new york

Grey Gardens

GreyGardens First of all, thank you thank you thank you for all the lovely, kind, encouraging, wise comments and emails you guys left me after my rather self-indulgent complaint about work and life and motherhood the other day. You got me through AND I made all three deadlines. I promise not to be such a wet blanket again. (At least, not in the near future). (I hope).

I just watched the documentary Grey Gardens. Have you seen it? You probably have, I'm a little behind the times since it was actually released in 1975...

It goes inside the lives of mother and daughter "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" - both of their names are Edith Bouvier Beale - in their once-magnificent but now derelict East Hamptons home, Grey Gardens.

Their bigger story, of which the documentary is only a moment, is that they are "fallen from grace" socialites (and also the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis).

I say "fallen from grace" because once upon a time they were both very rich and very beautiful, but Big Edie was an amateur singer and wanted to be an artist, of the kind that was pronounced artiste. Socialites cannot also be artistes, apparently, and that was part of what led to her husband eventually leaving her (so I've read).

Little Edie was her only daughter and was encouraged and schooled by her mother in artistic pursuits. Growing up, she wanted to be an author, a poet, a singer, a dancer. She went to New York and pursued a possibly promising career as a model and as an actor on Broadway, before her parents put paid to that. First, her Father smashed a window in which a picture of Little Edie was displayed, because he refused to see her in the public eye (I think it was gauche, or something like that I imagine, for a socialite to do modelling).

Then her parents' marriage ended. Her mother had Grey Gardens but little else, and could no longer afford to send Edie food parcels to support her life in New York. She called her back home.

Little Edie gave up her New York dreams in 1952 to live with and care for her mother in Grey Gardens. In 1974, when the documentary was filmed, they were both still there, living with about a bazillion cats and apparently some raccoons.

I watched the whole thing with a sense of unease. From the little I'd read before I saw it, I was prepared for the squalor (it's awful) and the mother-daughter arguments (frequent), but I was also ready to celebrate the joyful way the women embraced their eccentricities, and the underlying love between the two.

Those elements were there but, honestly, I couldn't get past the sense that I was intruding. It was as though both Edies were desperate to be seen in a certain way, and didn't realise that the broader context of their life in that house created a very different impression. They performed for the camera: both sang, and Little Edie danced. They pulled out old photographs of themselves to show the documentary-makers. Both women were indeed once breathtaking, but it was as though they were locked in the past. I think Little Edie said something along those lines near the start of the film, that past and present were blurred, and hard to define. I got the sense that inside her 56-year-old body, Little Edie was still 19.

Watching these ladies in their crumbling prison, I couldn't shake the feeling that Little Edie, in all her optimism and confidence and faded-but-still-evident beauty, was being exploited without knowing it.

I mean, I can watch something like Real Housewives or The Bachelor and feel kind of ick sometimes about the way these women are portrayed, and think "Why would anyone put themselves in that position?" - on TV I mean - but I don't feel too bad because, you know, they chose to do this. And these shows have been going for a pretty long time, so you can be fairly sure they knew roughly what they were getting into.

But Little Edie, locked away with her controlling/loving/controlling mother, among all those put-downs and all those cats? No, that just didn't feel right.

But then again, perhaps I need to watch it again. Because maybe Little Edie WAS being exploited but, on the other hand, maybe she was finally getting exactly what she wanted, which was to perform, at last, for an audience. I am very tangled up in my thoughts about this film!

Have you seen Grey Gardens? I'd love to know your thoughts if you have. Here it is in its entirety on YouTube, if you want to take a look:


ps. And now... The Gilmore Girls watching Grey Gardens (scary parallel alert!)

pps. And apparently Grey Gardens was also made into a film starring Drew Barrymore in 2009, and also a Broadway show, but STILL I hadn't heard of it until this week

A history of New York

NY-1657 NY-1793


Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I can't stop watching this animation of the development of New York, from the 16th Century to the present. It's what you'll see when you ride the elevators in the new 1 World Trade Center, to the observatory. As you rise through the storeys, New York literally rises from the swamp, and the years and decades scroll with you so that you can keep track of the growth of the city in both time and height. Imagine then reaching the top. The doors open, and you step out into... NOW.

Monday mornings

Ballet1 Ballet2A new morning. A new week. I know most of us dread Monday mornings but sometimes, when you've had one of those weekends, it feels quite good to start out fresh. There's something to be said for new beginnings, even if they do come with the beginning of the working week.

To help ease you into this particular Monday morning, I give you a glorious celebration of the resilience of New York and New Yorkers by the New York City Ballet, filmed at sunrise on the 57th floor of the new 4 World Trade Center (4WTC) building.

Looking for love again

I was living in New York when the global financial crisis hit in 2008. The impact was almost immediate, and very tangible. A couple of months into the crash I took a walk with the dog around my neighbourhood and took photos of the shops that had recently closed down. It was one of the saddest series I'd ever made. Some of these places were New York icons. I would think to myself, "Imagine what those walls have witnessed. The conversations, the secrets, the stories."

Then recently I came across artist Candy Chang's Looking for Love Again interactive art project, and it reminded me of that walk.

The project focused on a building in Fairbanks, Alaska, which had stood vacant and silent for more than a decade. But once upon a time, this building had pulsated with life. It had been both an apartment complex and a hotel, and it housed a lot of memories.

Chang wrapped the building in a giant plea, "Looking for Love Again," and invited the people of Fairbanks to share their memories of the building on two big blackboards that were nailed around its walls.

"A lot of family memories stayed here for 30 day! Waiting to have my son who will be 17 years," someone wrote.

And another: "In memory of my grandparents Rudy and Mary Hill Dad Jay Hill Uncle Jack Hill who built this building with lots of love and hard work."

And this one: "Remember when the Pipeline Club was on top & women could be 'guests' but not 'members'?"

And simply: "A place 4 ppl to live their dreams and be happy."

Buildings play such an integral part in our lives. There's a reason we have a saying in English, "if these walls could talk..." Just imagine, for a moment, if they could. Oh the stories they could tell!

All images from Candy Chang's project used with permission, from Civic Center.

Fancy a year in New York?

I was lucky enough to spend more than a year in New York, and I loved every second. This video brings back so many warm and wonderful memories. [vimeo w=525&h=295]

A Year in New York from Andrew Clancy on Vimeo.

Next, I think I'd like to live a year in Paris.

If you could experience a year anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Oddly unsettling

Have you seen these photographs? This is downtown New York in the early 1940s, photographed in colour. Does it look real to you? While World War II raged on distant shores, an amateur photographer from Indiana, Charles Weever Cushman, took a holiday in New York. He took his holiday snaps on a rare and expensive Kodachrome camera, in colour.

Somehow this doesn't quite seem real to me. Maybe it's the soft, hazy, vintage wash in some of the pictures. Or maybe it's because I'm just not wired to picture life in the 40s in colour. Not real life, at least, just movies.

And yet here they all are, these New Yorkers from decades before I was born, going about their lives, walking the streets I walked, entering the doorways I entered. Suddenly, generations of the past are just like me. I feel connected. Neighbourly, almost. Who knew our grandparents' lives were lived in colour?

Take a look through Cushman's incredible collection here. He travelled widely, throughout the US and Europe, and seems to have always carried the trusty Kodachrome with him. It is only by an extreme act of self restraint that I haven't posted in multiplicity of urchins on farm gates from the 1930s, all captured in that oddly unsettling colour.

The city's soundtrack

Remember iPods, antique iPhones without the networks: remember those things? I wasn't an early adopter but can I tell you, when I was given my first iPod that baby changed my life. Suddenly, my days had a soundtrack. Even something as mundane as walking to work became a swim in an ocean of my favourite music.

But have you ever wondered what anybody else's soundtrack is? Tyler Cullen hit the streets of New York to open up the city's soundtrack. [youtube]

New York

I had all kinds of happy stories planned to tell you in my post today, but I find I can't do it, because my heart is breaking a little bit for New York.

As I type, the whole city is being battered by a slow-moving hurricane that, the last time I saw the news, was the apparently size of Europe. Is that even possible? Could I have misheard? It's terrifying. New York is not set up to withstand hurricanes. A week ago the east coast suffered an earthquake (thankfully, my friends in Richmond Virginia are ok, but others are not).

And on Thursday, I found out that the apartment I used to live in in SoHo - filled with many, many good friends - burned up in a fire earlier this month. I feel so saddened for my SoHo friends and neighbours. Thankfully, none of them were harmed in the fire. But some lost absolutely everything: their homes, their possessions, everything from clothes and toothbrushes to travel mementos, wedding certificates and family photographs... as they rushed from the burning building in terror at 2am. Today, my friends are still homeless.

I have all these conflicting emotions: I'm grateful my friends weren't harmed; deeply saddened for their loss of everything they value and everything they need; so glad that other friends recently moved out of the building; relieved I wasn't living in the building at the time; and selfishly at a loss because 68 Thompson Street, that place in my mind that has represented the epicentre of my homesickness for New York for 18 months since I left, no longer exists.

Now, I am wishing upon every lucky star in the sky that my friends make it through Hurricane Irene unharmed, too.