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Monday, October 20, 2003

Saturday and Sunday

I was up really early this morning because I wanted to go to Temple in Flushing. In spite of this, every time I looked at the clock, I was saying, "Gosh, it's so late already", and finally, it was so late I almost considered not going after all, but then I pulled myself together and decided to just go and be late. So I was.

I love the long ride on the No. 7 on a Sunday: everyone is on it, from everywhere in the world. Flushing has a large Asian population, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, but the No. 7 also carries all sorts of other people: Sikhs, Peruvians, Mexicans, Bengladeshis, Indians, and all the old Europeans are there, and all those who connect back to Spain somewhere up the line. Large families, small families, smartly dressed people carrying leather-bound bibles, old codgers with their wives, babies in prams or worn around the neck. It's busy and noisy and interesting.

During the time when I lived in Paris, years ago, I used to call England home, not because I had a home there any more, I didn't, but because those were my roots and I still felt connected. So, even while living in Paris I still "went home" to England. Then one day I came to America. It was more than three years before I "went home", on a Kuwait airlines flight to London. To my surprise, the "coming home" feeling did not fill my heart when I landed. I wondered what was wrong with me, I wondered what had happened, I wondered whether maybe after living in Paris for so many years, Paris had somehow managed to become my heart's home. But then after two week in England, I flew to Paris and no, that wasn't "home" either. Bizzarre, bizzarre!

Two weeks later, on my TWA flight from Paris to New York, I was overwhelmed with the joyous feeling: "I'm going home! I'm finally going home!"

The definitive revelation came to me the next morning on the No. 2 train to Wall Street. I was surrounded by people of all colors, all origins, all possible mixtures: black men with the palest blue or green eyes, Chinese girls with freckles, etc.,
everybody looking kind of grumpy and sour, as if they wished they were somewhere else, and I was bursting with joy and recognition: "I'm home! I'm home! These are MY people!"

"My" people? Well, yes. I knew just how they were feeling, and yes, I admitted I was one of them, even if I was looking about me instead of at my feet, even if I was smiling, because belonging does not mean you have to behave exactly the same way.

Yesterday, there was a street fair on Eighth Avenue. I had no intention of buying anything, but as I was coming out of Gristede's where I had bought my bread, I spotted a young Peruvian setting up his stall, and a white cardigan with little colored people dancing across it caught my eye. "Well," I said to myself, "I shall come back this afternoon, and if it is still there, and if the price is exactly what I want to pay for it, it's mine!"

Mysteriously, I remembered to go back. Sometimes it is my experience I get carried away with some occupation or other and I don't remember until it's too late to do whatever I had intended to do--sometimes, even, it is the next day. The cardigan was still there, the price was right, and I am wearing it today. Lots of compliments.

On the No. 7 on the way out, there was a young Peruvian couple sitting across from me. He is the one who spotted me, and he turned to her and told her to look. They went off into an animated conversation about sweaters. I didn't understand a word of what they were saying, just the gestures. I bet she was saying like: her grandmother makes such sweaters all the time, or maybe: her mother taught her how to make such sweaters, but she finds it boring, it takes so long to finish one; and he: my grandmother, my mother, my aunts and all my sisters make such sweaters all the time.

I bet the modest price I paid for my beautiful cardigan has gone home to a grandma in Peru, I feel like I have my part to play in the world economy.

Forget about the Gap.

The kid who sold me the sweater looked sooooooo sad.

Having bought my sweater, I decided to walk down a few blocks. It was a beautiful day, I needed the air, and I also wanted to see what else might be there, just for a lark.

An African man had a table filled with necklaces, bracelets and belts. The jewelry was made with tiny glass beads, strung in the most imaginative and time-consuming patterns, an absolute riot of colors, provocative, sophisticated, very self-assured combinations. I know something about time-consuming efforts: everything I ever do is VERY time consuming. Nobody has to explain such things to me.

"How much?"

"Five dollars"

Wow! The beads would cost that much if they were plastic, but the work... even with tiny nimble fingers, you are looking at hours of work. Can't be done in this particular economy, I thought.

"Where are they made?" I asked.

"Zambia", with a proud smile.

Ah! I had to have one.

It's great to be handy. My mother used to make lace, and very fine silk underwear, and she crocheted fabrics to tailor her own suits in stitches she must have invented herself because noone else was ever able to finish any of her almost finished projects, when she was killed. Everybody I ever met who knew my mother would go on and on about how talented she was, how anything she did was always so much better made than what anyone else made. I myself remember that she was a stickler for perfection.

It might be because I lost my mother at such a young age and was kind of abandoned for months afterwards, that I got into the habit or developed the need to be independent of others, to manage on my own, to such ridiculous lengths. Knitting, sewing, cooking, baking, no problem there. But I also want to build bookshelves, and tables, and who knows what else, and I don't know how.

I lived in a very small room in Paris for a while, which had a washbasin and a kitchen cupboard with a sink and an electric ring in one corner. The shower and toilet were somewhere down the hall, on the same floor, to be shared with all my neighbors.

I decided to build a four panel screen to hide this part of the room, simple frames that I would pad and cover with an interesting fabric. I built the frames easily enough and went to the BHV to buy hinges. The BHV is a fantastic store in Paris where you can get anything as long as you know what you are looking for, because nobody there can ever help you. I bought an appropriate number of those sorts of hinges which can open both ways, plus enough screws and some to spare, and the screen was assembled and duly tested: it was fine, it stood up and deployed very nicely. I folded it and put it behind my front door, until I would cover it.

One night that I came home very late, as I opened the door and stepped in before turning on the light, the folded screen sprung to life and attacked me, knocking me senseless onto the floor.

I came to, with a nasty bruise on the side of my head, and I gathered the unfinished screen into my arms and marched it off to the garbage disposal. I was damned if I was going to become the battered woman of my own creation.

I have through the years had many more such failures, fortunately none quite so spectacular.

Whenever I want to build anything nowadays, I try to control the urge as much as possible. I should mention that another reason for not doing it myself is that I am very heavy on tools. By which I mean, they have a tendency to disintegrate in my small hands. I know, I know, a bad workman always blames his tools. I buy the best screwdrivers, the kind with a "lifetime guarantee", and before my project is finished the head is chipped or twisted. Clippers stop biting, awls blunt, scissors separate, hammers fly off the handle. I love and envy those professional workers who carry around tool boxes filled with perfect, trusted, functioning, old tools.

Once, I wanted to change the piece of wood that goes on the floor between the bathroom tiles and the corridor: I thought this was an easy project for me to handle. I went to a lumberyard, bought a piece of oak the right length, and I came home and traced the exact pattern to obtain a perfect fit on each side of the door, which I then transferred in pencil onto the oak. Then I went to the hardware store and asked to buy a cheap but adequate for the task scrim saw--I think that was the word, to be honest, I don't exactly remember, it's one of these little saws that has a blade that swings around in different directions, it doesn't, in fact can't, cut straight. Anyway, the salesman showed me a selection, I chose the cheapest, which came with several spare blades and a ten-year warranty. I was home like a shot, and back at the hardware store within ten minutes, with a handful of saw pieces, the spare blades still in the cardboard wrapping. The poor guy couldn't find a thing to say.

"Hey, don't look at me like that," I protested, "It's not my fault. I can't even open a jar of pickles by myself, I have to ask my doorman to do it for me. Don't even suggest I might be too strong."

Without a word, he threw my return into the garbage and gave me the top of the line saw, with bells and whistles and a lifetime guarantee.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked, expecting to pay the difference.

"Get outta here!" he hissed, and waved me off.

Would you believe it: I managed to make both cuts perfectly, but when I had finished, my lifetime scrim saw was dead!

I suppose what it is about is that I have the heart of a "bricoleur". My friend Larry just called and we were talking about baseball, which neither of us enjoys, so I don't really know why he suddenly asked me what a bricoleur might be. I said: someone who makes something of nothing, who puts together a lot of lost parts and turns them into a baby carriage, or a sort of Rube Goldberg thinggy. It was when he hung up that I recognized this as something that is a part of my makeup, which is why I pick up odd stuff off the street, sometimes, to turn into a stool, or a plant stand, or sometimes just because it looks interesting and I might do something with it, though I don't know what. That is also probably why I have a book on my shelves called "How to decorate a dump", and another one "Making art from found objects".

I am definitely not my mother's daughter and less than perfection is definitely for me.

For two days now, my hands have been itching to steal.

The old man who sets the garden at 340 forgot to plant one pansy and one pink "lobelia?" thinggy. They are there in a corner, partly hidden from view by some bush. They look lonely. They look forlorn. They look eminently desirable. I am surprised they have not already been taken. Would it really be stealing? Doesn't the fact they are still there, and I am seeing them every day, doesn't this mean they are there for me?

Would it really be stealing? I mean, nobody is going to come and plant them now.

Would it really be stealing? If I told Sylvester Stallone, the doorman, he might take them for himself, and I would have just put temptation in his otherwise innocent life.

Would it really be stealing? If I waited two more days, surely it would not be considered stealing, it would count as a rescue.

"I shall think about it tomorrow", said Scarlett.

Breaking news: the Australian sheep are finally on their way home, that is the all but 5,000 who have already died at sea.



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