Getting back to real reality

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Union Square in the rain. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 13, 2020.  It was very warm in New York over the weekend. And sunny, and cloudy, and forecasts of thunderstorms. It’s been like this for a couple of weeks. Sun, heat, cloudy, rains came and then moves on, all in one day. It cooled off the humid days by nightfall. It was nice.

New York was very quiet in my neck of the woods (UES). In the nabe on the sunniest days there were lots of people enjoying the location by the river and next to the (Carl Schurz) park. It wasn’t crowded but it’s a long, wide promenade (with a basketball and ball court, and two dog runs), all of which is used and enjoyed. This is nice to see when walking the dogs. It’s a respite from all the madness that has crept in on our lives during this pandemic.  It’s like everyone deciding to go back to real reality for a few minutes in the Sun.

Sette Mezzo’s Oriente holding my table for me while I took the photo.
Just after the thunderstorm.
The following Sunday lunchtime — Mushroom soup with Parmesan foam at Sistina.
Prosciutto and melon with figs. Both starters were followed by a pasta dish.

With the lockdown loosening up, I’ve gone out to lunch and dinner five times in the last ten days. That not a lot for a lot of New York lives, including mine. But after four months of the isolation that moved into our lives, I found it to be very difficult mentally. It wasn’t a loneliness — fortunately I don’t have that — but it was/is a sense depression. 

Not really explicable. Loneliness maybe but I’m fortunately not a lonely person, and also like my time and space to myself. It’s comparable to the kid who plays with his favorite toys over and over. I did that too. But the “feeling” is different. It’s a depression that doesn’t have a location. Or even an explanation.

Driving home from Sistina on Sunday afternoon, topdown and stopped for the light, taking in the clouds rolling by. Beautiful.

I write this, vague as it sounds (and seems) because I’ve found in these past several days of getting out there amongst the clamoring crowd, that it describes a similar feeling, an emotional experience that is difficult to define but deeply effective. It’s definitely the result of the lockdown/quarantine. 

Furthermore we’re advised to hide from the virus with masks covering our faces except for our eyes. Everywhere you go, you see “eyes only.” It is jarring. There are also very sane knowledgeable arguments against its use. The person is unrecognizable, and the only expression one encounters coming from so many of those eyes, is “harsh.” They’re not friendly, the eyes. That is not to say their owners aren’t friendly. That contradiction is simply part of this “feeling.”

If I’ve made no sense to you, it’s because I haven’t made sense out of it for myself. I’m not talking about the political situation in this country but mass behavior is political. I do know there are lots and lots of us out there who are affected by this unique condition. It’s been very bad for the community in many many ways, disrupting daily life. This only adds to the emotional content of the “feeling.”

Seersucker trio at Michael’s, circa 2008: Peter Rogers, Andre Leon Talley, and DPC.

In the meantime, among other things, I’m reading Andre Leon Talley’s memoir which he titled “The Chiffon Trenches.” I get why he gave it a title, being about the hard-nut-to-crack high end garment industry. But his name is enough.

I know Mr. Talley only by a howdjado or a “hello” because we often had adjacent tables at Michael’s at lunchtime.  I have no idea if he even knows me other than the guy who has the table next door. I also got the impression he wasn’t impressed enough to share a hello anyway. This is not unusual in New York media life. That includes the Press. There are pecking orders all over town. Unspoken but well known in their circles. Celebrities’ celebrities. Andre has been quite well known for years here in New York as a major masthead contributor to not only Vogue magazine but to her Her Grace, Anna Wintour — she also not of the friendly smile.

It’s funny to think about now that it’s over. Ms. Wintour has moved upstairs in the Conde Nast executive suite and the entire print business is threatened by the digital revolution and people’s relationship to the written word. I haven’t read enough of the book to discuss Talley’s relationship to Wintour but from all the press reports it cooled off majorly at some point. It sounds like he got the cold-shoulderness that she openly gave others. Although, now that it’s over, maybe it wasn’t the cold shoulder. Maybe it was about that business, another day at races. I loved ya honey but the show closed. 

However, back to Mr Talley’s tally of it all. I was prepared to rather not like it, having experienced his lunchtime froideur.  But … he got me right at the beginning in his history of his childhood and adolescence.  Andre was born in Washington, D.C., the only child of a young married couple. 

Click to order The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir.

After his birth the baby was transferred to his maternal grandmother’s house in a little town called Durham, North Carolina. Grandmother, whom he always called Mama, basically brought him up. She was a no-nonsense woman who shared her thoughts with her grandson about behavior and interests. 

The child was attached to everything about her, particularly her fashion style – which she took very seriously.  From that combination of a caring, serious mother who accepted the child’s interests in life early on, a life was made. All of it was a clear and beautiful description of the power of the human imagination– and a loving mother — with the natural ingredient of ambition.

He writes carefully but clearly about how he felt as a black boy from North Carolina entering the sophisticated (sort of/not really) world of fashion, media and social life. Because you know him from his beginnings he has credibility about what the entire experience is like. It’s the Big Time for many in that world, and like many other worlds in these times, it has run straight into the headwind of Change.

Andre Leon Talley was a tall skinny kid, and self-conscious about those circumstances. One way he cleverly dealt with it early and saved his sanity was by dressing to suit his fancy. And fancy is the word for it. It’s not entirely wild. A lot of it is classic and conservative and of many eras. But it is stand-out — something the boy from Durham always dreamed of being. Privately of course, never divulging to anyone. And he made it. A real stand-out.

This book about one man’s life is a good lesson on many levels, on what is possible in our world. Black or white; or otherwise, none of which matters in the end result. It’s loyal partner is Work.

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