Saturday, September 13, 2014

Diary: East Coast

The western shore of Long Island Sound at Milford, CT.

I made a short trip east, 4 to 8 September, to attend a birthday dinner for my wife's younger sister. This was at a restaurant, L'Ondine, in the countryside near Danbury, CT. Beforehand, I spent a day in Manhattan, mostly at the Met. As if by common agreement, the city's main museums were rotating their exhibits, so my focus at the Met was on the Greek and Roman Hall and the French Impressionists upstairs. 

A Greek or Roman frieze, seen at the Met.

The Metropolitan is a remarkable museum. I first visited it in grade school, decades ago. Some curatorial hands have been at work, pruning the halls and galleries to clarify rather than overwhelm. Moving through the arc of Greek and Roman art and artifacts, with accompanying maps of those worlds of city-states and territories, some of them clearly uncharted, the proximity collapses time's distance, especially when what's viewed has a modern tone to it - whether of beauty, as above, or of design. 

A glass vessel, Greek or Roman, from the Met.

It's not accurate to style the European painting galleries as Impressionist or even French, but they dominate. The last time I was there, I was stunned by the quantitites of Gaugin, Monet, and Van Gogh lining the walls - too much Monet, I thought, but there are fewer now, laid out on a north-to-south route that starts on at the southwest corner and moves in a crisscross fashion to the opposite (east) side of this set of galleries. This, anyway, was my route, which took me back in time, suggesting that I should have walked the other way. One benefit of reverse chronology is that you see the influences more clearly - and how painters, including Monet and of course Picasso, shifted gears.

Georges Braque at the Met - a painter whose work I much admire.

The weather in Manhattan and vicinity was oppressive on Friday. While staying with friends in Stamford on Saturday, though, a big storm blew through - thunder and rain, repeated over the day and early evening. The birthday girl and her husband were late arriving at the restaurant because of the weather, but it had blown over by the time we all drove back. The storm broke the heat, so the next day - Sunday - was wonderful. We spent it at our friends' beach house at Milford, on Long Island Sound.

The Sound from my friends' beach house.

When I was in college, I sailed with my parents from Galesville, near Annapolis, to Martha's Vineyard on their 30-foot sloop. We went up through the Sound, but my Sunday visit gave me a chance to observe it from one vantage point. At Milford, the tide goes out 100 feet or more, exposing a sand bar. There's an island off of Milford to which one can walk at low tide. Apparently, a few people every summer misjudge the rising tide and drown while trying to get back. There's something peculiarly American, I think, about the fatalism with which this is viewed - the laissez-faire attitude that's been so dented by the fallout of litigation, yet survives here and there, to someone's peril.

Literally since winter turned to spring, I've been wanting to go to a beach, but the moment never materialized. I was properly grateful to find myself on one - mostly sitting with a drink in hand, in keeping with my phlegmatic nature. As the day ended, the huge moon of this brief season rose above the sound, making a trail in the water that grew brighter as the sun set. 

The moon rising over the Sound at Milford.

I spent the last day back in Manhattan, on E. 93rd Street, less than a block from the park. I looked in at the Neue Galerie - only the Klimt room was on view, but I bought a small book by Robert Musil at the bookstore (and earlier found a novella by Stendhal at another bookstore near to where I stayed). The Guggenheim was similarly shut down, the Futurism show on its way out. I saw the Kandinsky room and the permanent collection. 

Graphic by Mel Bochner at the Jewish Museum, Manhattan.

Walking back from the Guggenheim, I stopped in at the Jewish Museum, which I'd never visited. Unfortunately, I missed by a day the just-opened abstract show. The mix of didactic exhibits and others focused on contemporary art reminded me of the Museum of the City of New York, only more vertical and compact. Didactic exhibits tend to lose their spark after one viewing. If these ones are ever redone, the didactic could be smaller and experiential - more easily varied and updated; then the art and artifacts could come forward.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Diary: Late Summer

1 September 2014

Flowers in the garden outside the barn.

Late summer is one of Berkeley's two ideal seasons, with fine, warm weather. We banished the deer, and the garden has repaid our kindness with flowers and vegetables. Unlike spring, a sign that winter's over, late summer speaks of autumn, of the dreaded fire season, and of impending winter which I dislike. So I view it with mixed feelings. In childhood, it meant the end of leisure - the real kind in which time barely figures - and a return to school, with its clock, its work, its spans of dead time that imagination sought to fill. School prepares us for the odd life that follows, with its interludes of joy and terror amid long stretches of making, doing, dreaming, and regretting. 

This Saturday marked 40 years since I married. This led me to post some photos, both of the event and of the bride. Elsewhere, I've tried to set down thoughts about marriage - an institution that also has to fit within the life that follows. Marriages build up their quota of tangibility, although this is as ephemeral as anything else. A striking feature of the news, more or less across my lifetime, is its tendency to give vivid examples of the tangible falling apart. Yet we persevere, so this illusion is a necessary workaround, like the Zen stricture against nihilism.

Late summer is a memento mori, a prelude to winter. Last winter was summery, which was pleasant enough but jarring. If it repeats, it will be a disaster. My prejudice against winter reflects long experience. The house is tighter now than it used to be, so the worst of it is not as bad from a living standpoint. I can put up with the rain, too, for the most part. I think the dark is the real problem, how the days contract. Whatever the season, I'm up late, but shorter days depress me.

Nature, of course, could care less. It has its own reasons. I'm just another genetic pop-up, with seasons of my own, fast expiring. At least, my seasons feel that way, although I could argue for some continuing middle ground that separates me from the nearly dead - an argument that's likely to continue pretty much until they hand me the morphine. 

A year ago, I was in London, on a trip that also took in parts of France and Spain. It was ill-timed in relation to work, but a perfect end of summer. This summer has been short trips to the East Coast, plus some days off now and again. The barn and the garden have substituted for distant places. As a friend pointed out, our region is many others' tourist destination. I do love it. Whenever I'm away, I soon miss it: Domesticity again.