Loren MacIver's Greenwich Village Night II
Yesterday on my way to the farmer’s market to buy greens, I went into a little antique shop I like on 17th Street, which is reached by a long narrow passageway lined with mirrors. The prices are always reasonable in that place, where every so often I buy something  that I need. Last autumn when I realized one day that because of Honey I only had one unbroken glass left, I bought six fine little drinking glasses there. I keep them on the top shelf in the kitchen behind a wooden chopping block. Honey can jump up on it, and she likes to reach up and pull things off the shelves. I realized too late that one of her favorite things to do was to grab for the glasses when they were on a shelf she could reach and watch them crash to the floor. Then she couldn't leave the box of salt alone. It’s the same kind of salt I’ve used all my life, Morton Salt, in the round blue box and the girl with the umbrella on the label. Most days when I came home I'd find it lying on the floor of the kitchen. Honey is like having raccoons. But I can never stay angry with her for long and I know she gets bored in the house during the winter when I can’t take her outside. Now that spring is here I’ve started taking her out again and the box of salt is staying on the shelf.
 A few times I’ve taken Honey into the little antique shop on 17th Street because the guys who run it always have dogs lying around snoozing. Everyone in the shop likes Honey when she rides in on my shoulder but I hold onto her tightly in there with all the delicate, glittering things displayed upon the shelves reflected in her nosy green eyes. When I went in yesterday, by myself, I saw that in the little office at the back of the shop a green and white bird was sitting in a pretty gold cage, listening to a recording of rushing water and birds singing. I whistled to him and he turned and looked at me with interest and whistled back. He seemed very happy sitting there listening to his record, and I thought again of something a lady I know told me the other day, about two Belgian firefighters who drowned in a river while saving a swan. I didn’t know what to say. I felt very sorry for the two firefighters and at the same time something about the story was so beautiful. I imagined it as a painting that one would have to sit down to really look at. I wondered if the swan realized what happened to the man who had freed him from whatever he had been caught on in the river, and I think that unless he didn’t see it, it must have made an impression on him. How could it not?

After the farmer’s market I walked home in a roundabout way. Not far from Gramercy Park I noticed a medallion beside the door of an old house at 128 East 19th Street, announcing that Lincoln Kirstein had lived there. I was reminded of Loren MacIver’s bedroom on Perry Street where there sat a very old and beautiful toy fire engine, horse-drawn, made of cast iron. “Guess who this belonged to,” she said. “It was Lincoln Kirstein's.” She had admired it at his house during a party one night so he gave it to her. It seemed to me that Loren had that kind of thing happen all the time. There was a little snuffbox carved out of wood that she showed me a few times, and that, she said, had belonged to a farmer she met long ago in France. I think she was walking with him in his newly-plowed field when he pulled the little box from his pocket for a pinch of snuff, she admired it, and he gave it to her. She had oodles of charm, Loren did.

In the middle of April I went to the opening of a show of her work at the Alexandre Gallery on 57th Street. The show was called Loren MacIver’s Light, and everything in it was dazzling. But my favorite of all that I saw was a pastel drawing that she made in 1939, on black paper, which was so recognizably the Village that I felt as if I might walk right into its beautiful nighttime street and be able to walk home from there. I looked at it for a long time, the little amber-lit upstairs window pulling at my heart with all of its mystery and prettiness. I love those kinds of windows, lamp-lit with curtains apart just enough to allow a peek at whatever is going on inside. Sometimes there’s a whole wall of books, or a staircase disappearing upwards, or a person sitting quietly in a chair, reading the newspaper. Sometimes it’s a sad thing on the other side of a window the way it seemed to be a few days ago, when the friend I was walking with—the same friend who told me about the firemen and the swan—gasped as we passed a row of old houses. She had seen a lady lying down, but lying as if she’d been placed there for the day, attended by a kitty. There was something about the way the cat was sitting, oblivious to the beautiful day, all her attentions devoted to the lady, that made my friend say, “Oh no,” when she saw the scene through the window. I didn’t see it, it was a glimpse. But it  made a beautiful picture in my mind, like Loren’s light.Today is a beautiful warm day in New York, and if Loren were still here I would run down to Perry Street and tell her about the swan and the lady lying by the window with her nurse.

May 13, 2014

1 comment:

  1. You describe such wonderful rich relationships -- it makes me want to slow down and enjoy people more