Friday, March 16, 2012

sooze in the city — or old hat, new hat, pretty little blue hat

just as my plane circled manhattan island, i thought of the first time i'd seen it, not quite this view, but far enough away to see the beauty in all that concrete and steel scraping at the clouds. back then, as a child, i wanted SO MUCH to get a closer view. to walk through the manufactured canyons, looking up and around. my thoughts on saturday of this week weren't so different, because this time i knew there was a piece of me already down there, just west of the edge of central park. my own blood and bone shaping the jawline of a beautiful girl who herself might just be watching the skies at that moment, waiting for me.


it feels a little old hat by now, these occasional trips into 'the city' to see my child. each year in the past six i have made the trip alone, with friends and family, wandering those canyons with her, seeing the city through her eyes. though we made a few mother/daughter trips together years ago, now — as she predicted what feels like so many years ago — this place to her is home. 

she's lived in more than a few places in her years of working in nyc. last fall my Pea and her Prince, moved into the 10th floor of a pre-war brownstone on a busy thoroughfare on the upper west side. after a half-dozen visits to this side of town, i've grown familiar with the neighborhood, the weekend market by the Museum of Natural History, with Harry's Shoes, and what on every corner seems to sit a storied Italian eatery. (on this visit, we ate at two), but it was my first trip to this apartment. i'd seen pictures, so i knew that after almost three years of marriage, my favorite couple was finally beginning to make a home.


you remember that, right? how without even realizing it, you found yourself replacing the tiny, temporary breakfast table with a good wood one? how you hung curtains in the windows — mine where hand-me-down from my aunt, though the Pea's are new. how you arranged your books in a creative tower on the floor just like in the magazines you now browse (well, the 2012 version is Pinterest) and made neat stacks of your wedding gift dishes in cabinets lined with shelf paper, and hung monogrammed towels in the bathroom because your mother was coming to visit and you know how much she loves pretty, clean towels. and how you brought in fresh flowers for the mantel — green and blue hyacinths, which were your wedding flowers — because she loves those, too. and how you carried around fabric swatches in your purse because you never knew when you might run across a chair or a rug or a print for the wall that just might work with that window treatment. how you and your husband wandered through flea markets on weekends and found just the thing to hold all your good dishes in the back of a barn where nobody else had cared to look. that kind of thing.


she is doing all that. has started to make her home, finally, in this sweet space where in the night, as she nods off to sleep she imagines who might have inhabited these rooms before her, in the 100 years since this brownstone was built. 

that is a gift of New York. that you live in three small rooms once occupied by those you can only imagine: the painter, the priest. the actress, the writer. the working mother at the end of her rope. the grandmother, the accountant. who knows what hats hung once in the little hallway where now maps of the places they love grace the walls? did someone like Peggy of Mad Men once live here, hopeful of what was to become?


but for now, the young woman who works in pr and the love of her life, who makes her laugh and loves her brother like his own... and the elegant Miss Bailey dog who sidles up to her grandsooze (who loves this, so very much) add their own history to this place.


when last i left her, my Princess Pea hadn't started all this, the collecting of the things that will one day find their way into other houses in her life with her Prince. their lives seemed temporary, disposable, like they were just biding time until the right thing came along. (the love seat i bought new for her first apartment found its way, somehow, into the place across the hall when they moved from there. a wicker chair that once sat in my sunroom for some reason met the curb, though she has kept the little desk that once belonged to my aunt, and another Santa brought her when she was 10.)

the right thing, for now, seems to be present in this house. and though it is just really three rooms, it is their house. 

her father and i started our married life in two rooms. beautiful rooms, with hardwood floors and two fireplaces, a brand new kitchen and windows taller than i am. three weeks later we left them for other rooms, then our first house, houses where we began to do what my Pea is doing. 

surely you remember that.

while i was in the city, the Prince stretched out on his new leather throne and in between ACC tournament games read highlights of the history of the neighborhood. later as we walked to dinner (at the first Italian place on the corner), he pointed out the gargoyle guarding their building just outside their living room window and the brownstones across the street that were the first ones to be built. 

Matt Damon lives on their street somewhere, as does Robert Duvall. (way down toward the Hudson). Mary Tyler Moore used to. And so did Sara Jessica Parker (who shared an apartment with Robert Downey Jr.) Might it have been this one?

on Sunday, we walked just up the block toward Central Park to a little gallery to see a collection of hats on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. the Bard Graduate Center for the past couple of months has been home to  Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones. (through April 15)


image from the Bard Graduate Center, West 86th Street, NYC

i've never been much of a hat wearer, but i love the idea. my mother wore them every Sunday when i was a child, and i often wished i would grow up to be as elegant as she was in her hats.

we were alone in the gallery, which itself sits in a refashioned brownstone, so we wandered through the collection, wondering what kind of heads had once worn such beautiful toppers. the Queen mother. FDR. Babe Ruth. Mick Jagger. and dozens of nameless heads as ordinary as a schoolgirl in a straw bonnet and as jocular as a jester, perhaps in King Henry's court. a bowler woven from the NYTimes. a cloche worn by Gypsy Rose Lee. but my favorite was a small brimmed hat made entirely of feathers, which reminded me of one my mother used to wear, arranged to resemble a painter's palette.


later, as we wandered the flea market in search of rugs and kitchen table chairs, we tried on netted fascinators just for fun.


early monday, as my Pea stood on the corner trying to flag a cab for me before the sun was quite up, i wondered if we'd leave each other this time just as we had so many others — in tears. the cab pulled up, and she opened the door, then hugged me tight, but when i looked into those giant brown eyes, they only glistened with happy. 

and as i rode away from her, for the first time in a long, long time, it felt good to be wearing this particular new hat.


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