Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: obsession

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Granny is still obsessed with the US elections - hunting out every report, watching every video, still holding her breath.... etc etc. What will she do when it's all over she wonders? - what excuse can she use so as not to have to to face into her empty head, onto her empty screen?

Well, she'll have an excuse, briefly, she remembers - on election day she has to head to England for a quick visit to sort out one or two problems on the home front. In the meantime, here's a glimpse or two more of her US visit. She has always loved being in the States: half the time feeling completely at home, the other half as if taking part in a movie - but then her many misspent years in the cinema, watching US films, probably accounts for both sensations and maybe they are the same thing really, even though one gets emphasized over the other from time to time. In Southern California, especially, it's hard not to feel in a movie within sight of the Hollywood sign, or sailing down Sunset Boulevard, or heading for Burbank or passing the bottom of Mulholland Drive. And, damn it, she was staying in the very canyon where, in 'Six Feet Under', Nate, David and Clare's, ditzy new age aunt held her new age parties - and where Nate was seduced at an unpardonably young age by one of the aunt's friends....

All of which made the canyon and Granny herself feel more and less real at one and the same time.

No such issues in New York City; which Granny has adored since the first moment she set foot there. She was staying courtesy of an organisation that has emerged since her last visit fourteen years ago, offering bed and breakfast in private New York homes. Her billet - like, she suspects, most - was in an oldish apartment block, upper West Side in this case, the apartment in no way the glitzy kind you see in series like Sex and the City but as much as if not more typical of New York apartments in general, probably. Most of these blocks were purpose built in late nineteenth or early to mid twentieth century, and are of a kind rare in London (apart from Victorian or Edwardian mansion flats and a few twenties blocks). Many of them are also lived in by people whose family has rented them for years and years: so that even in sought-after areas - relatively sought after - we're not talking Park Avenue here - their rents are fixed and pretty low, not subject to the hikes of the passing rental market, let alone the sale one. Though landlords have been known to try and get the long-term tenants out, the law is against them and they don't usually have much success. Granny has been in several such apartments in her time: one belonged to cousins of hers. All are of a similar character: relatively cramped, compared to mansion flats at least, with white-tiled bathrooms and far from shiny, rounded white baths, most of the rooms opening out from the central one, and most of these rooms crammed with furniture: smart minimalism gets no more look in here than shiny luxury bathrooms and ditto fitted kitchens. Some are minimal in size- there's been comment lately about how small some London flats are getting , but the commentators have obviously never been in one of those New York apartments where a bathroom, a kitchen, a built in desk, a double bed and a built in wardrobe occupy the amount of space allowed for the average British hallway; some look out on a dingy central funnel and are very claustrophobic besides.

The flat where Granny stayed wasn't so small, and certainly not claustrophobic. It wasn't all that big either - not big for a flat in which two children were reared - it was crowded with furniture, had an antique television set - Granny got the Palin/Biden debate fuzzy and only with great difficulty - and the usual, typical kitchen and bathroom. But, on the eighth floor it had a good view: close at hand it looked over the back of the school attended by the Kennedy clan, further away you could see the Empire State Building. There were plants in all the windows and pictures on all the walls - some of them by the dead photographer, more of the fat guru-clad, born-American guru of whom Granny's hostess was an adherent. There were no animals - this was a relief. Granny's cousins, in a similar apartment on the other side of Central Park, had acted as an unofficial animal rescue centre, harbouring a collection of dogs so disturbed and neurotic you couldn't go into most rooms for fear of upsetting them (and getting bitten.) In another room lived a collection of legless or wingless or altogether limping pigeons. No disabled pigeons or neurotic dogs lodging in this apartment, along with the landlady, only an anything but neurotic American-Filipino friend, disabled temporarily by an operation and being looked after here by her mother. And also, of course, briefly, Granny herself.

The hostess, a dancer in her youth, had been married to a well-known now dead photographer, and as a dancer had worked with a company for which the likes of Rauschenberg and Oldenberg had designed - they were always hanging around, she said - had been taught art by Robert Motherwell and been a good friend of Willem de Kooning. Granny apologises for this artistic name-dropping, but en route as she was to MOMA, to view the works of these mid-twentieth century ikons, it was kind of startling: you can see. The landlady was, altogether, one of those typical, wonderfully nutty, aging women of which New York is full - a Jewish nut in this case, like many, though Granny's equally nutty and aged female cousins (the animal rescuers) were as Gentile as they come. The way this typical aging New Yorker adopted Granny, marched her off to MOMA on the one evening it let people in for free (New York museums are disconcertingly expensive, even allowing for the pensioner's rebate) took her out to dinner one night, cooked for her on another- none of this part of her job description which merely included bed and breakfast - Granny could forgive - even enjoy - the attempts to recruit her to the cause of the fat guru: for being scolded for sleeping on the wrong side of the bed - better Feng Shui, she was told on the other. She could even forgive her toothpaste being confiscated, on the grounds it was poisonous (she is now cleaning her teeth with a more innocuous variety pressed on her by her landlady). Her resistance to the fat guru was not held against her. Nor was her refusal of the invitation to an evening of ballroom dancing, dinner included - this was the only kind of dancing the dancer went in for these days - on the grounds that Granny's ballroom dancing - or lack of it - might embarrass her mightily (though not perhaps as much as if Granny had agreed to take part in the pensioner's chorus, the landlady sang with once a week: Granny is an even worse singer than she is dancer.) The two of them became fast friends in all events- Granny does hope they will meet again, very soon. Not least it might be an excuse to visit New York - wonderful New York - again. SOON.

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