30 August, 2008

our two worlds

Goodness, I really MUST got to sleep. But I'm thinking, late this Saturday night, of the darling dresses made by the fashion kit given to Avery by her doting grandmother, and how many hours of the Olympic coverage it took up for Avery, to design these beautiful and touching outfits! I will never forget those evenings with Nonna in the miniature rocking chair that normally lives under the eaves of my bedroom (no one seems able to remember where that chair ever came from!), all of us cheering on some athlete or other (generally with John it was a beach volleyball maiden, I'm sorry to say), while Avery concocted dress after pantsuit after skirt and jumpers. That child has the longest attention span of anyone I know. What pleasant evenings, and how I wish I'd brought these little outfits home.

We are all missing the simplicity of the Red Gate Farm World where we weren't thinking about the election (how we are now!), nor were we worrying about Avery's readiness for the backpack requirements for the first day of school. In that world, we were posing photographs with darling Farmer Rollie and wife Judy, Anne, David and Baby Katie, and dear baby Hastings, now living in his new family.

May I take just a moment to tell Shelley, my friend, how much it means to us that she has given our darling Hastings a loving family? Today we hear he has triumphed over his distemper shot, and Shelley is spoiling him suitably with "frequent little meals" in addition to his ever-available bowl of kitty chow. He has truly fallen into the pot of jam. Avery and I agreed tonight, who would have guessed all these weeks forward that a simple luncheon for a couple of girlfriends would result in a perfect home for our Little Mister, and a lifelong friendship for us as well? That's how life works.

However, there are charms to our London world as well! Among them chiefly is... the PIANO! When we bought it, all in a rush from Becky as she and her family decamped to Greenwich, I didn't give it much thought. Lord knows my family paid for enough piano lessons for me, and sat through enough recitals, that you'd think my skills would still be buried under there somewhere. And as Avery picked her way through a couple of pieces of sheet music we found among her dreaded violin homework (!), my ears pricked up, and so did my fingertips. I was good mother enough to apply tape to the keys between the Cs below and above middle C, and to offer some help with timing and sharps and flats. Avery was in complete heaven, transferring her intense attention from fashion design to "Flying Free," the incomparably tear-jerking song she and her Senior Choir compatriots sang to their retiring headmistress in July (I don't even remember their performance, so busy was I biting my tongue to keep from crying).

And then when she bored of it, I sat down to play, and would you believe it? As the hours and days go by, I get better and better! I can play "Danny Boy from her "Favourites from Ireland" book, and "True Love" from the "Easy Hits From 'High Society'" book we ordered from a music shop. And it's so thrilling to get a skill back. Funny to reach back into a part of my brain that hasn't functioned in 30 years! But I think it's all still there. To think my mother and I used to be able to compete on how fast we could play Chopin's Minute... Minute... heaven's to betsy, what was it called? You were meant to play it in a minute, and we could.

So our slow and lazy days recovering from jet lag, getting used to John's being away all day, facing the grey skies day after day, were punctuated yesterday by a welcome summons from... also a million years away! My dear friend Bea and her partner Edith, visiting from New York, where they live the true life of the bohemians, in a West Village loft filled with Edith's paintings and Bea's son's graphic design work. "He says he's middle-aged," Bea reports with relish, "and I keep asking if he's ever met anyone who's 108 years old." She and Edith and their host in Sussex invited us to meet them at the Tate Modern for the Cy Twombley show, and we were quick to head off on the tube and for a nice walk across the Millenium Bridge to be there.

Now... Cy Tombley. Cy Twombley and a nearly 12-year-old girl, admittedly well schooled from birth in contemporary art, surrounded all her life by abstract art, in fact, brought up after school for several years in her mother's art gallery where representation (let along figuration) was a subject only for debate, but not for purchase or homely familiarity. Cy Twombley is a challenge even for such a girl, even for an adult on some levels. Never having heard, I hope, the classic anti-modern-art phrase, "I could do that," or "my child could do that," her own completely spontaneous but really charming version was, "I think I really prefer art where it's harder for me to imagine making it myself, like Holbein." And of course on a certain level I feel her point. It's just gestural, just almost-handwriting, almost-text, and I did think, we both thought, that the pieces that depended more on color were the more successful. There was one room of all-green gestural works that completely evoked Monet and were in that way really wonderful and yet also... really dependent on Monet. Best to our minds was the room of three huge red spiral works, although neither of us could imagine the three living separately as they do, in all corners of the world, when they're not in the show.

It's frankly the sort of painting that for me requires some historical grounding: what was this fellow admiring? What was he rejecting? It's much more interesting to look at such supremely abstract art in the light of the fight between minimalists and abstract expressionists, than to stand alone there in the museum, trying to understand it on appearances alone. I know that's not always a defensible position for a true painting fanatic, but for a fairly historically based person, or indeed a person who might find herself resisting the interest of those paintings, putting them in their context can help. I don't know about Avery! She sailed along on her own, noticing that a bit had been erased and what would it have been like if the person erasing had just... kept going? Which led us to see layers where exactly that had been done. Good show.

Anyway, we were headed down to the cafe to meet Bea when I heard a voice ask, "Are you Kristen?" and I turned in total astonishment (who on earth!) to find a stranger looking at us in a friendly way. "And you must be Avery, I recognized you from the photograph your mother sent Bea. She's up in the postcard shop, didn't want you to wait, so come with me."

Such fun to catch up with old, old friends, who have known me since before there was an Avery! I met them all on a fantastically energetic Committee on Women in the Arts for the College Art Association, which I went on to chair years later... some of the happiest and most professional moments of my life! A lovely time to catch up, and let Avery have her say, watching her speak to them about art, London, her education. We talked about the show: how Twombley admired Jasper Johns, Donald Judd as well as the great AbEx fellows he was compared to... I had to sing my praises of Carl Andre, which led my intrepid feminist friends to object to his life story. Avery was puzzled. "Well, there was the small matter of his... pushing his artist wife to her death from an apartment window... was he ever prosecuted for that?" we wondered. We talked about Edith's upcoming 80th birthday show in New York, and whether or not I missed my gallery. Not until I talk to these people, not really, but then... I do.

Other than that, nothing of note has been happening. We are really trying to enjoy the near-boredom of the last days before schedules begin to crowd in, in the way they do in this London life. In fact, yesterday I spent some time filling in dates in my calendar from things that have been planned this summer, and I got a bit of nervous stomach to see how much of the next three months is already spoken for.

But I bet there's still time to learn the entirety of the key of F sharp...

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