Monday, October 29, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

It has now been over a week that I have not been in the shop. I admit that I have thought about the shop, and have even allowed my telephone's answering machine vigilance to let one call ... from the shop ... to come through. In the big picture, I am glad that I did answer that call.
Will try not to think about the info that it imparted until my return to the work place.

So. What have I been doing?

How wonderful to be able to make up my own personal schedule every day! I wake early and ease into the morning as it suits me. Sometimes, even as the days do grow shorter, I awake before daylight, courtesy of the noise from the construction site across the street, that noisily seeks to create very costly housing to replace the apartments in which many families raised many generations.

There are still many of my interests (baking, cooking real meals, seeing some more of my old friends) that I have to attend to. But, I have been painting away each day, working on this year's watercolor Christmas cards. I do so love making these little paintings. What is tricky is to not rush them. To approach each card as its own creativity. I just listen to FM radio in the background, and settle in with my brushes, water and paints. And the paper, of course. Time melts.

All of a sudden, early morning has turned to lunch time. I stop. Make a quick lunch. Toasted cheese sandwich. Tea. Apple. Back to painting.

And then there is the reading. Milla and Jane have, for a longish time, recommended to me the books of David Mitchell. Well, I went into the fiction level stacks of my wonderful library and found four books by Mr. Mitchell. I checked out his first novel. Ghostwritten. And since opening the book have been treating myself to his enormous talent. I am usually a fast reader, but in this case have been able to temper that so I can really appreciate the writer's talent.

Yes, I do have other books still on my to read stack, but they must wait for now.

Many days last week were rainy here, even as the west coast was partched and fires raged. My uncle lives near San Diego, and did voluntarily evacuate his beautiful home. Luckily, he was able to return home to find unwelcome sooty debris the only damage. Still. I am so glad that he did not elect to wait it out at home. The fires came within two miles of his house!

On the housing front, the new owners of this apartment building continue to post messages announcing the latest stages of their renovation plans. Updating the electrical infrastructure is now underway, necessitating the sealing of the stairway nearest "my" front door. The building does have three elevators, but I have preferred just walking down the stairs as the quickest way to the ground floor. Now, I must use an alternate staircase or just wait, and wait, for the elevator.

There is a chance that this electrical improvement may require entry to my own apartment, but I am promised prior notification.

In my heart, I feel that the renovation and its aftermath (the conversion of the building to a condominium/cooperative financial status) will not harm me, all the in-between stages do upset me.

So, today with my luxury of free time, I took a little trip down memory lane, via the express subway train, to the Brooklyn neighborhood where I lived in the early 1970's. It was extraordinary to see the changes since I last visited (maybe 10 years ago.)

My part of Brooklyn back then was made up of lots of brownstone houses (four stories tall) with the occasional governmental or other official-sort of building that would be about 10 stories. Well, not now. Many huge buildings have taken root across the old landscape. These are not architecturally beautiful buildings. They are just big. They have banks, or chain drugstores, or real estate firm offices on their ground floors.

I walked over to take a look at my old block. Many of the houses, including the one in which I lived, now have little plaques by their front door, that extol their status as historic land-marked buildings. My former residence was build in 1848. That is old by New York standards.

Across the street where I remember vacant lots, now stand new townhouses. Bland. Same height as the 1848 houses, but oh so bland. Sort of tepid variations of Michael Graves architecture. But the entire block now looks very, very expensive.

The biggest shock was what I saw covering the front door (parlor floor, or first floor level, UK style.) A very elaborate, but very strong and off-putting black wrought iron gate. The house now has its residents in jail. There is irony here, because back when I lived there, we joked about the Brooklyn House of Detention (i.e. a very tall jail) that was at the end of our block. Every now and then someone escaped, and there would be police all over the place, but mostly, it was just a very sad place where family members lined up around the block to see their detained loved ones during visiting hours.

So. Today, I saw what gentrification can do to a neighborhood in thirty years. Glamorized some parts. Mostly those parts that are bought and paid for, and safely enclosed behind iron bars. Back in the 1970's, we did not have a gate across our front door. We were artists, writers, film-makers to be, without much worth stealing. We had mainly our talents and our dreams of creating something we would be proud of.

I do wonder who now lives behind that wrought iron gate.

After this revelation, I walked back to the subway station, came back under the river to Manhattan, stopped by a great little coffee place to get some of their house blend (on sale) ground for my French press coffee maker. Then, back on another subway train, with David Mitchell's magic words, uptown to my current neighborhood. And I continued my painting.

Pleasant dreams to all.


  1. Sounds as though you are having a wonderful time.
    Happy painting.

  2. Your vacation time sounds relaxed and carefree, just what they should be. I bet your water colour cards are exquisite. I so agree about the way money these days means you are locked in - we seem to have more and more gated communities springing up. It is about 20 years since I went to visit an American friend living in Brooklyn; you brought it all back, but it's obviously changed.

  3. You SO deserved a holiday, Frances and I'm thrilled you're reading David and doing your painting....
    Going back is always strange....I did some of that last year and it was quite unsettling really.

    Loads of love

  4. Glad you are enjoying your break - I reckon you deserve it. My mother used to paint Christmas cards for special people - like me, her daughter! and every year I put up the cards she painted over the years with all the others as they come in.

  5. It is lovely to think of you resting, painting, reading and enjoying your break.

  6. Hello Frances,

    What a lovely way to spend your time off.
    Making/Painting your own Christmans cards, how wonderful.

    I wonder who lives behind those gates!?

    I remember the vicar once saying, the richer people become the more they want to shut themselves away, through fear of theft and attack and how damaging that is to community spirit . How can we love our neighbours when we can't even get to meet them!!

    Enjoy the rest of your break, and don't think about the shop till it's time to go back!
    Elaine X

  7. A beautiful blog, Frances, and the first I have read of yours on here, so know what I have been missing. Love the paintings, particularly the old china cups one - you are so talented. That holiday is doing you a power of good - you sound so relaxed!

  8. Thank you for taking me on that lovely trip, I do enjoy visitng your part of the world through your blogs. Good to see you having some weel deserved 'me' time Frances!

  9. Your trip back into the past reminded me of a visit to London where I stayed in an affluent suburb where all lived behind those metal screens, Ironic isnt it that talent adn imagimation are valued so littel in our society and yet are far more precious than than all the material things locked behind those bars.

    May you continue to enjoy your Bonne Vaccances!

  10. It sounds as though you're really taking some well-deserved time out from the stresses of work. I'm sure the paintings will be lovely. Enjoy the rest of your break.

  11. This is champagne! Absolutely glorious my friend. You should have more time off from work, you accomplish so much.

    So glad you gave the job the wave off, despite one call. Your time is your own and didn't you make wonderful use of it!

  12. Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

    - Daniel