My memoir, Limina, was published early in 2021 during the Covid-19 lock down. It was a hard time to publish a book but I’m glad it is finished. I moved to Samish Island in May 2021 and my current blog posts describe what life on a small island is like.
Another tour with Jimmy Napoli and his Corsicans –Gregory and Thiago. We assembled at the Morris Jumel mansion in Harlem at 163 and Sylvan Terrace.
I don’t know what your image of Harlem is but it’s beautiful with broad steeets lined with wonderful buildings. Luminaries such as Duke Ellington made their home there “Take the A train.” Now tour guide extraordinare Jimmy Napoli does too.
We gathered at the Morris Jumel mansion on a warm sunny day. We were seated and listened to Gregory summarize the life of Alexander Hamilton before and during the Revolutionary War.
George Washington held his staff meetings in the 252 year old 8500 sq ft mansion and billeted 2-3000 troops on the property which once encompassed land from the Hudson River to the Harlem River in upper Manhattan.
Lin Manuel Miranda genious author of Hamilton wrote two songs in the upstairs room of the mansion. “Wait for It” and “Room Where It Happened.”
Much of the mansion is still being restored. Even the French wallpaper ordered by Madame Jumel is being ordered from a French wall paper company whose wallpapers date to those times.
We left stopping to admire the 19thC town homes lined up and beautifully maintained by individuals such as Alicia Keyes.
We trekked to 143rd to see the Grange the only home Hamilton owned. Sadly after his death, Eliza his widow had to sell it to provide for her and their children. Hamilton spent little time in the Geange and died an impoverished man. It too is in dire need of preservation. It’s current location is its third and hopefully last.
We sat under the shade of a large tree and Jimmy presented a brilliant summary of Hamilron’s career and tragic death.
This was my second tour with Jimmy Napoli who is a noted and long time fan of Alexander Hamilton. Next. St. Croix!!
We all repaired to a nearby pub for a cool drink and a snack. The group was enlivened by a lively set of cousins and their spouses. They made me an honorary member of their club. A great day!
Today I made my pilgrimage to the 3 sweet shops on East 2 St @ 2nd Ave and Bowery that comprise the John Derian Collection. I’ve know, admired, and envied John’s eye and art since 1994 when I opened Found Objects and sold his work.
Initially decoupage plates, then vase, then paperweights and so on. Now there’s linen and furniture, cards and ephemera, china and antique French sleep shirts, oddities and whimseys. A world that entices and delights. Really more than my sensibilities can encompass in several hours of careful scrutiny.
Today I held myself in check and bought just two issues of Gather. The love child of Michele Outland and Fiorella Valdesolo. If you don’t know it. Get it!
Atlantic is a main drag here. One corner is anchored by the largest Trader Joe’s I’ve ever seen. But there are also lots of small businesses and cafes and pizza joints.
There’s also a cat cafe
This is a non profit that rescues kittens (Katie, are you listening?) and houses them until they are adopted. The window was just full of lounging in the warm afternoon sun happy cats.
I popped into a British pub which featured about 100 beers you’ve never heard of–at least speaking for myself. I usually drink about 2 beers a year but what the heck when in Rome etc. so I ordered an Irish stout. O’Hara’s. It was good. Had a unique espresso after taste. Went well with the cod and chips. Watched the last 30″ of a FIFA game Chile vs Germany 1-1.
Then I wandered around shooting interesting buildings and went home–hot tired and, yes, sweaty. I started the day with yoga and walked 7K steps this afternoon. So back to my British police procedural and a relax as they say. Ta!!
The notion of satisfying each of our senses in any given day is something I aspire to experience. So how did I do today?
I slept in a little and ate a really good breakfast Burrito. But wait, there’s more in the taste department. I wandered down Montague St. and took a seat at Pain Quotidian and ordered a Very large capuchino. Quite good. But the best thing of all was the late lunch I had at B Good. A freshly prepared salad of quinoa, kale fresh veggies barely sautéed sprinkled with toasted garbanzos and pumpkin seeds. Really a feast.
Not so good. A cacaphonous medley of sirens, car alarms, fire engines’ horns bleating, emergency vehicles braying and the usual human contributions to crowded streets.
This was a stellar day. I heading to Pierpont St to the Brooklyn Historic Society. The beautiful 4- story brick Queen Anne style building was constructed in 1881. Thankfully it has survived.
The second floor contains the Othmer Library. The collection is focused on materials pertinent to Brooklyn. You can go there to do research utilizing the archives.
The exhibit that most interested me were the photographs of David Attie. Mr Attie was sent on assignment to photograph a memoir Truman Capote was writing about the years he lived in Brooklyn Heights. They became friends just as the talented writer was on the cusp of celebrity. Capote lived in Brooklyn Heights–not far from where I’m staying. Attie went on to have a successful career as well.
Coffee beans roasting, fresh bakery goods just out of the oven. The mouthwatering aromas of Nathan’s hotdogs from a sidewalk vendor’s cart. Exhaust.
Thus is my favorite sense. Today it was satisfied by a pedicure and a chair massage by a talented and energetic young woman–Jessie–at the Dashing Diva at 130 Montague St.
When Michangelo Buonarroti painted God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel they were striving to touch finger to finger. Adam is yearning to make contact with the divine. We all do. However, we are earth bound and must take our pleasure in human touch as it is offered.
OK. let me first say I’m writing with my thumbs. The other 8 digits are holding the phone. I bravely (stupidly) decided to leave the heavy Toshiba home so there you go!
I walked a lot today. I did more than five miles. Leaving the Promenade behind I headed down to DUMBO under the Brooklyn Bridge and explored some nice shops such as the new Shinola shop. Very nice. Go Detroit!
The area has done a great job pf restoring and repurposing old buildings like the one pictured which was once a warehouse.
Another find was the outpost of the Brooklyn Historic Society which has a brilliant photography exhibit of the changes in the waterfront from Red Hook to the the area under both bridges .
The main collection is on Pierpont St in Brooklyn Heights which I plan to visit tomorrow
At 3:30 I decided to call it a day I got back to the condo hot and sticky. Sweaty. “Yes, Daddy, I know girls don’t sweat. Horses sweat, girls perspire!” Well, I was sweaty!
I pulled off my shoes socks tee shirt shorts and bra and was grateful for the lovely breeze pouring through the window.
Got up early and went out for a much needed walk. Too many hours sitting at SeaTac and on a plane. The comfortable condo perches on the heights looking at the spires of a lovely old church. The nearby Promenade offers Lady Liberty the B Bridge and lower Manhattan all swept like confetti into your visual pathway.
New Yorkers are so friendly and helpful. And the men flirt. Especially the ethnic Carribeans. Example: “Adonde viene?” One of the staff asked me in the little cafe where I ate breakfast on Montague Street. This place is filled with locals all talking loudly about the news the death of the young man tortured by the North Koreans and Trump’s latest shanigans. Clearly I was new to the neighborhood.
“Seattle Washington. ” I replied. ( I don’tknow how he knew I spoke Spanish. )
I was living in California when Suzanne became popular. I remember listening to it over and over trying to puzzle out what the song was about “She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.” Beautiful imagery and a haunting melody. Sweeter and sexier than Dylan’s music, Cohen made me yearn for a lover who’d be like Suzanne’s. “…you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.” A man who saw that my body was perfect and who could touch my mind. Touch my mind–always the most important thing. But at the time I was musing on such things, I was a mother of two young boys and married.
“The sun pours down like honey.”
“There are heroes in the seaweed.”
Then came “Bird on a Wire.” I like Leonard’s version and Tim Hardin’s best, but probably owned and listened to Judy Collins’ version first since I bought almost all her albums. The drunk, the prostitute “Why not ask for more?”
“I have tried in my way to be free.”
It was only after I saw The Master–the movie about the Scientology movement–that I finally understood “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
“Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair, she said that you gave it to her that night that you planned to go clear.
Did you ever go clear?”
And then Chelsea Hotel and Janis Joplin and Leonard’s evocation of all that I had ever imagined Janis might be.
“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel. You were talking so brave and so sweet. Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limosines wait in the street.”
The last line which always breaks my heart.
“That’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”
And you know that he does.
Now that I’m much, much older I’ve grown to love “Dance Me to the End of Love.” The imagery of a wedding night, the breathless and anxious moments when you’re first alone in the bedroom. The lines that describe being inside your lover. As I move to that melody, the swaying beat, the thrumming heat, I dream that I might melt into the arms of a angel.
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin. Dance me through the panic til I’m gathered safely in. Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove. Dance me to the end of love.”
Today. September 6, 2022
Leonard Cohen has gone to the stars. He died November 7, 2016. I went to the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham last week to see Hallelujah the documentary of his life and his music. It is a transcendent film. I was rapt. I was wishing I’d seen him more than once in person. I did see one of his last concerts. Filled the Seattle Center. The Webb Sisters and Susan Robinson backing him up. The gypsy violin. All there, And Leonard gave everything he had, sang Hallelujah last. And, yes, he skipped off the stage.
I do remember where I was. It was my twenty-second birthday. I remember that day clearly. I was sitting in my office on the UC Berkeley campus when someone turned their radio up so we could all hear the stunning news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We sat in numbed silence as the campanile bells began to toll in regular cadence. Staff and students walked out of the buildings and scattered across the silent campus. I don’t remember anyone telling us we could leave; we just did.
My husband and I rendezvoused at our car and as people often do when in shock, we did the usual and mundane: we stopped for some groceries. We made our way home to the little community of Pinole north of Berkeley where we lived. We stopped to get Peter, our 13 month old son, from his day care center. His care giver was ashen-faced–I suppose we all were. We wondered if our country was under attack. We wondered how this could happen. We were afraid.
My grandparents were staying with us to celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday. I don’t remember either of those events. I remember watching and listening to the small black and white TV in our living room that long terrible day and those that followed. I don’t remember going to work or doing anything besides watching and listening except to care for Peter.
I remember Walter Cronkite’s choking voice announcing that the president was dead. I remember weeping and being unable to sleep. I remember my grandparents’ shocked disbelief.
I remember when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.
The two terrible deaths yet to come–Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior–are forever linked in my mind to the president’s death. Those three deaths marked and frame the astounding changes in our country that followed. So, yes, I do remember what happened fifty years ago.
On our way home we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Heathrow. In the cattle call breakfast room the next morning I looked around and knew for sure that I was not in Rome. These folks were not Italian and the breakfast certainly was not! Eggs–hadn’t seen them for two months! Coffee–undrinkable. Where was my chocolate cornetti? I missed my baristo at Barnum’s and his delicious cappuccino? The freshly squeezed orange juice. The brilliant Raphael-blue sky. This was not Rome.
Rome is a mystery. One day you hate it and the next day you love it. It is annoying and then delightful. You are repulsed by the crowds, and then, in the process of avoiding the crowds, you stumble on a new street and an unseen treasure appears. This is exactly how our two weeks in Rome went. Sometimes my feelings about Rome changed from hour to hour, but finally, in the end, I succumbed to the beauty of the place and the charm of the people, and yes, the food!
We spent two warm and sunny weeks visiting one splendid, wrecked site after another. We spent whole days strolling through marvelous, decrepid old palaces full of spectacular treasures. We walked endlessly on dirty cobble-stoned streets carpeted with cigarette butts and garbage only to arrive at a restaurant with such delicious food I salivate at the memory.
Then there were the annoying aspects of Rome. Arriving at the post office laden with packages, waiting an hour and a half, finally reaching the head of the line, smiling and trying to please a surly mandarin at the desk and at the end, being told all the forms must be completed in Italian and the charges must be paid in cash–lot’s of cash. We definitely felt we were being held hostage but didn’t really know what our crime was. I think it was wanting to mail three boxes out of the country. Lot’s of extra work for the clerk.
Yes, it’s very annoying when the stores all close from 1-4. Very annoying! Yes, it’s a capitol city and it should adopt the efficiencies of modern business practices such as ours. But Italy hasn’t and probably won’t.
Yes, you should be able to eat dinner at 6 p.m. But you can’t. You can have a sandwich or a pizza anytime, but you can’t have dinner until 7:30 or even later.
Yes, I know children need 8 hours of sleep but Italian children eat dinner with their families and stay up late and somehow get to school the next day. They may nap all afternoon–perhaps they even nap at their schools, I don’t know, but no one seems to go to bed at 7 p.m., that’s when they eat dinner.
At Barnum’s, our favorite coffee bar, we are greeted warmly by the baristo. We sit and savor our cornetti and cappucino. “Bonjour!” It’s our friend, Alain, the antique store owner we like so much. He introduces us to his daughter; calling us his “amichi,” his friends.
Heart warming. You cannot imagine how good it feels to be recognized and warmly greeted after being gone from home for three months. Alain is French. He married a Roman; they are raising two daughters in the center of Roma. He and Ken developed a friendship of shared interests and sensibilities. We hope to see Alain again. A man who speaks English, French and Italian. (His daughter speaks only Italian!) He is a talented man and an interesting person who is eager to share his thoughts and feelings. It is unusual when a native shares his observations and concerns with “tourists.”
I realize that the a secret to enjoying a place is to stay there long enough to know your way around and be comfortable moving about without a map in your hand. The other is to make some friends–even if you never see those friends again. It is important to reach out, warm up, do your best to speak their language, enjoy their way of doing things.
I read a few lines about Romans in one of Rick Steves’ books. He says there is no word for privacy in Italian. He was commenting on the close, overly emeshed lives Italian families lead. Each morning as we walked to Barnum’s we passed a very elegant antique store and each morning a well groomed, very petite, and neatly dressed woman in her 80’s walked slowly down the street, leaning on a cane and the arm of a handsome man in his 40’s. Her thick gray hair was coifed in a perfect bob. It was so perfect it might have been a wig! Her pants suit was well cut for her tiny frame. She and her escort did not speak. They made their way to the store nearly every morning just as we were on our way to Barnum’s. There she was at the end of the day standing in the doorway waiting for her escort to walk her home!
One morning getting a later start, we glanced into the antique shop and saw the man with his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was busy re-merchandising the store. Hot and hard work. I’ve done it many times! The lady was facing him speaking to him. Suddenly he advanced swiftly toward her with his arm out in front of him, finger pointing at her. His face betrayed frustration if not barely controlled anger. We heard him say in a loud voice “Mama!” The rest was lost to us. We walked on. The stories you’ve heard about Italian men and their mothers and their lives together is real. When will her son leave home? Hard to say.
Now I’m home writing and reflecting on our remarkable journey: from Shakespeare to Hadrian; from cave men to the Etruscans; from mosaics to painted villas. We saw the treasure and history of centuries of human endeavor. For me, the single most important aspect of these three months abroad is the realization that seeing new things and learning about them is what I most enjoy. The visual stimulation, especially in Rome, is what thrills me.
Two gasp-inducing places, Basilica San Vitale a 5th C church emblazoned with mosaics and marble in Ravenna, and Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere in Rome built in the 15th C where every wall and ceiling is hand painted are my touchstones. They are so visually spectacular–each in its own way–that I will never forget the moment I stepped over their thresholds and lost myself in wonder. Seeing the work of artists and crafts people who lived hundreds of years ago whose work can stop you in your tracks–bring you to your knees–will always remain with me.