Monday, January 28, 2013

A Metaphor for Peace

    I awoke this morning to a gently falling snow, though it's hard to tell how gentle it really is from inside this studio.  The buildings, rooftops I see from my little terrace-- don't worry, I'm not going outside-- are less than lovely, truly un-enhanced by the great monstrosity that caused the major crisis after the storm, with its dangling crane.  There are ropes and cables and ladders--- hardly the view Matisse had from his window, poor though he may have been, of Notre Dame, that I have on a postcard a new Brazilian friend gave me, stuck into the frame of the painting in front of my desk.
   But the flakes themselves, tiny, with enough space between them to qualify as individual snowdrops, are curiously soothing as they fall.  It is only when the wind picks up and sends them rushing in the same direction, that they stop being a source of tranquility.  So I see that as a metaphor for people, and realize what makes New Yorkers seem both distant and not present is that they are driven.  All on their way to something, rushing.  Nobody really where they are.  Including me. So "pure as the driven snow" might not really be a state to wish for.
   I am in the midst of a crisis so stark that even the most sanguine among you would feel a rush in the blood, and not necessarily the good kind.  At exactly the same moment, something I have wished for most of my adult life shows signs of possibly coming to be.  My lovely friend Fiona, a psychologist in Belfast, where there's usually more reason for anxiety than here, says that stress comes in good and bad- so we are affected(effected? I never can be sure)by both in less than wonderful ways.  I know that if I were to write what is happening now, the bad part, I would be thrown out of the window by my once editor, the lovable madman, Don Fine, in a rage because it is too unbelievable, at the same time it is cliche.  I don't think even a TV show would accept it, it is so horribly banal, at the same time it is excruciating.   But then there is the good part, so my day is a struggle just to stay calm and allow it all to unfold.  I should learn to imitate the snowflake, the one that simply sits on the air.  If only.
   Yesterday, in the incredible cold, I went to the 3 PM showing of QUARTET, the new film directed by Dustin Hoffmann, that features, stars, holds up for admiration, scores of British elders  as musicians in a retirement home, most especially Tom Courtenay who still looks exactly like the young Tom Courtenay, only old, and Maggie Smith, who it never mattered what she looked like.  I went the last minute, just before three, as I didn't imagine there would be anyone else going.  To my surprise and only a moment of discomfort, I could hardly find a seat.  To find the right adjective to rant joyfully about the movie seems, for the moment, out of my grasp.
   So I will tell you my little Maggie Smith story.  No matter how my life has gone, smoothly(not very often), or with jagged points in it that seemed to be aimed at my heart, I have had the good luck/curious destiny of encountering some of the fabled people on the planet, and in some instances become actual friends with them,(eg: Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, and right in the midst of Watergate, my neighbor who had just moved in and came to ask to use my telephone, John Dean.) Gene Kelly was my dancing teacher in Pittsburgh when I was two.  You get the idea.
   I wrote a movie that I intended to have star my unexpected bonanza of a buddy, Cary Grant, and David Niven.  It was bought by David Niven, Jr. for his dad.  But Cary, which I still feel odd calling him, he was so impeccable, didn't want his daughter to see him on screen "looking old."  The movie was made without him, and someone sadly unsuitable in his part, all of it badly directed and rewritten, by Bryan Forbesm a man who had the balls to tell Larry Gelbart he didn't undertstand humor. But there was added a Nanny, and who played her was Maggie Smith.
   Part of my deal was tickets to the French Riviera for me and Don and my still very young family. So we went.  And besides the glory of the locale-- we quickly fled the one where they were making the movie, and, at the suggestion of my smart, loved friend the Time magazine journalist Sandra Burton, later to be murdered in Bali, who said "Everyone says 'St. Tropez, c'est finis' but I think you'll like it," went to Saint Tropez.  But while we were still in Nice, I got to hang out a little with Maggie Smith, and she was all you'd expect Maggie Smith to be, including lending me 50 francs to make a phone call.
    So when a season or five (I don't remember) later, I saw her in London in a play, in which she was (Surprise!?-not really) magnificent, I went backstage to say hello, and paid her back.  "Fifty francs," she said, looking down at the coin with her remarkable eyes. "How squalid."
    I mean to tell you, she was really Maggie Smith.
    When I came out of the theater yesterday, pumped, elated, at the same time saddened, because what the movie is about, besides being a touching love story, is growing old.  For all we might have been aware of death, nobody told us about growing old.  I talked to my once, still great editor Bob Gutwillig about writing about it, but we both agreed nobody would buy it, because that would be an admission they were getting old, and much of getting old is about denial.  Still, you couldn't tell that from the people waiting in line, in the bitter, bitter cold.  All of them, at the least, older.
    The line was very long, and it would be a while before the theater was cleaned for the next showing, and there is no waiting room inside.  But I said to one tall, still lovely woman waiting there, shivering, "It's worth it."
    She looked at me with tired but unremittingly bright eyes, and said "Is it?"
    "Absolutely," I said.
   You must go.  But go carefully.