Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Wondering

Coffee Shop. 9:30 PM. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Monday, September 22, 2014. Last weekend of Summer. Sunny Friday and Saturday, coolish at times. High 60s down to high 50s. Although on Saturday it was briefly warm and humid. Then on Sunday, with some rain predicted (no), the skies were a foggy, dank grey. I’m one of those people who loves watching the weather. Last night we had another one of those sunsets that casts a soft rosy pink glow that transforms the mundane into art. I can’t seem to get the effect with my camera although I was able to get the skies above which were doing the work.
Saturday morning, an oil tanker/barge is heading out to the Sound on a beautiful day.
Sunday noon. the same tanker, emptied, returns to its berth under the mucky grey fog.
6:30 Sunday afternoon. Fog lifted Sun's out looking north up the avenue.
Same hour looking south. This is the light that casts the rosy glow.
The nabe, 8 p.m.
Home Sweet Home. I spend a lot of the weekends by myself. It’s like a small vacation. I went to dinner with friends on Friday (to Swifty’s) and on Saturday (to Café Luxembourg). Conversations everywhere; good times.

Weekend scene at Cafe Luxembourg.
I’m also one of those people who likes to do the ordinary things like laundry, food shopping, getting gadgets repaired on Saturdays. This weekend besides the laundry I spent some time going through my bookcases trying to remove books for more space. I’m a packrat about books and hate parting with one no matter the subject, even if I have more one copy. I tell myself that some of these books that are leaving are going to meet the eyes and the brains of some people who will be enriched the way they’ve enriched me.

I’ve been in the process for a several months and I’ve shipped about three hundred to various organizations over the past six months. That’s progress but I’ve got a ways to go. I constantly have to confront myself: will I ever read this book again or could someone else really enjoy getting it? I emphasize the latter but it is still difficult. Then I’ve got more than a few autographed copies of books. Dozens maybe. Even if they’re books I’ve never read and/or would probably never read, I feel obligated to keep them out of respect for the author’s work.

Now that the social season is warming up, I’ll have less time to read. This is happening when some wonderful new books are presenting themselves. For example, the New York Review of Book’s latest issue features a review by Anka Muhlstein titled “The Cut of Coco.” Coco Chanel. “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History” by Rhonda K. Garelick (Random House). I’ve read three or four biographies of the 20th century French designer who literally changed the way women dressed in a way that was so radical (after centuries) that it remains beyond compare.

I still question what it is that draws me to try to grasp the person. The last one I read I wrote about on these pages – Paul Morand’s “The Allure of Chanel” was modern Balzac. I later read that it was intended to be her memoir and a lot of it was made up. I cannot explain what the draw is for me, but she’s one of those characters who escapes explanation, a kind of sad, lone lioness.

Click to order “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History."
When I saw Mme. Muhlstein’s review and saw the length of the book (576 pages), I asked myself if I really wanted to get into a book of that length at this moment (of so little time). Oh, what the hell; who cares? So. In the first paragraph of her review  in the NYRB of, my vulgar curiosity returned instantly:

“I ... am an odious person,” Coco Chanel declared. Not many would have begged to differ. Chanel’s tongue was quite as sharp as her shears and she treated everyone who worked for her harshly, playing one against the other. No one escaped her malice, not even a trusted friend like the poet Jean Cocteau, whom she described to one interviewer as nothing but a “snobbish little pederast who did nothing all his life but steal from people.” She held her own customers in contempt and said: “A woman equals envy plus vanity plus chatter plus a confused mind.”

Mulhstein finished the paragraph with the bottom line of Chanel’s public existence:

But no one ever built an empire by being nice, and Chanel, by simplifying, lightening, and eliminating the corset, invented a new way of dressing women.”

Author Garelick’s new biography evidently covers much of the same for those of us who’ve read previous Chanel biographies, but with much more detail of this woman who actually changed the world in a very obvious yet continuingly subtle way. There was genius always running through her veins.

She had a lot of friends nevertheless, many who were rich and powerful, many who were great artists, or had other useful attributes for the lady who could practically intimidate anybody, including high ranking Nazis. And also Winston Churchill who history seems to imply saved her ass -- literally, if you’ll pardon my French. She was definitely a traitor to her native land. But she was many other things. Many. So what’s the point of this curiosity of mine? Meanwhile I don’t have the book yet.
Gabrielle Chanel, 1931 (George Hoyningen-Huene/Condé Nast Archive/Corbis).
Back to the weekend. I have this tiny terrace overlooking the avenue which is very important to me because it gives me the opportunity to go outdoors without leaving my apartment, and to pick up the pulse of the neighborhood. In late May or June I moved my houseplants onto the terrace. I also bought some kind of floral plants in place of my usual impatiens which I couldn’t find this summer. They didn’t work out. I don’t know why. I’m pretty good with these things, attentive and watchful. But these plants just kind of shriveled up and mostly died.  Although the other plants have done very well. Here’s the evidence: the big green leafed plant – I should know the name – I got out of the laundry room about five years ago, dying as it was with a solitary leaf. All it needed was a little TLC (and some Miracle Gro). 
The petit jardin last June.
Le petit jardin at 4:30 Saturday afternoon with the sun descending and its rays turning the plants leaves luminous.
A closeup of the croton.
The same croton, the same hour yesterday afternoon when the setting Sun had begun to break through the grey skies.

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