In so many ways, these now seem to be the last days of a kind of carefree, cheery, safe, prosperous New York. It really has never been the same again. This week, then, let me dwell not on September 11, 2010, but the week or so leading up to it, according to my journal of ten years ago. I had quite forgotten until I opened the book yesterday that the weekend before "9/11" I had flown to Washington DC.
This was one of my occasional art-related day-trips to the capital.
I hadn't seen the Peacock Room before, the eastern fantasia of a haute bourgeois dining room, created by Whistler for Frederick Leyland, the British shipping magnate, removed from his London home after his death and reassembled in DC. My main interest, however, was in a show of Whistler's Venetian etchings. Anyone who knows Whistler only from his paintings might be surprised by the restraint and intricate delicacy of these tiny works. Scenes from the backwaters of that old city - gondolas, beggars, stairs, doorways - perhaps the best work Whistler ever did.
Lunch at that bustling DC standard Kinkead's. Fish is the thing, but I started with a wild mushroom strudel, accented with Smithfield ham. Then a big platter of fishy fritto misto, all kinds of sea creatures in batter with a boat of sauce gribiche. A lychee sorbet followed as a concession to lightness.
I worked off the lunch with a tour of the National Gallery of Art, featuring an exhibition of prints by Jasper Johns. Somehow, following the flight home, I managed a spot of tripe for supper.
I visited the South Bronx on Sunday morning, reviewing arrangements I'd made to have the overspill of my book collection shelved in a spare room of what was then, I suppose, a spare apartment. This was followed by a long walk around Washington Heights. To me, that implies empanadas, bu t my journal doesn't mention any.
The midweek highlight was Polly Harvey with her band at the Hammerstein, emphasizing songs from that magnificent New York album, Songs from the City, Songs from the Sea, released a year earlier.
Can you hear them
I'm in New York
No need for words now
We sit in silence
And there was still time, the following weekend, to visit a ravishing exhibition drawn from La Belle Époque, "Beyond the Easel." Bonnard and Vuillard in their "Nabis" days -beautiful mock-Asian screens and panels, richly furnished Parisian interiors, graphic art, textiles. A little later than Whistler's Peacock Room but sharing a certain affluent bohemian sensibility.
A dinner at The Tonic on the Lower East Side. Corn and she-crab soup, lamb three ways, cheese, a bottle of Cigare Volant, all accompanied by an accordionist.
On September 9, Sunday, another marvelous day, I walked around Washington Square Park. My diary notes "acrobats, a Jewish street party with jazz band." I stopped at an art fair and bought a print of McSorley's exterior. A New York institution.
I worked on Monday and in the evening watched a video of one of my favorite comedies, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.
Tuesday morning, the weather was still lovely.
I don't think we will meet again
And you must leave now
Before the sun rises
Over the skyscrapers
And the city landscape comes into view
P.J. Harvey, "This Mess We're In"