Thursday, November 4

Letter to America #2: Beautiful Autumn Afternoons

Sleeking in sideways, the link is to a piece by Robert Hughes, as he metaphorically waggles his delightfully imperious walking stick around MoMA: its history, its future, its current legacy - with the usual stab at Andy Warhol.

(On a tangent, here is an excerpt from a book about Willem de Kooning, and his impact on the artistic life - read nightlife - of New York in the late 1950s, the post-Pollock, pre-Warhol years.)

MoMA is reopening any day now - with a new entry fee: $20 for the privilege.

In this short piece Jonathan Jones (see BOAT DRINKS) criticises this change, contrasting it unfavourably with the free entry to most of our museums and galleries including, of course, our current jewel, Tate Modern.

As someone who begins to wilt after about half an hour in any gallery or museum (and just wants out!), I can see what he's saying: dipping in now and again could become pretty expensive. But hey, there's a lot of money around in New York, and as for here in London . . . I'd guess that there must be something approaching a quarter of a million football fans who spend upwards of $75 every other week to watch a single game.

The truth is the same for most of these things, whether it be a sports event or the arts: the people who wanna go, go. Personally, I think forking out £75 to see the Stones or Simon & Garfunkel is crazy - but I've got friends who have done just that in the past couple of years. (I might pay that to see Elvis - if he came back, baby - though it depends who's supporting him. Even then, I'm not queueing. No way.)

Actually, it was something else Jonathan Jones wrote that caught my eye, and set me thinking.

He makes a pithy remark about how Mark Rothko would be pleased that his best work was showing over here, freely available. And having read a biography of the grumpy Groucho Marx lookalike, I think he would have been pleased about it. But it reminded me, not that I really needed any reminding, that at midday our time on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 I was sitting in the Rothko room at Tate Modern, staring at the handful of abstracts on display.

The room, the atmosphere of the room, is eerie; though it has an open link to the rest it feels like it's hermetically sealed off, separate from all the others. And it's eerie because of the canvasses themselves: these huge darkling maroon abysses.

That day I sat there for about twenty minutes, moving around to look at each one in turn (and aside from peering and chortling at the antics of the figures in the Bosch tableaux in the Prado, it's comfortably the longest I've ever looked at any set of art works). I've been back and sat there a couple of times since, and I can say this for Rothko: he knew how to shut people up. For in my experience, when people enter the Rothko room they stop talking.

It's those darkling maroon abysses. Well, that's what they represent for me; you're free to see them as doors of opportunity, doors to a state of peace or even salvation, but I think that's all quasi-religious claptrap.

I'll grant you that there is a quality of stillness, but he's a merchant of doom, and no mistake.

On leaving Tate Modern, I strolled along the Embankment to Westminster Bridge (along the way I remember passing a large group of young oriental students, busy drawing sketches of the view), then across that and up Whitehall, past Downing Street and on towards Trafalgar Square . . . by which time the first plane, if not both, must have hit the World Trade Center. But I was oblivious to what was happening in New York.

In fact, I didn't suss that something, somewhere was up, not even when the DLR trundled through Canary Wharf station without stopping (unusual, but not that unusual); nor when - and here I'm just telling it like it was - I saw a black guy, mobile to hand, entering the local boozer, an event that was unusual in that you seldom saw a brother or a sister entering that pub (not even a fucking karaoke night could drag the local ones in, judging by the Fridays when I used to sidle in for a late one on the way home . . . As these things go, it's been demolished, and replaced by yet more expensive executive pads).

And when I got home, I casually took a singing shower before switching on the TV.

Then, a little while later, I sat and cried.

Selfish tears. Selfish tears: selfish because I knew that my life was never going to be the same again, and that what happened there could all too readily - unstoppably - happen here; and that there would be fuck all that I could do about it.

Of course I was upset for all the deaths in New York and elsewhere, but I was crying for me, and I knew that right there and then.

So: a selfish cunt.

Then, as the sky grew dark, I went through the fairly predictable, alcohol-assisted feelings: dismay; anger; fury, and fuck 'em all.

I recall that a few neighbours lit candles on the tables on their balconies . . . You can see those as being acts of false empathy, or as moving gestures: take your pick, with a proviso that there's some chance that those people knew people, or knew people who knew people who knew people who worked in those towers, given that most people round my way work in the City.

(As it happens, I knew nobody there, and I know nobody who knew somebody there - but I know people who knew people who were murdered in the Bali nightclub explosion. So it goes.)

Alongside my aforementioned reactions, I started blasting out some music, in particular the latest White Stripes album, White Blood Cells. And the Strokes and some of the other usual suspects, through to Bob Dylan's Not Dark Yet. That's my way of dealing with most things: go loud - or say nothing at all. Ah, the quintessential male.

And all night long, I ogled the image of that second plane hitting the South Tower: the approach, the way it angled, like it was trying to domino that tower into the other; the reaction of the guy sitting in his office in a building adjacent - what the fuck must he have thought? What the Fuck!?!, probably.

Back and forth, back and forth, went the minute or so of video that I had taped off the rolling news coverage. A sick thing to do, I know, but I'm reporting exactly what I did, with no delicate elisions.

What triggered this particular memory today was partly reading the remark about Rothko; but it was also simply the weather. Here it's been a beautiful late autumn afternoon: I was out and about, treading over dry golden leaves . . . looking up at bright blue, Simpsonsesque skies . . . driving around with my cheap petrol station tortoise-shell shades on, a Stones 68-69 CD comp playing LOUD . . . Yeah, I was being swank - and loving it . . .

. . . but skies like the one this afternoon, especially at this time of year, when their rarity makes them more notable, remind me of 9/11. It's not anxiety: fuck, there are planes from City airport inching their way up and down my line of vision all day, and half the night; no, it's not anxiety - it's a check in the mind, just a check in the mind, that it could be another day like today when something happens - and what am I going to do? What are my family, my friends going to do? What's going to happen to them?

That's what's changed for me: from now on, such days can only be 99% perfect.

To finish, and to skank out the fact that I'm not maudlin about that day or those events, here (again for some, I expect) is the "atrocity special" put together by Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, entitled 'Six Months That Changed a Year'. If you are new to it, then I envy you your pleasure.


posted by DD @ 17:52 


Blogger Christa said...

this is a really nicely written piece. i don't think i've ever read or bothered to ask anyone outside New York City or North Jersey where they were on 9/11 or what they were thinking. this is a pretty loaded subject, so i'm going to stop commenting now...

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