It was raining cats and dogs when I went to MOMA today with my friend Mark, who is in town to cover some musical events. The MOMA of today isn’t the MOMA I cut my teeth on, where I knew where everything was. The new MOMA is beautiful. I knew the first time I entered its doors it was beautiful, but it’s not home anymore, it’s just a beautiful place where I don’t know my way around.
Mark was interested in this thing that was going on, a dance choreographed by someone he admires a lot, with a group of musicians that changed every hour. It was in one of those gorgeous big white rooms of many stories with galleries and window spaces dotting the walls. The room was white, the walls were white, the floor was white. The dancer was wearing white. We leaned against the wall, and watched the dancer and listened to the piano music that was strange, hard to process and alienating—but not alienating enough to be awful. I didn’t exactly get it, but I liked it.
The dancer was moving around the room. Mark told me sotto voce that the choreography owed a big debt to Merce Cunningham, someone Mark had known well. Myself, I thought the choreography owed a big debt to yoga. There was an up-dog, a down-dog, a gorgeous upward facing bow, not to mention several Warrior III’s. But that seemed like a stupid thing to say to my friend. Or to anyone else who wasn’t into yoga.
I thought about the old MOMA where there weren’t all these huge public spaces and event rooms. At the old MOMA once upon a time, I had met my beautiful cousin Judith for lunch and did not know it would be the last time I’d ever see her. We hadn’t met in years. I’d always loved her. And I don’t remember how or why we had finally gotten together.
We were eating lunch in the old cafeteria. And she almost let it rip about her father, my uncle, and I almost let it rip about my father, her uncle. It was after she said, sort of sadly to me, “Your father was the nice one. Everyone loved him.”
I started to tremble, as I used to do, when on the rare occasions I met up with any of my blood relations. And they mentioned how my father was the nice one.
“My father wasn’t nice,” I said. “Not to me, anyway. Was your father nice to you?”
Cousin Judith said, “I never knew a single nice moment with my father. Not one. Not a single one. I spent my childhood trying to protect my mother.”
“Same here,” I replied. We both looked down.
I remember thinking what had happened to me had happened to her. Maybe it was some sort of family pact, a blood oath. All these years I thought I was the only one. But I didn’t ask her about what happened to her in detail. I just kept my head down.
And pretty soon after that we left the cafeteria. And pretty soon after that, I heard my cousin Judith was gravely ill with the exact same thing that had killed her mother, and suddenly she was dead. It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t have the guts to take the conversation to the next level. The taboo was just too strong.
Mark suggested we go to something else he was interested in, some thing by a Japanese videographer he admires.
We went into a pitch-black room where images of naked people chasing each other were projected onto the wall. Naked images were humping each other, jumping inside each other; it was very trendy, very arty, and not particularly sexy. Or maybe I was back in my childhood.
We went back to the big white room where more and more people had gathered. Mark and I leaned against the wall, but most of the people in there were sitting down in a circle on the floor. By now there was a flautist, another pianist, a violinist and many dancers.
Mark said he wished he had the time to stay for the whole nine-hour cycle.
Afterwards we stopped by the bookstore/gift shop and I saw a knife rack almost exactly like one my husband had made for us years ago out of two pieces of birch invisibly joined. I took a picture of it and texted it to my husband. In the old MOMA, the one that felt like home, people couldn’t take pictures and send them all the way across the country in the blink of an eye. There were some people who might have known that was possible but I wasn’t one of them.
In many ways it was a simpler world back then. Not so much to remember, not so many passwords and gadgets, not so many things to distract one.
Eliot: distracted from distraction by distraction.
It was raining even harder when we left MOMA and headed to the Pain Quotidian near Carnegie Hall. The wind was blowing like crazy and Mark’s expensive umbrella did that cheap umbrella thing which was to suddenly turn inside out and become useless.
I was ravenous and stuffed myself with bread and butter before my big bowl of lentil soup arrived.
I wished with all my heart my cousin Judith was still alive and we could meet again and this time have the real conversation. I imagined her walking in the door, my introducing her to Mark and the two of them talking about the famous violinist she had a relationship with for many years, who was in the Budapest String Quartet. He was older even than her father, with whom she’d never known a nice moment, like I’d never known one with mine.by