Today I finally felt better, actually awake, so I set out on an adventure. I went to a restaurant I really like, where I once ate an amazing chicken soup. Like the best thing ever. A Balkan-style soup, sour and amazing, flavored with herbs that don’t even grow elsewhere. They were out of it, and the quinoa burger I ended up ordering was fried, so I could not eat it. I ate the bread and veggies, which were good, and I didn’t complain, but they caught on something was wrong. They ended up comping my meal, which was awkward. Everything is more awkward for me here, since I feel out of place and I know I often do or say the wrong thing. Anyway, blah. I shook it off and I bought a delicious covrig later, something that’s easier than dealing with the whole showing up by myself in a cool restaurant and dealing with the social anxiety of being in a place where I speak the language but am unaware of subtle social cues.
I then went to my favorite part of town, the Old City Center, a former merchant quarter which to me preserves a certain old world charm – though it is touristy and chaotic. There I visited the most beautiful bookstore in Europe, which I generally also consider too touristy, with many foreign language books and a vast assortment of expensive gifts, but today I actually found a nice selection of Romanian fiction and I proceeded to read through some of the books with intriguing titles and pretty covers to try to find one I like. Then I sat down to drink a lemonade and draw, and for once this much admired and much photographed touristy bookstore turned out to be a wonderful place of refuge. They even have carousel horses in the bar area. I think I shall return.
It’s been years since I’ve experienced jet lag so awful. Last night I was wide awake at 3am. At 5 I gave up trying to sleep and decided I’d spend some time editing my manuscript. There is a 5am Writers’ Club on Twitter and I never thought I’d join it but I guess one should never say never.
Today I felt awful all day long. Dizzy and out of it and just all around horrible. Even the long walk I took in the afternoon was rather uninspiring. But maybe tonight I’ll sleep. And maybe tomorrow things will be better. In the meantime I drew something inspired by the 1900 Galveston City Directory and I’ll share one more of the promotional photos for Storms of Malhado taken by Buburuza Productions with y’all.
The city is not as beautiful in winter. Or maybe it’s just my jet lag that’s gotten me feeling pretty down. I’ve been thinking a lot today about Alina in Stray Dogs and Lonely Beaches, my second novel. I’m remembering why I wrote that, the types of feelings I needed that particular character to experience. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel more like myself and therefore more at home in the world. Today I’m tired and dizzy, and I’m not quite here.
After an uneventful and short flight (seriously, the 7 hours from JFK to CDG seem like nothing compared to the 10 hours from Houston), here I am in Paris in the Mothership of all Air France Airport Lounges. It has plush green velvet cubicles and actual showers with clean towels and Clarins products. Of course I used one, and now I’m sitting here working, about to have a second cappuccino before the jet lag kicks in.
I think part of the usefulness of Airport Lounges – there she goes making excuses for upgrading again! – is that one can comfortably sit at a table and draw. The good food, champagne, coffee, and easy access to very clean and slightly luxurious restrooms are not bad either. Cocooned in the comfortable Air France Lounge – which at JFK is much more luxurious than in Houston – I can almost forget that I didn’t want to leave my NYC room with its view of beautiful yellow cabs and its easy access to my favorite stroll down Fifth Avenue. Luckily getting to the airport was painless, thanks to one of those beautiful cabs outside. And I got just a passing glimpse of my favorite NYC bridge. Can you guess which one that is?
“A mighty fortress is our library,” one of the characters of my favorite novel, Duplicate Keys, by Jane Smiley, says at some point while standing in front of the New York Public Library. With its lion statues guarding it, it looks like a mighty fortress indeed, though that’s obviously not what the quote alludes to.
Today I decided at some point in the afternoon, after the most charming breakfast at Sarabeth’s by the Plaza, after my friends left, after I did a Facebook live video for my Dogs with Bagels book club, broadcasting from my window bench where I could see the beautiful yellow cabs on Lexington, after all that I decided that I wanted to walk to the Public Library. Actually I think I just wanted to walk and I remembered somehow through muscle memory that walking down Fifth Avenue really fast, all the way from the Park to the Village is one of my all-time favorite things. It makes me feel free. It makes me feel like anything is possible.
And so I walked. I walked past Saint Thomas, my favorite NYC church, with its intricate sculptures, took a moment even to go inside, then walked past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The Empire State drew nearer, the stores went from high end to cheesy, and the lovely scent of candied nuts from street vendors engulfed me. I felt very much at home.
Did I stop at the Library? You bet! I even went inside. I looked at some of the current exhibitions, and what occurred to me was that what’s changed since my crazy twenties in New York, when my appreciation of the City was superficial at best, to now when I fully feel its magic, is not that I’ve gotten older but that I’ve actually gotten an education. I don’t mean a formal education – the degrees I was earning while I still lived up here – but a real education in the things that truly interest me. An education derived slowly from reading books I like. Mostly novels. The realization made me somehow feel at peace with myself. I mean, all weekend I’ve been berating myself for being the rootless vagabond that I am, for wanting to move back to New York, for always being so ready to pick up and leave. Then I realized I’m ok. It’s all ok. The flip side of my vagrant ways is that I can be happy anywhere where I can paint and have access to good books. A mighty fortress is our library indeed.
I’ve never liked the Subway – and actually have always taken great pains to avoid it. The crowds, the smells, but mostly the confusion – where do I take what train and will it actually go where it’s supposed to or did I miss a sign about a detour? – always made me either walk crazy distances or hail a cab instead of facing the underground monster with its intricate tentacles. I never minded seeing the occasional rat. In fact, I think they’re adorable as long as they don’t get too close, and on the tracks they’re definitely at a safe distance.
Anyway, despite not liking to navigate the subway, I am fascinated by it, so when Ryan suggested a subway tour for our group of collectors I was quite intrigued. We had a guide who was funny and very knowledgeable. He talked nonstop for three hours while pointing out landmarks both above ground and in various subway stations. At some point we were in lower Manhattan and I felt that the energy is really strong there and it really attracts me. It’s something I’ve felt on previous trips – yet never in my childhood or in my twenties. Something I’ll have to explore. John and I saw a leather sewing machine just like his in one of the storefronts. We didn’t have time to stop and investigate but I took its brief sighting as a good omen.
The day had a surreal quality to it, but so does my whole trip here. New York is such a mix of memories and new sensations, of places and experiences that are familiar, layered over so much that is unknown and unexplored. It’s a bit like a mysterious lover – Suzanne’s Desmond in Storms of Malhado – someone you know intimately yet also don’t know at all.
This morning we went to Hudson Yards to see The Vessel. It’s a brand new building that’s actually more of a piece of art than anything else, as it’s all out in the open and all one can do with it is climb up and down. It’s interesting indeed, but, surrounded by the kind of luxury retail that’s exactly the same everywhere you go, it’s part of the glossy over-commercialized new New York that I’m not sure I care for.
Which is why lunch at Sardi’s, a Theater District institution, featuring over 1,300 caricatures framed on its walls, white table linens, and impeccable service, was a nice way to balance out our visit to this new and somewhat puzzling creation.
I’m definitely all about old New York: Grand Central and the Chrystal Building, the Art Deco façades of Fifth Avenue, the park and the Plaza, the Met, and the good old fashioned joy of hailing a cab on a busy street.
In the afternoon we visited the Whitney Museum, where we saw some very interesting art. Afterwards, I just had to go to Bloomingdale’s. I had to do some of the old things I used to love doing, like recite my family’s old 212 number in order to get a member discount, and sweet talk my way into free samples of Crème de la Mer. Walking back to the hotel to rest I wondered why these things meant so much to me, why they gave me a sense of belonging. Am I that shallow? Then I realized this is simply something that fascinates me as a business person, that whole way of making someone feel special and valued, of creating an experience, a connection. So let’s definitely file my trip to Bloomingdale’s under professional development.
Today we ran around quite a lot – which is typical for a day in New York for me. We went to breakfast, then to the Guggenheim – I had never been, as in my twenties my cultural destination of choice used to be the Met, which was free. I used to spend whatever money I had on cocktails and cabs with the occasional pair of tall boots thrown in. Anyway, so I finally saw the Guggenheim, which was pretty fabulous. But what was most fabulous about it was being there with my two top collectors, looking at art together and talking about it.
Later we walked through the park, then back to Midtown where we went on a hunt for Chinese dumplings and bao buns, which were absolutely delicious.
In the evening we were invited to a happy hour at the home of one of John’s collectors, which was quite fabulous. Our whole group was there, and the most amazing thing for me was people telling me they’ve been reading Dogs with Bagels and they like it! I always worry about how readers will react to it, because I know people usually either love L or absolutely hate her. “I totally would want to be her friend,” one of the collectors at the party told me, and that totally made my day.
Today my two top collectors and I flew to New York City where we’ll meet up with John, Ryan, and a group of John Ross Palmer collectors to celebrate John’s 46th birthday! It’s all very exciting. Being back in NYC always makes me nostalgic, but it’s so different this time around, arriving with my two top collectors, and getting to share my experience of New York – past and present – with people who care about me and my work. Naturally, I made a beeline first for real NYC pizza, then for The Plaza. There we sat in the Rose Room and had cocktails. Which were delicious. When the bill came, they brought a little postcard of Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. I just recently read about that, so I found it very inspiring. I had to do a little sketch of Gloria Guinness, Bill Paley, and Babe Paley at the ball. And it got me to thinking. New York has changed and not all changes are great: Henri Bendel has closed, so has Clyde’s Pharmacy. Sadder still, a huge Apple store has replaced FAO Scwarz, the famous toy store, on Fifth Avenue. I wonder where the giant $6,000 giraffe went when they closed. Did they sell it at auction? Does some kid have it now? Is it homeless?
Of course, New York has always reinvented itself and there have always been people around mourning the loss of a more charming era. Frankly, sometimes I think it’s its grittier times we should mourn – especially as artists and art lovers. The inexpensive bohemian New York of the 1970s. Even the 80s and 90s were still times that allowed artists and dreamers to carve out a nook for themselves in what was a more dangerous but more affordable City. Then it all became sanitized and uber expensive, all money and no fun. The peep shows in Times Square were gone, the Park became safe to joggers, and someone took the $6,000 giraffe away and put a giant Apple store in its place.