Saturday, February 27, 2010

Enter Stage Right

Back in my New York days of jumping from this to that in the several years between high school and university, I enjoyed a period of working as an assistant to a scenic designer. This designer was enjoying a fertile period of work, at times juggling two productions at once. He was very busy, I was at loose ends, and as luck would have it, we hit it off, became fast friends and worked together on two or three plays. I consider it a blessing that Peter has remained a good friend over the years.

He retired some years back, and began dividing his time between New York and his house in Green Hill, Rhode Island. These days his time is spent mostly painting, and on occasion curating an exhibition in the several New York galleries he is affiliated with. He has also published portions of his diary detailing his work with George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet.

Not too long ago, I spent a couple of days with Peter in his Rhode Island country house, a house that looks very much like the setting for a play. Really quite impressive. I was there a couple of times long ago, but the house of those days burned to the ground, hastening Peter to erect what now looks like the main stage set for the old 1995 Christopher Hampton film, Carrington.

Enter stage right…The house is shrouded in green, which filters the sunlight and brings it flickering through the leaves, casting patches of gold on floors and walls. Clocks are stopped and have little meaning during my days there. Breakfast is at 11:00, lunch at 4:00 and dinner at 10:00. We talk on and on, telling each other the bigger stories that have colored the days and years since our last meeting. Peter has just had an exhibition of his work in a small gallery in New York and a few of the paintings from that show now hang on the walls around us. One canvas I particularly like is an oil and silkscreen painting titled, Holy Fool. It includes a large figure of Oscar Wilde in the center, with an excerpt from his poem, “The Ballad of Reading Goal” silkscreened onto the canvas.

One late afternoon we wander down to the beach, no more than 500 meters from the house. This is not a southern beach of clean white sand catching blue green surf; it is cold and too dark for my tastes, with great ugly clumps of seaweed slime strewn here and there across a patchwork of brownish sand and debris. This is the north Atlantic. Peter insists on snapping off a few photographs in the failing light and I stand on a scum coated section of what looks like the remnant of a broken and washed up barge. He worries his camera, finding my dark shape against a darkening sea, measuring me up for the pages of a photo album.

The telephone rings and Peter talks while I piddle around in the kitchen rinsing glasses. Extending the phone, he says it’s for me. But who could be calling me in Rhode Island? It is a voice I don’t recognize but one which assumes a familiarity from the moment I say hello. A few words and the curtain is lifted. I am speaking to a friend out of reach for years. I had tried several times getting in touch, but got no further than an answering machine. Now, speaking at last I learn that Matthew has become a successful puppet designer with his own studio. This news pleases me, because when we last spoke he was a bit rudderless, bobbing about in New York without direction. He had gotten my message with the number in Rhode Island, and thus the surprise call.

On my way back to New York, sated and full with the enjoyment of these past few days, I try to sleep for some of the three Amtrac hours but have little luck there. A very civilized, very cultured English woman sitting across from me cannot close her mouth for as much as a moment. She talks about a Bach violin concerto almost breathlessly into the ear of her young companion, as well as into the ears of us all. She isn’t loud, but she is unstoppable, until halted by a sound wave of three teenagers shagging down the aisle with a big boom box bursting with rap and The Notorious B.I.G. For a moment the English woman is frozen silent with her mouth agape. I smile and sink closer to that elusive doze.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America