Taking in the world out there

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Sunset over Upper Manhattan, 8:45 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 1, 2019. We had a very hot Saturday here in New York, in the low 90s, with a rainstorm at the end of the afternoon that smoothed things out; a cool breeze followed. Sunday it was as sunny but not quite as hot. In the mid-afternoon while I was taking a nap, I received a message from JH that we had a five-minute rainstorm, with heavy winds and enormous raindrops.

Sunday, 2:30 PM.

JH caught a video. After watching, I asked him what the loud banging noise was. The wind against the window.

And then it suddenly stopped, the sun came back out, along with a cooling breeze.

The city was very quiet up by me. Not so for the masses of New Yorkers and celebrating the Pride Parade (bringing the WorldPride celebration to New York City for the first time). But there was very little traffic on my avenue by the river. I’m guessing that a lot of people who can, took the week since the Fourth is on a Thursday and by Wednesday afternoon, the city starts to slow down. It’s absolutely the best time of the year for us cavedwellers who remain.

I read two books over the weekend. I rarely get a whole book finished in a weekend. The last time was Jane Stanton Hitchcock’s roman a clef, “Bluff.”  Late last week someone sent me a new novel  — it might have been the publisher. I opened it quickly and did not pay attention to the sender’s address. Publishers often send books, looking for publicity on it.

It’s called Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, a French writer, and translated by Molly Ringwald. Yes, Molly Ringwald, and she is very impressive; as is M. Besson’s novel. I took a quick look at it Friday night when I got home from dinner with Yanna Avis and Marc Rosen at La Goulue. 

It’s obviously very short, and even thinner in covers and text. I admit I wouldn’t have even opened if it were thick because I’m up to my eyeballs in things to read all the time. So I opened it, mainly to see what “Molly Ringwald” did with a French novel.

I had no idea what it was about, although the front cover has a closeup of a pensive looking young man who might be sunning himself, and a quote from Andre Aciman (“A stunning and heart-gripping tale”). I’d read Aciman’s “Call Me By Your Name” when it was published and then became a best-seller, and then the hugely successful film.

Caroline Weber, who published the masterful Proust’s Duchess last year, was also quoted: “In spare yet evocative prose, elegantly translated by Molly Ringwald, Philippe Besson related the erotic awakening of two adolescent boys in a small French town in the 1980s. “Lie with Me” captures their world with the grainy poignancy of an old high school yearbook, while movingly conveying the quintessential human dramas of long, love and letting go.”

Grainy poingnancy. Although I don’t know the writer, translator or Andre Aciman, I do know Caroline — mainly because of her highly sensitive work — so I opened the book just to have a look. But like Jane Hitchcock’s “Bluff,” it reads fast. 

I started reading it. It was this 17-year-old kid  (French — small town) writing about his life in school, his books, his aspirations and his sexual interests. He considers himself to be very girly and that inhibits a lot of his personal interests in people. There is another 17-year-old in the school who to the viewer and the reader is the strong, silent type, the couldn’t-care-less dept. and very macho (to a teenager’s eyes).

The book is about their relationship and how it affected both of them for the rest of their lives.  It’s not a happy ending, of course. What I found interesting was being reminded of how intensely emotionally passionate I was/we were at that time in our lives — about anything and anybody who took our interest. 

Their’s was a real romance, subterfugal, between two boys from different socio-economic environments. The father of the boy (who is the voice in the story) is a highly respected teacher. The son will be well-educated.  The farmer’s son is growing up to be a farmer. The teacher’s son acknowledges early on in their relationship – which is almost entirely sexual (meetings) – that it has no future.

“Because you will leave and we will stay,” The farmer’s son says, accepting his reality. But not because of their sexuality, but because they, we, us, the readers, the people, took everything so very seriously, deeply seriously when we were moving into adulthood physically. 

Teen-agers in love. I’ve lived so long that the freshness of the drama — or inner turmoil of it, along with the discovery of sex, is something that long ago lost its priority in my thoughts and concerns. With this novel, a lot of that came back. At that time we never consider we are “growing up,” and it’s fast. Their pain of intimacy and romance is also adolescent, yes, but real nevertheless. From a distance you get to see life like everything in nature: it matures. Some wisdom comes with the allure of remembering. It was a very good book although sad. Saddest for the the strong/silent type.

When I finished it on Saturday afternoon I felt like I needed to read something else to stimulate these thoughts about myself and my life. So I picked up a book I’ve  owned for 35 or 40 years which I bought in L.A. out of real interest and never opened!  It’s called Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, a soft-cover book about Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe in LA mid-20th century. 

Chandler’s depiction of LA at the time – mid-1920s through the 1950s – is part of my romance with LA. I lived out there from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. I could still see and feel it. A lot of my sense memories of LA are Chandleresque, even of the people. 

There was still a touch of a small town that I could feel, having grown up in a small town. And yet LA was in the 20th century the most alluring metropolis in the world for millions. This book is photos of old LA (old being up to the 1960s) from the time Chandler first arrived at age 25 in 1913. 

His intention was to make a living as a professional writer there. At that moment in time Los Angeles was about to expand into a world class city and culture. The results of its influence because of the motion picture, has had an enormous cultural influence on all of us. And on the other side of that sunshine, was the drama. Raymond Chandler had a deep sense of that. But he was kind about it. And he was prolific in his portrayal of it.

Greystone, the Edward L. Doheny Jr. mansion in Beverly Hills, a gift of his father the oil tycoon, and where he was part of a murder suicide that was never clearly explained. It provided inspiration for Chandler in his The Big Sleep.
The beach at Santa Monica before a storm. circa 1949.

“I braked the car against the curb and switched the headlight off and sat with my hands on the wheel. Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sounds, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness. ‘Move closer,’ she said almost thickly” — The Big Sleep

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my AC isn’t in yet (and I don’t really care). And today one of my two Vornado fan’s three blades broke  when I turned it on. Weird. I’ve had it for years. I went out and bought a new one at PC Richards, and it’s even better. I don’t like the heat but I also don’t like the refrigeration other than walking through public spaces. I like it when the torrential rains, like Sunday afternoon’s, come in and cool things off a bit. Then I can open the terrace door and take in the world out there.

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