Wednesday, January 17, 2018

SILENCE

My friend Patti drew my attention to this quotation from an essay by the then 15-year old John Cage. It was written in the 1920s, but it could as well have been written today.
One of the greatest blessings that the United States could receive in the near future would be to have her industries halted, her businesses discontinued, her people speechless, a great pause in her world of affairs created, and finally to have everything stopped that runs, until everyone should hear the last wheel go around and the last echo fade away…then, in that moment of complete intermission, of undisturbed calm, would be the hour most conductive to the birth of a Pan-American Conscience. Then we should be capable of answering the question, “What ought we to do?” For we should be hushed and silent, and we should have the opportunity to learn that other people think.
Like Cage, I am a big fan of silence. I indulge in it, in meditation, almost every day. Would that some--no, all!--of our representatives in the United States Congress were required to spend a half hour in silent contemplation! Would that the current occupant of the Oval Office be required to stop tweeting and blurting out his lies for long enough to retire into silence! What a blessing that would be!


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"YOUR" TRUTH

I heard Oprah Winfrey's speech at the big Golden Globes event--or at least a recording of it. It was a powerful and moving speech, and one that seemed to summarize the sentiment of the entire gathering as well as something of the spirit of the times. She was met with wild cheers and a standing ovation, none of which I begrudge her. But Oprah for President? I demur.

I demur with some hesitation because there is good reason to believe that she could actually win a race for the presidency in 2020. To start with, she would be a vast improvement on the current occupant of the White House: she has charm and intelligence, clearly a good business head and great organization skills, and a heart that is firmly in the right place. Her humanitarian instincts offer a refreshing contrast to the callous self-interest and materialism of the Donald Trump clan and its disreputable band of cynical enablers. And there's little doubt that for these reasons and many others she would attract enormous popular support. She is likable. Then, too, she is a woman--and I believe that we absolutely need a woman president after centuries in which male dominance has failed to bring us to a place where peace and justice reign. And, not least, as a proud and prominent African American citizen, she makes a statement to the country and the world about our rejection of the despicable racism that currently infects our politics and our culture.

But President Winfrey? Have we not had our fill of celebrities in the Oval Office? Do we really need, once again, to reduce the race for our highest office to a popularity contest, in which the person with the greatest public visibility and the most appealing charisma wins?

That's one problem. The other, for me, has to do with the core belief on which her speech was based: the notion that the highest purpose in life is to "speak your truth." On one hand, I believe this is related to a core tenet of my own, an adage to which I have attached great importance as a writer and one of the criteria on which I have based my work and thinking as a "critic": tell me who you are. It's what I try to do in everything I write and everything I look for in the work of  others. In this sense, I applaud Oprah's injunction. Connection--especially the heart connection--is the greatest human attribute.

But a president has to do more than speak his or her truth. I have enough European skepticism left in my blood to sniff out the sentimentality in that construction. Yes, a president needs vision, and vision comes from the heart and soul as much as from the mind. For a president, though, it's about more than self-expression. (This is something Trump does, regrettably, rather well. It is, in fact, the essence of his personality). A president must be able to embrace the vision of a country; and not only embrace it, must have the intellectual and political skills needed to realize it. That Oprah excels at speaking her truth is testified by the millions who feel that heart connection with her. She's the undisputed queen of the feel-good culture. What a president is called upon to do may frequently reflect hard necessity in the name of national interest or international peace. In these hard decisions, there is inevitably more involved than the recognition and expression of "my truth."

So, please, Oprah, continue to do what you do so well. Continue to speak to the heart of America and act as compassionate therapist-in-chief. But don't use your power to seduce an easily gullible voting public into confusing heart with politics and policy. Endorse, yes, when you want to speak your truth. But do not run for office.You might win.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

TAKING AND SENDING

I woke this morning with thoughts of the ancient Tibetan practice of tonglen, taking and sending. The proximate cause was my conversation, yesterday, with an old friend whose daughter is currently in dire physical and emotional need. My friend is naturally distraught, caught in that familiar, agonizing place where we so desperately want to do something for a person that we love, but know of nothing we can do.

Which is where tonglen comes in. I learned about it first, I believe, in Ken McLeod's authoritative book on the relevance of Tibetan Buddhism in today's Western world, Wake Up to Your Life. I came across it at the time of the last illness and death of a person close to me, and found it to be a useful and comforting way to do something in a situation in which I could otherwise do nothing other than sit by and allow events to unfold as they would.

Tonglen, as I understand it, is the practice of using the breath through the tip of the nose to "take" in all the pain and suffering of another human being (you can imagine it, usefully, as a stream of black smoke), process it within, and send it back out with the outbreath in the form of renewed, healthy, and healing energy. It is better explained in this short piece written by Pema Chödrön with her usual compassion, insight and clarity.

The practice is one not only of compassion but also of generosity. I have found that it works both ways, both for the one suffering--in seeming to induce a kind of healing serenity--and for the one making the genuine effort to practice taking and sending. It can be addressed, of course, not only to a single person, but to the whole of suffering humanity--and don't we need it now more than ever! When I find myself agonizedly thinking, What can I do about this horrible mess we find ourselves in?, I must remember to turn my thoughts once again to tonglen.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

THREE DREAMS

I had three dreams last night.

After the first dream I woke in a frenzy of exhaustion having lost two laptop computers and searching for them in utter desperation. I still hadn't found them when I woke.

The second dream I don't remember. I remembered it vividly when I awoke, but forgot it after trying so hard to remember the third dream.

In the third dream I am trying to persuade former President do a men's training weekend with me. He is a friend. He is still president. We are in Paris. I am lecturing him about the defaults of his character, his rashness, his lack of self-control with women; but I also praise his power. He is a powerful man, I tell him--and not only politically. He is a powerfully-built man. I can tell by testing his biceps.

Well, we are in Paris, as I say. I need to get to the 11th floor of the Eiffel Tower--to meet Bill Clinton? I don't know where he's gone at this point in the dream. I seem to remember that I have to change elevators at the 9th floor, and exit our elevator car there. The adjacent car is under repair, and it turns out I was mistaken, there is no other elevator to board to get to the 11th floor.

On the next one to arrive, I ask the hostess if this will take us to the 11th floor and she tells me yes, it will. I step on board but soon realize my mistake. This elevator is more like a roller coaster; it rises toward the 11th floor but soon turns down again. It passes, like a tourist car, through towns and villages. It has a dining car, where everyone is relaxed and cheerful.

I am angry for having been misled, and more and more anxious to get down to the street level. I remember Bill Clinton has a plane to catch, and would need to leave the hotel lobby at three to catch his plane at four. I very much want to see him before he leaves, to make him understand how important the weekend is. But then I realize he doesn't have to leave at any particular time; he has his own plane to fly on.

I do manage to see him once more before he leaves, and try to impress him with the importance of the weekend. But he has called the number on the card I gave him and tells me that the recorded message was very misleading. He's not interested.

Friday, December 29, 2017

CHRISTMAS TIME, NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20

I woke this morning in New York City. It's always a pleasure to be here; the throb of the metropolis is quite different from the continuous quiet hum of Los Angeles, and you can feel it even early in the morning, from nine floors up. We are staying at our usual haunt, the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington at 47th Street. We arrived last night via Jet Blue from Los Angeles--an easy and uneventful flight whose only snag was a failure of the video system. Not much of a loss. I kept myself busy with the NY Times crosswords I had saved up for this contingency...

A rather glum taxi driver brought us in from the airport and we arrived at our hotel around 8PM, in good time to unpack and take a leisurely walk to find a bite to eat. We settled for Blackwell's Restaurant & Pub on 47th Street, and enjoyed a glass of their good beer and some reasonably decent fish and chips. Back to the hotel to catch up on the disasters of the day on television news--mostly, today, the disastrous tax bill being rushed through Congress.

I'm honestly not sure whether I'll keep up with our New York/Washington trip on The Buddha Diaries. Feeling no compulsion. It will depend on time. Today is our uptown day, with Michelangelo and David Hockney at the Met, Edvard Much and Anselm Kiefer at the Met Breuer.. and then there's always the Guggenheim and the Neue Galerie.

Much to do. Too much, really for a single day. It's great to be back in New York City...!

LATER...

We lazed around in our hotel room for a good long while yesterday morning, then suited up, California style, for the the New York cold (it wasn't really that cold; just seemed that way to us!) and hailed a cab on Madison to head north to the Metropolitan Museum. Big mistake! the traffic on Madison was the worst I've ever seen, slower than walking pace in places, Heavy traffic, yes, but the real problem was the delivery trucks and construction trucks double-parked on either side, leaving st times a single lane up this busy thoroughfare.

Arriving at the Met, I used my privilege to pick up pre-arranged guest tickets and we head up to the Michelangelo show on the second floor. What a treat!


The show consists mainly of drawings, though it included a few sculptures, and required a lot of close viewing. Remarkably, despite the anticipated crowds, it was relatively easy to spend close-up time with each drawing and get a marvelous, intimately physical feel for the hand of the master. I plan to write more about the exhibit when we return to Los Angeles. Suffice it to say, here, that it was inspiring to be able to watch a great mind in the process of creation. Such is the nature of these drawings--some spontaneous, quickly made, cast aside, others immaculately finished. Looking carefully, you feel that you can actually see the mind of a genius at work.


We took the elevator down to the first floor and strolled past Louis XIV furnishings, Fabergé eggs, and through the great hall of Baroque sculpture...


... for a leisurely lunch at the restaurant overlooking Central Park. How petty our politics and politicians look in this perspective! A good reminder of the great sweep of history and our small place in it...

After lunch, we returned to the second floor to see the David Hockney show. Having written the Abbeville Modern Masters book about Hockney some twenty years ago, I was familiar with much of his work up until the mid-1990s, but its was still a pleasure to see some of the early paintings again. They stand up well, both to the passage of time and their adjacency to the Michelangelo exhibit. Hockney's work was long disparaged, I think, particularly this side of the Atlantic, where the powerful mainstream ploughed through its various fads and fancies. Hockney stuck obstinately to his own vision, and does so to this day. And an exiled Brit myself, I particularly enjoyed the period of his return to his northern English roots and his passion for the Yorkshire countryside...


There is something distinctly working-class, down-to-earth about his vision that I find hard to translate into words, along with a kind of joyful, infectious innocence that shines gloriously in this deeply cynical world.

We had intended, hoped, really, to see the Edvard Munch and Anselm Kiefer shows at the Met Breuer, but after Michelangelo and Hockney, we had neither the time nor the eyes for any more art. We did a little Christmas shopping in the marvelous Met store, then headed south in a taxi (the weather had turned quite nippy by this time) for a return to our hotel. On arrival, we were told about a wine and gift-wrapping party on the 16th floor--which seemed a little odd, but turned out to be quite charming. We met the artist and some members of his family who own and operate the Roger Smith Hotel, which has traditionally been a haven for arts-related folk from the West Coast. A delightful interlude, which made us feel right at home!

For dinner, on to the Greek seafood restaurant on 48th Street, Avra...


... where they managed to find a table for us amidst an animated crowd of fellow diners. Good Greek food. And, yes... expensive! It was a pleasure to return to our room and watch a television program about the brains of birds.



THURSDAY,  DECEMBER 21

We patched togther a not-too-successful breakfast in our hotel room, with a poor attempt at English breakfast tea made with a malfunctioning Nespresso machine and granola and yogurt from the supply provided, as always, in the lobby by the Roger Smith Hotel. Then set out for the walk to our first stop for the day at the Museum of Modern Art. Passing St. Pat’s, we stopped for a brief tour of the cathedral...


... before setting out north on Fifth Avenue...


... to admire the real American Christmas spirit in the sumptuously decorated shop windows, including a couple of beautiful, sparkling small scale dioramas at Tiffany’s...


... and, across the street at Bergdorf Goodman’s, their usual full-scale window extravaganzas...



Having paid our homage to ostentatious materialism, we turned back down Fifth to 53rd Street and arrived at our original destination. Like the Met, MoMA had kindly provided me with guest tickets—particularly, but not exclusively, for a show that had caught my attention before leaving Los Angeles, “Charles White—Leonardo da Vinci, Curated by David Hammons.” Having spent nearly two years researching what I hoped would be a book on the African American artist, White—an old friend and colleague from my days as Dean at Otis Art Institute, I was imagining an exhibition featuring a comparison of drawings by each of these two master draftsmen, one time-honored in the annals of history and academia, the other undeservedly side-lined, in his day, by the great sweep of American mainstream art.

I was amazed—and frankly at first a little chagrined—to be greeted by something far different in the strange and fascinating display that Hammons had actually installed—though I should perhaps have expected something poetic and intellectually challenging from an artist whose own work has confronted us often with mystery and metaphorical conundrum. The large, low-lit gallery space was hung with only two images, placed directly across from each other on opposing walls—a tiny drawing of drapery by Leonardo and White’s very large “Black Pope”...


... in which the central figure is similarly draped in robes. A third wall was hung with arcanely detailed, large scale astrological readings of both artists, inviting the viewer to find points of comparison—and difference between the two. White’s, appropriately, was filled with the struggle and suffering with which he was confronted in his life as a black man in a culture not yet (and still not, today!) resolved in its own bleak, shameful history of slavery. Hammons slyly invites us into a deeply personal contemplation of a complexity of earthly issues involving race and religion as well as the influence of the stars.

We wandered on, from this exhibition, into the current installation of work from MoMA’s rich collection of 20th century art. It was soon clear that the museum is making a conscious effort at diversity: the installation featured a good number of lesser know artists, including previously minimized or neglected women and artists from other than Western cultures (Iraq, Iran) alongside the regular canon of artists and art movements. Still predominant, though, unsurprisingly, was MoMA’s in depth collection of the work of the two big white guys, Picasso and Matisse.

Upstairs, on the 6th floor, we found the exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” comprising, according to the museum’s description. “111 items of clothing and accessories...



... that have had a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries—and continue to hold currency today. Among them are pieces as well-known and transformative as the Levi’s 501s, the Breton shirt, and the Little Black Dress, and as ancient and culturally charged as the sari, the pearl necklace, the kippah, and the keffiyeh.” An interesting show from the point of view of cultural history, even though not quite up my alley. We half-wondered whether any of Ellie’s stepmother’s gifts of high-fashion clothes to MoMA might be included, but did not find any.



Down the elevators to the lunch room on the first floor, where we enjoyed the company of a young mother and her very pretty daughter, along with a shared bowl of soup and salad. On the way back to the galleries we were intrigued to hear the sound of enthusiastic applause coming up from the lobby, and learned that its cause was a live performance by Patti Smith. Hurrying back down the stairs, we found a place not twenty feet from the famed performer, just in time to hear a plea for political activism from her daughter, followed by a spirited rendition of Smith’s iconic anthem, “People Have the Power”... a performance in which the audience was invited to participate, and did so, with gusto. Written many years ago—I suppose in the context of the Vietnam war—the song has sadly lost none of its burning relevance today. A great and unexpected treat.

After lunch, we tackled the big Steven Shore exhibition and Louise Bourgeois. I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the former’s conceptual photographic work—often, it seemed to me, a cataloging of relatively random images whose metaphorical and formal associations were pretty much left to the imagination of the viewer. The large landscape images, though, were quite beautiful in their exquisite detail of rocks, grasses, and so on, seen in the foreground of great panoramas of some of earth’s most lovely places. I respond, frankly, with greater emotional connection to the hands-on, heart-out work of an artist like Louise Bourgeois...



... whose intense and intimate explorations of herself—both her inner life and the biological of her physical body...



... are much closer to what I myself attempt as a writer. She tells me a great deal about what it means to be a woman, an insight a value as a man who would otherwise have only empathy to go on. She struggles with her self and lays out the result for all to see and share.

We left the Modern towards late afternoon, intending, originally, to find a cab across to our dinner date on Tenth Avenue. Good luck with that! We headed south on Fifth Avenue, battling immense and growing crowds as we approached the Rockefeller Center where the masses jammed together, to see not only the famous Christmas tree and watch the ice skating but also, across Fifth, to marvel over the spectacular light display on the façade of Saks department store...


The combination made forward progress almost impossible without the forceful use of shoulder and elbow, but we finally made it as far as 47th Street, where we turned west and walked on through Times Square (another spectacular light show!) and across town to Tenth Street and our dinner destination at the MéMéditerranean restaurant.

We found Ellie’s nephew Danny and his wife, Rachel, waiting for us, and I drank a welcome glass of single malt as we waited for Sarah and Tim and our little grandson, Luka. They arrived soon enough, and we all enjoyed a wonderful family reunion over good Mediterranean cuisine...


From left: Sarah & Luka, Danny, Rachel, Ellie, Myself...

 It was a pleasure to spend a little time with Danny and Rachel, whom we had not seen since their wedding a couple of years ago. They were the first to leave, headed up to the Berkshires to spend the holiday there. The rest of us piled into an Uber and drove back across town to our hotel, where Luka joined us in our room for the night, while Sarah and Tim went out on the town…



FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22

This was our day to spend with Sarah and Luka in New York. Enough with the art—we had already feasted. I had a relatively sleepless night—I guess with the NYC adrenaline—but we all managed to be up and out of the hotel by 10-ish, starting out with a brisk walk down Lexington to Grand Central and turning east on 42nd Street and stopped at a dinner packed with the late breakfast crowd.

With a good breakfast under our belts, we walked on to impress Luka with the New York Library. A fun photo op outside, with the lions...


... on the library steps...


... and a quick visit inside, where we were all scolded in the map room for the crime of whispering too loud in our exploration of one of the great antique globes. Leaving the library, we walked behind to Bryant Park, where we found more crowds patronizing the dozens of brightly lit stalls selling seasonal gifts of all kinds; and a skating rink, where we stood and marveled at the skills—or sometimes the lack therefore—of a hundred or more skaters wrapped in their bright scarves and bulky parkas. The huge Christmas tree had decorative balls that were bigger than Luka’s head!


Walking back north on the east side of Fifth Avenue, we stopped at the Saks store windows, each decorated with an elaborately activated scene from the Snow White story. It was a treat to watch the wonder in little Luka’s  eyes. Then a quite stop at St. Pat’s, so that he could see the cathedral—though the crowds made it impossible to venture far, even down the side aisles. We crossed back to the West side of the street and backtracked to the Rockefeller Center. More crowds. We admired the giant Christmas tree and watched some more skating on the rink...


... but Luka was mightily disappointed not to go into the Lego store; the lines were simply far too long to be worth the wait.

Back on 5th Avenue, we walked north toward the park and were startled, as we crossed 57th Street, by the agonized screams of a woman who had fallen in the street and was bleeding quite heavily from the nose. It turned out, when we reached the north side of the street, that it was Luka who had tripped and fallen first, tripping up the poor woman behind him. He was, of course, distraught, as was his mom. But there was really nothing we could do. The injured woman was being helped, and was not looking around accusingly for the culprit. She needed nothing further from us, it seemed, so we took a distracted look at the famous Bergdorf Goodman windows and stepped into the store to warm up a bit and take a sniff of the luxurious perfumes there.

With Luka consoled—and by now quite weary from the long walk—we made a detour into the Plaza basement, where we enjoyed a cup of coffee, a muffin, and some tasty miniature donuts. On the way out, we wandered past a barrier that was supposed to prevent access to a stairway that led up to the ritzy lobby of the hotel---now, as I understand it, converted into condos. We passed big photos of the many celebrities who once entered these hallowed halls and strolled down a corridor that led us past the celebrated tearoom where Ellie and I once, long ago, sipped tea with her distinctly upper class step-mom…

Outside the Plaza we were accosted by a very persistent salesman who sold us, much against our initially better judgment, on a pedicab tour of Central Park! As it turned out, we thoroughly enjoyed being tourists, bundled up, the four of us, under a blanket...


... and listening to the practiced patter of our driver...



... and waving cheerfully at our fellow pedicab and horse buggy riders as we trundled through the park. We made a number of photo stops at various spots along the way...





... including, of course, Strawberry Fields with its memorial to John Lennon...


 At my request, we also made a final stop at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture...



... where Luka had a good time scrambling over the bronze figures with a crowd of other kids.

On to the Met, where Sarah had arranged to meet an old friend of the family, Sherrie Zuckerman—whom we ran into down below the steps at a stall where we had stopped to buy chestnuts (Luka turned his nose up!) Since the museum was open late, we decided to spend some time in the warm—and were astonished by how much Luka loved the whole experience. We charged through ancient Egypt, time-travelled to the armored knights of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and ended up in contemporary America, with Luka leading us through the whole adventure. A big fan of butts and an ardent lover of butt jokes, he took particular delight in all the naked statues!


Collecting our coats, we decided on a taxi back to the Roger Smith, and from there took a quick walk around the corner to Allora, where we all enjoyed a fine Italian dinner.


An after dinner walk down to Grand Central Station...


... after which we oldsters decided it was time to knock it off for the day, while Sarah and Luka, still full of energy, disappeared off in the direction of Times Square to admire the lights…



SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23

We were up in good time to pack ready for departure to Washington and met up with Sarah and Luka in the hotel lobby. Called for an Uber (I wish this were not so darn convenient!) to Penn Station, where we made out way down to the chaotic Amtrak waiting area—too few seats for too many people, garbled messages from the PA system. To make matters worse, I spilled hot coffee all over myself from an overfilled cup, soaking the rather stale, undertoasted bagel which was all we could find for breakfast. Okay, so I’m a grouch…

Then boarding the train was a nightmare. It seemed like thousands of people were ahead of us, more familiar with the boarding “system” than we were, all filtering into the narrow escalator that led down to the platform. Made the mistake of climbing into a carriage and wasting more time elbowing down the length of it in order to exit the other end. As it turned out, though, the chaos worked well for us. Amongst the last to actually find a carriage with seats, we ended up in a first class compartment—with the encouragement of the Amtrak staff who just wanted to get us stragglers boarded.

It seemed like a long ride to Washington, and when we finally arrived I was surprised by the shabby quality of the train station in the nation’s capital—at least until we emerged from underground into a splendid reception hall, all decorated for the season and with a toy train exhibit that Luka loved. Some confusion over Uber, with Sarah and Luka headed for Tim’s parents home and we for our hotel. But we found a cheery driver who took the lot of us and regaled us with horror stories about the quality of driving in Washington DC.

Arriving at the Georgetown Suites, where Chloe, Tim’s mother, had booked for us, we found ourselves in a comfortable, spacious room where we unpacked and rested up for a while before calling for another (!) Uber to take us over to the party to which Chloe and David had invited us. It was pouring with rain as we left, but we arrived unscathed to find the party already in full swing. So many people in such a tiny space! And all of them—at least those I met and talked to—such solid, interesting people. I should not name names, but these were friends of David and Chloe’s from their professional career days—a long time Time magazine writer, an art director, Washington attorneys, government department heads, and so on. Very impressive people, all deeply engaged—or formerly engaged, given that we’re all aging a bit—in the politics and culture of our time. Needless to say, we found none who had a good word for what is happening in our country at this time. So… a truly fascinating evening, and one that caused us to reflect on the differences between East Coast and West Coast intellectuals. The West Coast, sadly, did not come out so well in our reflections.

We were understandably a bit weary by the end of the evening, and were grateful for Tim’s offer to drive us back to our hotel.



SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24, CHRISTMAS EVE

At the National Gallery...
As usual I was up early for meditation and a bit of writing while Elle slept on a while longer. When she was up and about, we took a morning stroll along Georgetown’s M Street, nearly deserted on the morning of Christmas Eve.



We bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times at a cut rate from what seemed like a homeless guy camped out on the street--checking first, with unjustified mistrust, to make sure none of the sections was missing! Then stopped at Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a muffin.

Tim and the whole gang (Sarah, Luka and David) arrived in David’s car to pick us up shortly before noon and we drove through very light traffic to the National Gallery. I had been determined not to miss the once-in-a-lifetime Vermeer (and fellow masters) show and everyone seemed delighted to join me. “Vermeer and Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration andRivalry” included 10 magnificent paintings by Vermeer himself, and some 60 other works by his contemporaries in the late 17th century. The curatorial intention was to examine these artists’ artistic exchanges at a time “when they reached the height of their technical ability and mastery of genre painting, or depictions of daily life.”

Luka..



















It was a fantastic exhibition. I would have liked to spend longer and paid closer attention than I was able to; the price of being a grandfather is that sometimes the six year-old grandson does not share the same interests or attention span, and little Luka soon tired of spotting the little (Jake-like) brown and white dogs...

who make their appearance in so many of these paintings and made it know that he was anxious to move on to more interesting things. Actually, give him his due, he did very well, for a six year-old. But his presence did make a difference to the viewing experience. Still, we saw enough to be awed by the quality of the paintings of this narrow period in art history; and to be able to note, beside all those wonderful paintings, the sublime superiority of this one great master.

Tim drove us back to Georgetown, where we dropped off David and Luka at his parents’ condo building and drove back into town for a bite to eat and some last-minute shopping. At a bit of a loss to know what would be a good gift for the Aarons, aside from the “Fabergé” easter egg Christmas tree (!) decoration we had bought for them in the Met bookshop. We settled on the idea for a lox-and-bagel brunch. Surprisingly, lox and bagels and cream cheese all proved hard to find, even at Dean and Deluca’s, and we had to settle for the last of their deli bagels, some Scotch smoked salmon, and a handful of little containers of cream cheese.

I headed back to the hotel for a needed nap while Ellie kept shopping for the last Christmas essentials (wrapping paper, anyone?) and we bundled up, on her return, for the short walk from our hotel to La Chaumière, where David and Chloe had made early dinner reservations. I enjoyed a gimlet with David before the rest of the gang arrived, and we took our time ordering from a wonderful, distinctively French menu. Two bottles of wine accompanied our excellent dinner...

David, Peter & Tim
Ellie & Chloe

Luka prefers Italian...
... at the end of which we two elders were presented with the gift of fine Cuban cigars brought back by Tim and Sarah from a recent trip to Mexico. We debated whether to enjoy them, with a glass of Calvados, as an after-dinner treat that evening, but eventually decided to postpone the treat for Christmas Day.

Ellie and I returned to the hotel in good time to do some packing in preparation for tomorrow’s departure for Los Angeles…


MONDAY, DECEMBER 25, CHRISTMAS DAY

Finished our packing and Uber’ed over to the Aaron’s condo in good time to spend the morning with the family. Everyone already up and about—and Luka more than ready to see what Santa brought. We started with his stocking...


 and pretty soon moved on to the cornucopia of gifts under the Christmas tree...


 Everyone did well, especially, of course, Luka, and rightly so! After presents, we all enjoyed a pleasant breakfast around the dining table...


 Ellie and I wished we had found fresher bagels than those we’d bought at Dean and Deluca, but there were no complaints, and nobody went hungry.

After breakfast, David and I lit up our Cubanos and David poured generously from a bottle of fine Calvados...


I do not make a practice of smoking indoors, for obvious reasons, but it was cold outside on the terrace—the coldest day of our trip thus far—and everyone, including Chloe, seemed to tolerate the smoke without objection. David claims that it all clears quickly with a door and a window open. I suspect the smell hangs around for longer than he will admit, but I confess it was a sinful pleasure to smoke indoors on a comfortable sofa for a change. And the Calvados only added to the pleasure.

It was all too soon time for the Clothier gang to leave. With a 3:30 flight from Dulles, we left a little after 1PM...

One tired boy... and Lucio

... and arrived in good time for an easy check-in and security. Ellie was the bad guy, having stashed some kind of mild contraband in her carry-on bag, but that was no more than a momentary hitch.



A brief train ride took us on to our departure gate, where we had only a short wait before boarding.


The flight went by uneventfully and, with the aid of crosswords and a silly movie, in tolerable time. As always, it was good to be home—and to stop by to pick up Jake from his best pal, Remi’s house, just a couple of doors from us, where he had been well taken care of by our friendly neighbors.