Some of you — and you know who you are — are parked on my butt telling me you’re living through my experiences in New York. That’s flattering and sweet, but it makes me feel guilty when I collapse into an unattractive heap and whine and watch TV from time to time. Hey, you know, it just happens sometimes.
But the past few days have been wonderful and exhilarating, making me think I’m not as pathetic a big city role model as I feared.
Friday, my husband and I went to a reading at Book Culture, a bookstore close to Columbia University on the Upper West Side. This is a real bookstore, as so many aren’t these days, full of academic books — but also an excellent selection of fiction and non-fiction. You can always tell when a bookstore is stocked by people who love to read, and this was one of them. I wandered around, feeling ridiculously happy the way I always do when I’m in a good bookstore, trying to resist leaving with an armful of new books.
Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia, read from her new novel, The Edge of Eden. Her reading was superb — very funny and insightful and touching. I’d like to give you the link to buy it at Book Culture, but unfortunately, it’s not listed yet. Here’s the Amazon link, though.
Then, Saturday morning was brilliant and sunny. My husband and I cut across Central Park, where the leaves have turned and some of the trees are as fiery as torches, and went to the Met. We slowly walked through the modern and contemporary galleries, then ended up at a remarkable exhibit of Robert Frank’s photography — searing black-and-white images of this country from the 1950s that depict American society a little too deeply and painfully. It showed how we were — not how we wanted to see ourselves. Not pretty, but arresting.
Oh, hell, I’d better pick up the pace. From there, I wandered down Fifth Avenue and met my friend Pamela to go to an art book publishers’ exhibition. We traipsed around Chelsea, we ended up drinking prosecco in a trendy bar where everybody was far taller and thinner and younger than us, but who the hell cares? We were talking about our lives; that takes longer when you’ve lived as long as we have.
Sunday, my husband and I went to a neighborhood Cuban restaurant for brunch, then I headed south for a Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library in midtown. Even though I’m not part of the Austen cult (what would Jane do? is not something I spend my life contemplating), it was incredibly moving to see the fine and careful penmanship of her letters to her sister and niece, to think of her lingering over them — a real person who had no idea of the enduring fame and reverence her works would evoke after her death.
Oh yes! The pace! Then I went to see the classic dance movie, The Red Shoes, in the Village and found it amazingly modern, with a feminist perspective on women and work and love. (Although I did wonder about the connection between passionate women and trains; it just always seems to end badly.) My friend Roberta and I got lost in the Village, which remains the most confusing parcel of real estate in Manhattan. Or maybe we were just talking too intently.
So, there you are. There was my wonderful weekend — exultant and perfect. But you know what’s odd about it? I know very well how lucky my husband are to be spending a year here. It’s a great time of our lives, when we’re healthy and free of earlier obligations and financially stable. I know that. I try to remind myself of that regularly.
But it’s as if I can’t merely acknowledge and enjoy that good fortune. I keep thinking I want more — another year, a place in New York (which we can’t afford, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pore over the real-estate ads and fantasize). I’m no role model for anybody. I’m thoroughly and sadly human. I try to enjoy and remain conscious of what I have now, today, this instant. But my eyes move toward the horizon and, in spite of my best intentions, and I become greedy for more. If Robert Frank were still around, his lens would have seen me as I am, not as I want to be.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about a good catch