Friday, February 17, 2012

About Nostalgia

I’m not sure that’s the word for it. It is a deep sense of loss with some sadness attached to it. For a time, a place and for the people that were part of it. We were young and kind of confused. Maybe that is part and parcel of being eighteen, nineteen and twenty years old. Going to school to study art was, in retrospect, dreamlike. It seemed to become history very quickly and was forever cemented into the core of my life.

Other experiences, the family that was mine until I lost my mother, my twenty-four year marriage, the years when my children were children — they all bring on nostalgia (or whatever the feeling is). But those years at school are somehow more redolent of loss. Some treasure or value that escaped perception while it was happening. Was it that we were too busy with our lives to know that we were young? Or that most of the people who were actors on that stage are gone? Even the school has been transformed: a renovated interior (bless them for leaving the outside of the structure intact). There’s a second building now and even a dormitory building. And, of course, the El is gone.

A few years ago as I rode down in the elevator (pity they changed that wonderful old elevator car*), there was a student riding with me. I said: “Good school, huh?” He said with seriousness: “Oh, yes!”. I was glad to know that the appreciation is still intact. The education has been tuition free since the beginning. The school has now run into financial difficulties so that may soon change.

I know why it is with me now. I am reading a biography of painter Joan Mitchell. When she lived and worked in NYC she was on Tenth Street on the east side at the time the elevated train ran close and noisily by on Third Avenue. She was in her thirties then and I was at school on Eighth Street and my first real love was on Tenth. The first housing of the Whitney Museum was down the street; this was in the fifties and abstract expressionism was in full bloom. It is only now, so many years later, that I know where I was then. So young and so absorbed by it all, I wasn’t able to stand back to look at where I was and what was happening. I suppose we never get the full picture of any piece of our lives until we gain some distance and look back with less involvement in the details.

*From a NYTimes article: COOPER UNION -- At the time Otis was perfecting his safety elevator, Peter Cooper was making plans for an academy on Astor Place. Cooper was smart enough to know that elevators were in the future, but he was a little too smart for his own good. Having calculated that a cylinder would hold more passengers than a cube, and so would naturally be the cab shape of the future, he put a cylindrical shaft into his building.
His geometry may have been right but his assumption was wrong, and for more than 100 years a box-shaped cab ran in Cooper's shaft, a square peg in a round hole.
Actress Jeanne Moreau: My life is very exciting now. Nostalgia for what? It's like climbing a staircase. I'm on the top of the staircase, I look behind and see the steps. That's where I was. We're here right now. Tomorrow, we'll be someplace else. So why nostalgia? 

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