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Life in the Arts Lane - Week 15

Posted: 25/02/2013 16:18

The day began too early. It was still dark. I was in NY and jet lag had tricked my body into being wide awake at 4.30am. My body is so stupid. Doesn't it realise that when it's dark and the brain says sleep, which is what it should do. It's really disobedient; not like a child, more like a truculent adolescent. It enjoys being oblivious to the social interaction between me and my warm bed.

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But the day had begun. Out into the icy and aggressive wind that sweeps the avenues of NY when the weather is inclement. It is now 7.30. I spot a slight corridor of a shop, more a kiosk than anything. It is a sliver of white marble on 6th called Zibetto. It is open and an elegant man of middle-age stands behind a gleaming Gaggia espresso machine of traditionally huge proportions. He is dapper in a blue shirt and smart, narrow, dark blue tie. He seems more than a barista. We are alone; the wind howls outside; inside I mutter 'double espresso' through layers of coats, gloves and jumpers. As in Italy, a saucer is placed on the counter and a swig sized glass of water. The machine grunts and groans and a majestic, viscous cupful of heaven is placed before me. The man is a genius, a god, an angel from another dimension. Whether it was tiredness, cold, being abroad, the man's elegance, I don't know what. But I have just consumed the best cup of coffee I can ever remember.

Down into the subway. The NY subway is always surprisingly grungy. It is dirty, noisy, ugly and smelly. The metro card machines never seem to like my card and there is always a fever of shoving and pushing. Yet it works. Trains rattle across the island in all directions all day and all night. It is cheap, and actually perfectly unthreatening. I stand waiting to grab a train downtown. Amazingly I leap into an almost empty carriage. Immediately I see why. A tramp has taken up residence and everyone is either moving or looking away. A whole bench is clear. I sit and try to look into space. He begins by asking me for a dollar. Being rejected, he then begins to expound on the nature of the American debt crisis. And he talks and talks. Despite his unprepossessing appearance and aroma he is quite compelling and articulate. When questioned, he is almost rational. He knows what's going on in the world; he has just taken a skewed version to live in. After a few stops, I notice I cannot smell him anymore. We chat away for the length of the journey. As I leave I press 20 dollars into his hand. A fair exchange for his madness and wisdom.

I canter around the antique trade on the lower east side; it is all a bit cold and miserable. The morning passes unproductively except for some random mobile office work to France, Italy and Spain. Deals and dealers for Masterpiece. London is ever increasingly a draw for European dealers as their native countries make domestic dealing harder and harder.

Back up town I go and see Luke at the Met. He has been at the museum for a year or so now, and whilst we miss him in London he is a welcome English oasis in NY. He is ridiculously passionate about the museum. Commitment is not the word. I am immediately swept up by his enthusiasm and cerebral approach. He takes me round the "plain" and "fancy" show which counterpoints ornament and intention in a cross-period and cross-material way. It is a much rarer idea than you might think, and it really makes one both look and think.

Lunch with Larry- we have roast chicken at Benoit, 55th and 6th. He gave up booze a while ago and seems to favour decaf iced coffee on the rocks with milk. An abomination. I have a glass of perfectly delicious picpoul de pinet. (seemingly a hero from zero, I don't remember seeing this wine on menus a few years ago and now it is ubiquitous). The chicken is the star. With the aura perhaps of being a slightly boring dish, it arrives chopped into appealingly robust but not too large chunks. A warm brown crispy skin wrapping soft flesh all coated with a suitable sticky and sweet natural chicken jus. It goes down very well.

Back down town to visit Christina, who used to work at Mallett, on Madison Ave. She has a charming husband called Matt and a wonderful baby called Ava. Christina was always life-enhancingly positive and full of ideas and creativity. She is tall and very skinny, and has jet black hair. She is managing her baby with the same total commitment that she took to work. The baby does not do very much. It does smile and gurgle a bit. Quite shortly after my arrival another baby arrives born by its rather bossy mother. She is leaving her spawn for a couple of hours and lists an astonishing catalogue of instructions. I roll my eyes. She leaves and we continue our gossiping and reminiscing. However the new child starts roaming around and crashing into things and falling over. I begin to recall how grateful I am that my own children are no longer babies. We both run around managing these roaming puppies for a while and then I bail in a most cowardly way. I am ashamed of the deep sigh of content that issues from my lips as I close the door behind me.

Cocktails at Bemelmans at the Carlyle. Yum. The best thing about their drinks is that they come with a spare. The waiter brings a micro decanter and rests it in an equally micro ice bucket. It feels so pampering to have built in back up.

Then back to the hotel. I crash before supper. Damn the jet lag.

 

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