Sunday, March 07, 2010


There was a letter from my father waiting for me when I returned from Paris – typed, in a blue envelope – on the library table, lost in a heap of mail, papers and magazines. It stood out. Blue, typed, colorful stamps.

I opened it. One small page. Awkward misspelled English. My father’s English, though strongly accented, was fluent, but he hasn’t lived in the States for almost 30 years now, and he has really retreated into illness and old age so that he is hardly recognizable.

The letter was an attempt at friendship, an appeal of sorts. “We used to be such good friends. I hope we can do so again.” Something like that.

Plus a word about having read my book and something about how he was sorry things had been hard.

And enclosed an old color photo of him as a young man, sitting outside on the ground, writing in a notebook on his knee while I, a two-year-old, cause him to look up, our gaze locked on one another.

I do not want anything from my father so it’s not that there was not enough of something here.

My aunt, his sister, wrote a note at the bottom saying she had done the typing and apologizing for the “faults.”

I felt a little stab of pain that he no longer has the secretary who used to come once a week to his apartment to type up his letters.

I am out of touch with my father almost completely. I haven’t fired off even a breezy little card to make him feel better. I haven’t gotten to it and don’t know if I will.

My parents have always made me sad more than anything else and I can’t see any way to lift that – I guess I can send a card, but it all seems kind of meaningless.

My mother called last night and left a message. She’s found someone to rent her house and she is moving to California in three weeks. It doesn’t seem real. It seems so clichéd and like someone else’s story: my mother moves to California to be near two of her daughters who have found her some kind of senior housing. My mother isn’t the senior-housing type – she’s independent and vigorous for her 85 years, but her eyes, she says, aren’t good enough for driving anymore, and she is going.

“I guess I won’t be seeing you too much after this,” the message says, and then she quickly changes the subject because it’s all too scary.

I thought, oh, well, I guess I’ll go out there for a long weekend some time in the next ten months or so. But that too sounded like something out of someone else’s life. “She’s going out to California to see her mother,” I imagined people at work saying this, nodding, understanding, of course. This is what people do when they have elderly parents.

But will I? That’ll be a few hundred dollars and vacation time I don’t have. And what about all the other places I want to go and things I want to do?

These things bash at me.

My first thoughts are always: Oh, I will send a card, or I will go visit, and then those ideas just kind of wash slowly away. They don’t hold up. They are just ideas.

I had a friend years ago who lived way out in Wisconsin, being an artist, living on almost nothing. When she got engaged she immediately went to work to earn money for her wedding, which she wanted to have in Manhattan. She spent a year making money and had the wedding at the Plaza or something. I only saw the photos. They looked like movie stills from the Great Gatsby. Looking at them made me uncomfortable. They had nothing to do with the person I knew. The pictures weren’t telling me a real story.

Paris was very much a real story. The word “vacation” has within it a sense of getting into some kind of vehicle that just takes you on a coasting effortless ride from which you emerge rested etc. Paris had much more texture than that.

I think of the colors and textures of where we lived, pushing the buttons of the keypad on the street by the set of tall heavy dark wood doors. 45326, pushing open the heavy door and stepping into a dim inner courtyard, the curving stairs leading up, the raw unpolished grey wood of the stairs, the red door to unlock, the steps up and into our little place.

“What was this space used for originally?” I asked Nathalie, our landlord. “I have no idea,” she answered.

Its high ceiling, the long red striped curtains, classical music from Radio Classique, a station I found, or the person next door practicing piano in the mornings, making scales sound like virtuoso feats. And on our last morning there was an umbrella open and drying outside her door, and we could hear a man singing opera as she accompanied him. I always imagined the pianist was a woman.

The city. The streets. Finding my way.

Yesterday at work I went to YouTube and typed in Paris, looking for videos of the streets and places. Found a little of what I was looking for though it’s always someone else’s Paris, not quite mine.

I loved the bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. A wonderful, messy mass of books – the kind of place you can stay in for a long time, reaching out for this title, then that one. The way a bookstore should be. I really understood what the chain bookstores have robbed us of. I bought a book there called something like Rebel Bookseller, a guy writing about what it’s been like to have a bookstore – it’s his way of encouraging people not to give up the dream if you want to have a bookstore. Though I have often thought about it, I probably won’t do it, but I sure hope others do.

I hear there’s a group of people who might buy the Golden Notebook together and keep it going. If Woodstock were to lose its bookstore I would feel like the heart of the town had died.

I am going to hear Itzhak Perlman tonight. I so hope I lose myself in his playing, in the music the way it happens sometimes where you feel yourself disappear, the musicians disappear and you all are inside the music. I have been wanting to hear him for many years. This is so great that we can go. Violin is my favorite instrument. Its sound breaks my hears.


Bethany said...

It's always so interesting to read these. Memoirs are things I've never taken the time to written but I think you've inspired me to take a shot at it sometime.

Must make a blog about memoirs:

MartaSzabo said...

Thanks for your response and for reading, Bethany! I look forward to following your blog. m