Fast that is if you’re counting in dinosaur years.
Me and my *Boychick” Alan Goldberg go back to 1978 in NYC. He was sleeping on his sister Leslie (my friend’s) couch and waiting tables at Restaurant Tartufo on the upper east side. Completely at a loss about what to do with his life now that he had graduated from Indiana University, Alan was open to suggestions.
Alan’s true gift is that he is very very interested in you and your story. His other gifts in order of importance for becoming a Sixty Minutes producer are:
1. he’s hilarious
2 .he’s very cute (in a Jewish way)
3. he has a heart of gold
4. he is open to suggestions from little old ladies who take a liking to him
Actually move number 4 to the top of the list. She was a regular at Restaurant Tartufo, a doctor, originally from N. Carolina, who always ordered a burger, fries and a Coke, and always asked for Alan.
Like any landsman wandering in the desert wondering how much longer he would be sleeping on his sister’s couch, Alan was thinking of applying to Law or Business School when the little lady doctor asked if he had ever considered Journalism because, she said,
“I think it would suit you”
So he applied to NYU Graduate School of Journalism, got in, and also found himself the recipient of a teaching assistant fellowship. This meant he would be assisting students in the Journalism Department before he’d taken a single class.
NYU School of Journalism was just starting up and someone else took a liking to Alan.
After graduating he got a job at CBS NEWS, a show called West 57th St, a hip 60 Minutes anchored by a very young Meredith Vieira (Today Show) and Steve Kroft (60 Minutes). From there he helped start Dateline with anchors Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley, and then settled in for almost 19 years with 20/20, producing interesting stories with Barbara Walters. Four months ago he was offered a new plum; 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime. He’s a guy, so he loves sports, he produces news stories so Sixty Minutes is the shimmering crown. Think Kid-in-a-Candy Store. He was in NOLA to do a story on Behind-the-Scenes at Super Bowl so we dined on leftovers from his lunch at Katies with Mary Maitlan and James Carville, co-hosts for the New Orleans Super Bowl Committee. We laughed like it was 1978.
Alan is also serious; very proud of stories like the ones on Anorexia and transgender kids that he produced for 20/20. Before Alan and Barbara Walters brought sunlight to these subjects, these kids and their parents suffered alone and in the dark. He was awed by the 28 million viewers tuned into the anorexia hour, the resulting changes in treatment and perspective, and most of all that young lives were probably saved… and not even a day in Med School! Sometimes whether your way is Medicine, Journalism, Art, or any other path, you can end up at the same spot.
The Superbowl story is something else again. Alan decided the way into this one was scale. How to grasp and then portray in words and pictures the MILLIONS of dollars it takes to produce the event, the $4 million for a 30 second commercial to reach an estimated 110 million viewers across planet Earth who will be watching, or the influx of NEARLY HALF A BILLION dollars into the New Orleans economy? Even though the Superbowl is a THING, the way in is always through people, bringing us back to the little lady doctor from N. Carolina ordering a hamburger, fries, and a Coke in Restaurant Tartufo, suggesting Alan Goldberg consider Journalism.
Alan chooses a half dozen people and their stories out of a cast of thousands to find his way into his narrative of Superbowl scale. This is a totally subjective process and the one that most bears the imprint of the Producer. If you believe, like Alan does, that everyone could be a story, then his job is really to take a microscopic slice out of a gigantic pie of possibilities and make it deliciously interesting and new.
First he chooses the ringmaster, Frankie Supovitz, head of events for the NFL. Alan caught up with him 2 months ago in a room of 350 key players at a Hyatt across from the Superdome. The little guy with the backpack is Supovitz, a would-be Biologist who started as an usher at Radio Center Music Hall. Frank views the Biggest Party on Earth as a massive science experiment akin to a NASA launch. delegating to a huge and stellar team. He starts with thousands of moving parts. Like a biologist he dissects the beast and names the parts. Supovitz does it all with a certain calm; his reputation is for building very very good teams. Alan describes it as “A massive operation and somebody has to direct it and be the funnel for all these decisions.
It sounds eerily like the explanation I got recently from Matthew Siegler, legal counsel to a Congressional Committee. I asked Matt why it was that White House staff, Press Secretary, Chief of Staff, etc. so often resigned after one term while the President stayed on for another 4 years. He told me these are the folks who do the strenuous leg work. They bring the finished package, “fully fleshed out policies or proposals for him to review”, wrapped up perfectly, on every issue for the President to digest then simply decide: yes, no, bring me more info. I shouldn’t say simply; the President’s hair does always turns white in office.
Alan chooses the head of Security as another beacon of scale for his story. This is the guy whose job it is to make New Orleans and the Super Dome the safest place in the world on game day. Daunting, especially in light of the numbers: 20,000 credentialed workers who need FBI clearance just to sell hot dogs, 5000 journalists, and 70,000 ticket holders. All in one place.
He also found it interesting that the party event planners are two women for this most male-centric of events. Private party for 10,000 VIPS?…not a problem if you’re among the most experienced in the country…another way into the narrative.
As for the nuts and bolts of producing a story, Alan starts by watching the hours and hours of raw videotape. At some point, (and each time he does this he feels this will be his Waterloo), he has to sort through all of the material, sit down and write the script that will tell the tale. He creates the essential roadmap for his collaborators: the Correspondents, Video Editor, Executive and Senior Producers, Standards & Practices, and Legal. That’s a lot of checks and balances and you have to be able to play nice with the other kids on the playground to pull it off.
His pre-interviews can be as tough on Alan as they are on the subjects themselves. Sometimes he goes in knowing more than the interviewee realizes he knows. Caught on camera. Sometimes he has to shake hands with real evil, like an accused Nazi. “It was hard for me because my mother was a Holocaust survivor. It’s this ritual; I had to shake his hand and thank him for sitting down with me, and then the tape rolls and it’s all business and I can ask the hard questions.” Still people will call him afterwards asking for favors. “I’ve outed these people on national TV and they’re fine with asking me if I can write a recommendation for their daughter who wants to be a film maker. They totally compartmentalize what they’ve done from the rest of their lives, crazy.”
So for 60 Minutes Sports, Super Bowl 47 will be about size, which really counts in this story. He’ll chip away at a ton of information to reveal a great story, one where you’ll learn something new and be entertained. In the process he’ll make people laugh and comfortable enough to talk on camera without fear. He’ll move through the world making friends like he always has. Good work my boychick.
*Thank you to the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation for Yiddish translation
BOYCHICK: An affectionate term for a young boy.
New story on nolavie about going onstage when you have excruciating stage fright.
STUFF and more STUFF
When mom passed 9 months ago it was tragic, but not in the usual way. Her paranoid 97 year old boyfriend with whom she’d shared her final 20 years, barred me from visiting her the last 2 weeks of her life. At the funeral he had instructed the Rabbi not to mention my sister or I or any part of her life after childhood that didn’t contain him. I’m so grateful to my cousin Lisa who walked up to the front in the middle of the service and whispered in the Rabbi’s ear. I could see the red flush his face. “Oh, and of course our condolences to Lillian’s daughters Susie and Carol” he said.
I could write a book about Harry but it would fall into the same category as all stories about cruel people, so why dwell in the underbelly when I could be in my mom’s storage room unpacking boxes stacked to the ceiling, boxes filled with treasures and the occasional incongruous paper maché tray in the form of a frog or a pig. So, 6-8 hours a day of Christmas Mornings everyday for the foreseeable future. Here’s a picture of what the room looks like AFTER giving most of the great stuff to New Orleans Auction and filling up a whole nother storage room to the max.
I’ve learned so much about my mom. I knew she fancied single flower stems in long-necked glass vases, 4-6 of them lined up, each holding a perfect golden Freesia or raspberry Alstroemerias. What I didn’t know was how much she loved the glass vases and/or how much she loved to shop. Not 4 or 6 or even 12 glass vases, but at least 100 and counting. Some antique, some contemporary, some looking like they came from a chemist supply company which I wouldn’t put past her. She went to shipping supply houses to buy equipment for our stainless steel kitchen that looked like no one elses back in those Mad Men days.
(I think Mad Men, as a perfect descriptor for a whole era, is going to stick.)
Mom was 4 years old when she entered the Jewish Childrens Home, sent down from NYC when her parents died. At 16 she left the Home and got a secretarial job. At 19 she married my father. She joked that it was a tough decision seeing as her boss had just offered her a $2 raise.
It’s strange now to see my little apartment transform as I unpack mom’s boxes of Export China, fine silver and china, and 18th century furniture. The few pieces I’m keeping sidle up to my funky folk art; Mexican religious paintings on tin and a carved head of Chairman Mao sit next to a silk damask covered French chair. A spare blue modern couch looks askance at the neighboring mahogany side table inlaid with a curvy acanthus leaf design, a graphic spotlight on our differences. Although she grew up in an orphanage, Lillian saw herself as a princess. I on the other hand, grew up like a princess but always felt like an orphan. Mom imagined that I would marry Prince Philip. An American southern Jewish girl in the House of Windsor, an inspired match. Queen Elizabeth would surely have been missing Diana about then.
In the auction catalogue they used a picture of the large portrait of mom that hung in our living room. She’s wearing a strapless black velvet gown and a choker of pearls, and she appears to have a 19″ waist. Her eyebrows are boldly arched and she’s sitting pretty. A blond wooden chest with a silver crest also sat in our living room. It contained 6 perfect little drawers, each piece of silver and gilt nestled into a spot molded perfectly for that particular knife, fork, spoon, or grape cutter, asparagus server, or crumb sweeper and tray. It was utter gorgeousness and I opened that chest and it’s drawers everyday until adolescence intruded and silver lost its glow temporarily.
The magic silver chest is Lot 209
Going through mom’s possessions is like reading her biography and I haven’t even opened the boxes of photos and letters. Every single life on this planet could be a book and I think my mom’s would be an illustrated one because really her driving force was Beauty.
New Orleans Auction Galleries 510 Julia Street New Orleans, La. 70130
Auction: Saturday, May 17 (10 am, Lots 1-605)
Auction Sunday, May 18 (10 am, Lots 606-1138)
Evening Reception: Thursday, May 15 (5-8pm)
Exhibition: May 3 through May 16 (9am-5pm except Sundays)
The magic silver chest is Lot 209.
The whole catalog can be viewed online at:
Some people pack a carry-on and go. Not me. I start cleaning out my fridge three days before I leave; my to-do lists give birth to their own to-do lists. Returning home is even worse; it takes me four days to unpack and regain equilibrium. I’m a homebody and a terrible traveler.
So the grand plan was to take care of everything way in advance, then use the whole day to pack for my flight, which left at 5:30 in the evening. The grand plan got torpedoed at midnight when I was told my flight was now leaving at 6:30 a.m. because of the winter storm that was closing in on New York. Panic. An entire night of throwing things in and throwing things out, leaving without a brush, moisturizer, or socks. I missed the plane and forgot to write down where I parked in long-term parking.
We landed in Charlotte, N.C. and were told to wait for our luggage; all flights out to the East Coast were on hold. By “we,” I mean every single plane flying into the Charlotte hub from everywhere else in the United States. So hundreds of people got their luggage before me … six hours later, I was still in baggage claim, by which time all the airport hotels were booked. The loud and bigoted taxi driver who drove me to the wrong Hyatt in downtown Charlotte, then the hotel driver who wanted to charge me $10 to drive 2 blocks away to the other Hyatt didn’t sweeten the day one bit. I considered flying back to NOLA … the Universe was certainly talking to me but no, damn it. I hadn’t spent all day in baggage claim to turn around.
By the next afternoon when I finally got to my hipster hotel, The Hudson, I had a cold, my first in like five years. I felt my eyes to see if I was wearing my sunglasses inside, but no, the hipster lighting was permanent midnight except for a pin light here and there. I went to the hotel restaurant for some salt to gargle with and thought I was in a disco. I left, keeping my arms extended, feeling my way to the elevator. Now for the luke-cold shower … and a change of rooms. It was 17 degrees in New York and I had a cloth coat and no socks or moisturizer. Or a brush. But from the 18th floor, I could clearly hear clip..clop..clip..clop of the horse-drawn carriages heading to Central Park.
I went to the Preview Party that night for The Metro Show — couple of shots of vodka, boatloads of gorgeous art, everything else fell away. It was freezing outside but warm and friendly inside … maybe because it was outsider, primitive, and contemporary art that, by and large, cost hundreds and thousands but not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gallery owners were happy to discuss the artists, the weather, and mean cabdrivers in Charlotte.
As I wrote in the last post (The eye must eat, too: Wall to wall art in NYC), Caroline Kerrigan Lerch, a local girl who just made her way back home after 20 years in NYC and Berlin, was the Director of The Metro Show. There were only 37 booths, laid out in a bright open space, but still, with all the talking and looking it took me three visits to take it all in. Below are a few of the pics I took, along with one of Caroline and me taken by Annie Watt, which made it into the New York Social Diary!
I did manage to eat dinner with my favorite boychick, Alan Goldberg, he of 60 Minutes Sports fame. We dined at Noodies on 9th Avenue, between 54th and 55th — fabulous Tom Yum Soup. Cheap. Went back the next night for exactly the same meal, perfect for a head cold.
I took the subway everywhere for the best people watching in town. There were kids showing off and being generally hilarious, people begging for money with very fine speeches, and subway signs called Poetry in Motion, a program sponsored by the MTA (the transit authority).
The city orbits around eight million
centers of the universe
and turns around the golden clock
at the still point of this place.
Lift up your eyes from the moving hive
and you will see time circling
under a vault of stars and know
just when and where you are.
Billy Collins, b 1941
Waiting for the 1 Train at Columbus Circle, musicians played what sounded like Scottish bagpipe music, only it was played on Peruvian flutes. I was at a local stop so some trains whooshed right on through, windows and posts clicking so fast it made my heart beat like I was riding the Zephyr.
Since I haven’t found any good Indian food in NOLA, I stopped at Chola (232 58th St.), which was still packed at 3 p.m. when I left. Managers Narinder Kumar and Nisar Shoddo couldn’t have been sweeter. There was a puffy-shelled thing that you were supposed to tap a hole on top, then fill with I don’t know what — coconut chutney, maybe — and what he called water (I think it was tamarind water) and I would call a sweet hot sauce. Then he instructed me to scoop it all up in one bite. There were fried lentil donuts and 20 other exotic choices, delicious yogurt and chutneys. Once I sat down with my mountain of food, they brought two tandoori cooked chicken legs, rice crepes stuffed with onions and potatoes, and naan. All this for the higher weekend price of $14.95. That much food was a 2-Rolaids payback, but worth it.
Here are some pics of the pastry, the art, and the rat.
Don’t leave town without a Cannelle from Bouchon Bakery, 3rd Floor, Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle (or at their Rockefeller Center shop). The Cannelle is crisp and gooey at the same time; it’s an amazing little thing.
Kim McCarty’s new large scale flowers at Morgan Lehman. Below, also from Morgan Lehman, is Frohawk Two Feathers…yeah Frohawk Two Feathers, and a painting from his vivid imagined world, La Mort D’Anibal.
And a beautiful NYC rat.
“As for the rat, it is put up by the NYC Local of the Building Trades Union wherever non-union workers (scabs to them) are being employed, making it a common sight to NY’ers. It does have a certain beauty, even if this left-liberal can’t go all the way in supporting this particularly outrageous example of a feather-bedding and corrupt union.”
Me: Wait, how do they move a 2-ton rat around the city?
Roger: It’s a BALLOON. It gets inflated and deflated—like my ego on regular occasion.
Michael Noland’s Night Harvest, the theme is Compelled by the Forces of Nature, on vivid display in the booth of Michael Klein Arts.
Just before Xmas I sat down to interview Karen Gadbois about her smart/naive pillows and found I was also interviewing the founder of the investigative journal The Lens. It happened again this week when I interviewed Caroline Kerrigan Lerch, Director of The Metro Show
January 23-26 in NYC) and learned over coffee that she was also the founder of the Outsider Art Fair.
For 10 years I’d yearned to go to NYC to see this show of artists who were untrained and untamed, unfamiliar with current art trends, but who just HAD to make art, art that was bursting with color and liveliness. These are artists who are not looking for a gallery, fame, or fortune. Often they’ve worked at tough physical jobs their whole lives and start making art when they retire. They use whatever materials are at hand; a ballpoint pen, a pad of old ledger paper, a child’s watercolor set, a charred piece of wood for charcoal, old chair legs for sculpting totems. So I felt like I was having coffee with a major force in the art world. The star power that resides (and sometimes hides) in this town is amazing.
Caroline grew up here but just returned in 2011 when she was hired by the Art Fair Company to launch and develop the Metro Show. After getting her Masters from Ole Miss she spent years producing art fairs, including the Outsider Fair developed with a colleague, for a company in NYC. She also lived in Berlin for 5 years with her German husband and two kids. She definitely doesn’t look old enough to have done so much!
This week in New York City is known as Americana Week and it’s filled with a lot more than the Stars and Stripes. There’s The Metro Show, The Armory Antiques Show, The New York Ceramics Fair, The Winter Antiques Show, galleries and museums around town focused on American and Decorative Arts, and insanely great auctions at Christies and Sotheby’s. The only Americana I can afford is a Snickers Bar but that doesn’t matter; I’m a glutton for eye candy.
First The Metro Show. What’s new this year is the mix, very eclectic. There will be Outsider Art, but there will also be Contemporary Art, Ancient to Contemporary Textiles, and yes, some Stars and Stripes.
What I think will make each booth so interesting this year is “Metro Curates”. Instead of each exhibitor making a fine arrangement of their pieces, Metro Curates has asked them to create their booths by choosing a theme; the theme could be all one artist or several artists who hang together thematically. They’ll get to discuss the thinking behind their selection via BOOTH TALKS that will take place throughout the days of the show. Styles range from Contemporary Art to American Indian Textiles and illustrations. Just Folk, a California gallery, debuts 28 works by Bill Traylor (1854-1947) that have been out of public view for over 15 years.
And then The Metro Show offers even more. On Friday and Saturday the lecture series entitled “COLLECTICISM” begins with extraordinary speakers from the Smithsonian, the Venice Biennale, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s all about collecting art in a new more open way. It used to be that if you were a collector you’d stay within your narrow interest..there’s a new freedom in the air that crosses borders. Collect what you love and mix all categories if they work together.
“What’s American About American Decorating”? is one of several DESIGNER EVENTS, this one a conversation between celebrated interior designer Clodagh and marketing guru Ilene Shaw.
I don’t know how I’m ever going to leave the Metropolitan Pavillion (125 West 18th Street) to see all the other events in town but this is where I begin. I found a cheap flight and very reasonable hotel (for NYC) on jetsetter.com.
I’ve started a series of posts on artists in and around New Orleans; not about the theoretical stuff, more the nuts and bolts that answer the question “How’d she DO that”? So they cover the artist PROCESS, their studios and tools, how they store things, when they work, lots of photos of their work and their workplaces. Plus any interesting tidbits about them personally under the category of SERENDIPITY. A new post will be published on NOLAVIE.COM every other Friday and I’ll post them here as well. Thanks for visiting. Artist recommendations welcome.
Unlikely but true, she was a Barrons Top 100 Female Money Manager who also saw dead people, a fact she pretty much kept under wraps.
She looked like Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, kept her blond hair cut to 1″ in length, did competitive swimming in the 60-65 year old age group, and did 2 hours of Hot Yoga on Sunday mornings to unwind.
She traveled widely, was fluent in French, and a good golfer. Because she loved people and took chances, she was often thrown in with people who were not her kind. The time in a village in France when she’d chosen to spend the night in the guest room of a farmhouse, the only other occupants being the farmer, his wife, and their 16 year old son. Their immediate attraction was something a Barron’s Top 100 could probably handle, but what about Lucien?
Lucien had very large hands, so large in fact that he wondered if they’d been stretched by using them from the age of 3 to pull up turnips and endive, strap leather leads on the solid work horses. Later on when he was studying genetics he learned his hands were the hands his genes said were his hands.
His eyes were a heavenly blue and heavily lidded, so along with his long rumpled brown hair he looked like it was always daybreak between the sheets. He didn’t have to do a thing to attract lovelies; he was a whole lot of honey unto himself.
In her pretty good French she and the family enjoyed a stew of beef, red wine, turnips, and onions over thick buttered noodles followed by a salad, then cheese, nuts, and more wine. Her French got better as she drank. There was the misunderstanding about a French idiom.
She translated it as “There is a mouse in every hole in this house”. Since she was terrified by mice, rats, any rodent, she screamed as she jumped up out of her chair. The family looked at her like she was crazy since the idiom actually translated to “there is always food for a visitor” When it was all explained they laughed until they cried. From that moment on Lucien called her “ma petite souris”.
She was drunk when she climbed into the big lumpy bed and drunk still when he joined her. At 5am he woke up and gave his little mouse a final neck lick and nibble, adding a soft tiny kiss goodby before beginning his chores. She thrilled here and she thrilled there, little electric charges going off in places that she thought had been shut down.
Lucien it turns out had much more on his mind than soil and toil. He was an outstanding student and the French government pretty much lifted him up off the family farm and set him down in Paris. He was a kind man and a good scientist. The things he wondered about were DNA, RNA, nucleo-this, and nucleo-that. He found that chemicals in a happy environment grew lovely connections. When he moved the petri dishes to a hostile setting they became sick. So he reasoned and then proved over a lifetime that humans, made up of these exact same chemicals, became well, then sick, then well again depending on their environments. His research was tagged in the popular press as The Happiness Genes.
It was his nature to be kind and generous but when he grew older he appreciated what a gift it was to share these things. He sometimes thought of the night in the farmhouse with the charming petite mouse 40 years his senior and wondered if he’d made the chemicals inside the petri dish of her skin happy. He had.
LITTLE WOODEN BIRDS
A dense green hooded country road leads you into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 100 year old buildings with hand carved wooden bears and hand sewn quilts hang out front and invite you into this century old arts and crafts haven in the middle of the Great Smokey Mountains. And then you arrive; the traffic lights, the traffic, the lines of roaring Harleys spewing stinky fumes, all things Dukes of Hazzard including the chance to meet Deputy Cletus Hogg, the parade of obesity clogging the sidewalks always chewing on some fried crap or drinking liquified sugar. The dinner choices, Hard Rock Cafe or one of 6 Pancake and Waffle Houses. Yes I was being judgmental and yes, I was in shock.
I’d come for a week to do a class at a venerable Arts & Crafts Center that had been established in 1912, crafts classes going back to 1945. It was an oasis I dared not leave for the 5 days of classes.
But I’d arrived a day early so decided to drive The Arts and Crafts Trail. So many stores, so many pots and weavings and glass blown vases.
I stopped at one that sold hand carved wooden birds. At the entrance sat an old lady and her husband. The shelves got emptier and emptier as I headed to the back of the store and then I noticed the walls, covered with newspaper articles about Ronald Reagan, Nixon, and mostly both Bushes. Keep your mouth shut I thought as I said “You really like those Republican Presidents, huh?”
“Well of course we do, better than what we got now.” And then it began.
She was 85 and he was 90-something, now too blind to carve his birds so they were selling off everything and closing shop. But he’d been in WWII, next over from the Battle of the Bulge! He said “This country went Communist when the ACLU started up”. Me…Gulp. “Do you like your Social Security”? “Course I do”. Well then I guess you like Socialism” (sputter, sputter, non sequitur)
From there we slid right on into abortion. She: “They kill babies”. Me: “What about those 80 or so years that kid lives knowing his mother didn’t want him”? Silence..maybe she heard me!
Me: “I’ll give you $50 to sit down with me and watch MSNBC tonight” (and I would have).
They: Looking unperturbed and silent. She: “They lie; Fox News is the only one who tells the truth.” Me: “Gotta go”.
I pat his shoulder and say thank you for your service, and left there wondering, do they live in the bubble or do I?
I was in Barcelona driven by an urge to see Antonio Gaudi’s cut loose architecture. Wondering how a devout and practicing Catholic in 1880’s Spain could have been at that same repressive time so utterly released? For that matter, how about the city fathers who supported his psychedelic architecture?
It was Saturday, in a tiny hotel on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, right across the street from the Gothic church. My room was big enough for a large mouse, otherwise known as a rat, a room perfect in every way, a jewel in a jewel box. On Sunday in front of the church I was transfixed by the locals dancing the Sardana, hands held high in a circle, moving in precise steps to music so sad I actually cried.
Next day I took a bus out to Gaudi’s famous Park Guell. Even though I was dressed head to toe in clothes I’d bought in Spain, they stared knowing I wasn’t one of them. As the bus traveled, the neighborhood got more and more derelict until I was in a bad neighborhood and Park Guell.
100 kids yelled excitedly as they surfed the huge hairpins turns of the stairway whose railings were topped by enormous mosaic lizards, mouths open and smiling. Columns appeared to be melting, sculptures made no sense, pure fantasy.
My Nikon was slung over my shoulder and I headed up a path that looked less peopled. Once alone I was surprised by a teenager who appeared out of nowhere and walked in step with me. He was rail thin, probably hungry in retrospect, and had acne. He wore a grey crew neck sweater. He pantomimed to let him carry my camera and I was too embarrassed to say no. He took the camera and then with an inexperienced grope cupped my breast. The adrenaline kicked in. I was Wonder Woman, no really. My right hand grabbed the neck of his sweater and it ripped sweetly top to bottom like a sheet of paper. His face said, “How could you do that to me, this is my only sweater”? He was so surprised he dropped the camera and ran. I stood stock still for seconds, then as the adrenaline rushed back out I fell into a puddle on the ground.
I have always been comforted knowing that when it comes to fight or flight, my instinct, and all 4 feet, 11 inches of me, fights.
His father expected him to go into the textile business but Luther loved lichen. He studied and spent his life tenderly mounting and tagging specimens.
Although the senior Luther Erlich was disappointed, he understood passion from his own student days at The Vienna Institute of Textile Sciences. It was there his passion for baking blossomed, even pulling weekends in the kitchen of The Hotel Sacher, learning the magic art of stretching a 12 inch square of dough into a 3 foot sheet transparent enough to see through.
Over the years he perfected his recipe for apple streudel, combed by rivers of brown sugar and nuts, and mystifying his fans with his secret ingredient, black pepper.
Luther’s sister meanwhile, always had a scrap of paper, paints, a brush or a pencil in her hand.
But it never crossed her father’s mind that she would be the ideal successor to The Pantz Textile Mill.
40 years later, Anna was dining at her brother’s house, staring at the glass cases in the kitchen she’d seen a thousand times before, when she shouted “meh Dråck”! (“more dirt”!) In her mind’s eye the fluttering edges suddenly converted into fabric patterns, soft greens, yellows, browns, with specks of bright contrast, intricately interwoven.
Their collaboration began at that moment, Luther pulling out drawer after drawer of lichen samples, Anna madly interpreting and sketching until the sun came up.
They were joyful and only wished their father could have seen the renaissance of The Pantz Textile Mill. Luther and Anna did look at each other in silent awe a few days later when an employee offered them a slice of homemade apple streudel at lunch, and it was mysteriously spicy.
For a year she’d gone to the same club on Friday nights. dancing to the same DJ, but stopped when it became too embarrassing. The music was vintage 2006, her grand kids danced to it. She found it the best kind of exercise, the kind you don’t notice you’re doing. It carried her away every bit as much as Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes a kid would put his arm around her on the dance floor to have his friends take a picture with her; she didn’t care. Until the night a boy who’d watched her came up to the bar where she was downing a glass of water and smiled at her with glaringly white teeth that meant he’d only been drinking coffee for a year or two. “What are you doing here”? he asked in a pure sweet way that she knew was simple curiosity, like looking at an albino alligator in the zoo, not meant to offend. His beautiful girlfriend slid in between them.
After that she found a room downtown. She invested in a set of Bang & Olufsen headphones when her neighbor asked her to please turn down the volume.