Thursday, May 17, 2007


Return to the land of the living

I'm finally back in the bookshop. What a week. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has gotten done this week. No books sold, no books read. I've been sick sick sick and decided yesterday that I'd better start taking an interest in life again, otherwise I could well find myself on an unstoppable downward slide. So I did some gentle yoga, ate something good, engaged my brain again with a few New York Times crossword puzzles, and did a little watercolor of the tulips Ryan brought home. And today, I feel well enough to be out in the world without being Typhoid Mary. The shop is still here. I find I am interested in books again, and art. I am upright, but a little tippy. I am seven pounds lighter than I was last Friday (and no, I'm not dehydrated - in fact all I've been able to do is drink water and tea all day long). Fascinating as I'm sure this is, that's enough of that. Except to say thanks for the get-well wishes.

My trip to Cambridge/Boston last week: it seems like a decade ago already, but here are a few highlights anyway. The Edward Hopper show at the MFA: RUN, do not walk! In a word, incredible. I'd seen his paintings in books for years, and always thought Well, ok, but my lord, in real life they just leap off the walls. The colors, the certainty of the forms, the solidity of the structures, and above all the light. Terrific! I spent over three hours in the exhibit and found myself returning again and again to five or six oils that had me shaking my head. I couldn't decide whether to cry or sing. I absolutely LOVE being in a space filled with great art, especially the work of one person over the course of a long life. The show is up until mid-August, and I'm going to have to go back before then. All I could think about was how much I wanted to come back to Maine and get painting myself. The show was very motivating. Here's what Hopper said about his art, and art in general, in a bit from Lloyd Goodrich's book from the 1980s, Edward Hopper (p.153):

" 'Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist.... The inner life of a human being is is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form, and design.' "

I also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (to revisit some favorites) and the Fogg at Harvard (to see a great little show of watercolors by John Ruskin and nature-inspired friends of Ruskin, and to see the permanent collection). Then there were the bookshops. I bought books at Commonwealth Books again (this time at their Commonwealth Ave location), and also at the Harvard Book Store and the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. I bought Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems (which I didn't yet have in the City Lights edition - though I now see I could own a first edition if I could somehow justify it - there's a lovely copy for sale in Brian Cassidy's very fine inaugural book catalog) at the Harvard, and some Wendell Berry and James Wright at the Grolier, and took them around the corner to read over a great bowl of gazpacho at the Cafe Pamplona on Bow Street, recommended by Daniel at the Grolier. I silently cursed as I realized I'd forgotten to bring the address of Frank O'Hara's room in Cambridge, I wanted to make a little pilgrimage while I was in the neighborhood. Something for next time. Anyway, lunch was great. And the woman at the table next to me at lunch was reading Aristotle. In Greek. Well, we were in the center of Harvard University. Here are a few souvenirs from my trip - some of the paper trail, so to speak:

The postcard in the center of the leatherbound book is from the Boston Athenaeum - it depicts one of George Washington's books. The same book is also conveniently on display on the main floor at the moment, as part of the Athenaeum's exhibit of highlights of 200 years of collecting. I took the free art and architecture tour (call ahead to reserve a spot) and got to see the rest of the Washington collection upstairs - it's in a huge curved built-in glass-front bookcase in the Trustees' Room. If anyone in the Boston area is very bookish and hasn't yet been to the Athenaeum, all I can ask is why not. It's a cathedral for books. Over 600,000 books. It's a fever dream of a library (and I should know, having just had many fever dreams, myself). It is private, but the tours are open to the public.

What else, what else. Most of the books I bought are still at home, so I can't describe them in great detail, that will have to wait for another day. I did get several good books-about-books at Commonwealth. But really most of this trip was about walking and looking - looking at the arrival of summer, looking at art and shop windows and students everywhere preparing for final exams, looking at city life and people reading on the train and thinking This is great, I could live here, I really could. I realized when I came back to scruffy, still-early-spring, countrified Maine that I only thought I could live there because I'd seen the city at its best.

No books read! Oh, my! You must have been very sick indeed.

Glad you're feeling better!
Yes, I was too sick to read. And worse: I was too sick to *even care* that I was too sick to read. Hence the golf-watching. Thanks, Katrina. Good to be alive. Good to look at my bookshelves with interest again.
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