Le Weekend

August 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

This weekend: a walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, an Eric Rohmer film at Lincoln Center (Le Beau Mariage, with the incomparable Arielle Dombasie) champagne with Lisa. I remembered how brilliant Rohmer is, but not that exquisite pleasure one feels at the end of one of his films, as the whole comes together, not like a short story—which is the most obvious comparison—but like a painting. The cinematography is masterly but that’s not what I mean: all the elements of the film combine in the dance of connections you see in a Vermeer or Brueghel: something so specific and so typical the tension between the two becomes joy. I can’t think of a short story that does this. Finding the universal in the specific is not at all the same thing. Rohmer’s movies, like most French movies, are full of dialogue and it’s realistic dialogue yet it still reminds me more of daubs of color than words.

Mlle Cecile Brunner, 1881, is the unassuming, pink climbing rose you expect to see in the in the front yard of storybook English cottages, although I suppose it was cultivated in France. It’s the kind of rose that makes me think of hot green grass, limpid skies, an afternoon slice of white moon hanging shyly over the shrubbery. It smelled good too, just like a rose. I’ve been thinking a lot about France. My friend Andree, who’s living there now, described it so beautifully: the Seine, the calm, the light, the townspeople coming out to hear her and her husband play music in the local restaurant. And then, of course, Eric Rohmer, who makes me want to move there yesterday. For the first time ( and this is due not only to the charms of France, of course), I thought: I wish I’d been born in Europe, how relaxing not to be an American…

There was another rose in the Botanic Garden whose name I wish I’d noted, the red of the perfect lipstick, the one you only find once or twice in your life, a velvety deep red that loses no color to darkness (and disappears from cosmetic lines swiftly, as if the shade itself is in short supply). That’s the one I keep thinking about, so I guess I’ll have to go back next year. And when I find a lipstick that femme fatale red, I’ll pack up the cats and husband and go to France, where being a writer, a woman in her sixth decade, a rationalist-sensualist non-monogamous devotee of thorns and roses is to fit in quite easily. If only I hadn’t forgotten so much of the language…

Never mind! It’s Sunday night, I have a lot of work next week, the apartment is clean, and the Rohmer festival continues.

Down By the Salley Gardens

Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.

–W.B. Yeats

As I Walked out one Summer Morning

August 16, 2010 § 1 Comment


On the way home from the farmer’s market, bags heavy with raspberries, strawberries, haricots verts and heirloom tomatoes, I stopped in at Petco to ogle the shelter cats.
Usually there’s one or two that are appealing. Today there was a cat that looked just like Fitzroy asleep in a bottom cage. He was younger and slimmer, but the line of lip against the feathery white jaw was exactly the same.
And there were two lovely, gangly adolescent males, mostly white with gray and black, scribbled splotches, maybe five months old. They were tabbies but their faces were long and narrow, like greyhounds, and their expressions were tender and sweet.

But the winners—the heartstoppers—were two five-year-old brothers curled up together in a cage. I couldn’t tell where one started and the other stopped. They were both black, though one had white paws. No white anywhere else. Their coats were glossy and they were big, healthy and powerful looking.Their features were clearly delineated and perfect, and their eyes were the sage green of a desert in spooky light. Did I mention how black they were, like night squared? How they lay in their cage like kidnapped princes? Their owner had had to leave the country. Or perhaps merely wanted to. If he/she/they went gaily off to France without finding these royals a home, the loss of a finger from each is warranted.

They looked at me with something between indifference and rage. If only I had any, I would use my demonic strength to rip the front off their cage, let them glide away, and be gone myself before anyone noticed. They’d wait outside to offer a guarded thanks, not certain how much I knew. I’d pledge fealty. If this were a poem, an airplane the size of a pony would land nearby and my young parents would be making love nearby in the snow. There’s no reason for this to be a poem; I’m just saying.

I tried to rhapsodize to the teenage boy next to me, but he mumbled and turned away. So I went home—opened the door into my too small, too warm, too cluttered apartment—and Fitzroy greeted me with his anxious affection from his perch on the back of the couch, torso humping up like a corduroy accordion, and Mouchette walked back and forth (and back and forth) across the keyboard as I checked my email, shedding black hairs between the letters. They were so deeply familiar, so known to me and knowing of me, my all day, every day companions, that the stunning green-eyed brothers were revealed as merely cats.

The Cat in the Kitchen
(For Donald Hall)

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won’t say much more.
Let’s wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.

There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.

Robert Bly

The Un-Divorced

August 2, 2010 § 5 Comments

The New York Times has an article called “The Un-Divorced,” about couples who live apart for years but don’t divorce for various reasons, inertia and money being the most important. Since I’m in that situation with my husband, who lives in Florida while I live in New York, I would like to add my two cents (which is all I would have without him).

I treasure living alone, but it helps to have a man around, a few days a month, who considers himself part of the household and will therefore cut the cats’ toenails, sew up the rip in the comforter, and defrost the refrigerator. He also sends checks and reads everything I write. He gives me his old iphones when he buys the new model. He provides health insurance.

I scour the Internet for the family Christmas presents, remind him of his children’s birthdays and offer advice on his work woes. I remember his parents when they were younger than he is now, and his children before they had children. I remember his children in diapers. I sat at his kitchen table at 17 and listened to all the grief and confusion a young man with four children feels when his family comes apart. He listened to my advice then, too. What I remember is being glad that his obsessive focus on his lost marriage meant he didn’t notice how pathologically shy I was.

And he sat with me many nights in my 20’s when I was drunk, talking about the family deaths of my childhood and all the other events of my short life that were numinous with a meaning I didn’t understand, which I can now summarize for you: love. He listened to me say, “I wish I was dead” over and over in my 30’s and never once told me how scared it made him.

But he still leaves the milk out every single day and leaves the keys in the apartment door (on the outside). Missing each other helps. Seeing other people, both of us, is a good thing, except when it isn’t. I’m not going to pretend we’ve got something that works smoothly. I’ve never gotten beyond the stage of life where you’re thrilled when the car makes it all the way home and nothing has blown up while you were out.

Today my husband went home to Florida and I like being alone and I’m lonely. I’m still trying to figure out what I want besides all the things I used to have, including the blue dress with the zipper down the front that I wore in 5th grade. I want there to be lots of lions and elephants in Africa, and plenty of fish in the sea. I want everyone I care for living close by, but separate quarters for all. I want a common room like we had in boarding school, where you can loiter when you need company but are too conflicted to make a phone call. It would probably be a good idea to add a nurse’s station. And a place to buy milk.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

–Jack Gilbert

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