Thursday, August 31, 2006

The escalator's broken heart.

In the Union Square Barnes and Noble, the night before I left New York, we looked for poetry handbooks. The literature is to the right of the escalator. I knew this. I know the layouts of major bookstores in major cities; it's one of the things I do. But in bookstores with other people, I get self-conscious, worried about whether I linger too long or seem to spend too much. I hurry too much. I doubt myself. We actually checked the store directory when we reached the third floor and still hadn't seen the fiction and poetry sections. They're on the fourth floor; I had been heading directly to them, drawn, pulled. I have haunted those sections before.

On the way back down the escalator, a few minutes later, I looked to my right and saw, affixed to the plexiglass barrier between escalator and open space above the third floor, the small black sticker with the small red broken heart on it. The black sticker looked almost like a word bubble from a cartoon. The broken heart was small enough that you might miss it in your passing, especially if you were occupied in some way that didn't involve looking around. "Oh," I said, "back there, there was a broken heart beside the escalator." She encouraged me to go back and take a picture. I was reluctant, hurrying and doubting myself, worrying that there was no time. She sent me back up the escalator; I had to limp to get there, having smashed my toe earlier in the afternoon. On the way back down, even with my camera drawn well in advance, I almost missed it.

Who affixes her broken heart to a transparent surface in a bookstore? Does he carry a packet of stickers around and defiantly leave one behind when the barriers get to be too solid? Do they travel together, plotting the best places to stick reminders for anyone who might have dismissed thoughts of a broken heart from her mind, from his hands?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sung in stone.

The chapel bells, audible all through Gambier, toll only the hour from midnight on, until the daylight washes back. The quieting of the other bells, attendant on the quarter-hours all the rest of the day and early night, is meant to help the village sleep. The slow lownesses humming northward to my ear help me know I'm not asleep, that I'm still here, that the village is still here, that we are still rung round with each hung bell's bow swung finding tongue to fling out broad its name. One thing and the same, you see? What I do is me. For that I came.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

With witness I say this.

Elegaic is not the wrong word for the way I'm feeling this evening. Walking back to the officehouse after a late-afternoon meeting, knowing that my day was still just beginning, I realized how cool the day had become, and how grey. I realized that I should have taken myself up on the idea of grabbing that sweater that I abandoned on the porch two nights ago and rediscovered this morning as I was leaving for class. I realized that at some point during the evening, I'd need to stroll home to put on warmer clothing. And the idea seemed strange, which led me to yet another iteration of a realization I'd started having earlier: that once again I have become so acclimated to a season that signs of its incipient end come as a shock.

After office hours this afternoon, I packed up and headed out to town for my mail and (I thought) a coffee. Instead, I scored the last quesadilla lunch at the coffeeshop and read a bit of Jonathan Lethem's article about Bob Dylan in the new Rolling Stone (which I have a subscription to for reasons that I can no longer recall). The day kept threatening rain outside. A man started making the rounds of the coffeeshop, asking everyone in sight whether the red Volvo outside were his, were hers, were the property of anyone in the shop: his child had just e-mailed from Florida to say that he'd bought the same model car, and this man wanted to talk about its five-cylinder engine and sporty red styling, such an incongruity in Gambier. Someone walked in with a brightly colored sweater slung over his shoulders, preppy style, and I thought of my young friend who affected that look in jest one evening this summer, just to see what people would say. (And that, in turn, had made me think of a former, somewhat self-loathing somebody who despised hipsters and would have growled unfairly, in response to either of these young men's slinging sweaters over their shoulders, "Fuckin' hipster.")

Soon, in other words, I found myself overfull of not only the delicious (cheese, potatoes, beans, guacamole) but also the borderline-banal. But heading back to the officehouse, I realized that I have been meaning to photograph the strange preautumnal fruits of the trees whose flowers I showed you all spring. I don't understand these trees' putting forth fruit now, I thought to myself, forgetting pumpkins, forgetting corn, forgetting fall harvests altogether. Why fruit just before fall? I got out the camera and took many pictures.

And now, much later, I think to pull out my Audubon guide to trees, wherein I discover that the trees I have called cherry trees are in fact some variety of crab apple--probably, given my location, sweet crab apple, the common crab apple of the Ohio Valley. Those spring flowers were apple blossoms. Apples are another fruit whose fall harvest I've forgotten. The temptation is too much for me to resist: how do you like those apples? Looking at the signs before me now, I wonder how I didn't know before that these trees would bear this fruit.

Walking home around 9 p.m. to change my summer skirt for a pair of jeans and to add a sweatshirt to my top, I saw what may turn out to have been my last firefly of the season. I watched for a second blink, but there was none, and suddenly I was back in the summer again, thinking about the nights of fireflies, the nights of trees full of them, of fields and foliage illuminated by their syncopated blinkings, of their phosphorescence streaking my vision as I watched landscapes melting away from the backseats of speeding cars in which I rode. I think of the uneven waves of them at which I gasped, in which I sat, at which I marveled. I fear the blink of an eye that will take my days away from me now, four months at a time, until I watch for that second blink and there is none.

And so, just so, did the signs of fall's arrival started turning up and down all around me today--first falling leaves, cartwheeling through the open air; first rednesses, appearing without fanfare at the fringes of the burning bush; first full realization of just how early the darkness settles over my village now; first bite in the evening air hinting at nights when I will wish I'd driven to the office, if only so as not to have to walk home with my chin crammed into my coat collar. Had I driven tonight, I would have missed the hurrying whisper of the leaves that will soon be gone, and the newly resumed nightsounds of our returned students, and the loveliest startle of my day: two shapes on the lawn of a dormitory, right under the window of the room where I lived so many years ago, suddenly resolving themselves into doe and fawn, feeding near midnight. Somewhat uncharacteristically, the doe was the placid one tonight. It was her younger companion, the one who hasn't gone through a fall yet, who was unnerved enough by my sudden appearance that she stopped eating and watched me as I stopped walking to watch her.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rain in morning, fog in night, rain in late night.

For the first day of classes, precipitation everywhere: a day so humid that when it stopped raining, the air choked on the desire for it to start again. Everyone was a little giddy, some people sodden. Guiding discussion, photocopying, scurrying, grabbing food for an impromptu advising session / office picnic, movie-screening, negotiating class lists: it all added up to thirteen hours away from home, a departure in grey wet light, a return in the dark-white of night fog and damp.

There's something quite gratifying about being pulled back into the circles of a common purpose, and of a common purpose multifaceted and capacious enough to hold us all in loose embrace as we spin out to follow our senses of what is needful.

Tonight I will fall asleep to the hiss and ground-slap of a shower.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Free advertising for my beloved Hem.

Oh, oh, oh: only nine days until the new Hem album debuts. Right now, the band's website has a pre-order deal: place an order before September 1 at 3:30, and they'll not only send you the album super-quick (i.e., on the release date, if you choose express shipping) but also autograph the liner notes. You can hear samples of the album's songs here.

I don't know about you, but when an unequivocal good presents itself to me, I don't question it.

[A half-hour passes before she discovers...]

Oh! Though the album isn't due out until September 5, if you go to iTunes you can download it right now! Oh! It's the best night-before-the-first-day-of-school present ever!

source for tonight's image: Hem's website.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

In praise of imperfection.

I turn to no one as I turn to Hopkins.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--
      For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
      Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
          And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
      Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
          With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
                                                          Práise hím.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, August 25, 2006

A new Frankenstein.

Preparing for the upcoming semester means, at this stage, watching a lot of movies. Some of them are pretty bad. The one I'm watching right now, for instance, is pretty bad: it's Santo contra la hija de Frankenstein (1972), a lucha libre film featuring Frankenstein's weirdly wannabe-dishy daughter Freda and her quest to obtain the youth-giving blood of Santo the masked wrestler. Right now, Santo and the sister of his girlfriend (Norma) are outside a police station. They're trying to find the person who's kidnapped Norma. Freda Frankenstein has had her henchmen kidnap Norma. It's all a trap, see? Eventually, I think that Santo is going to end up wrestling Dr. Frankenstein's creation Ursus (or is that Truxon?) (a man whom, it seems, she's both made from many corpses and started turning into a gorilla: suffice it to say that he's bestial, and beefy). The doctor's henchmen stand around in skintight red shirts. Dr. Frankenstein wears a black leather miniskirt. Even for 1972, this movie is crazy.

Perhaps my favorite film version of Frankenstein is I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), in which the eponymous doctor preys upon teenaged victims of car crashes to get perfect young flesh for his man-making experiments! Truly! Eventually, several people get eaten by the alligators (!) who live in the dungeon (!!) under Frankenstein's laboratory.

Norma is getting terrorized while I type. Fortunately, like all versions of Frankenstein's creatures in the movies, this movie's creature is afraid of fire and can thus be controlled by means of a brandished torch. Norma is also wearing a leather miniskirt (hers is brown and kicky and fringed!). Now that she's not being chased by a corpse/animal/man, she's free to run around screaming and being terrorized by bats on visible wires. Meanwhile, Freda Frankenstein worries that Norma will make it to the police, in which case the laboratory will have to be blown up with the ominous sounding "red switch."

Santo, meanwhile, seems implacable, unflappable--even suave enough not just to reassure but even to flirt with his girlfriend's sister.

Did I mention the brigade of men in tight red t-shirts? Did I mention that Freda (whose hair just changed in utterly confounding ways) pumps them all up with youth serum? Or that she has to inject herself with the serum in order to keep her weird version of fetching looks?

Did I mention (surely you already know by now) that Santo is a masked Mexican wrestler?

Oh no! He's just been captured by the tight-red-shirted men! Now he is at the mercy of the white go-go-booted Freda, who says, "So you are Santo.... With my science and your skill we would be invincible." And now (because of course he refused her), he's fighting with Truxon. In his silver mask (did I mention that his mask is silver?)!

I'm not sure how much more of this I can take without an interval of sleeping.

Saturday morning's postscript: Did I mention that these women--Norma and her sister Elsa--run around kicking some ass (though not so much that they still don't need to be saved by Santo on occasion) in miniskirts and little bouffantish hairdos? And try out this snippet of dialogue:

Santo (to man in Jeep): Would you be so kind as to take these women to the city?
Man in Jeep: It will be a great honor to serve you, Santo. You are my favorite wrestler.
Santo: Next time you see me fight, go to my dressing room. I will be pleased to see you again. (looks to Elsa and Norma) Get in, girls. (they get in; the Jeep drives off)

And with twenty minutes to go, Santo has removed his shirt so as to bind up the stake-stabbed chest of one of Freda Frankenstein's creatures. He now runs through her underground lair in his silver mask and grey pants, his massive chest glistening even in torchlight, even in near-total darkness. "Doctor!" one of her henchmen cries, "It seems like somebody is in the secret tunnel!" Did I mention that Freda Frankenstein's go-go boots match her suit? This movie is a masterpiece of the inexplicable.

Source for tonight's image: Cinema Diabolico.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

So much building, so many stories.

Today, not quite greatness. There is so much still to design, to construct, and now it is nearly Friday once again. But we do what we can, and then we go to sleep for a little while, get up in the morning, and do what we can all over again (after we introduce ourselves and our courses to nervous, eager new students first thing). And through it all, we keep feeling glad to see more and more of the students we already know and cherish, as they pop up all over the place. And we keep feeling glad to have so very much in the way of caffeinated beverages and clean mugs stocking our office. Or perhaps I'm just speaking for myself, there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Moving books.

I have a pile of poetry books growing massive in my living room. I am gathering together all of my poetry, all of my volumes. Partly, I want to see how much I have. Partly, I want to try moving it all to a set of shelves where it can all live together. But now, I am feeling staggered: there is so much. I don't know where to put it. And not knowing where to put all this poetry leads me to a bigger problem, which is that all of my poor books are simply shelved wherever they landed when I moved here. And to another problem, which is that my intellectual leanings all pile onto one another, refusing to separate out cleanly: I don't know whether to pull all of my nineteenth-century poetry--all my Oxford Authors volumes, all of my Cornell Wordsworths, all of my anthologies--off the shelves so that they can reside with the twentieth-century poetry.

I always know that big things are afoot when I start to move books around this much, this intently. Now, given that tomorrow we robe up and welcome a new class of students to this place, and given that I made a run to town for snacks and coffee and tea with which to stock my office for the beginning of the semester, and given that today was an even more populated day than yesterday (every time I turned around, another student I haven't seen since May had materialized, often with parents in tow), I don't really need this personal symptom to figure out what's up. And so, while I'm stacking poetry volumes, I'm also screening version after film version of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, preparing for one of my classes. (The Polanski version (2005) is worth seeing, I can tell you.)

Tomorrow, greatness.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Simmering back to life.

This morning I awoke in my own bed, as if on cue, at precisely the moment that that small cube-calling boy might have materialized beside my sleep-smothered eyes. It was perhaps the fourth time I've awakened in my own bed in a month. When I sat up and looked out the window, I realized that I had forgotten what my neighbor's landscaping looked like--forgotten it so irrevocably that simply staring at it roused no memory of where its features had been before I absented myself so severally from my own dwelling.

Strangely, this experience was not melancholy.

I wrapped up my afternoon and gave it to my job like a present, like the tub of mail that awaited me at the post office. The afternoon opened each hour, one by one, and the contents of several ended up in the recycling bin, but the contents of more ended up strewn into my near future: two syllabi are nearly done, a third is finally coming into being, and I can see the surface of my office desk for the first time in months. More books arrived in my absence, as did more catalogs, more magazines, more LRB personals. And more people: the officehouse is starting to hum, and students are starting to shimmer into being off in the peripheries of my vision. The countdown to the academic year is quickening, but so is my eagerness.

And do you know what? The dragon has disappeared again, after having stayed put for a very long time. I take this as a strange sign of the year's renewal.

Today's poem at Poetry Daily is worth checking out. (I'm talking about Eliot Khalil Wilson's "White Slip on the Paris Metro," in case the link has changed overnight--but I think it's actually Wednesday's poem.) I thought I was in the process of writing a subway poem, in the aftermath of my trip, but now I'm not so sure; I'm a little stopped short by this one (not to mention a crisis of confidence that I can only hope will be swift to pass).

Monday, August 21, 2006

A trip!

I find that my beloved Brooklynite's small son's locutions are running through my head like a soundtrack tonight. It's strange, as it is always strange, to have returned from a journey to which I so looked forward for so long and to realize that it's now over, and that everyone where I just was is now carrying on daily (and nightly) life as usual, just as I'll be doing tomorrow, once the fatigue of the journey and of my Columbus-area errands wears off. Tomorrow brings us our first doings as faculty members for the year; I have syllabi to work and rework; there's all this unpacking to be done. It already feels surreal to think that this time yesterday I was preparing to lay myself down in a fifth-story bedroom in Brooklyn, and that fifteen hours ago, a small boy was ushering me to consciousness by crooning "A bus!" "Oooh no!" (while reading one of his favorite books) "The train?" and any of a number more things that he loves to sing out in his inimitable way. He is the best alarm clock. When the iPod wakes me up tomorrow morning, I will wish I were rolling over to find a two-year-old (blurred by my myopia) standing beside my bed, possibly asking, "The cube?" (his favorite object in the world being a musical cube), in the moments before his parents catch him back from the guest room door and return him to his morning play in the happy living room.

Leaving New York City always saddens me a bit. I don't know whether I could ever live in the city, but I do know that some of my dearest people and places are there, and when I miss them (which is always), I miss their city, too. And when I return to their city, I love it because it is returning me to them.

I told my friend last night, as we headed into the restaurant for dinner, that the thing that always makes me panic in Manhattan (less so in Brooklyn) is the feeling that something extraordinary, something utterly life-changing, is happening one block over from where I am, but I'm never quite sure which way to go in order to find and join it. She kindly and (as is her wont) sagely enumerated for me the range of terrific things to which I gravitated during my week of urban play. It's true. It's also true that I always expect an unrealistic amount from the city when I'm there--not least, I think, so that I can feel truly, deeply grateful to find myself speeding down a rural highway upon my return, greeting the barns and the slow cows and the cornfields topped with tassels of dustiest gold. Now I miss my friends. But I am back with my landscape.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rings and rays, sunspots and shadows.

A day of multifarious urban-domestic goodness today: a delicious brunch of Brooklyn bagels and lox, plus the frittata and peach galette ("peach what?" our fellow diners asked; my beloved Brooklynite and I explained the concept of the galette repeatedly; it never took) that we cooked upon first awakening. A stroll home through Prospect Park, drowsing through an afternoon of escalating heat until we finally reached home and proceeded to crash out, one at a time, over the next two hours. A late-afternoon journey out to the Prospect Park Carousel. A further journey to the Botanic Garden to watch the S train's comings and goings. And then the day's one off moment, when (in my own excitement to see the S train again) I stumbled onto a 6" platform and, in my falling, managed both to dip my camera briefly and shallowly in a tank of water and also to stub my big toe badly, leaving me limping all over the place as my beloved Brooklynite and I went in pursuit of a tasty last-night-in-New-York dinner (which we found at the delicious Chat 'n Chew near Union Square). Hooray that I don't have to make connecting flights tomorrow. Hooray for Aleve and bags of ice. Hooray for friends who know the perilous wonders of torturing oneself by reading lists of symptoms on WebMD.

Hooray for quiet reading after dinner. Sunday evenings have always been my favorite times with my Brooklynite friends (other than celebrating the shabbas). We are all together. We are all doing our own things. And we are all together. It's not always an easy combination to get right. We get it right in spades. I will read until my friends go to sleep, and then I will read until I go to sleep. And then I will awake to the sounds of their small son at his windowsill post, singing the trains out of the station one by one, and after too short a time he will sing a train that will be entering the station for me to board and begin my journey homeward.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The bridge.

To be settled in Brooklyn once again comes as a surprising relief. With two former students (city neophytes) in tow, I made a return pilgrimage to Poets House today, not long after having strolled through much of SoHo and a bit of Little Italy. I continue to be amazed that I did not know this lovely and serene place before, though how or when I would have heard about it, I'm not sure. What I do know is that if I were going to be in the city for an extended amount of time, I'd be spending some considerable amount of it at those tables, with those volumes.

I have long had a problem with traveling to cities which have many bookstores; when I was still visiting Chicago on a fairly regular basis, I would come home (on the train, on the plane) with stacks of used books (one of which actually birthed my dissertation project; one never knows where the spark will be). My suitcase would generally be almost too heavy to lift. Sometimes it was bad enough that I would pack a separate box of books and carry *that* on the plane, or check it through to wherever I was returning to. This trip's endgame is going to involve some sleight of hand in the packing department, I fear, as I continue my late summer project of amassing things related to the newest dimension of my vocation.

On the way home from Manhattan this afternoon, I finally broke down and did the thing I've always wanted to do but have always felt too dorky to try: taking some pictures from the Manhattan Bridge. It's a tricky thing to try: the bridge's girders intervene between your camera and the lower Manhattan skyline in an inconvenient way, and it's more difficult than you might think to get the Brooklyn Bridge to resolve itself against that skyline. The greatest difficulty, though, lies in the fact that the trains' windows are all in such rough shape that one can only see the city as through a glass, darkly. Or perhaps through a glass, scratchily. But if you were to put these two pictures together, you would have something like the expanse of the Brooklyn Bridge, as it appeared late this cool, overcast afternoon.

Whitman might have said it best (though what "it" is, I can't tell you), in his "Song of Joys" (from which I copied lines at, you guessed it, Poets House this afternoon):
O to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady unendurable land,
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and theh ouses,
To leave you O you solid motionless land, entering a ship,
To sail and sail and sail!

O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on!
To bea sailor of the world bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.
Need I say more?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pleasures of speech and sight.

A siren sings impossible glissandos below my window. Tonight, I made the mistake of trying to walk up Broadway from Times Square, returning to my hotel. Simply a mistake.

This morning, I traveled back to Brooklyn for meetings-up with friends old and new. Some degree of chaos ensued, demonstrating to me emphatically that one basically cannot function in a socially acceptable way in this city without a cell phone. It may be time to plunge back into the cellular pool, sometime before my next visit. Fortunately, much of my sitting about in states of anticipation, in various Brooklyn locales, yielded some writing that might be able to go somewhere interesting. And much of that waiting took place in front of the Brooklyn Museum, whose bizarre but charming (nay, even exciting) addition I've managed to cut almost completely out of this photograph:

Once my young poet friend did arrive, we took a turn through the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which are lovely and calming beyond language--a sort of preemptive antidote to Times Square, if you will. The weather was its best self today, sunny and breezy, clouded highly and lightly, warm but never hot, the perfect day for watching koi and ducks in the Japanese gardens, and for finding sprigs of color everywhere. (We even saw a family of orthodox Jews, all four of whose children wore matching lime green and pink outfits.)

After not much time, I was off again, like a shot a sparrow a spirit a shadow, to meet up with even more people, this time at Poets House, before dinner at a SoHo restaurant aptly (so aptly) named Lovely Day. And then to the Whitney for some semi-snarky larking. Some high-quality family dysfunction was on view, along with the Edward Hoppers, on the fifth floor. And I learned this terrific image, "Boy and Moon," from Hopper's early career as an illustrator.

And then, after the Whitney guards kicked us out at 9, it was on to delicious late-night solo bookshopping at the Strand, which I haven't visited since the renovations that gave it a second story (for art and children's books), wider aisles, less apparently topple-prone shelves, a wide and spacious stairway, and an elevator. In other words: what was already terrific is now even more so. And bookshopping while wearing one's favorite dress, so that one can sway and swing through aisles, dreaming that one is creating a nimbus of fabric and fascination? So much more fun than you can imagine, unless you've done it yourself.

All of these things made it so that when I found myself having to creep along in slow crowds of obstructive people, I had all manner of goodness to keep me calm. Mostly, anyway.

source for Boy and Moon: Angel Art House, which does a reproduction of it.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Views from tops; or, what a difference a day makes.

I woke up this morning on the Upper East Side.

I'll go to sleep tonight in Midtown.

This room is bright with the flashes of Times Square's non-stop glitter and glare. I am starting to feel like the most chic of vagabonds. This afternoon, my waiter at Firenze (a lovely Tuscan restaurant on 2nd Ave. between 82nd and 83rd, for those of you in the city) asked me whether I live in New York. I told him that I'm from Ohio. He asked if I were a tourist. I didn't know how to answer. As soon as I came out of the subway into Midtown, only a couple of hours later, I felt a belated response resound through me: Just. No. Though I'm not claiming to be a New Yorker, by any stretch.

Lunch was one of the highlights of my day, in fact. Firenze has a tiny outdoor seating area looking out to 2nd Ave., and somehow it manages to be fairly refreshing and charming, even though it's on a city sidewalk. The olives were perfectly seasoned; the chianti was smooth and complex; the linguini with garlic, porcini mushrooms, shrimps, and tomatoes was delicious and portioned just right; the tiramisu was possibly the best I've ever had. Plus, everything was slow and patient, leaving me long stretches of time to enjoy my food and then read a few more pages of my book. At the end of the meal, the waiter asked whether I wanted some complimentary grappa. Who am I to turn down a proffered grappa? I drank it; it was searing and brilliant. I talked to my waiter long enough that I made up a name for him, then laughed at myself for feeling embarrassed about just asking him his real name. I also taught him the word calamity.

My day stops here, in fatigue born of schlepping things all over Manhattan on the subway, of breakfasting with one former student and eating dinner with another, of trying to stride through Union Square with one of my sandals (new sandals, to boot) ripped up, of appreciating all over again the peculiarities of seeing movies in Manhattan, of riding the subway alone after dark (perhaps a first for me).

Tomorrow, even more adventures, none of which (unless something goes awry) will involve Times Square, weirdly lovely though it is from a distance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Spots I know, spots I love.

Today was a day for making contact with people and places I know well: a current student and a venerable museum, a former student and a storied restaurant (family storied, anyway), a station, a skyscraper. Tonight I'm perched fifteen stories above the street, hundreds of blocks from where I perched last night. Today, I perigrinated. Tomorrow, more.

Though now I am not in a part of the city that I usually spend much time in, I spent most of my day prowling around in SoHo, which is the part of New York I got to know first. As I walked down one street, these men asked me to forge one of their signatures, as part of an art project exploring forgery and authenticity. I obliged, allowing myself to be filmed as I tried to reproduce this guy's signature just below the first four people who had done it, and then walked away. About halfway down the block, I remembered that I'm engaged in my own project and that they now owed me at least a photo. So, I went back. And here they are, with their next passerby participant:

Once the camera was out, I started shooting some more things. I'm still skittish about having my camera out in the open here all the time, the way I carry it in Gambier when I'm really using it as my eye. Chiefly, I think I'm worried that I'll get so preoccupied with finding photographs that someone will somehow manage to get my shoulder bag away from me. But the weather was so fine today in Soho, and rooflines are so interesting here:

Obviously, I tend to look up more than down. I've gotten used to these shots with lots of sky in them.

As the afternoon wore on, I started gravitating to the sites I try to visit every time I'm in town. First, there was Kate's Paperie (the one on Broadway). Then, a pilgrimage to the first café I ever visited in New York, a place that served iced coffee with anise flavoring. Black licorice and coffee? I would never have considered that combination, but it is truly heavenly. Alas, that café seems to be gone now.

Eventually, I made my way to one of my favorite places in the whole city, Grand Central Station. This place's hold on me is largely the product of an NPR story I heard in 1996, long before I visited the city for the first time. The story was about Grand Central's restoration and went into such glorious, amorous detail about the original plans for the main hall's ceiling--an indoor firmanent, a sea of clearest aqua, punctuated not only by gold-painted constellations but even by electric lights' standing in as major stars--and about how polluted and dirtied the ceiling had become over the years. Eventually, the reporter revealed that someone had decided to ensure that a small polluted space be left behind, so that everyone could see just how bad things had gotten. On my first trip to New York, one of the only touristy things I had to do was visit Grand Central, just to see that spot. It took a few minutes, but I found it. And now I try to visit it whenever I'm in town:

After I went to see the spot today, I realized (for the second time, I think) that Grand Central is a great place to see Orion in the off-season. Nothing within the station came out particularly well in the photographs; you need to visit if you want to see what my fuss is about.

(The day is catching up with me, so I'm racing the clock.)

The other great thing about Grand Central is that it's only a few blocks down from the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. I sat on the steps outside the library with the book I'm reading, and it was lovely. From the side of the library, once can see one of my favorite buildings, the one that gets namechecked in the musical Annie:

And then there was the Coliseum Books on 42nd St, which turned out to be a terrific place for browsing, and for acquiring yet more twentieth-century poetry.

And then, a dinner beyond fineness. Because my earlier outing involved lunch at a venerable Ethiopian restaurant, I can unequivocally say that I have eaten better today than on any other day of the summer.

And now, I have watched the quarter moon rising in the east, against a backdrop that looks like so from where I'm sitting. These are my constellations tonight.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Many things begin with S.

Leaving aside the small susurring storm that scared a spider while we slept, as well as the subways that sailed us under streets and sidewalks, today we saw:

Statues. (This one: Rodin's Orpheus and Eurydice.)

Scratches. (These: Egyptian carvings and European graffiti on the Temple of Dendur.)

Sky. (Here: Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the statues and the scratches were.)

Spray paint and steps. (These: back in Brooklyn.)

Shadows and sun. (Here: on a bridge in Prospect Park.)

And the slightly spangled scarlet silk scarf I secured at the store. Also my beloved Brooklynite's small son, whose name does start with an S. But that's secret (here, anyway), so I'm stopping.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Journey to Brooklyn.