The Discreet Charm of a Manhattan Afternoon
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(click here for the Romanian version)
I didn't know her real name, and nobody of us knew it, on our web group of discussions. I was calling her Mrs D, as I had noticed she liked that. I was thinking at the heroine imagined by Virginia Woolf, wondering about any connections. Our meetings were exclusively on the web, each of us lived in a very different place.
We two share the memory of an afternoon spent together in New York. She was at the end of an American voyage during which she had traveled coast to coast. Now she was staying for a few days at a friend in a New Jersey town, before going back home. From that town she was coming every day to New York, by bus. The trip was half an hour long. I was living in a suburb in the Greater DC Area and the two of us had convened by phone to meet on Saturday afternoon in Manhattan. I came there in the morning and intended to leave the following day.
As I arrived I went firstly to a kind of literary café, close to the 1-st Street (for those familiar with Seinfeld, there was an episode there where the personages were looking in vain for the 1-st Street - it's true that it's hard to find it, actually it's a morsel rather than a full street). I knew that I would find there some friends I wished to say hello, poets and musicians from the artistic bohéme of the place.
I went then to a party where I needed to stay at least fifteen minutes, once that I was in town. It was near Cooper Square (in the building hosting the Village Voice, that tribune of those eternal bohemians that keep on moving from the Village to East Village, from SoHo to East SoHo, as prices are soaring everywhere, and the free spirit atmosphere of the Village is becoming a legend, and the Village is becoming kind of a panopticum where popular outlets like Milady's cannot resist any more, being replaced by snobbish expensive restaurants). I stayed at the party those scheduled fifteen minutes and then I went to meet Mrs D.
What point in New York would be the best meeting place for two people who have never seen each other? You'd say Empire State Building, for you have watched Sleepless in Seattle or An Affair to Remember - there have been about four remakes, the original with Charles Boyer has been made in 1939.
Well, not for us. We both were aficionados of classic literature and pre-classic music, so our meeting point was in front of the Public Library. And that was the place where I saw Mrs D for the first time in my life. In that city, so noisy and so aggressive, she was bringing a note, very neat, and very singular, of distinction. She was classy, oh God, she was so classy... And we walked down the streets at random, talking about anything and everything. We had a cup of coffee somewhere on the 14-th Street, then we dinned in a small Italian restaurant in the Village.
Was she beautiful? Yes, only it was a very special beauty, a charm that was letting itself to be guessed only, like a mystery. I remembered the words of someone who had known Emily Dickinson: she was not a beauty, but she had great beauties.
It was something else here, though. My thoughts were unwillingly flying toward the dilemmatic heroine of Virginia Woolf. And again I was coming back to the woman in front of me. What dilemma was hidden behind her smile?
I led Mrs D then to the bus. We lingered a bit in Times Square and she lit a cigarette. A gavroche gesture adding to her appearance a sudden note of warm familiarity. A couple of youngsters asked me to help them with some photos. We continued to talk a little bit, and there was an amusing contrast between the class of Mrs D and the total lack of sophistication of the two guys.
She then took the bus and I left, dreaming, wandering along those streets that I knew so well, those streets that now were telling me things I hadn't suspected, things about me, whom else? The next day I was back home. I opened the computer and I found an email, totally unexpected. It was to change my whole life. No, it wasn't Mrs D.
(New York, New York)
(A Life in Books)
Labels: Virginia Woolf