Sunday, July 16, 2006
Homecoming New York
The nighttime subway clatters to a West African drum rhythm, taTAHta da da, taTAHda da da, leaving the 14th street station. To change lines to Greenwich Village, you have to walk several minutes through a winding tiled tunnel. Upstairs in the terminal, the foggy bell tones of a solo sweet moaning jazz saxophone swell as I approach the mouth of the tunnel.
As I walk through the passageway, the music echoes off the tiled wall, turns the corner with me and fades into a sigh as I round the next bend. Around that corner it seems somehow to start up again--faintly. How can that be? Then I realize it is, in the same key, an erhu, the two stringed Chinese violin, played and played well by a handsome Chinese man up ahead. Memories brush a smile across my face. I think of Beijing, of riding my bicycle at 5AM in the quiet clear morning on a summer day destined to be a dry smoky scorcher. I think of the people and places I miss, some dearly. You can leave China, but if you've spent as much time there as I have, you don't leave it behind.
I was on my way to the Village to see I'm Your Man, a film about Leonard Cohen and his music. In one of the most poignant scenes in the movie, Leonard Cohen reads the prelude he was asked to write for the Chinese translation of his novel, Beautiful Losers. I'm overjoyed to learn this book has been translated into Chinese.
Memories sift out of my pocket in clouds of nostalgia. I met Leonard when he first came to New York as a songwriter in 1967. He had single handedly entranced the singer-songwriter coterie with his songs, which by now are a persistent undertow, with hundreds of covers by dozens of artists all over the world.
At that time Judy Collins was his champion, recording Suzanne, That's No Way to Say Goodbye and many others. Once I encountered him at a party in a resplendent suit. Everyone else was in blue jeans all the time. I complimented him on his attire to which he replied, "when you're really down and broke, that's the time you want to really look well off."
My dear friend Gregg Goldston, famed and highly praised American mime, is teaching emotional projection through movement and gesture at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), for which he has constructed a unique approach to the physical grammar of dance drama. He shared his tickets to Swan Lake with me. There was one young Chinese ballerina in the cast, Zhong-jing Fang, and we couldn't take our eyes off of her. Her petit presence is radiant. I recall seeing ballet in Beijing and thinking that the Chinese ballerinas were just about on the brink of world class. She wasn't one of the lead dancers but she danced a sprightly swan and an engaging Hungarian Princess. I think she'll be one of the leading lights of the ballet in the not too distant future.
Ever the guy, Goldston's comment on Swan Lake was, "It's a sad story. All he wants is an affair and he loses both girls."
I read the New York times online almost daily when I was in Beijing. There are usually several stories or editorials on China in every issue. But there is something special about holding the Times in my hands and turning the pages. Inside the first N.Y. Times I read when I got to New York, three stories on China occupied the entire third page of the grey lady.
China is all around me, as are the pungent memories of Amsterdam, the cuisine of Rome and Tuscany and the especially urgent current travails in Israel. As I shake off the dust and lingering fascinations of the last 10,300 miles, I carry with me the scents and sensations, the insights of a half dozen civilizations and cultures and they all constellate in New York.
In New York, as I readjust to its energy and feast of culture, I have a feeling of arrival, laced with fragments of where I've been over the last two and a half months. Adrift without a permanent home, I've stayed in some exquisite homes of friends and loved ones, and my journey isn't over yet. Their company, compassion, the prism of their lives and the cities and countrysides in which I've spent such intense time decorate and inspire my unfolding path. A broken heart is heavy burden to travel with, but I've had many; I know it heals with time. A mutilated dream can rise anew if you keep moving forward and don't forget to dance.
New York throbs with music and fascination. This is Union Square park the day after a torrential rain in a slippery summer taken from a second storey window.
Give yourself a treat, click to enlarge.
I turn on the TV and grin at my not-so-secret heartthrob, Yao Ming doing a Garmin Street Pilot portable GPS navigation system commercial.
Ni Hao, Mr. Yao.
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.
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