the card I bought at the airport for 24 euros, (20 to the saleswoman, her commission for being smart enough to blindside me) and, finally wined out, or wined down, I go to sleep till 3 AM, resorting to prayer that this will not be as bad as it feels right now. I take a sleeping pill and sleep till 11 AM when Guiseppe is gone to Rome, leaving the aged caretaker Pepino to try and work the Internet. We finally get Giuseppe on the phone and he tells me he has never been so offended, presumably because I am obviously so unhappy with his beautiful, primitive country house, where he intended to live peaceably the rest of his life with his wife, who died. I apologize many times but he will not be consoled. I call my great friend in the hotel business, retired, Natale Rusconi for help in re-locating but he is napping.

Pepino and I go to the market where I buy a great deal of wine from Puglia, some vegetables and some sunblock, the thing I was most prepared to bring but have forgotten. Pepino weighs everything(except the sunblock) the terminal at the grocery store is down so my Master Card doesn't work. I pay cash and Pepino tells me Giuseppe is a hysteric, so that seems an indication I must not be.

I return to I Castagni(look it up on the Internet, it looks fucking palatial,) pick some ripe figs from the tree outside my door, eat them, carefully stepping between the over=ripe ones that have fallen on the ground, drink a great deal of NegroAmaro Puglia(really good) and try to believe, as the prophet of profit said, "Tomorrow is another day."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If a tree falls in the Forest, is it allright to torture?

The worst of the weather seemingly having passed, except for some victim trees in Central Park where a renegade wind had carved a path of destruction, I decided to spend a pleasant, humidity-less morning breakfasting at Sarabeth’s, looking across at the trees that still stood, and what was left of one that had gone into making my copy of The New York Times. Thus it was that over Granola and Decaf I got to read some details of the interrogations of the HVDs, or ‘Highly Valued Detainees.’ As I chewed and sipped, there danced before my eyes pressure on the carotid arteries, causing faintings, dousing with 41 degree water, but never for more than two hours at a time, lightbulbs kept on night and day, but never to exceed a certain wattage, nakedness for only so many hours before clothes were returned, threatened rape and abduction of family members limited to minimal and doubtless selected cases, and finally, of course, waterboarding.
The Times, or perhaps it was the report itself re-worded, then delicately goes on to explain that the last has been considered torture since days gone by (they do not cite but I had heard The Inquisition) but there is still some question as to whether and who and how many will be prosecuted, or, more succinctly, if. I suppose if the sun had been beating down more mercilessly it would have been harder to swallow, but as the day was as delicious as the cereal, I munched on. The question is: will Eric Holder, Jr. do the same?
I have always been proud of my country, explaining to foreigners during our aberrant times that America really wasn’t like that, that people cared about each other and the issues, elections were fair and Bush II was a mistake. But this latest revelation of the horrors endorsed and probably conceived by that administration is insupportable, once digested.
I was with a brilliant proponent of the law last evening, and asked what he thought about punishing those higher-ups who openly defied the Geneva convention, no matter how loudly they proclaim they were within bounds. He said he had thought Obama was right, that we ought to just look ahead, not back. But now, he added, the country is so messed up, between health care and people carrying assault weapon and free speech protecting the incendiary rabble-rousers, the same stripe that inspired Timothy McVeigh—that the president, and Justice(the Department and the idea) might as well go after Cheney.
Hear, hear!!! Look, look!!! See, See!!!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


There is a saying, a superstition, probably both, in Show Biz or Life Biz or Writing Biz that when someone falls, buys the farm, or takes a cab as my darling Donnie used to say in avoidance of the word--ok, dies,-- there will be three. My first confrere to go in recent days was Tom Korman, and no fuss was made as he had stopped mattering except to people who loved him which doesn’t seem to count that much in the country we have become or maybe the world we are. The next was Sidney Zion, a smart curmudgeon who had the ability to sidle up to important people and then write about them without making them mad, but who became an avenging angel when his young daughter died in a hospitalized coma because of improper care. It was the mensching of him, because for all the self-interest he actually probably helped other people. I knew Sidney a little from the literary gatherings I was sometimes invited to, or the bars he hung around, or the estimable lawyers who knew us both, or probably Victor Navasky, the one truly generous soul in the literary so-called community. At any rate his name was brought up when I moved back to New York after my young husband died, or my husband died young, whichever is correct and more touching, and Gay Talese with his usual sensitivity about women asked me “What are you going to do for white meat?” and brought up Sidney’s name. We were never more than friends, although that was before he had been ennobled by tragedy, so he would have been more than willing. But I liked him and I’m sorry he had a rough exit.
Today, the third, and a fine lot of space it got in the New York Times which pleases me, and I’m sure would have pleased him, was Budd Schulberg, author, first in my mind, because his was the book about Hollywood we all read when we thought Hollywood might be the place we wanted to be as writers, What Makes Sammy Run, then a number of other works mighty and not so, ‘On The Waterfront,’ and The Disenchanted among them. The last was his novelistic recounting of Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholic falling apart on a project they were working on together(lucky Budd, and he knew it.) I had just read a piece in Esquire, the magazine you had to be reading at the time, about those who shone a little too brightly and then faded or exploded, as had been the case with Thomas Heggen, I think his name was, who wrote the unbelievably successful for a very young man “Mr. Roberts,” and then committed suicide. Budd was mentioned in that piece, probably with reference to his disastrous association with Fitzgerald. I was incredibly young, it seems to me now, although I felt I was already old because I was over 21 and hadn’t yet published a novel, and living on North Doheny Drive in an all-white apartment that allegedly had been Marilyn Monroe’s—I was to use it as a setting for part of the mystery in Silk Lady—and aching for friendships as one is when they first move to LA and is doomed to be for most of the time afterwards no matter how long you stay or how many friends you think you have made, I gave a party. Nicky Blair, a darlingly pushy and anxious would-be actor/friend of the stars/sometime restaurateur and some say pimp, called and asked me if he could invite a few people, among them Cary Grant. (This preceeded by several decades my actual and still magical in memory friendship with him, so of course I must have squealed my assent.) That gentleman never came, but a raft of others did, like a skiff unloading sailors on leave, drinking my booze, meeting my friends the starlets(Tuesday Weld among them-- by today is she Friday?) And, in the midst of all of it, brought by Nicky, was Budd Schulberg.
He was a nice man, somewhat surly with curly white hair, and we got into an actual conversation, which I guess in retrospect he wasn’t expecting, any more than a woman who read. We talked of the piece in Esquire, and I said, finally, that even if Fitzgerald hadn’t drunk himself to death fairly young, the tragedy was less so because in any case “he would have been dead by now.”
Budd looked at me hard, and said “You’re a dangerous woman,” starting out of the garden. “I’m leaving for Mexico.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Mexico,” he said, taking the air out of his own drama balloon. He was back in a little while and stayed for the rest of the party.
I always liked him because nobody had ever called me a dangerous woman before, and it had a dramatic sting to it, especially because the danger was that I thought. He seems to have had a very full life, extinguished at 95, writing till the end of it, dying in the Hamptons and not out of boredom.
I wish him a happy journey if there is to be one, and the peace he will have now anyway even if there’s no After. Cary Grant, when we did become friends, told me that there was nothing afterwards, that he had talked to Peter Sellers after his heart attack where he was dead for a number of minutes and Sellers, a major believer in all things WuWu, had reported back, disappointed, that there was absolutely nothing. I don’t think I fear Death myself; the thing I really fear is lawsuits since they go on forever whether or not you believe in them.
But I do hope the trio that just left us has found some comfort, or, if there’s anything more, that Comfort has found them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


A friend of mine, whom I love, but whose view of life and books is very different from mine, has told me that if I insist on savaging Phillip Roth, which sounds to me redundant or whatever the word is that makes the adjective self-descriptive or excessive, since my dislike of him is not based on his words which are always brilliant, but his complete lack of compassion for and passion that never becomes real love so leads almost always to his savaging of women, from his, as we say in H’wood,POV., brutal and self-absorbed, says I must spell his name correctly, which is with one ‘l.’ So here goes. Philip Roth.
In the same way, I must be careful not to spell Judd Apatow with two “pp,”s as he had created in me a sense of personal loathing for someone I don’t know unmatched since Dick Cheney. I am one who grew up with a great affection for screen comedy, the wit of Preston Sturges, the oversentimental but still compelling work of Frank Capra, the brilliantly subversive satire of Stanley Kubrick, with whom I had the mitigated joy of actually working. He was charmingly mad as a hatter but unquestionably a genius, and the only good thing about his having died too soon is that he didn’t live to see what movies have become.
Which brings us to ‘Funny People,’ that I have just seen on the understated bulletin that appears in the midst of 60 Minutes has captured the weekend box-office.
My very clever, low-on-tolerance-for-crap friend Rex Reed described seeing it to me as only surpassed by bamboo shoots under the fingernails, or perhaps the other way around, surpassing them, and then I read David Denby’s review in the New Yorker, my overly esteemed magazine, and he praised it so highly, saw things in it so deep that I was unable to fall asleep, trying to figure out which of them was right, or whether they had seen the same movie. So I have decided to go myself, today. Tune in later.

LATER: As it turns out, they were both right. It is not quite Dickensian, the best of comedies and the worst of comedies, but there are elements of almost genuine humor and indisputably the pits. But that is, of course, only my opinion, and opinion is what we are really talking about here; there’s a First Amendment, we are entitled to our opinion, and people can’t be pilloried for it, except by an ignorant. confused jury in Santa Monica and a bad trial lawyer. But that is another story, one which my friend at Time Magazine says I must save for my autobiography. Meanwhile there is this movie.
To my surprise, I actually liked Seth Rogen, whom I have hitherto loathed, wondering what he was doing in movies. The easy answer to that is that movies have changed, mostly Alas, and so have audiences, so the ordinary schmuck, which Rogen appears clearly to be, perhaps gives an audience filled with ordinary schmucks the temporary license to believe that they could become comedy stars, as in olden (they ARE) days we could bathe ourselves in the comforting, non-combative darkness and believe that we, too, could become involved with that devastatingly attractive man(they seemed to be) on the screen, or, in the case of the boys who had pin-ups, the woman. The basis for fandom. In Rogen’s case, slimmed down, he still has the aura of Everyschlub. So it could happen to you, as was titled the Judy Holliday comedy when there were still unbelievably appealing cinema comedians, who could actually speak dialogue that was not punctuated with genitalia and excreta, which Funny People is. I stopped marking down the number of cock and penis references when I came to the end of the paper on my pad. But it is beyond excessive, extraneous, and as far as I could see, added nothing to either the humor or the potential pathos of the piece, which it clearly had, though by the wishy-washy finish of the movie Apatow blew it, or as he might want to put it, gave it a blow job.
The story centers around a highly successful comic, played by Adam Sandler, whom I have liked sometimes and sometimes found a cipher, wondering how he ever became a star which since I have heard he is a decent sort and most comedians are riddled with self-doubt , I figure he must fall asleep some nights wondering too. His character, George, is diagnosed with an obscure, seemingly incurable illness, and takes on as assistant, the very self-effacing (especially as he has little self) Rogen, here named Ira, to supply his needs, jokes, punchlines, and sympathy, as he hasn’t any true friends—“You’re my best friend,” George says to him, in one of the better exchanges, “and I don’t even like you.”
I will not spoil the plot for you since there isn’t really one that you can believe, but suffice it to say that Apatow surrenders any real chance to examine the true nature of stardom, ego, as well as what constitutes meaningful relationships, true comedy and love. But there is enough of an attempt to look at what’s funny to warrant a fall-by(more than more than more than enough—the movie is overlong, and even those in the quite packed audience who seemed to be having a really good time, tired by the protracted end of it, left the theater voicing disappointed opinions to which the First Amendment entitles them but it’s thrilling to observe that they were not so dulled by the extended endlessness of it that they could still think.) But these are, if course, the Dog Days of Summer, so one can take refuge in the air conditioning, even if the succor is sort of a dog.
Also I must confess that it is a long time since I whole-heartedly visited a club where there’s stand-up, so perhaps the filth, organs, excreta, and spilt semen is mandatory, part of the scene for today’s young audiences. But I couldn’t help remembering, from eons ago, a stand-up comic who played an army base, perspiration pouring off him as joke after joke met with bored silence; as he staggered from the stage, his manager collared him and taking both shoulders dripping with flop sweat, pulled him to his own chest and cried into his ear, “But Baby! You ARE funny!”

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Best Scenes in Bed

I have received an unexpectedly poignant e-mail from an intimidating writer friend I long admired, never knowing he actually admired me. This is what he wrote:

"OK, I give up and give in. Where are the blogs that keep life sane for so many of us? Where are the reviews of Broadway plays nobody has any attention of seeing for $300 a ticket? Your disappearance is more mysterious than Sarah Palin's plans for the political future."

Had I but known that anyone really needed or wanted or even slightly relished my ramblings, I probably would never have put aside the Blogs. My reasons for doing so were three-fold. First, I remember that Hemingway, whose actual prose I did not that much admire but felt compelled to read and envied because of the lions, the mountains, the bullfights, the wars, the romantic adventures and the public esteem, not to mention the sales, said he never made love during the course of writing a book as he was afraid he would leave his best writing in bed, though I suspect he was not all that good there. As I am revving up to write what I hope will be my best novel, I didn’t want to leave my best writing in blog.
The second reason is that I got a bill from my Tekkie on moving from California that broke down his billing, where he charged like a lawyer, by the hour, a very high hourly rate, and in several instances charged me for that hour when it had only been one phone call, for example, that took five minutes. So when I by mistake deleted my ‘Friends’ list, which made it easy to assault all of you at once, I could not bring myself to ask him to reconstruct the list for me, and a friend who volunteered to help me reconstruct it for nothing, never did(it’s okay, she was not that long, or apparently, that good a friend.) Therefore a combination of my natural thrift, learned from my mother who had lived through the First Great Depression, and feared nothing so much as running out of money except running out of men, coupled with my saving up my juices, led to, or rather, out of my blogging.
The third and possibly most honest reason is that I am basically lazy, and have not allowed myself the luxury of lassitude for lo these many years. Some summers ago I led a Writer’s Workshop at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference where a guest Real Writer (there were many Bogii—I believe that to be the correct plural for Bogus,-- including the man who ran it, an amiable alcoholic who had once run with the bulls and/or Hemingway) was Eudora Welty. I asked her if she wrote every day, and she replied in her quavery, wavery, high-pitched Mississipian, “Oooooooonly when I haaave a project.” I took that as my dictum, if dictum be the correct word, and never again worked every day unless I was immersed in something I hoped would be major, taking exception for poems, all of which were rejected by the New Yorker. Until I began to Blog.
Still the bleat of longing from that unexpected source has touched my heart, or my ego(probably both,) as there is nothing a writer needs more than approval, except a publisher and most of them are dead or made redundant now. I asked my Last Therapist(cue Robert Browning: “That’s my last therapist hanging on the wall, looking as though he wants to help,”) to make me able to love myself unconditionally, just because I was a good person, and not just if I had a work accepted or was engaged in writing something, and he said without hesitating: “Too late.”
It is too late for a lot of things, including finding that Great Love (I already had it, but wasn’t fully cognizant of that fact till it was gone and I saw what was left in the world,) or rescuing my darling friend Tom Korman’s languishing career as an agent/manager with something I wrote that would be “Happening,” and so would give him the chance of being back in action. Pam, Tom’s loving and adorable and level-headed-in-spite-of-living-in-and-around-Show Business wife, called me this morning to tell me that Tom had died. That he managed to stay alive these past few years was a tribute both to his love of the business, in spite of its more or less shutting him out, and Pam’s love of him, never wavering, in a town and so-called society that drops people the moment they stop being of use. He was heavy on humanity, but short on loyalty from those he represented, most of whom he made big stars at which point they dropped him for one of the powerful agencies. He and Sue Mengers, who were partners in New York at the beginning of her now notorious career, represented me when I had my play on Broadway the week my daughter was born, before Sue stole Phyllis Rabb’s Roleidex from her desk at William Morris and struck out on her own, making big waves, one of them Goodbye to Tom, who she never again honored as he deserved to be honored, including with a returned phone call, unless somebody they both knew like Lee Solters died, and maybe not even then. He called her when he heard she was ill, and she never even bothered to call him back, but I am sure she will wish she could call him back now and say how sorry she is, and how much she loved him. I am really sorry, as he was a genuine mensch in a seemingly glittery world that doesn’t have many, never turning ugly, never turning bitter towards those who betrayed him in the least auspicious way, the suddenly unreturned call that lets you know, in spite of all the costly parties you gave when things were good and everyone came, that you are no longer a viable part of the action. But he had a great big heart that finally, quickly gave out on him. I have suggested to Pam that she send his ashes to Sue Mengers, in lieu of flowers.
So I am back in New York where walking in the street is like taking a warm bath, but not one that makes you comfortable, where a darling new friend called me this morning from what sounded like her bathrtub, but it was the traffic splashing by on 30th Street. She is a fabulous woman who carries enough burdens for five 21st Century heroines, a child with learning and attention disabilities, a husband depressed because he has no work, a mother with dementia, and a job she somehow manages to do brilliantly in spite of all, to my never-wavering wonder. If I have any penchant for self-pity, (and what writer doesn’t, with the possible exception of Phillip Roth who converts it to pitilessness?) I am brought up short just reminding myself of her. And of course Tom. As long as you are alive, there is a chance, except of course in Hollywood.
Which brings me to today’s New York Times, which features on the front of the Weekend Arts section, an article on Cary Grant, headed ‘Once Upon a Time, A Real Leading Man.’ As my longtime friends know, I had the privilege of having Cary Grant not only as an actual friend but a fan, which made bubbles in my brain when he would call, as he did often, once we were friends, as he was a telephone freak, had a never-ending curiosity and interest, and, I would venture, the occasional feeling of boredom or loneliness in spite of being Cary Grant, when he would call and go on sometimes for hours. He called me one Sunday at a quarter of eight in the morning, giving the opening salvo that always dizzied me: “Hello, Gwen: this is Cary Grant. Am I disturbing you?” Well, hardly. That day he was calling because there was a review of my poetry book 'Changes' in the LA Times that was highly favorable, and he said he wanted to be the first to read it to me. Sometimes there’s God so slowly.
His birthday was the 18th of January, two days after Don’s, one after Ben Franklin’s, so I used to do a three day Polish birthday, celebrating my three favorite guys. I always invited him to the party for Don, and he never came, but he always called to give him a birthday wish, and when it was my daughter’s birthday—Madeleine was the same age as his late-come Jennifer, who was invited to his party but didn’t come—he sent Western Onion, a costumed trio to sing Happy Birthday to her. He was a true gent. He was really Cary Grant.
The headline, reading as it does, gives the aura of Fairy Tale that he gave off: Someday my Prince Will Come, which he was, on screen and in life. We first became telephone buddies at the finale of the 60s, when he called to tell me that he had had “a devil of a time getting your number from your publisher. I wanted to thank you for sending me this copy of The Pretenders.” Garbage-men didn’t bother to thank me. I had to lie down on the terrazzo floor of the kitchen so my face would cool as I realized it was really Cary Grant. Charles Champlin, then the Arts Editor for the LA Times suggested the screenplay had yet to be written that could bring Cary Grant out of retirement. By that time we were actual friends, so I wrote it, a lively(I think it was) romantic comedy for him and David Niven about two old guys who had both had an affair with the same woman(Irene Dunne, Voice Over, Off-Camera) and now her grand-daughter, eight, was a multi-millionairess and was left to the two of them to court her on a yachting-trip through the Greek Islands, at the end of which she would choose between them. “It’s very funny,” Cary Grant said. “But why are you sending it to me? I wouldn’t want Jennifer to see me up there on the screen, looking so old.” Old he was still the handsomest. I wrote a meditation for men, some years after his death: “ Cary Grant still looks better than you do.”
Anyway, the movie got made, badly, without him—I will not say who played the Grant part because I don’t want any of you to try and find it to see it, it was so awful. I forgave him for passing on it, but I still haven’t forgiven him for dying. The world, as is pointed out in the article, is a much less classy place, and the movies—well, what have we got for Romantic Comedy? Adam Sandler? Seth Rogen? Is it a wonder we have turned our erotic imaginings to vampires?
But to leave the not so wondrous wonders of CelluLa La Land and turn back to the front pages, there is that picture of what the media called the Beer Summit. A friend of mine, a serious journalist at Time, expressed pain yesterday because it was the 40th day since the killing of that beautiful young woman in Iran, and 40 days after death is important in Muslim culture, so there were protests and demonstrations(over a hundred of the earlier protestors have been beaten to death in prison) and here the top of the news was that conciliatory, stupid(can I use that word that Obama wishes he hadn’t?) beerfest. Jon Stewart made reference last night, sotto voce, and seemingly in passing, to the waning days of our empire. Frank Rich wrote that we can’t leave our commentary to Jon Stewart, but I am afraid that is as incisive as it’s going to get. The downside is that who Jon Stewart interviewed was Judd Apatow, the singular force behind lowering movie comedy standards, who first gave us Seth Rogen, moving us a million years away from Cary Grant. The upside is Apatow had the cover of Time Magazine( he showed the mock-up to the camera in his carefree romp through self-adulation) but Obama knocked him off it, with his wished-for program for Health Care. The Downside of the Upside is that Health Care got scuttled by beer.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Gwennie's Most Excellent 4th of July Adventure

Those of you who have known me for some years know also of my (as yet) unproduced musical comedy, about a woman, down on her luck in New York, who crashes parties, looking for love and free hors d’oeuvres. I named my heroine Sylvia, and yesterday, in an effort to pull myself from my summer torpor, I Sylviaed, going in for the second act of Mary Stuart, which I had seen the first act of when my darling Fiona was here from Belfast, and I had been too sick to tough out the entire play, which renewed my admiration for Shakespeare, who really knew how to lay down what was going to unravel later at the same time always moving the action along, something that cannot be said for Herr Schiller. Anyway, I brazened it out(“Your ticket?” “My husband has it,”) and was glad I had gone, enjoying the play not more than one act at a time, bumping into a friend and his friend, livening up the afternoon with frozen margaritas. On the way home I fell into conversation with a young couple who had just come from HAIR, she an artist, he an actor, which brightened up a day I had thought would go uncelebrated, even though it was the Fourth of July, something we had always made festive when Don was here, the nation had a prominent place in our hearts, and the children were still adorable.
I had had an e-mail from a new youngish friend asking me if I would watch fireworks, and had sent a peevish reply that that was something I didn’t do anymore. But lo, as I walked on Central Park South about to enter my building I saw a young woman, very sweet and pretty, wearing a black T=shirt and four long strands of South Sea seed pearls that I had noted that morning, falling gracefully as they did across her bosom, and greeted her, remarking that I had seen her before. She seemed a little flustered, and it turned out that she was from Brazil, an au pair whose brother and mother had flown in from San Paolo for the week; they had locked themselves out of the apartment where they were staying. She introduced me to her mother, whose name was Silvia. Naturally I didn’t need any more reason to come to their aid.
I got a locksmith’s # from our security guard, called and was assured the locksmith was on his way, and we went to meet him at the building of their absentee host, a student of Silvia’s--she teaches Ayengar(sp?) yoga in Brazil. Portuguese is the one language I would yet love to learn, so my good Samaritaning was not without a degree of self-interest. We went to the building, a toney brownstone on East 62nd Street, just a few doors from the Park Avenue synagogue and even more importantly in this alleged culture where celebrity means more to us than God, Joan Rivers. I rang all the bells, and a kind art dealer, a Dane,-- I don’t think there was anyone in New York yesterday from New York(they were all probably in the Hamptons) let us into the building, since he had seen them there before. The locksmith arrived, an Israeli, and I asked if he had gotten his training in Israel but he said, no, here, something that was soon substantiated by the fact that didn’t know what he was doing, pulling what looked like a wide palate knife from his sack and trying to jimmy the door. Silvia, concerned that he would damage it, said that they would go instead to a hostel, where they could stay till getting hold of the maid, due back on Monday.
But it was the Glorious Fourth, and she’d told me her story—like my heroine she was a widow—there’d been a gas leak from the heater in their bathroom when Laisa was seven and Miguel was one, and her husband had been asphyxiated, and it was only recently she’d been able to speak about it, the pain of loss had been so shocking and intense. So we went back to my place, I checked the computer, and found that the fireworks were going to take place on the Hudson River near 57th St. at 9:26(nothing will be left to the world as unfathomable mystery with the Internet, and I suppose that’s a good thing) took a taxi to 12th Avenue and 57th—barricaded, thousands of people and a lot of nervous police(I didn’t think until later that more than crowd control they might be concerned about terrorists) who advised us to go further uptown where there might be a view. We took another taxi to 66th and the river and got there just in time.
My friend who had e-mailed me, Megan, said that nothing could touch Redentore, the fireworks in Venice, but this certainly came close. The exact number of pops and bangs and lights and trickles can probably be found on Google(Macy’s Fireworks, July 4th, 2009) and twas truly a sight to see. Missing was the music(that was further downriver) but I heard in my head The Stars and Stripes Forever, and was tempted to sing it aloud as the crowd oohed and aahed, but contained myself, having broken out in several directions already that day. Afterwards I took them to dinner at Ollie’s, a Chinese noodle place on Broadway, and we called a few hostels(they’d downloaded them at the Apple Store—is there no end to the seeming e-miracles)--when all I had thought to do was call Traveler’s Aid(they were closed for the weekend) and found them a place to stay. They dropped me at home on their way to the hostel, we exchanged numbers, swore eternal friendship and parted, and Silvia said she would pay me back with yoga lessons, when I visit her in Sao(pronounced San) Paolo.
A good, longtime friend I’d called in the country to ask if they could stay in her NY apartment(mine could sleep only one, even with yoga mats, of which I have two) said to be careful, that if they were Brazilians visiting here they had money, and I shouldn’t be so generous, and then there is my wonderful friend Gary the attorney who long ago told me not to confuse what is insane with what is fascinating(best public example: Sarah Palin) But anyone who can articulate the way your bones interlock with your soul when you do Ayengar yoga cannot possibly be a bad person. Even more important, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I appeared strangely younger, as if an act of kindness had stripped away, if not some years, some cares. The other night I saw again ‘The Wizard of Oz’, when Frank Morgan looks in the crystal ball and describes Auntie Em as ‘careworn.’ And I could not help but think how much more poetic it seemed to have suffered the years on the farm in Kansas, rather than in the great cities of the world, where we get to become simply ‘old.’

Monday, June 01, 2009

REUNION: Priceless. For everything Else, there's Mastercard

There is much to be said-- everything in fact-- for being with people you have known since the beginning of your adult life, to whom you have to explain nothing. There is only the joy of seeing them again, the embrace, the how are you? the not even needing to tell them what you have been doing, what prospects there are. To be alive at such times is enough, to be able to be who you really are.
So it was that I arrived at my Bryn Mawr Reunion-- I will not say which one it was, as there is a sense of embarrassment in our society at growing older, instead of realizing how lucky we are to have lived this long, gotten this far. Bryn Mawr, with its majestic Gothic buildings, the old M. Carey Thomas library now called 'The Great Hall' which indeed it always was even when we sat in little green-lit cubicles studying, fearful of dropping a pencil as it sounded like a thunderclap and a sneeze echoed forever, the Cloisters where legend had it Katharine Hepburn swam nude in the little pool the night before Comprehensives when Truth was we all did, for luck, the weeping cherry tree cut into the shape of a palapa, offering shade-- everything so preened and perfect, flags waving from the towers, it is lucky the eyes are still working, and the heart can remember how it felt to arrive there the first time, and be so overwhelmed, so intimidated, it was hard to see-- well, secondary anyway,-- how beautiful it was.
Lovely(although one shouldn't probably use words like that, as Feminists prevail)pink-shirted young undergraduates were there as helpers, a fantastically impressive woman, Jane McAuliffe, specialist in Islam, is the new president,and it is only right to feel a sense of pride to have gone there, and actually gotten through. There was no Phi Beta Kappa at Bryn Mawr, as we were told, on entering, that to graduate from there was the equivalent of Phi Bet Kappa anywhere else. AMEN.
A Hepburn quote is painted on the wall of the Campus Center: 'As long as you do what really interests you, at least one person will be pleased.' Amen to that, too. Would we had all learned that lesson, especially me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Tree Still Grows

When I was a very little girl, the big Bestseller (capitalized in my mind even then) was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My mother in her never-ending hope of Upliftment(of the material kind) was a social director at a hotel where its author, Betty Smith, was a guest, and telling her that her daughter, then maybe around eight, wanted to be a writer, succeeded in getting her to write to me. I remember the way the letter looked, all carefully typed and single spaced and filled with kind advice, none of which I remember now, but all of which I hope I took. I treasured the letter for years but so many years have passed I haven’t a clue where along the line I lost it, but then I lost wedding pictures, too, not to mention the people in them. But I do remember almost as clearly as if I were reading it now that her main counsel was to look at everything, and take it all in, and when I wrote about what I saw and felt, to write from the heart. I think she told me to love people, but I might just be being fanciful, because it was so generous of her to bother writing me, and single spaced at that, and hers was—this I do remember for sure—a wonderful book.
But I had never been to Brooklyn until yesterday. It was, almost as though prescribed, a remarkable day. The one before it had been too hot, and today is too cold, but like Goldilocks I was ushered into a day that was JUST RIGHT. There was a soft wind blowing off the waters which I had never really noted were nearby in spite of this being an island—at no time during my life have I had a sense of geography—even when traveling the world for the Journal I never knew exactly where I was, but the kindness of strangers, etc. and a lucky gift for language got me where I was going. Yesterday though I had a wonderful guide, the husband of a new friend who has a palpable love for his borough, and gave me details even The Museum of New York would be hard-put to match(”There the house of Diamond Jim Brady, who was mayor, and there his mistress, a dance hall girl.”) Children did not play in the streets, but there were acres of green they might be hiding behind, and parks and cemeteries to take care of all the city’s no-longer-living history, including someplace to bury Boss Tweed, and Leonard Bernstein, returned there by his own request.
My hosts live in a red-doored brownstone, with polished wooden floors, a real house with nooks and a stained-glass skylight, a backyard where Francie Nolan might be playing even now. There is that neighborhood feel to it, that somehow you just can’t get in Manhattan where I once lived in a high rise and never met anyone else in the building until I had my hair cut at Dusty Fleming’s in LA and the woman getting shampooed in the next chair was from my New York floor. Yesterday being Memorial Day Brooklyn was quiet, the storefronts closed, Weight Watchers along with those selling what would ruin their determination to slim down. But we found a charming almost sidewalk café—that is to say, it had sides that opened and there were two tables on the sidewalk, so Mimi, who was present, could come along as though we were actually in Europe, Greece in this case, with a menu that had a water-color rendering of – was it Santorini?—someplace magical in Greece, and we drank retsina and had almost Spanikopitas(it was spinach pie) and something cheesily pleasing in dough. So it was all breezily Mediterranean, and a fine memorial to the diversity that still makes up New York, especially if you cross the bridge.
I wish I knew where that letter was.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


So apparently Mother Nature is attuned to cyberspace. Having read my report that the first Robin Redbreast retreated in the chill, she released Spring today to the full. As if by a signal, Forsythia burst from the barren branches, violets carpeted the sidelines, dancing along with the daffodils, while, though you could see the forest for the trees(elms along the Literary Walk, twisting skyward) you couldn’t see the grass for the people. It was a true release, as if everyone had been let out of jail. Locals, tourists, Mimi and I, plus a brass combo, trumpet, slide trombone and tuba, playing (What a surprise!) When the Saints Go Marching In, were part of the explosion. A Yugoslavian bride with her retinue of coffee-silk-clad bridesmaids and silver-beaded traditional-costumed flower-girl, caught the blessing and saved a fortune, having her wedding in Central Park.
Though the Literary Walk ¼ offends me—FitzGreene Halleck, so obscure that he was not even taught by the boring poetry teacher at Stanford is there along with Bobby Burns(no argument) Sir Walter Scott(a little plodding, but he did his job) and Shakespeare(no question), the four who are honored with statues, there is no disputing it is as glorious a park as exists anywhere. Especially on a day like today, one of which the poets would sing no matter on what level their gift.
Earlier than that, I had joined with two lovely new friends, one a bright PR writerperson who blogs, and a would-be writer and sweet spirit I picked up on the crosstown bus, to have brunch. The blogger(Single Gal in the City) had the patience to drag me into this century, so I am now on Facebook, and from now on you can go directly to as I will not be sending these individually to anyone except those who are Century-Impaired.
So as the sun sinks slowly in the West, not so fast as the West would have sunk under another Republican Administration, let us bid goodbye to our charming but antiquated ways, stop grieving over Michael Crichton who easily would have understood all this shit, and hope that his spirit will endure even though ER is off the air and there will be no more Jurassic sequels, and he will drop a little futuristic and technological savvy onto my head, and the understanding, along with the words, will flow.