Monday 11 October 2021

1989 New York

8.11.89 Heathrow

Heathrow airport, on board flight BA 175.  Well, dull it isn't.  After my burglary (my burglary?  Well, more of that later on), a real, live (ha!) aborted take-off.  I was dozing at the time, as is my increasing wont.  We accelerated, then the brakes were slammed on – not hard, but hard enough.  Later, the captain explained that strong winds were blowing us skew off the runway.  We were already one hour late; now we are waiting for the brakes to cool.  I bet the hijackers on board are annoyed…

Read my first Paul Auster; it begins to fall into place: the New Metaphysicals: too clever by three-quarters.  Fun, but Auster rather empty.  Unlike some on this plane, I am calm.  I think the burglary taught me something: that I am essentially untouched by these events – because it does not matter.  Nothing really does.  If life is meaningless, so are delays and inconveniences.  The robbery of my flat was also a delicious experience in serenity; my heart moved not a jot.  Messy, perhaps, but interesting too: you need excrescences on the surface of life; a totally aerodynamic world is boring.  I definitely need to get married and have kids – now there's excrescences…

Room 1502, Hotel Dorset.  Amazing view from my room.  AT&T Building to the right, and the strange light-haze from the nearby Citicorp.  Flash room. $190/night.  NYC ground to a halt because of the rain.  Opposite me great chess boards of light.  West 54th Street below, together with the dwarfed rooftops of the apartments.  The hiss of tyres in the wet; aureoles of rain around the lights; car and truck horns.  I really like New York.

9.11.89 New York

An interesting day.  Up early (late body time), hashed beef breakfast – yum – then out to walk in the wet rush hour.  I find a CD hoard, then to the Frick.  A lady cab-driver tells me about her sushi-eating habits – but insists she is "not anal-retentive".  I find the Frick familiar.  Gob-smacked by the Bellini.  Again.  Great Vermeers (3), "Polish Rider" et al.  To the Guggenheim – disappointing again.  Lunch in the Met – where I see they have Canaletto….

To work.  Back in a cab driven by an Albanian: World War III is imminent, Gorby is a cunning commie.  He (the driver) escaped from Albania in '53, came to London to see an Albanian hit-man – killer of three KGB agents (?!).  Totally paranoid, bent by his past.

Then to the Met, an orgy of Canaletto.  Many early pix I've never seen.  And so close up, the paint almost tactile.  Bought the catalogue – and see that Constable is back in print - $260 – but I must get it.  I still feel strangely free of material possessions, even in buying them.  Writing now in MOMA – shades of Auckland, I don't think.


A bad, bad day.  Walked out of Ziff meeting.  Anyway.  Back at Met after stroll through beautiful Central Park.  Coffee and bread pudding in candle-lit cafe (K284 playing live) then – to the Canaletto, inevitably.

The Liechtenstein pix are a revelation.  The light and colours radiate, yet the skies are so moody.  Rio dei Mendicanti: contrast of white walls on the left, ragged, lived-in chaos to the right.  Figures very vague.  Physicality of brush-strokes in the sky.  A boatyard to the right.  Washing on roofs looks like festival pennants.  No dogs.  Is the building next to the church religious?  If so, why the flower boxes?  A tree in the centre.  

The first, famous (to Walks with Lorenzetti) Piazza San Marco.  It manages to be grand and provincial – a ragged Nowheresville that happens to be Venice.  Birds (aargh).  The stalls' shades like beach umbrellas.  Dogs.  Notice often greenery growing from buildings – desuetude.  The crowds by the clock.  Unlike Canaletto's later pix, these look even better further back – like the Impressionists.  San Giacomo di Rialto – this and a later one remind me of Kathmandu – Durbar Square, or between it an Freak Street.  The market.  The strange pictures like huge playing cards.

Some just don't work – that of SS. Giovanni e Paolo.  Rialto Bridge from the north: lovely light and shade: deep, dark colours, a slash of crimson.  The thing about the Grand Canal is that often you get extreme compression, which with the windows articulates the surface.  La Carità: something I've not seen before: a fire.  Venice is so watery – the embodiment of this element, it seems antithetical, the fire.

To the copperplates – and the world is suddenly full of light – no dark scumbling.  The clouds are thick.  The lines in the windows etc. are ruled – adds to the sense of certainty of the pic.  Sky not blue, but pale grey-blue.  The figure pissing against the Rialto bridge.  Very Levantine – the boats, the hats.  In this context, the Stonemason's Yard looks even more extraordinary.  The broken stones look out of place in this city of smoothness.

West end of Molo – very light in technique, like Guardi, lacks detail.  Pic of Orologio – beautiful bustle – a very people-centred pic – at eye-level for a change.  Scratching dog, lounging man.  Very thick paint on buildings.  Strange to see completely new pic – and viewpoint.  For example, San Cristoforo, Michele and Murano.  Square format – very thin paint – almost a sketch.  Odd angles – impossible view.  Mainland is disconcerting.  Pentimenti on Queen's Entrance to the Grand Canal are like ghosts, hovering beneath the surface.  Piazzetta looking north: brilliant red of figure; extreme perspective of loggia; very theatrical. 

The pen and ink drawings are ecstasy close up – like intricate Bach chorale preludes.  Studies are fierce – full of energy.  

The Fonteghetto della Farina – a shock to see images no longer there.  It is fun to see – and recognise – the Houston pix.  The shops in Canaletto are also like Kathmandu: small caves, huddled away – San Geminiano is deeply disturbing in Piazza San Marco, disruptive.  North-east corner of Piazza San Marco – big, bold treatment.  Messy details – planks, dogs, stalls, shades, very urban.  Shades look like bauta masks and hoods.  

Beautiful peaceful capriccio of house, church, tower and bridge by the Lagoon, delicate washes, free brushwork.  His Accademica pic is very theatrical, lovely diagonals, stage stairs, entrances and exits, unusual upward view – normally filled in by the sky.  The late pic of the Rialto – very busy (like Kathmandu) – the greenery, pots and pans.  

Perhaps the most surprising pic in the whole exhibition is Night Festival at San Pietro in Castello.  Night?? In Canaletto???  Reminds me of my Night Movement II – lanterns at night.  Here there are spots of light – especially intriguing inside the building.  Beautiful clouds with moon behind.  The confused bunches of people, the dark water, rich reds, the campanile.  I suppose in part the effect is helped by my ignorance of the scene.  Where are we?  Is it realistic?  Palladian facade.  The cloaked figures – a chill in the air.  The wooden bridge.  The dog in the boat; the Punch and Judy show (you can see Mr Punch's stick).  I have realised that I have regarded this as an island – not part of Venice…

Aha! - as I thought: it is an island – but also part of Venice – see map.  Its orientation is completely unexpected – a typically Canaletto re-ordering.


Remembrance/Veteran's Day.  I was roused by my early morning call at 5 – an attempt to return to GMT.  A strange feeling for the day, rootless, almost.  Glorious walking weather: 50°F, brilliant New York sunshine – reminded me of 5 years ago….

I sit now in The Saloon, opposite the Met (opera), nice bustly place – very Village Voice.  Failing to achieve figs and prosciutto, I am forced to make do with medallions of tuna, followed by marinated duck in aubergine.  A fairly strong Sauvignon accompanies the meal.

Yesterday at the Canaletto exhibition was really good.  Looking very hard at these pix, close up, some of which I knew, some not, was like an intellectual/pictorial work-out.  I kept on seeing more but forced myself to go yet deeper.  A paradigm of all seeing – and understanding.  I can see that Canaletto will be an obsession for the rest of my life – Walks with Lorenzetti has not exorcised him.

Down by the subway to Canal Street – partly after seeing an early Channel 13 (PBS) on Laurie Anderson – what a brilliant, spiky woman – who lives here.  Then around Broadway, West Broadway, Tribeca, Soho, Greenwich Village.  All vaguely familiar, but not exactly.  I could see myself living here, very bustling, young (ish).  Failed to eat at a Polish and Yugoslav restaurant – they took no credit cards, I was low on cash – thanks to my burglar (what fine word).  Back to the hotel, then to here.

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