Waiting for the half naked man I paced about reception in MOMA. I went to the loo again. Sat and flicked through the guide book. How would I recognise him clothed? Without the hairy chest on his Facebook profile I had nothing to go on. Now, had I taken a closer look at his website I could have been a lot better informed. Although I might not have been there waiting had I paid more attention and scrolled through his photos of street scenes in Madison Avenue to his David Hodgson biographical selfies, particularly the one with the tape measure.
“Mary? David. How are you?” I guess he’d seen plenty of pictures of me on Facebook. He was wearing a suit, which surprised me a little, but then it was a long time since we were allegedly at our free spirited school together. How was I? I smiled.
“Great, fine, so good of you to come and meet me here.”
He walked me out of the lobby and into the sunshine.”You probably remember my older brother, Bill?”
Of course, Bill. I remembered Bill Hodgson. I was definitely at school with him. He was a year, or maybe two years above me. I believe I last saw him at the 40 year school reunion. At 16, and often kissed, my girlfriends and I paid little attention to the younger boys. Although come to think of it I do remember a fling with someone who David told me is pretty big in banking in New York. Lucas Van Praag, (described in the Guardian newspaper on the 3rd March 2010 as the ‘canny, sharp-tongued and invincibly shrewd face of Goldman Sachs PR department) was charged with defending the bank’s public image. I guess you’d have to be a bit teflon for that job. He became a cult figure on Wall Street, with ‘a reputation for firing cerebral, elegantly worded nuggets of scorn at anybody who dares to attack the financial institution’. OMG and I kissed him? I don’t remember his tongue being particularly sharp, but he ranked quite high in the kissing stakes despite being set upon by a 16 year old cougar. I wonder if he still keeps a toy vampire squid on his desk? Do get in touch Lucas and let me know.
Back to David Hodgson, who turned out to be an amiable, arty, leftwingy kind of person, with a healthy dose of cynicism, much like the other guys I’m still in touch with from school. The thing about our progressive co-ed boarding school was that we came out of it feeling we owed the world something, not that it owed us. Which is more than I can say for most of the Eton educated cabinet in parliament.
“I thought I could walk you up to the Guggenheim, we can grab a bite on the way? How would that suit you?”
At Starbucks he pricked his finger to check his levels as we queued, and ordered as “Voldemort” (no-one so much as raised a brow). We chose a spot mid-pavement perched on the edge of a fountain between by lunching office workers.
“Did you get that you walk on the right of a pavement to go with the flow?” His sentence matched his perfect English public school boy accent ( Americans, read ‘private’ school) without a trace of American twang. His sidewalk advice should be given to all tourists in New York. From having lived near Cambridge and Oxford in the past, I know how intensely annoying gawking tourists can be. Give it long enough and feel like bashing them out of the way rudely. I’d expected to be bashed out of the way myself by go-getting power walkers in New York, but had naturally blended with the flow and found it a breeze. Only the stupid cell phone conversations get in the way.
After lunch we walked up Madison Avenue towards the Guggenheim. Me taking out my embarrassing little Canon pocket camera, David his sexy, proper camera. It turned out he’s a shit hot photographer (hence the half-naked, arty selfie) with a history of having worked with some of the top photographers in New York, like for Vogue and stuff like that. He did wonder if Lucas might find some work for him once, but didn’t get a reply. Was the downside of being a progressive school not benefitting from the so called ‘old-school ethic?So the downside of being such a progressive school meant there didn’t seem to be the benefit of the ‘old-school ethic’ ?
We were struck by this window displaying mini-me children’s clothes.
Now, honestly, what on earth do parents who buy this sort of stuff for their kids expect? Not dirty knees, or dribbled ice-cream for sure. Manners, I suppose. I hope – really hope – they were just party clothes, or wedding dress? Please, please tell me that New Yorkers don’t dress them up like this for normal life?
“Here, move over here, you won’t get reflections?” said David. I looked at his posture, which had a slight lift of the chin, making me wonder if that’s what happens when you live in New York and don’t lose the wonderment of the skyscrapers? David turned out to be generous too, offering more than just lunch.
“Look, next time you come to New York you must stay with us – save you a bit of money.” His wife sounded lovely, and his dog. I felt foolish for worrying. It’s always reassuring when married men mention their wives, especially when it’s not in the ‘she doesn’t understand me’ kind of way. I was so glad that I’d trusted my curiosity and decided to meet him. We stopped to enjoy a moving window display. If you look closely you can see the model move, jerkily, but yes she moves. It was so cool.
If you click on the arrow it should play.
And in case it doesn’t here are a few more samples of the incredible windows on Madison Avenue.
At the Guggenheim David bid his goodbyes, and left me to my own devices. I took a few pictures and went into the giant snail shell.
“I’m sorry Ma’am the permanent collection is closed today.”
“What? WHAT? But I’ve come all the way from England to see it.”
“We have a very nice James Turrell light show and exhibition”
“You could call him a light artist? A sculptor in light.”
“But I wanted…”
“I think you’ll really enjoy it. We only have about five Kandinsky’s on show at the moment. Turrell’s show has taken over the whole space.”
“And you’re charging the same price?” It stung. I was baffled. How could they do this to me? What’s a few Kandiskys when they’ve stripped out everything else. What timing. What a bitter, miserable, disappointment. With bad grace I bought an $18 concessionary ticket.
“Well I guess I might as well look since I’m here.”
She called after me as I slunk off grumbling. “Enjoy.”
And then I entered wonderland!
Not the Wonderland of the diseased dance hall near Boston, REAL wonderland. Stunning, sensational wonderland. The void in the centre of the snailing staircase so distinctive of the Guggenheim was filled with coloured light and prone people. Some leaning on the walls staring upwards, and some lying on the floor on a large circular mat in the centre (which must have been provided after the video below was made).
Turrell had stretched fine muslin or gauze-like material in stacking cone shapes in the space. Looking up into the layers of gauze gave the effect of clean, egg shapes with varying tones and depths of coloured light projected onto it, fading to natural daylight at the very top.
For a moment I contemplated joining the people propped up against the wall around the edges of the space but what I really wanted was to get on that mat, and it was packed full, radiating with people glowing in the peach coloured light. I waited and spied my chance. A handsome bearded man, a similar certain age to me was arguing with his wife. He was already settled on the mat.
“I’m not getting down there, I’ll never get up again.”
He couldn’t persuade her down. I saw the narrow gap, about six inches wide. The minute she stepped back I dropped down and wriggled myself cuckoo-style into the space. It was kind of intimate. I breathed a sigh of relief, my knees and burning blisters grateful as I relaxed. The air conditioning cooled me against his warm body. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all that the permanent collection was closed. I stared up at the ceiling.
“Oh wow! WOW. Oh my god.” The colours changed softly from purple to magenta.
“I hope this is what it’s like when I die. Do you think it’ll look like this when we die? “I turned to look at the man.
“Oh look, it’s changing, oh I love that green, it’s like being grass, every cell turning green…oh look at the orange….” I didn’t take LSD in the 60s and 70s, I was too scared of losing control and far too responsible a mother. This was better wasn’t it? A light show without the drugs and psychosis. My companion (for now it was to all intents and purposes just me and him) chatted and marvelled away at the colours and shapes. He seemed equally mesmerised and I believe a bit infected by my enthusiasm. Either that or it was my accent. English accents can do that I’ve noticed, but it can go either way. In New Mexico, a friend of my ex-sister in law took against me misinterpreting me as a posh snob and was incredibly rude, alternatively an American girl thought a bloke from Wigan had the coolest accent. Wigan? (As Bill Bryson would say ‘somebody has to come from there.’)
“This is definitely going in my blog” I said “and there was me, so disappointed that the gallery was closed.” I remembered the dome in London. My daughter and I lay on the floor of a giant igloo installation looking at a light show projected on the ceiling. We only came-to when a guard stood over us and said “ahem, excuse me ladies we’re closing.” We hadn’t noticed everyone else had left. We were asleep.
Handsome man asked about my trip, “No way. Marblehead? We live just up the coast from there in Rockport.”
Over an hour passed, maybe more, bathed in colour and happily whispering through an oft repeating orgasm of light. It was a while before we noticed the sequence had started again, that we’d seen the whole show through at least once. Before we peeled ourselves off the mat he said “I’d like to read your blog. What’s it called?” He took out his diary and wrote down the link. We smiled, shook hands and stiffly got to our feet.
“Enjoy the blog” I said, and went in search of the Kandinsky’s.
Coming back from the loo I walked up the stairwell to look for the paintings and I saw my handsome friend. He was with his wife. She’d watched the whole thing from the stairwell. She glared at me. He tried to introduce me, but her handshake was frosty and her lips tight.
So, handsome man, are you following me out there in Rockport? Did she forgive you when you explained? I’m sorry, I forgot to ask your name.