I should go back a few days, though. Little exciting happened on the 17th; after David drove me to the airport, it was mostly just dozing and reading on airplanes. I read with pleasure a used copy of Buffalo Gals by Le Guin that I had happened to pick up in at Half-Price Books a few days before; oddly, I had thought I had read it, but I totally hadn't. Just had assumed so because I thought I had read everything by Le Guin. If you like animal stories (or have the good taste to enjoy Le Guin), I strongly recommend this book. The title story was heart-wrenching.
(Another good anthology I read recently was Octavia Butler's Bloodchild. I had read and loved the title story (a shuddering little tale about love and family) before, but there was several new (to me) short stories in the anthology, along with fascinating afterwords by the author. Butler is one of the most brilliant voices in sf today (and not just in sf, actually). When I had to pick between attending Clarion East with her this summer and Clarion West with Chip Delany, it was a tough choice. (Seattle, however, is not plagued with mosquitoes the way East Lansing, Michigan is, and since I'm allergic to mosquitoes, that was a strong factor in the decision). I also picked up a copy of Bill's Blood Sport in the airport bookstore, which I'm still reading. (So far, my impression is that if you like tough-guy Hemingway-esque stories, you'll probably like this. I'm enjoying it.)
Anyway, after various and sundry delays (they lost power at the St. Louis control tower for two hours, and you can just imagine what that did to the incoming/outgoing flights), I did eventually get to Alex's place in New York. (Flying into Newark, taking the bus to Port Authority in NY and then catching a cab ('cause my bags were *heavy*) to Alex's was much simpler than I expected, which was good, 'cause after fourteen hours of travel my brain wasn't working too well.) He arrived soon after, and we chatted for a while. It was very odd seeing him in a suit; I think of Alex as a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, the way he dressed in his mathematician days. Not any more! Jeans and t-shirt still don't fly on Wall Street (affectionately referred to as The Street by the arrogant bums who work there, or so Alex informs me), no matter how many Silicon Valley computer companies have seen the light and abandoned their ties forever. (Not that I'm entirely against ties; the advantage of a three piece suit is that you have lots of layers you can take off slowly...that's a lot harder to do with a t-shirt and jeans. I'm just speaking theoretically, of course.)
Friday morning I met Shannon (home for the holidays) and her mom at Penn Station, and we took the subway up to the Cloisters. Before I address the Cloisters, may I just put in a plug for the New York subway system? I realize it may not be entirely safe at night, but boy, it's fast. And efficient. And it goes useful places (unlike much of the Bay Area BART system). Also unlike BART, it's reasonably priced; $1.50 to go as far as you want, as opposed to BART's zoned scale. BART is better than nothing, of course, but it could still learn a lot from the MTA. (On the other hand, Toronto's system is cleaner than anything I've seen in the States (Chicago, Philly, Bay Area, New York), and Hong Kong's, I hear, actually manages to turn a profit. What are we doing wrong?).
The Cloisters were stunning. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this medieval monastery-style building perches atop a small hill, overlooking water and numerous scenic views. The paths and parks surrounding the building would be lovely places to take picnics in the summer, I imagine. They're justly famous for housing the Unicorn Tapestries, which were surprisingly resplendent despite the centuries of wear, but also contain a multitude of replicated rooms, chapels, gardens, in addition to scads of lovely art pieces. Much of it is of a Christian nature, unsurprisingly, but I think even the most anti-Christian visitor would have to admire the sheer beauty of the workmanship that went into many altar-pieces, reliquaries, fonts and chapel doors and pilasters, and even a few surviving copes and chasubles. My personal favorites included the stained glass in the chapel housing several sarcophagi, the tapestries, and the small rock crystal container inscribed with a motto exhorting the readers to enjoy their wine (undoubtedly all that prevented it from becoming a reliquary as so many of the others were). Also lovely was the indoor garden, whose glassed-in winter walkways were lined with herbs and flowers, including Poet's Jessamine (jasmine).
Shannon, her mother and I are all rather chattery people, but we were very quiet for the hours we wandered the Cloisters. There was a definite sense of peace that pervaded, despite the hordes of school groups moving from room to room. In the monks' meeting room, I could close my eyes and imagine the monks filing in, quietly taking their places on the benches surrounding, discussing the herbs in the garden, and Brother Francis's success with dinner the night before. Even in the simplest carvings there was such beauty; a coherent beauty that is sometimes hard to find these days. One piece of stonework, brought from Europe, bore a simple sign, "Fragile Stone -- Please Don't Touch". Fragile stone; it almost seemed oxymoronic, yet it was in keeping with the sense of preserved peace there. I'd like to go back someday.
I went to Alex's office and met him there. When he'd finished, we went for a walk, through the World Financial Center, and down to Battery Park. He claims that he had timed it perfectly so that we would see the sun setting over the water; whether it was intentional timing or not, it was certainly lovely; a very dramatic sunset, in golds and crimsons. A ferry leaves from there; I think it takes people over into New Jersey? A nice way to commute to work, though a little cold in winter, I imagine.
Then we took the subway to Naomi's (Clarion classmate and U Chicago friend) for Sabbat dinner. I think I'd only been to one before, many years ago, with Manny. I hadn't remembered much of it, but Naomi explained the simple ritual as we went along. I admit; I caught myself kind of wishing I could bring my kids up Jewish just so they'd get to sing lovely Hebrew songs at dinner. Okay, I'm being silly, I know. It was a good dinner, though -- drunken chicken and wine and challah (I knew we should have gotten Naomi to cook more in Seattle), and lots of conversation about old friends and science fiction and writing. She's thinking about starting a journal; if she does, I'll point you guys to her. Fascinating woman, and so smart. I'm so glad Manny and she found each other again (third time's the charm, right?)
This morning Alex and I set out in search of a New York bagel. I had been solemnly informed, by various expatriate New Yorkers, that if I came home without having had a New York bagel, I would be taken out and gutted. Or some such. So I set out on my anxious quest. Alex, fortunately enough, had a friend, Katya, who worked at Bagel Baron, who directed us to the freshest, warmest bagels (sesame) and the best lox (Scottish). With some plain cream cheese and a little Bermuda onion -- heaven! Honestly, I've always liked bagels with lox and cream cheese and onion, and I admit that the bagel did taste different -- a little..umm...chewier? Less chewy? Hard to pin down -- but I'm not so convinced yet that it was ecstatically better, the way I'd been instructed to expect. Maybe I simply don't have an educated enough palate. Alex had a sesame bagel with a really odd cream cheese (green onion and tofu). He said it was good, but I have my doubts.
Eventually we escaped the bagel shop and wandered a bit through Central Park. We didn't have time to get to any of the interesting bits, however, as we had 2 o'clock tickets to see Miss Saigon on Broadway. Maybe we'll wander deeper tomorrow. Miss Saigon was as resplendent as I remembered (I'd seen it perhaps five years previous with Kevin), and despite knowing what to expect, I was sobbing by the end. Alex too. It was a...different experience, seeing it with another immigrant. It felt like various aspects of the show resonated differently; that I was more aware of them with Alex there. (Funny, how even though I came to the U.S. as a two-year-old, and haven't had to deal with many typical immigrant problems (language difficulties, utter poverty, etc.), I still identify as an immigrant. Or first-generation. Depending on the situation). Despite some silly moments, the authors really did a good job interweaving the politics and sociology of the piece with the love story and humanity of it. I'm very glad we saw it.
Now it's a quiet time at Alex's apartment, waiting for Tasos to join us so we can go to dinner, and waiting for Alex to finish reading through the 11K words of my new book. Once I finish this entry, I'll have to ask him what he thought of it. A bit nervous, so I'll chatter at you guys just a little longer.
New York is fascinating. It's not as dirty as I remembered it from my visits as a child; and I'm so aware of the energy just pulsing through the streets. From Alex's window there's a gorgeous view of the city and its lights; looking out there is both thrilling and a bit intimidating. So many people -- while, as a visitor, I'm exhilarated by all the throbbing life of it, I can understand how it could also be isolating, frightening, lonely. I don't know if I'd want to live here. Maybe. Right now I'm happy in the Bay Area; it's a little slower, friendlier. (So far, nobody here has been as appallingly rude as I was led to expect, however). You guys know the relevant quote, right?
The smart and ambitious go to New York, the smart go to San Francisco, and the merely ambitious go to L.A.
With that, I'll leave you and see what Alex had to say about my new work.