Notes from New York (I)

In New York, it was hot. I forgot to be amazed that we'd just crossed the Atlantic ocean in seven hours. I wore shorts and sandals a lot. We went to Coney Island, enjoying the air conditioning in the F train all the way to Stillwell Avenue. The last time we were there we saw a pair of newlyweds having their photo taken outside of Nathan's. It was December and almost unbearably cold; the bride wore a long sleeveless gown and stood motionless, her shoulders bare and her face frozen into a smile, while the photographer, in a heavy coat and fingerless gloves, darted around the wedding party. Then the place was photogenic; now it was sort of eerie, all set up for Halloween but inhabited by sun-seekers, shirtless men on bicycles and girls in bikinis lying on towels or splashing at the shoreline. I stood in front of a zombie-like figure, blood on his plastic shirt, trying to get some shade. This place was becoming a haunt of ours, I thought.

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We were staying in a Brooklyn Heights apartment, up six flights of stairs. A few doors down was a café with a bench shaped like the Brooklyn Bridge; at the end of the street was a playground, at the other end, an Italian restaurant. At breakfast I re-read Hemingway because I'd just seen the latest Woody Allen film. There was a good desk in the corner of the room from where you could look out at the Manhattan skyline, but the chair had wheels and the floor sloped, so you couldn't sit there for too long without sliding away. There was a roofdeck, and on the hottest nights we went up and watched the sun set over the buildings and had a Sam Adams. I'd had an apartment like this in Boston, a tiny, well-lit 2 bedroom apartment with access to an empty roofdeck. I couldn't tell if I was nostalgic about it - even some of the smells reminded me of that place - or grateful to be somewhere else now, metaphysically I mean. I remember once coming back late after serving drinks at some swanky function (I was a temp for a catering company; I owned a polyester tuxedo, complete with clip-on bow tie and trousers with an adjustable waist) and wanting a beer - it was spring, quite hot out. My roommate had left some Harvest Moon pumpkin ales in the fridge, so I opened one and took it up to the roof where, not very long ago, we had made snowmen during a St. Patrick's day blizzard.

***

Later in the week, when the weather had turned (not cold and Autumnal, but wet, humid, the skyline shrouded in a queasy mist), we went to the Brooklyn Museum. Somehow I found myself in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, although I had no particular interest in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. I stood in a dark room. On one wall was a gilded mirror; on the other, a large screen, onto which was being projected the image of a room. In the center of the actual room was a chandelier, lit up, upside down. And into the projected room a woman in period dress walked. She entered, looked around, exited. A few moments later she reappeared, standing on the ceiling, upside down. She began to recite a speech, or perhaps a series of speeches. I was alone in the room with her. Then I was joined by a woman in a leather jacket. She looked around, took a flash photograph of the exhibit, left. She was not part of the exhibit. I was not part of the exhibit. On the wall outside the room I read: "In The Spirit and the Letter, the viewer enters as space where sculptural elements, including a softly glowing crystal chandelier balanced upright on the floor and a framed mirror hanging upside down on the opposite wall, invert physical assumptions to produce an uncanny sense of dislocation." I did not know what this had to do with feminism, exactly, though I had to admit that later, looking at my photographs of the exhibit, the image of the woman standing on the ceiling made me feel a little disoriented.