Friday, February 2, 2018

I heart Noo Yawk

Madly, madly in love with this wunnerful town. Sometimes when I come, this metropolis overwhelms, but this time, it's been a treasure trove.

Okay, so where were we? Ah yes, Thursday. Thursday morning was Bloomingdale's, buying black pants on sale. The last three times I've come to New York, I bought Gerard Darel black pants on sale at Bloomingdale's - maybe I have enough pairs now? Can one ever have too many great black pants?

Walked back along Lexington, wondering how all those little stores survive. Like this one, an engraver since 1878 ...
I took it easy because I had the show again that night. My friend Harriet - Dame Harriet Walter now - came for a visit at Cousin Ted's, or, as she said, "tea at the museum." We had a great talk about her life, dashing about making movies - in the next two months, in Savannah, Georgia, Wales, and Northampton, and in between, doing something with an orchestra in Rome. When we talk, I envision what my life would have been if I'd stayed an actress, as she did; we are the same age and were at LAMDA together in 1972. She has an exciting high wire life. Not for me.

And then back down to the Lower East Side. Perhaps you could read between the lines, but anyway, now the truth must out: I was not happy with the show on Tuesday. In fact, I was deeply unhappy. The producer had reduced my great-grandfather's 4 act tragedy to 80 minutes with lots of songs and jokes and mugging; my ancestor was rotating in his grave. My own talk was truncated because I'd been asked to cut it short. I'd brought six books and sold not a one. So I was not looking forward to a recap.

Well - a miracle. It was like night and day. King Lear relaxed, the others in the cast relaxed, I relaxed. The show made more sense, went more slowly, had more charm. It was a big audience, and though a few left, many loved it. And my talk, this time, went really well - I could take my time, tell them more of the story, and it grabbed them, I could feel it. At the end, there was a line of people waiting to buy books - and I didn't have enough! Many interesting people were there, including an old friend, David Mazower, whom I met very early in my research decades ago and had lost touch with. David's great-grandfather was ALSO a famous Yiddish playwright, only he speaks Yiddish and is connected to that world, and way back, he introduced me to some fabulous characters from the Yiddish theatre. And then he vanished back to London, but now, there he was. So we arranged to have lunch today.

People wanted to talk, the cast were lovely, David Serero was charming - the Thursday experience could not have been more different from the one two days earlier. And even - it was supposed to rain, and I got into a cab just as it started and sped home, watching New York flash by in the rain, with the job behind me and all books sold. Heaven.

Today - spectacular. To the Met, to see the Michaelangelo exhibit. The man could do everything - sculpture, painting, architecture ... And oh, how he loved bodies, especially male torsos. He himself was not a handsome man, but he had lots going on, professionally, personally, and it seems sexually, in his very busy and successful life.
 Admiring a little naked statue
Michaelangelo's poem about painting the Sistine Chapel
The actual poem, with doodle - he doodled a lot
His magnificent statue of Brutus
The man himself, with his broken nose. What a life.

I didn't walk across the park afterward as I usually do, it was hideously cold, a vicious wind blasting down those concrete canyons. To my favourite shoe store, Harry's, which sells big sizes and just happened to have a pair of boots in size 10 1/2 at 2/3 off, the last pair after she'd brought out every hideous shoe in my size. The pair I wore there, I'd bought at Harry's with Brucie many years ago; they're falling apart. Now, spiffy black boots to go with my spiffy black pants.

To lunch with David Mazower and his colleague Lisa from the Yiddish Book Centre, where he now works. A long lunch with us gossiping about people dead for many years, our own ancestors and their compatriots. So so much fun - there aren't many people like David who care as much about these stories as I do. He has written an article on my great-grandfather that he'll send me, and there's stuff about his in my book. A literary friendship that goes back a century or so.

I'd planned to go to another museum, but it was too cold, even to stand waiting for a bus - I got a cab back to Ted's and emailed until it was time to go to the theatre. Ted had suggested a Broadway show, but luckily I happened to hear about a recommended show on E. 59th, only two subways stops away. Not having to deal with the loud twinkling chaos of Broadway, especially on a horribly cold Friday night, is always a plus. And it started at 7.15! Perfect.

In fact, it was perfect in every way. "The Undertaking," a play about death, our fear of death, how we avoid it or confront it, what anxiety is and does. This company, called Civilians, does documentary theatre - taking interviews, real voices, and turning them into theatre. Tonight's was a kind of meta-theatre in which the writer, played by an actor, and his collaborator, played by an actress, were preparing a theatre piece about death, and inhabit some of the characters who were interviewed - a woman with cancer who took LSD and ended by actually seeing her fear and getting rid of it; a gay man whose lovers kept dying of HIV and who said, "I'm not crazy about life. I'm not an optimistic person";  a British philosopher who says that philosophy is about how to accept death and discusses Socrates and Plato.

The actors changed voices and characters brilliantly, and what we heard was a conversation between two very honest, clever, creative people trying to figure out the final puzzle of existence, with interjections from interesting others. "Maybe fear of death is fear of life," she says at one point. The anxious man confronts what haunts him - his mother's slow decline from MS, "being left behind" - and opens to life. He sees how beautiful a tree is. The end.

And I, weeping.

Back two stops to Ted's, the subway packed with loud interesting crazy people. And here I am. Tomorrow, visit my father's cousin Lola who's soon 95, and then off to Penn Station, the train to Newark, we do it all in reverse. I am coming home with black pants, black boots, and a glad heart.


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