Monday, March 5, 2012


The last day of the NAEA conference. My talk was scheduled as almost the very last event and as I had surmised, most of the conferees were already on their way back to wherever they had come from. The corridors and conference rooms were almost deserted by the time I crossed the street to the Hilton. First stop was the book shop, to pick up the last two copies of my books that had been marked for display only; it seemed that even one of those had been sold, so I gathered up the last copy of “Persist”—later sold to one of those who came to my presentation—and made a pit stop at the hotel Starbuck’s before heading for my assigned location.

Only a handful of people showed up. Clearly, this was no time for a “lecture,” so I rearranged us in a small, friendly circle at the front of the conference room, and went through my notes in a far less formal manner. The response was warm and gratifying; I believe we all ended up with a memorable experience to take home with us. I could have wished for a more favorable time slot, of course, but this more intimate circumstance had its own advantages. I’m happy to make my human connections just a few at a time, even as I remember with pleasure the opportunity to speak to five hundred and more. In terms of the number of people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and find out who they are, the whole convention has been a valuable experience and a great success.

Relieved, now, of all other obligations, I set out to meet my nephew, Danny and spent a couple of hours catching up with him. We met at the big Botero (the female one—there’s a male counterpart across the lobby) at the Warner Center and had a good, long chat over lunch before heading out across the southern end of Central Park as Danny accompanied me part-way to the Met. I was surprised to find not only snowdrops but also daffodils and crocuses and other spring flowers...

... beginning to show. The winter has been unseasonably warm in the northeast and this day, despite a light, cool breeze, was no exception. By the time we reached the Met, Danny was ready to say goodbye and get back to his medical studies, and I headed up the steps...

... into this most magnificent of repositories of the endlessly creative inventions of the human spirit. It’s always a joy to visit there.

Hard to choose, at the Met, what to look at, but two current exhibitions had attracted me. The Steins Collect was the first. I have known for many years, of course, about the Stein collections of the “contemporary artists” of early twentieth century Paris—notably Picasso and Matisse—but it was still astonishing to walk through the galleries where those collections were reassembled. Having attended that session at the conference about art collectors, I was reminded here of the kind of passionate obsession that drives the collecting bug. It’s a love not only of art, but of the artist. The Steins’ salons and their social life created a fertile territory for heated discussion, disagreement, and the exchange of ideas—everything necessary for the creative mind to thrive. Some collectors simply amass works of art; others—I think of Peggy Guggenheim, for example, along with the Steins—are able also to stimulate their production and contribute significantly to the cultural climate of their time.

Still, I have to say that even the Steins’ collections paled, for this viewer, in comparison to the stunning The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini in another wing of the museum. “Awful, artful and amusing” were the words that Charles I (I think!) used to describe Sir Christopher Wren’s new St. Paul’s Cathedral, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. The meaning of the words has changed over time, and they’re often used as examples of linguistic evolution, but I thought of them as I walked through this show. Awful—inspiring awe; breathtaking in the psychological perception of their subjects, and their representation of the human spirit; artful—in the incredible technical skill with which these artists worked; amusing—in that they have us musing on the human condition, the accidents of birth and privilege, the inevitability of death and the urge to immortalize through art. It amazes me to look into the eyes of these people, so long dead, and feel them somehow looking back at me across the ages. A powerful and profoundly moving experience.

Thus a-mused, I walked back slowly to the hotel along Fifth Avenue, stopping for a beer at a comfortable bar along the way. Arriving back in my room late afternoon, I watched news of the tornados that had struck the day before, reflecting again on the vulnerability and ephemerality of human life, the tragedy of loss and the miracle of survival. A somber moment. Until a hunger pang reminded me that I would need to eat and I walked a block up Seventh Avenue to an “Irish pub” where rock music blared and large-flat screen television monitors flashed images of hockey games and basketball tournaments all around. I sat at the bar and ordered shepherd’s pie, watching two women’s college basketball teams go at each other with engaging verve. I learned with difficulty (thick accents, loud noise) that the Scottish couple on the barstools next to me were in New York to celebrate the husband’s fiftieth birthday, and that they’ll be moving on to Las Vegas and San Francisco. Life, as they say, goes on. Ob la dee, ob la dah…


I made an early evening of it and decided to go for the absurd expense and rent a movie in my room. I knew that Ellie would not want to see Steven Spielberg’s version “Warhorse” anyway—and she would have liked it no more than I did. Disney stuff, with none of the edge or invention of the stage production that we saw on our last visit to New York. I should have chosen, instead, “The Iron Lady.”

In a couple of hours I’ll be leaving for the airport and the flight home. I’m looking forward, tonight, to getting back together with Ellie and George, and to sleeping in my own bed.

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