Mariya and I planned to meet around 10:15 at 10th and Market to take the 10:30 Chinatown bus to New York for the day. I was a couple of minutes late, and we decided we were hungry, so we stopped into Wawa for macaroni and cheese and bottles of water before sitting on the 11:00 bus and waiting the 20 or so minutes for it to fill up and depart. The trip was relatively un-notable. There was a baby who made surprisingly little noise, a squeaky bar in the stowing compartment, and everyone slept in silence like a big group of old friends when a slumber party finally dies down.
Neither of us have ever navigated New York. Each of us were used to coming from Philly with someone who knew where they were going who would guide us around, neither of us independently paying attention to street names or whether we were walking North or West. When we got off the bus, we realized we didn't even really know what direction we should be walking in to get to Chelsea. Finding our way to things proved difficult. Remembering our way back was braggably easy. We asked strangers for directions, texted friends for advice and high-fived when we realized we were actually better at getting around than we had previously given ourselves credit for.
Let's go join the circus.
You can take the trapeze.
I will tame the lion.
Walking around Chelsea was interesting. The first 10 galleries were awful and we were starting to collectively lose our interest in stopping in any more when we stumbled upon the work of that guy up there. Paolo Ventura. Actually it was that exact piece that made us stop and turn around to check out the Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery. His work was delightful. He puts together these little models and photographs them. This exhibition was titled "Winter Stories" and included mostly circus themed scenes, or circus-y happenings. In one scene a man is being lifted off the ground by a cluster of balloons tied to his back. There was just something excited and pure and lovely about the little models which were available for viewing in a plexiglass case in the center of the gallery. In this gallery, there was also the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky- that guy that photographs industrial sites. His work was beautiful, too. And for me to say that means something- I am not typically partial to photographs.
We walked a little further and noticed a sign outside Kent Gallery that announced a show for Irving Petlin who was one of the critics at Pafa when Mariya and I were in grad school. We climbed the stairs and were excited to see his interesting and beautiful paintings that blended various styles and, to me, seemed obviously the work of someone who has been making art their whole adult life and is effortlessly cramming all of this information into a single picture plane. It was mature and lovely, and each piece had enough variety of subtle colors and textures to keep a girl interested for a significant amount of time. We walked toward the back of the gallery and noticed a group of important people in the backmost room, talking shop. I asked Mariya if one of them was Irving, and she said yes. At the receptionist's encouragement, we went in and said hello, and he was kind and happy to see us.
We ate in the garden section of an Italian restaurant between 24th and 25th street on 10th avenue.
We left Chelsea to look for KGB Bar in Greenwich Village.
Oh, the building numbers in New York, why don't you make any sense?!?!
We picked up the C subway to 4th Street and made our way east looking for KGB Bar at 85 East 4th Street, but got really confused when we found 86, and crossed the street to find 91, and nothing else but a Bank of America. Frustrated and walking around in circles, we finally crossed to the opposite block and found our destination. Seriously, New York City, 85 and 86 should be on the same block. It's confusing enough that you are mostly comprised of numbered streets and avenues, with random names strewn in between. Paris is the same way, 88 and 59 are across the street from each other.
So, we found the bar and went up to the second floor to find a charming red-draped room with a long bar at one end. I found my cousin Matthew, hugged, and exchanged introductions. Mariya and I found a place at the bar and got cozy with a drink. The bar was full of candlelight and it was warm. Before the poetry reading there was a buzz of conversation that kept itself at a reasonable volume. Shelly Reed got up to start the reading and Matthew was first in line. I was familiar with a few of the pieces from Pearslip, and he read a few poems that I hadn't heard before. His voice was soothing and had a beautiful performative quality about it. It was nice to hear a combination of familiar and new pieces. This was my first poetry reading ever. I did not know if I would enjoy it, or feel uncomfortable. Something about poetry sometimes makes me feel 17, like it's so personal I shouldn't be reading it. But the nature of the reading alleviated my discomfort, and I think I was able to diagnose the problem. When I read poetry, it is my voice in my head, my stories being told, and the subject matter is usually alien to my own life experiences. I have a hard time getting out of myself. The truly fantastic thing about a poetry reading was that I could let them be someone else's stories. I could hear them, instead of telling them to myself.
The combination of dim lighting, warmth, and collective silence in the room allowed me to leave the building, and my head behind.
Matthew finished and the crowd applauded emphatically.
Other readers followed. Elizabeth Rees's work was good, serious work, and was, at times a little merciless. Some of the stories were painful to listen to, and written in such a way that it took me a second to understand the actual events taking place. I picked up a copy of Elizabeth's chapbook for Nicole on my way out. Christina Olson's work was hilarious. I met her for a minute in the bathroom line only to find out that there wasn't actually a bathroom line and I had just sauntered up and joined in on a group conversation with a bunch of ladies I didn't know. The girls were gracious, giving me compliments on my boots and ushering me through to the ladies' room. Christina gave me a pin with a lobster on it that said her name, encouraging me to keep an eye out for her book that would be published in a few months. Damian Dressick read last and his work was really wonderful. He would quickly switch back and forth from funny to shocking to awkward, leading the listeners through a full range of emotions while never losing our trust. I am excited to see his work in the future. It smacks of McSweeney's in it's unexpected intimacy.
Mariya and I chatted with Matthew and his roommate for a few minutes before walking to the Chinatown bus to go home. We walked down Broadway to Division and Forsythe and wandered around a less-than comfortable chunk of Chinatown before finding our way to a couple of buses parked on the street near 88 East Broadway. Hear that, Mariya? 88 East Broadway. Now we can always get back when we take a day trip.
I won't get into the scene from Malibu's Most Wanted that unfolded a seat behind us on the way home, but I think if I heard the phrase "nah, son" one more time from one of those polish northeast Philly mama's boys, I was just going to lose it.
All in all, it was a stellar day.