This is Pie, who is owned by Tricia, one of my New York hosts. Pie loves to hide under things.
It took a novel and the shingles to get me writing again. The weeks prior to my first visit to New York—a city I had called home for thirty-eight years, really ruined my ability to add anything to my blog. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it was the rain or maybe trying to get Beau healthy after the departure of Walden, the adorable puppy who had left Beau depressed and anxious. The vet couldn't not find anything wrong with him, yet he had bad diarrhea and I had a $1300 vet bill. I might have been able to accept Walden intense destructive path through my dining room but I could not put Beau through the puppy’s energy. They were polar opposites. So as many of you now know, Walden went back to his original family.
I was curiously unfazed about my coming east after ten months away. I was excited to see friends, and I know some will be distressed that once in the city, I felt completely ambivalent upon entry. I finally got up to Tricia’s flat after waiting an interminable time in a cab line at Penn Station. Now there’s a familiar inconvenience.
My tale of health woes can be read below, but first I have to talk about a novel, which has completely captivated me. THE IMPERFECTIONISTS is a first novel by a youngish writer named Tom Rachman. At once comic and deeply moving, the work is a series of beautifully contained profiles of a large cast of characters who work for an Anglo newspaper in Rome, my absolute favorite city in the world. There are some connective short chapters in-between these beautifully written “profiles,” which explain the paper’s genesis and history beginning in 1954 and ending in the present day. Rachman bring an enormous amount of talent to this work. It is as meticulously constructed as a Swiss watch. His observations of his characters are so believable that we empathize with them immediately—they have human foibles we can all relate to. There are laugh-out-loud funny scenes that kept me turning the pages. The book’s prose is lean, elegant, sharp and he refuses to get sidetracked in pages of exposition for which I was not only grateful but made me remember why I loved good fiction so much. The book is almost old-fashioned in its ability to both entertain and move you. A rather bittersweet ending to one chapter about former lovers left me teary-eyed and breathless.
I found out about the book from Amazon.com, and then a week later read a rave review by Janet Maslin in The New York Times and then another rave by Christopher Buckley in the NYTimes Book Review. The success of this work is very rate these days as it now sits at #5 on NYTimes Book Review bestseller list. This is a novel not-to-be-missed and helped me through a tough week of bad health.
I was in New York to work the big BookExpo America trade show that I’ve done for about ten years. I love seeing publishing colleagues and the first day at the show was a round of getting back to press about Barbra Streisand’s keynote speech and the growing frenzy over the Duchess of York’s participation in the Children’s Book & Author Breakfast. Fergie had found herself the victim of a sting by Rupert Murdoch’s disgusting “news investigative team” which captured her on video accepting big money for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. The tabloids were having a field day and everyone began lining up, determined to find a particularly bad shot or photo of the Duchess or hoping to get a quote from her as she entered or left the program. Despite the presence of all the main morning shows on hand to do live feeds, no member of the press got close to the Duchess, who was calm and charming, and fessed up to her latest lapse of judgment. After a long but productive day, I was ready to meet my friend Maryann for a leisurely dinner filled with news and general catch up. We went to Crispo, my favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Maryann used the dinner as an excuse to acknowledge my impending 60th birthday. It was a lovely evening.
At home, I was alarmed to find my left leg had a series of ugly bruise-like spots and a rash running down below the knee into my foot. I felt no pain and thought perhaps it was a reaction to a recent topical unguent my dermatologist had prescribed for my eczema. By 4:30 the next day, I had become sufficiently alarmed to ask a friend to drop me off at the emergency room of Roosevelt Hospital. I was rather shocked to find out I had shingles. Armed with antibiotics and painkillers, I went back to Tricia’s waiting for the pain to start. I took the Percoset as prescribed. I felt stoned, but was not prepared for the waves of nausea that hit me on Wednesday, making me very sick. We had organized a big gathering at a local watering hole, but I was too under the weather to go through with it. The next thing I knew, I was canceling and re-arranging all the appointments with friends and business colleagues, which was the whole point of my trip. But I dodged the pain bullet completely. I took myself off the painkillers and started the process of healing. I considered myself extremely lucky not to have suffered the pain that most people experience with shingles.
My friend Dyanne has a small, but perfect terrace outside her apartment on Third Avenue and 65th Street. Eighteen floors in the sky, Dyanne has created an oasis of plants, chairs, a table, a water fountain and various wind chimes and sculpture, set against a stunning backdrop of skyscrapers. It’s a view to die for. We sat there from about 4:00 PM until I left at 10 with the city lit for evening and looking impossibly glamorous. I walked back to the apartment where I was staying a few blocks away. My hostess who was away, told me to go to the roof and look at the view. I stepped off the elevator and into one of the most romantic looking roof decks. I was completely alone and it was dark except for some lights strung around the railings. I walked over to the edge to admire the view for the first time in ages, wished I had a cigarette to smoke in solitary silence as I took in the dark outlines of the tall buildings that surrounded me. How compelling and still it all looked. This is what I imagined New York to be when I first arrived here so many years ago.
I did manage to get together with friends and do some business, and had memorable but quiet evenings Carl, Karole, Laurele, Tricia, Sara and her grand daughter, Caitlin, Alison and Jeannie, Joe and Christine. And on my way to dinner to meet Maryann, I stopped by the old apartment house to say hello. It was brief but the nostalgia was huge--I lived in that building for twenty five years.
I dropped by Lincoln Center to see the changes that have occurred in the plaza with it's new two-toned pavement--much nice than before. The fountain is handsome and the water effects are wonderful to watch. Inspecting the new grassy area over by the Mitzi Newhouse Theater, I marveled at how the complex is addressing visitor needs. You can sit in the grass or lie in it and take in the sun. The whole place looks more visitor friendly, though the marble is still cold and the 60s architecture is chilly and uninviting. Alice Tully Hall's new facade, on the other hand, invites you in. That huge glass expanse that cover the Broadway side of the theater is dramatic and compelling. There's a fine meeting place where you can have a drink, or order a sandwich and it's a pleasure to sit in this soaring space where once all was dark and gloomy. Because I was sick, I never got downtown to see the new west side walkway, and I never found the time to go to the Met or Moma to see something.
Dyanne, bless her, dropped me off at Newark for the flight home. Kyle picked me up at the airport. It was raining--in fact, it had pretty much rained non-stop for the past twenty days. It's still raining the third day I'm home and is expected to cease by tomorrow for a few days.
It has held up the work on my patio, but everything was growing. I could believe the activity in my raised vegetable bed. Carrots and beets have sprouted. The spearmint is out of control and it looks as though I will be moving it to a solitary pot of its own. My first two roses have bloomed, but the rain has punished them and I'll just have to wait for the buds that are right behind to be able to bloom when it is dry. My strawberries are large and turning red now.
Beau is back to his old self and after a session with the groomer's is looking quite handsome. He just turned seven at the beginning of the month. He's endearingly noisy as usual with all his grunts, wheezings, gurglings and schnurflings (as a friend used to describe the many sound effects he makes). Beau is very happy that I'm home and tends to follow me around the house.
I do realize that Portland is very much my home now. I have completed the long cycle of separating myself from New York. It now feels like I'm a visitor rather than an occupant of that amazing town. It was a part of me for so many years but now I think I'm happy to leave it to younger, more ambitious types than me.