grey marble

January 19, 2006

Home alone

I just flew in from Austin and boy are my arms tired. My entire body is tired. It's been two days of cramped planes and lack of sleep. I called car to pick me up from the airport because I didn't want to deal with the taxi lines. I was surprised getting off the plane to find that the temperature in New York almost matched last night's temperature in Austin.

The driver turned off his music when I got in the car. After a few minutes, he asked if I wanted to listen to the radio. I said sure. "What do you want to listen to?" he asked. Anything, I told him. "What you had on before is fine." He said it was Indian music. I said it was ok. He put the cd back on. I asked him who it was and he told me it was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "Isn't that qwaali music?" I asked. He seemed surprised. He asked me if I understood the lyrics. I said no, and he began to translate them.

He said he had spent $4,500 installing the stereo system in the car. It was a complete home theater set with two amps. A video screen could descend from the ceillng. He turned up the volume to demonstrate the sound. It was loud at 15. He said the volume went up to 45. I told him that would probably make his ears bleed. He laughed. He said when he's driving around alone he likes his music loud.
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January 17, 2006

Austin sketches

I'm in Austin on a business trip. And if the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, then Austin must be a little off to the side. The bright lights block the stars from the sky. I sat on the corner of Congress and Monroe watching the lights change, waiting for Rachel to pick me up while I was watching the sky. A woman stumbled down the street. She wore a grey hoodie tied up around her face. "Excuse me, excuse me," she said as she approached. She poked me in the shoulder. "Do you know what time the bus comes?" "I don't have any idea," I said. She reached over and patted my cheek. I shrugged my shoulder to pull away. She leaned in closer and reached over with her palm. "You don't have any idea," she said before walking on.

Wil had said, "Keep Austin Weird." I didn't know what he meant until I saw a bumper sticker stuck upside-down on a lamppost outside a school for the deaf. "Keep Austin Weird," it read.

The flight from Dulles was miserable. Stuck in the last row, the seats didn't recline. Fortunately, the man next to me decided to move to another seat and so I could spread out. That said, there was still precious little in the way of leg room. I had been up since 3.30 in the morning, and had already taken the quick jump from JFK to D.C. It was another three hours and forty-five minutes to Austin.

I left the office at five. Someone had said that there were a number of shops and restaurants about a mile and a half south down Congress. "SoCo," he called it. I asked at the hotel, and they showed me how to take the free shuttle bus to the general area. It came only ever 20 or 30 minutes; I decided to walk. Stopping in a CVS, I asked for confirmation. They had never heard of SoCo. I thanked them and kept walking. I took photos of different signs as I went.

The area reminded me of a place in Los Angeles Patty had taken me to. The shops were funky. I spotted an ice cream shop I marked to try out. At a small gallery I asked for a restaurant recommendation. She mentioned a cafe and an Italian place. Rachel called as I was walking over to the Magnolia Cafe and suggested the South Congress Cafe for something a little more Texan. I thanked her and turned around.

After dinner (it was ok) I went back to Amy's Ice Cream. I asked about the Mexican Vanilla and was immediately offered a tasting. It was delicious. I ordered a cone. En route, I passed the Continental Club. Bettye Lavette's playing Thursday night. I had hoped she might be playing tonight, but as it is, I have my own funk to take care of.
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January 10, 2006

Doubled up weekend

Friday night, K took a group of us out to Kittichai to thank us for helping her over Christmas. The food was fantastic, especially the sea bass and the tiger shrimp. The waiter turned out to be a friend of Viv's that I had met a month or two ago. It took me a while to place him, but once I figured it out I introduced myself.

Afterwards, I made my way up to Laurent's for Guillemette's galette party. I thought I was late, but the galette's hadn't been cut. Food covered the kitchen table; the galettes were lined up on the counter. I was stuffed and couldn't have eaten a thing. I ran into Leila, whom I haven't seen in almost four years. And then Jean appeared. I was so tired I didn't recognize her at first. Someone handed me a glass of champagne and I chatted with random people here and there. Guillemette handed Jean a slice of the galette. She took a bite and soon Jean was showing me a feve. She was crowned queen for the second year in a row.

After my glass of champagne, I took my leave. It wasn't until I was on the subway platform that I realized I hadn't said goodbye to Laurent. As soon as I returned home, I emailed him an apology and a word of thanks.

On Saturday I went to the Neue Gallery for the Egon Schiele exhibit. I had never before been to the museum, and found it lovely. The exhibits are housed in a mansion commissioned by industrialist William Starr Miller, and completed in 1914. The museum felt European in the way in which paintings were displayed on its floors amidst Viennese clocks and cabinets and in the small gallery spaces. I knew little about Schiele (the first time I had heard his name might have been in relation to a Rachel's album), and thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to his watercolors, paintings, and drawings.

The next day, Guillemette would ask me if I noticed anything in particular about the exhibit. When I confessed I hadn't, she asked if any of the drawings reminded me of Laurent. The likeness became suddenly apparent. She said Patrick had first mentioned it to her.

I took the bus home. It was still early, but I was starving having eaten little all day. Walking from 8th street, I decided to stop by the Pearl Oyster Bar. A line had formed outside. The doors would open at six. It was 5:45. I stood in line.

By the time the doors opened the line had grown to be at least twice as long. As people filed in, a woman directed them to tables or seats at the bar. I took a seat next to two women from New Jersey who immediately introduced themselves. They were in town for the day, taking time away from their husbands and children. I ordered oysters and the signature lobster roll with shoestring fries. Regina had recommended the fish sandwich, but it wasn't on the dinner menu.

The food was fantastic. The women next to me chatted with each other and a lone woman at the end of the counter. She had ordered as soon as she had sat down. She said she lived in the area and would come all the time during the summer. When she got up to leave, we all said goodbye. The woman next to me beamed. "See! We got her name for you. We're working it for you!" I laughed.

As I left, Mimi called. She asked if I wanted to have dinner. I told her I had eaten, but I'd have dessert. We decided to meet at Ony.

We sat down and the waiter took our order. Mimi ordered the hakata ramen and I ordered the mochi ice cream. My ice cream came out immediately. I ate as we chatted. When I was finished, the ramen arrived. Mimi said she couldn't finish it and offered me a third. After our meal Mimi ordered the mochi ice cream. I felt we were eating in a Martin Amis novel.

Sunday, Guillemette called to ask if I wanted to see the Pixar exhibit at MoMA. I told her I had a birthday brunch in Astoria, but if we went early I could go. We agreed to meet at 11.

The show was small, but fun. The best part was on the second floor, where four projectors showed a widescreen film on the inspiration and early sketches of the Pixar animators. Using the metaphor of a paste board, the camera zoomed into and out of sketches, animating bits and pieces. When the film was over, attention turned to the back of the room, where a zoetrope showed animated Toy Story figures. People oohed and ahhed as the zoetrope sped up and slowed down, illustrating how the flashing light used persistance of vision to animate the seeming mess pasted on the disk.

I was late to the brunch. People were leaving as I walked in. I talked to Rachel for a bit about her job and her plans for the day before she left. I stayed to have brunch before going to the Museum of the Moving image to play Dance Dance Revolution; I couldn't get past the first level.

As the afternoon wore on, I decided to walk to Astoria Park to watch the sun set. I walked west on 36th and then randomly chose a street on which to walk north. When I got to the park, I took a walk around the track before making my way to a bench by the river. I called Jean and talked to her for over and hour as the sun dropped behind the horizon. As we talked, the lights turned on in the apartment buildings across the river and became reflected in the water. The day grew cold.
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January 3, 2006

Happy New Year

New Year's Day I woke up and sat on the couch for ten minutes in an effort to decide what to do. The late morning sky was overcast. My eye drifted across the apartment and caught my Iran guide book. I spent the next hour reading about the country and planning a trip for the fall.

Morning became afternoon. I took a shower, dressed and left the apartment, heading north. As I walked, I decided to walk to Bergdorf's to see the Christmas window display. Y had told me that Bergdorfs always came in second in the citywide window display competition, but only because every year they were similar. She said she liked them, though, because they were elegant, and she felt that Christmas should be elegant. I agreed.

As I walked, I passed the Flatiron building and then the Empire State building. A line wrapped a quarter of the way around the block. At the door, an attendant directed everyone to the end of the line. Tourists paused in front to take pictures of the lobby.

Continuing onwards, I walked past the New York Public Library where I was tempted by the exhibit on illuminated manuscripts, but pressed on. Soon, I passed Rockefeller Center, where the crowded sidewalks forced me onto the street. A line shuffled past the Saks displays.

Soon I was at Bergdorfs. People crowded the sidewalk selling designer knock off bags. I pushed past them to see the windows: maidens made of porcelain at a tea party, a librarian looking an ostrich in the eye. They were fanciful and beautifully done and wonderful.

By then I was at the southern edge of Central Park. I started walking up through the park, and paused by the zoo. Sea lions were playing in the central pond. I stood by the fence, hoping for a better look when I realized I had never before gone to the zoo. I checked the times; it was open for another 45 minutes. I bought a ticket and walked in. The attendant told me to keep half of my stub for the petting zoo, a little further north. I thanked her and wished her a happy new year.

I walked to the edge of the sea lion pond to watch them swim. A group of girls stood by, trying to capture a photo with with their cell phones. At one point, one sea lion reared up on the edge of the glass, and they snapped away. The sea lion looked this way and that, offering each profile, then sunk back into the water. One girl cried out, laughing: "I didn't get a photo!" Her friend told her that she'd send her one. I laughed with them and then went to look at the penguins.

The arctic room was dark. Penguins swam in circles in a pool. The water ranged from chest level to below my feet. I could see their bodies densely packed in the deeper portions of the pool. I stood and watched them swim back and forth, staring into the eyes of those who floated at the top of the water. Occasionally, one would take to land, to stand and preen, before launching itself back into the water.

I continued past the puffins and out the door, touring the polar bear area without seeing the polar bear before continuing up to the back of the museum where river otters played. Coming back towards the main area of the museum, I stopped to watch snow monkeys wrestling each other on rocks spaced out in a pond (in the background, I could see the sea lions being fed) before entering the rainforest, where I searched for birds in the trees and watched deer mice pick their way through the underbrush on their spindly legs. The tamarinds were particular favorites, as well as the poisonous blue tree dart frog.

By the time I left the rainforest exhibit, we were being ushered outside. Attendants announced that the zoo was closing. As I left, people were saying goodbye and happy new year to a woman standing by the gate. One person paused and said, "You don't work here do you?" She laughed and said she did. "I sold you your ticket!" she exclaimed.

Darkness was falling. As I walked past the Delacorte music clock, it rang the half hour. I walked west through the park, past the skating rink and carousel before emerging at Columbus Circle. I took the bus back south, through Times Square, which already was cleaned of the confetti that had fallen the night before. As the bus edged south, I looked up at the buildings and saw the faint outline of the New Years ball sitting atop a lighted sign that flashed the new year, 2006.
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