15 February, 2007

fine new shoes and fine old friends

Monday morning found us at brunch in West Hartford with the family, being entertained by Jane who is clearly a favorite with the staff at the cute diner AC Petersen Farms, which they frequent. "When are you headed off to the sunshine, little one?" our waitress wanted to know. Joel and Jane are destined for the Florida sun to join my sister who is slaving away for ESPN on NASCAR business. My mom told hilarious stories about many of Jane's tricks that we have not yet seen, like her "blap guitar," made by strumming on her favorite birdseye diaper security item (don't ask, it's a family tradition), and the related "blap accordion." Suddenly then there was a beeping sound and Jane announced, "Coffee's done." Joel looked sheepish. "Well, our coffee maker beeps when the coffee's done, so..." Several hundred omelettes and pancakes later, we played in the snow at Joel's house for a bit, John using Jane as a shield against Avery's snowball fights. "You wouldn't hit an innocent baby, would you?" Then goodbyes all round, and we were off to the city.

The apogee, of course, of the day, was Avery's long-anticipated reunion with Cici. They hadn't seen each other since August, and the excitement was at fever pitch. We pulled up outside the Village Community School in the West Village and there it was: a completely typical urban New York school, red brick, high fence surrounding the play yard with its basketball hoops, the children's voices at wineglass-shattering octaves. And the universal sensation that is school pickup. It doesn't really matter what the accents are (Washington Square or Sloane Square), or whether the cars waiting outside the yard are mother-driven SUVs or chauffeur-driven Bentleys, or whether the kids are boys and girls in every outlandish outfit you can imagine, or little girls in pristine uniforms. The feeling is the same: how was English? Did you eat your lunch? Hurry and jump in the car because your sister is having a meltdown.

And there was Cici's mother waiting outside the yard, ready for our hugs and a bottle of champagne. "Cici's right there, Avery!" and there she was. Much screaming and jumping up and down, and Avery's little glowing face, being introduced to Cici's circle of friends, all of whom looked bemused, fascinated and a little skeptical, but friendly. Clearly there had been some advance press for the visit. We walked in the bitter, biting cold to their new apartment not far away, and had tea and caught up on family life. "I remember these plates!" Avery said in delight, and "Here's that picture of you and me eating a strand of spaghetti together, one on each end, until we kissed!" and showing off pictures of Cici riding at their stable in Connecticut, and stories of the embalming-chicken project that Cici is involved with at school. "We're studying King Tut!" Finally Kathleen and I left them drawing together while we nipped down to the gorgeous boutique on the ground level of their building, Zero by Maria Cornejo. She's a fascinating Chilean designer, and thank goodness there was an enormous sale, because Kathleen found a pair of really chic and useful black culottes that I put on immediately while the languid and bored shop assistant struggled mightily with the computer system. Gorgeous.

Then I was off to meet John in SoHo for a trip down memory lane, in our old stomping grounds of Spring and Broadway, looking up fondly at the second-story balcony (OK, OK, it was a fire escape) on which we had so many, many after-party hangouts, goodness, nearly 15 years ago. Looking downtown to the Woolworth Building and uptown to the Chrysler Building, there was never a cooler loft. Many cats, furniture styles, dinner parties and one child's entire life later, we looked up there and felt very... old. But happy. Off for my long-awaited shopping trip to Varda, quite simply the best shoe boutique in the world in my opinion. In our most recent closet purges, I finally said goodbye to two pairs of boots that had lasted (so to speak) me nearly 15 years, and I was ready for a bit of a blowout. Oh my, though, painful as it is to say, prices have increased in that period of time! Nevertheless, I came away with some gorgeous chocolate brown boots, flat-heeled, sadly, as John objects to any heel, and I am fool enough to want him to be happy. And a pair of pilgrim shoes, with a glossy little folded flap. The shopkeeper actually remembered me! Then it was off to Old Navy for t-shirts for Avery.

It's strange: normally I am not a shopper, at all. I have black turtlenecks and other black turtlenecks. Huge displays of clothing make me nervous, and shop assistants, too. In London of course I get sticker shock and never buy anything. But there was something sort of youthful and fun-loving about a little shopping spree! I think it's a SoHo thing, a mixture of old happy memories of what John used to call the "opportunity cost" of living at the corner of Spring and Broadway: there was always an opportunity for something to cost money! And I was a carefree young art history professor who felt it was part of my job to look chic. A bit of myself that has definitely gotten if not lost, then firmly pushed aside under layers of motherhood, moving into my scary 40s, many moves, job changes and other stresses. It was fun to out shopping with my husband, in a spending mood. All we were missing were John's parents, whose shopping trips used to cut a swathe through SoHo, John's mother's credit card in her hand as she said, "Charge!" Self-indulgent and fun.

Then we raced back up to the Village and collected Avery, arranged to meet everybody back at Cici's school in the morning, and raced back down to Tribeca for drinks with Alyssa, Annabelle and Elliot. As the girls immediately turned on their "Bop to the Top" soundtrack and began dancing, Alyssa said ironically, "Can it really have been TWO WHOLE MONTHS since we saw this dance?" She turned to Amy, the girls' babysitter from years gone by and explained, "It turns out that 'Bop to the Top' is appropriate for any occasion. Changing of the Guard? Bop. Waiting in line at the British Museum? Bop." Elliot skated around them, trying for a moment in the sun. All too soon, however, we were off in the cold to walk to the nice quiet Indian restaurant we had chosen for our evening with Jeanne and Cynthia. Alyssa went with us and we decided to pass by our old loft on Jay Street. So sad to look up into the windows and see that my miles and miles of zinc bookshelves, so lovingly designed and always chock-a-block full, were nearly empty. "And the place is lit up like a photography studio!" John wailed, thinking of his subtle and beautiful lighting schemes. We all sighed, thinking of the home that had been.

Just as we approached Salaam Bombay for dinner, John said, "I wonder how long it will be before you see somebody you know?" and there in our path was... Augustus, the painter from my gallery who had so famously (not that he knows that I told everyone the story) announced to me that we were meant to be together. Destined for a great passionate love. Intended by fate to join our creative instincts together in a great partnership of love and the arts. "But Augustus," I objected, "what about my husband and child, and your wife?" I don't even remember his response, but goodness he was appealing. So we stood there in the windy bitterness, my family and I, listening to him extol his own virtues, a pasttime at which he is amazingly talented. Give him credit, I thought to myself, he is a great painter. But it was a funny encounter, and little did he know he had provided excellent copy for my fiction class, in which he appeared as a murder suspect. Too funny.

Into the cosy restaurant, and a glorious evening of gossip and catching up with our dear friends. Avery, however, stayed awake only long enough to unwrap a present from Jeanne, a book on horse mythology, and to say thank you nicely, and then was down for the count under a drift of everyone's coats. Cynthia brought us up to date on the awful and costly renovation of her realty office (she is quite the most clever realtor that ever lived, having once described a house in an ad as "entirely upholstered"), and the pressures of having young job-hunting relatives living with them, and the health of various friends in common. And possible plans for them visit in May! They are trying to convince us to join them on their upcoming cruise on the Queen Mary II, but as far as vacations go, that one doesn't grab me. How wonderful, though, to be warm and well-fed, chatting with old friends, and making plans. The food was not quite as remarkable as I had remembered, the many times we ate there and more often ordered out, all the dishes except for the vindaloo tasting a bit as if they had all been cooked in the same sauce, albeit tasty. But a lovely evening. Back to the hotel with a boneless Avery, and to sleep. Because the next day was slated to be... busy, to say the least.

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