The day began with gusty wind and torrents of rain — and a fresh hairdo thanks to Ilda, who arrived at her salon at 7:40 a.m. to help me prepare for my BBC television interview.
The BBC studio, a very small room with lots of lights and a camera mounted on a tripod in the corner, is part of their New York City office, which shares a wall (!) with Al Jazeera next door. Both of them, like some sort of journalistic Russian matryoshka doll, are inside the offices of the Associated Press, in a huge building at 450 West 33rd — the same building where I worked in 2005-2006 as a reporter for the New York Daily News.
During the live hour-long show, which was heard worldwide, I perched on a stool with an earpiece in my ear, producers’ tinny voices from London competing with the five other guests, from Arkansas to London to Connecticut. Afterward, I went to the lobby and sat in Starbucks and drank tea and read magazines for an hour just to calm down. It’s thrilling to be part of an international broadcast, but also a little terrifying.
If you are interested, here is a link to the audio of that show.
I went to the Post Office to buy five stamps. I stood in line for almost 25 minutes, in a line full of people bitterly grumbling at the only clerk.
I took the subway uptown and northeast and decided to wander the West 50s. (For non New Yorkers, the West side begins at Fifth Avenue.)
The narrow gloomy depths of St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered respite, its white stone altar a mass of carvings, saint upon saint. Enormous Christmas wreaths of pine hang on the bare stone walls. The church is still and calm, an oasis of stillness amid the crowds and noise and light and frenzied spending of money all around it.
Lunch is a lucky find, Tina’s, on 56th, which sells Cuban food. The place is packed with nearby office workers gossiping. For $14, I have pernil (roast pork), spicy black beans, potato salad and a passion fruit batido (milkshake)– across Fifth Avenue at the St. Regis Hotel, a single cocktail would cost more.
I walk to a gallery on 57th Street to see a show of works of women — all done by one of my favorite artists, Egon Schiele, closing December 28.
Do you know his work?
I love it: powerful, simple drawings of an almost impossible economy of line. Some of them are raw and graphic, of women with their knees drawn to their chest, legs splayed, naked. They were done 100 years ago, between 1911 and 1918. Schiele and his wife, then six months pregnant, died three days apart in the Spanish flu epidemic that killed an impossible 20 million people.
He was 28, and his final drawing was of his dying wife, Edith. I find everything about his life somewhat heartbreaking. Dead at 28?!
The small gallery, showing 51 works on paper, all pencil drawings or watercolor and gouache, was mobbed, with men and women in their 20s to 70s. Two of the images in this show are here, “Green Stockings” and “Friendship.”
Two small ancient white terriers, one named Muffin, kept bursting out of the gallery office, barking madly.
I loved the pencil drawing of his mother — “Meine Mutter” written on one side, drawn on deep tan paper — with her rimless glasses and dour expression, her hands half-hidden beneath her dress.
His women almost burst from the weathered pages, one woman’s right leg, literally, stepping off the edge of the paper as she lunges towards us. They often wear no make-up or jewelry or furs. Some were said to be prostitutes, his association with them scandalous in bourgeois Vienna.
In our jaded, virtual era of all-pixels-all-the-time, I revel in the physicality of these works on paper, their edges thick and smudged, their cotton fibres crinkled and wrinkled. You can imagine his hands holding them a century ago, his young fingers so confident in their vision, so soon to be stilled.
Some of the works are for sale, for $45,000 to $1 million+; only one has sold, but the young woman at the front desk won’t tell me for how much. Oh, how I long to win the lottery! A Schiele has long been on my most-wanted list.
In the cold, gray dusk, I walked the 15 blocks south to Grand Central Station, down Fifth Avenue, crammed with contradictions. For the fanny-packed and white-sneaker-shod from the heartland, agape and moving waayyyyyyy too slowly for the impatient natives actually trying to get somewhere quickly, there’s Gap and Juicy Couture and Friday’s, all comforting reminders of home.
For the oligarchs, jetting in privately, there’s Harry Winston, a legendary jeweler, whose precious gemstones are the size of my thumbnail. This is not a place to browse. I wonder when, on this list of their outposts, the latter four were added. How times change!
Throngs of tourists are lined up — to get into Hollister, a national clothing chain they can see at home in Iowa or Florida.
At Godiva chocolates, a woman is dipping strawberries.
A huge, glittering snake made of lights encircles (en-squares?) the edges of the corner building holding the luxury jeweler Bulgari.
For a hit of hot carbs, carts sell pretzels and roast chestnuts.
Outside the enormous private University Club, people of power and privilege sitting in its tall windows, a black man sits in a wheelchair holding a plastic cup in which to collect donations. I give him a dollar and, to my surprise, he hands me something in return — a glossy postcard, a close-up of his artificial legs.
“What happened to your legs?” I ask.
“Poor circulation,” he replies. (Diabetes, surely.)
Amid the temples of Mammon — Bulgari, Fendi, Ferragamo, Henri Bendel, Saks, the Gap, Barnes & Noble, Prada
— there are three churches, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
One might stop to pray.
One might pray to stop.
On Madison in the mid-40s, I pass Paul Stuart, with the necessities of male elegance, like these…
The two bastions of classic male style, Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, entered my consciousness when I was 22, on one of my first visits to New York — because the offices of magazine publisher Conde Nast (named for the man who founded it), sat right between them at 350 Madison Avenue. It’s now for rent.
Can you imagine my excitement when I stopped by Glamour and Mademoiselle, in the days when I carried a large artists’ portfolio with clips of my published articles, to meet the editors? As a young, insatiably ambitious journalist from Toronto, this was the epicenter of writing success, an address I’d memorized in my early teens.
Glamour liked one of my stories — typed on paper — tucked in the back and not even yet published by the Canadian magazine that had commissioned it. So it ran three months later in Glamour as a resale. Swoon!
Back to Grand Central Station to meet Jose at the entrance to the 5:38, the express train speeding us home, non-stop, in 38 minutes.
Weary, happy, sated.