Lovely Meeting You is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.
Lovely Meeting You
Last night I came home from the opening of an art fair at the New York Armory. I left the festivities later than I had intended but instead of the usual fatigue I feel after being with crowds of people, I found I was both exhilarated and relieved. Exhilarated from an unexpected encounter with a charming and interesting woman, yet, relieved that it didn’t end with a suggestion we meet for lunch.
The opening night of the American Art Dealer’s Fair at the Armory is a benefit that draws the collectors, the dealers and patrons of The Henry Street Settlement House. As always it’s a lively affair. Two or three bars serve everything from hard liquor and wine to freshly squeezed juice and soft drinks. Hors d’oeuvres of all kinds are passed around and there are food stations as well, serving smoked salmon, sushi rolls, roast beef, shrimp on skewers and crackers with various dips.
With my scotch in hand, I wandered around the huge barn of a room stopping at some of the booths to look at the art on display and gossiping with the dealers I knew. The galleries exhibit their most important work at the fair and I saw very fine nineteenth and twentieth century paintings, as well as some contemporary work, most of which I found incomprehensible. But all in all it was a good show.
At the start of the evening an elegant and rather imperious looking man attached himself to me. He was determined to impress me with a detailed description of his superb acquisitions of post impressionist paintings and his cleverness in acquiring them. I nodded and smiled for a few minutes then excused myself on the pretext of meeting a friend at another booth.
After crossing the room to refresh my drink at one of the bars, I found myself standing next to a woman also waiting for her drink. The barman handed her a glass of white wine and gave me my scotch. She was a most attractive woman, with finely defined features and electric blue eyes. The simply designed black pants suit she wore set off a mauve chiffon scarf held at the shoulder with an amethyst butterfly pin. She was chic and fashionable and, give or take five years, we were of the same vintage.
After taking a sip of her wine, she turned to me and said, “It’s quite a scene, isn’t it? I’m glad I managed to come at six before the crowds arrived. It gave me a chance to visit most of the booths although I had only a cursory look.” “The usual stars this year?” I asked her.
She chuckled and nodded., “Picasso, Dubuffet, Leger, and I did see a beautiful Vuillard, and a great Giacometti drawing but I have the feeling, I’ve seen it all before and if I weren’t on the board of the settlement house, I doubt if I’d show my face at another opening. There comes a time when one wearies, even of looking at beautiful art.”
“How true,” I responded sadly. “I feel the same but I’ve rarely heard anyone, until now, express that sentiment. It’s a pity, though, isn’t it? When I think back, way back, if I had a chance to go to a party or theatre or go somewhere as glamorous as an opening of anything, I wouldn’t have missed it. I loved it all.”
“Yes, so did I,” we smiled knowingly, then she said her name was Anne, and I introduced myself. She continued, “what nights they were years ago, dressing up, wondering whether it was the night when we’d meet the wonderful man, the one we were waiting for, and in the meantime, although it probably wasn’t our intention, we learned to love art.”
“I think it’s different today,” I mused, looking around, “the young crowd here seems much more serious than we were. Or at least more purposeful.”
“No, Jeanne, I don’t think they are more serious than we were, I believe we enjoyed and savored our pleasures more, remember we came from a depression era. But they have more money, we looked at pictures, they buy them. Have you children?”
“Yes,” I smiled wryly, “my son is the arch-typical baby boomer, serious, as the saying goes, striving to get to the top, wherever that is.” Why did I say that, it sounded so critical of Tom, and I normally brag about his abilities? I hardly knew this woman, yet I was talking with her as if she were an old confident.
“And you, do you have children?” I asked. “Three,” she laughed. “Two on Wall street, the same as your son, and one” she shrugged and the electric blue eyes turned dark, “the word the doctors use is manic depressive. He’s talented, a fine pianist, a poet. When he’s well, there’s no one I’d rather be with; He’s sensitive and caring and fun, but then,” her voice trailed off and we shared a companionable silence. Suddenly I wanted to change the subject to something less personal. I didn’t want either of us to struggle to be comfortable with one another because we had revealed a deeply felt part of ourselves.
“Are the galleries showing as much of the work of the sixties as they’ve shown in the past few years?”
She smiled, aware of what I was doing. “I suppose because of the times we’re living in,” she responded thoughtfully, “the Warhol silk screens in the gallery the second aisle over still scream out at the sheer commercialism of our lifestyle, the greed, the hype.” She shook her head. “Warhol, Lichtenstein, Estes, Oldenburg, and others showed us ourselves in the sixties and seventies, but their mirrors have stretched into a further century, now more than ever, don’t you think?”
“It’s gone beyond,” I added, “I can still see Warhol’s silk screen of the electric chair reminding us of what we call civilization.” She shuddered and took a deep drink of her wine.
“Anne, you’ve seen most of the show, and I haven’t begun. What do you think about the contemporary work you’ve seen so far?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, but if they’re sending a message I have yet to understand it but,” she continued, “then again, it could be, I’m too old to get it. Let’s get another drink and wander around the booths.”
Carrying our drinks with us we roamed up and down the aisles, walked into five or six of the booths and exchanged opinions on some of the work hanging. Anne met a couple she knew and we chatted with them for a few minutes then they moved on.
Despite my diverse interests and views, the simple pleasure of encountering a stranger who gives voice to the same values as mine is an experience that has happened to me a number of times, and I find there is something genuine in such connections. It’s the sudden feeling we’ve known each other for more than the mere twenty minutes or half hour we may’ve been together.
“You know it’s strange,” I began, after stopping before a Warhol print, “you spoke before of an artist mirroring the society he lives in and just a few days ago, I read an excerpt copied from a book that a friend sent to me, it’s not unlike your thought. I can’t quote the entire passage, but I did memorize this paragraph, and it relates to the way Warhol, Lichtenstein and others of the POP era presented our society to us. I believe Leon Golub is the author of the passage: ‘The great paintings of the past hold up a mirror to the present. Art cannot shape the future, it can at best, bequeath to it a picture of its own time.’
“It’s true Jeanne; artists have been putting their messages in their canvases for centuries, especially during the renaissance, when they were commissioned to paint a Lord or Lady in all their finery and then managed to send their message through the eyes of their subject.” I nodded recalling how when I look at a Goya or Rembrandt portrait I always look at the eyes to see what the artist really thought of his Lord or Lady.
For the next thirty minutes we walked around he booths together, then exhausted from what seemed like miles of walking, we sat down on one of the benches still talking and were amused at how much our lives had followed the same trajectory for over thirty years. We’d raised our children, were political activists in our communities; we’d marched for women’s choice in Washington and we were still actively engaged, I, as a writer, and she as a board member of a Settlement House and director of a private shelter for battered women.
As we sat talking of our growing list of shared experiences, we laughed over the memory of our sheer exhaustion from marching with thousands of women for women’s choices at the age of sixty five, and how we both finally decided that now the better way to send our message was to send a check.
In the midst of the fun we were having exchanging anecdotes I remembered a similar experience I had years ago when I met a woman at a cocktail party given by a mutual friend. Donna was interesting, full of enthusiasm about all the subjects that were important to me and we were of the same age group. We enjoyed a lovely evening despite the fact that it was a dull party. Somewhat similar to the evening with Anne, we touched on many of the same subjects most especially politics, since it was shortly before a presidential election and we held the same point of view. Our discussion was animated and with a few cocktails we became fast friends and made a date for lunch the following week. Unfortunately, what I discovered when we met for lunch was that we had to reach for conversation. We had explored each others views and after some talk about the election we reverted to small talk, and for me, forced chatter. Donna was a nice enough person, but in the light of day, and without a drink, our connection was limited. After that experience two decades ago, I was never one to suggest lunch and managed to avoid the subject by saying sincerely, “it’s been lovely meeting you.”
Anne and I visited a few more booths, but by nine thirty, we decided it was time to call it a night. Before parting we both said, “it was a wonderful evening wasn’t it?” I felt we were happily fulfilled with the connections we had both experienced, and still in the midst of that pleasure I hoped she wouldn’t suggest we get together for lunch.
I felt the evening was a singular experience to be enjoyed for itself. If we were young it would have been natural to suggest we meet again and I’ve no doubt we would have become friends. When I was young it was different, I was looking for friends, building and creating a history in friendship that carried on to treasured memories. But now how far can a friendship go? For me the night was complete within the framework of a beginning, a middle and an end.
“There comes a time,” Anne had said, “when one wearies even of looking at beautiful art.” She was right. Perhaps one wearies of the effort of beginning anything at eighty, questioning even the end of a sentence. Standing outside of the armory, waiting for a yellow taxi, Anne turned to me, and with a quick hug said, “Jeanne, it was lovely meeting you.”