Gay Ghosts II: Safe


"Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, 'Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it.' Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire."

- Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

"What’s noticeable about gay bars in the main is not their status as centers for public political organization but their anonymity. Equality also means the right to a space of one’s own, and gay bars represent a sort of separateness, or freedom from scrutiny, that’s available nowhere else in the culture. Unlike members of other marginalized groups defined by ethnicity or religion, gay people do not grow up in families comprised of people who share their demographic profile. There is, at first, no mother tongue to describe their experience of life, no traditions to bind themselves to the world. Gay bars are where gay people have, historically, found one another to learn that language and those traditions — and to invent them. Being gay is not a religion, but a place in which people come together to celebrate who they are in the face of life’s obstacles could be compared to a church."

- Daniel D’Addario, "The Gay Bar as Safe Space Has Been Shattered," time.com, June 12, 2016

In the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull,
the bull gets off. He sits down, won’t fight.
He manages to walk out of the ring without that
sharp poke of steel being shoved through
his back and deep into his heart. He returns
to the ranch and the sniffing of flowers.
But in real life, once the bull enters the ring,
then it’s a certainty he will leave ignominiously,
dragged out by two mules while the attention of
the crowd rivets on the matador, who, if he’s good,
holds up an ear, taken from the bull, and struts
around the ring, since it is his business to strut
as it is the bull’s business to be dragged away.

It is the original eagerness of the bull which
take’s one’s breath. Suddenly he is there, hurtling
at the barrier, searching for something soft and
human to flick over his shoulder, trying to hook
his horn smack into the glittering belly
of the matador foolish enough to be there.
But there is a moment after the initial teasing
when the bull realizes that ridding the ring
of these butterfly creatures is not what
the afternoon is about. Sometimes it comes with
the first wrench of his back when the matador
turns him too quickly. Sometimes it comes
when the picador is driving his lance into
the bull’s crest–the thick muscle between
the shoulder blades. Sometimes it comes when
the banderillos place their darts into that same
muscle and the bull shakes himself, trying to
free himself of that bright light in his brain.
Or it may come even later, when the matador
is trying to turn the bull again and again,
trying to wrench that same muscle which he uses
to hold up his head, to charge, to toss a horse.
It is the moment the bull stops and almost thinks,
when the eagerness disappears and the bull
realizes these butterflies can cause him pain,
when he turns to hunt out his querencia.

It sounds like care: querencia–and it means
affection or fondness, coming from querer,
to want or desire or love, but also to accept
a challenge as in a game, but it also means
a place chosen by a man or animal–querencia–
the place one cares most about, where one is
most secure, protected, where one feels safest.
In the ring, it may be a spot near the gate
or the place he was first hurt or where
the sand is wet or where there’s a little blood,
his querencia, even though it looks like any
other part of the ring, except this is the spot
the bull picks as his home, the place he will
defend and keep returning to, the place where
he again decides to fight and lifts his head
despite the injured muscle, the place the matador
tries to keep him away from, where the bull,
sensing defeat, is most dangerous and stubborn.

The passage through adulthood is the journey
through bravado, awareness, and resignation
which the bull duplicates in his fifteen minutes
in the ring. As for the querencia, we all have
a place where we feel safest, even if it is only
the idea of a place, maybe an idea by itself,
the place that all our being radiates out from,
like an ideal of friendship or justice or perhaps
something simpler like the memory of a back porch
where we laughed a lot and how the setting sun
through the pine trees shone on the green chairs,
flickered off the ice cubes in our glasses.
We all have some spot in our mind which we
go back to from hospital bed, or fight with
husband or wife, or the wreckage of a life.
So the bull’s decision is only the degree
to which he decides to fight, since the outcome
is already clear, since the mules are already
harnessed to drag his body across the sand.
Will he behave bravely and with dignity or
will he be fearful with his thick tongue lolling
from his mouth and the blood making his black
coat shiny and smooth? And the audience, no matter
how much it admires the matador, watches the bull
and tries to catch a glimpse of its own future.

At the end, each has a knowledge which is just
of inevitability, so the only true decision
is how to behave, like anyone supposedly–
the matador who tries to earn the admiration
of the crowd by displaying grace and bravery
in the face of peril, the bull who can’t
be said to decide but who obeys his nature.
Probably, he has no real knowledge and,
like any of us, it’s pain that teaches him
to be wary, so his only desire in defeat
is to return to that spot of sand, and even
when dying he will stagger toward his querencia
as if he might feel better there, could
recover there, take back his strength, win
the fight, stick that glittering creature to the wall,
while the matador tries to weaken that one muscle–
the animal all earnestness, the man all deceit–
until they come to that instant when the matador
decides the bull is ready and the bull appears
to submit by lowering his head, where the one
offers his neck and the other offers his belly,
and the matador’s one hope is for a clean kill,
that the awful blade of the horn won’t suddenly
rear up into the white softness of his groin.

One October in Barcelona I remember watching
a boy, an apprentice, lunge forward for the kill
and miss and miss again, how the bull would fling
the sword out of his back and across the ring,
and again stagger to his feet and shake himself,
and how the boy would try again and miss again,
until his assistant took a dagger and stabbed
repeatedly at the spinal cord as the bull tried
to drag himself forward to that place in the sand,
that querencia, as the crowd jeered and threw
their cushions and the matador stood back ashamed.
It was cold and the sun had gone down. The brightly
harnessed mules were already in the ring, and everyone
wanted to forget it and go home. How humiliating
it seemed and how hard the bull fought at the end
to drag himself to that one spot of safety, as if
that word could have any meaning in such a world.

QUOTES CITED IN PASSAGE; POEM, "QUERENCIA," BY STEPHEN DOBYNS; INTERIOR IMAGES VIA PULSEORLANDO.COM, THE WASHINGTON POST, CLUBZONE.COM, AND YELP 

Currency in an Economy of Envy


Images which idealize (like most fashion and animal photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.
— Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977
Gloria Vanderbilt in her living room, photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, June 1975

Gloria Vanderbilt in her living room, photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, June 1975

"Piet Mondrian used reds, yellows, blues, and blacks. Donald Judd's palette has included green, pink, and orange. Carl Andre relied on the colors of specific materials like wood and metals. And yet somehow, the term 'minimalism' today calls to mind an image of a pure, clean, and orderly space with white as the dominant color. Why, despite seeing color everywhere, do we still tend to associate the minimal and the modern with whiteness?" [1]

Cy Twombly’s wife Tatiana stretches out in front of “Hyperion (To Keats)” (1962), photo by Horst P. Horst

Cy Twombly’s wife Tatiana stretches out in front of “Hyperion (To Keats)” (1962), photo by Horst P. Horst

Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood. To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power.
— Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977
Justine Cushing, photo by Horst for Vogue, November 1972

Justine Cushing, photo by Horst for Vogue, November 1972

"David Batchelor has argued that 'in the West, since Antiquity, colour has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished, and degraded.' This chromophobia, or fear of color, manifests as the valorization of white as the color of rational, clean, controlled spaces, while color is seen as dangerous, superficial, and potentially contaminating.

Obviously, white is a color, so the opposition of these terms might, at first, seem a bit simplistic. But what Batchelor and other scholars like him are interested in is the idea of 'generalized white,' or what Batchelor has called the 'negative hallucination' of white— the fact that even when color is present, as in the minimalist works above, we still tend to be blind to that color, thinking only of the white space, tending to privilege form over color." [1]

Diana Vreeland surrounded by red furnishings, photo by Horst, 1979

Diana Vreeland surrounded by red furnishings, photo by Horst, 1979

"Your initial objection might be that it's quite simple to look around us and see plenty of color: green trees, blue sky, vibrant flowers. But consider this: in the things that we make or buy, color tends to be reined in. While there are some rule-breakers out there, generally speaking, we think that bright colors are acceptable in limited doses, but too much vivid color can seem like an assault on the senses, or we just dismiss it as tacky. For instance, it would be considered fashionable to wear a bright pink tie, so long as the suit is gray, but in general, we would find it eccentric or odd to wear a bright pink suit with a gray tie. And in terms of home decor, we've had plenty of heated debates about how tacky or inconsiderate it is to paint one's home in a 'loud' color, and it's been reported that the most popular color for home exteriors is white.

Chromophobia is marked, not just by the desire to eradicate color, but also to control and to master its forces. When we do use color, there's some sense that it needs to be controlled; that there are rules to its use, either in terms of its quantity or its symbolic applications (e.g., don't paint your dining room blue because it suppresses appetite). Please note that I'm not arguing against color psychology; it's undeniable that certain colors carry certain cultural assumptions and associations, a fact that has led anthropologist Michael Taussig to argue that color should be considered a manifestation of the sacred. But what I am arguing is that there is a pervasive idea that color gets us in the gut: it's seductive, emotional, compelling. Color, in the words of nineteenth-century art theorist Charles Blanc, often 'turns the mind from its course, changes the sentiment, swallows the thought.'" [1]

Lee Radziwill, photograph by Horst, Vogue, July 1971

Lee Radziwill, photograph by Horst, Vogue, July 1971

"According to some art critics, sensory anthropologists, and historians, this mutual attraction and repulsion to color has centuries-old roots, bound up in a colonial past and fears of the unknown. Michael Taussig has recounted that from the seventeenth century, the British East India Company centered much of its trade on brightly colored, cheap, and dye-fast cotton textiles imported from India. Because of the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1720, which supported the interests of the wool and silk weaving guilds, these textiles could only be imported into England with the proviso that they were destined for export again, generally to the English colonies in the Caribbean or Africa. These vibrant textiles played a key part in the African trade, and especially in the African slave trade, where British traders would use the textiles to purchase slaves. According to Michael Taussig, these trades are significant not only because they linked chromophilic areas like India and Africa, but also because 'color achieved greater conquests than European-instigated violence during the preceding four centuries of the slave trade. The first European slavers, the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, quickly learned that to get slaves they had to trade for slaves with African chiefs and kings, not kidnap them, and they conducted this trade with colored fabrics in lieu of violence.' Ironically, many of these slaves were then put to work in the colonies cultivating plants like indigo, that yielded dyes whose monetary values sometimes surpassed that of sugar." [1]

Brandolini Family Portrait, photo by Horst

Brandolini Family Portrait, photo by Horst

"In England, contemporaries often called the Indian textiles 'rags' or 'trash' and scorned their bright colors, and in Europe more generally, bright colors were taken as a sign of degeneracy and inferiority. The German writer Goethe famously stated that 'Men in a state of nature, uncivilized nations and children, have a great fondness for colors in their utmost brightness,' whereas 'people of refinement' avoid vivid colors (or what he called 'pathological colors'). In short, a love of bright color marked one as uncivilized, as not possessing taste, as being 'foreign' or other. Color represented the 'mythical savage state out of which civilization, the nobility of the human spirit, slowly, heroically, has lifted itself — but back into which it could always slide' (Batchelor, 23).

This danger of descent, of falling into degeneracy, disorientation, and excess, resulted in a valorization of the "generalized white" mentioned above. According to Batchelor, prejudice against color 'masks a fear: a fear of contamination and corruption by something that is unknown or appears unknowable,' and the highly minimal, white spaces of contemporary architecture mark an attempt to rationalize and strictly limit an interior, to stop its merging with the world outside. The 'hollow, whited chamber, scraped clean, cleared of any evidence of the grotesque embarrassments of an actual life. No smells, no noises, no colour; no changing from one state to another and the uncertainty that comes with it.'

Truman Capote, photo by Horst, 1965

Truman Capote, photo by Horst, 1965

"All of this is not to say that if you love white and abhor the thought of a red, pink, or yellow room, that you are fearful of difference. Nor do these arguments even mean that you shouldn't have an all-white home. What I think they do show us, though, is that some of our cultural preferences have deep-seated histories, associations, and legacies. The very idea of 'good taste,' as opposed to the 'garishness' and 'tackiness' of colors that we say hurt our eyes or that we find offensive, draws on a deep well of cultural assumptions of what is 'normal' or 'refined.' Knowing this, I doubt that I will go paint my bedroom a vibrant red, but I very well may rethink my gut reactions to rooms that initially take me aback.

Furthermore, it seems incontestable that it's far too easy to fear vibrant color when you're designing your own home: 'What if I get that green sofa I love and hate it in five years? I better go for gray;' 'What if that shade of yellow is too shocking?' 'What if I retile my backsplash in blue, and it diminishes the resale value?' Maybe instead of giving into these fears, we should just step back and say, 'It's okay to lose myself sometimes, to go a little bit crazy, to have fun with this whole thing, and to stop controlling the color.' White is great when it's a color amongst other colors, but when it's meant only to contain, suppress, and keep other colors at bay, you may want to resist its temptation. Our lives aren't 'pure' and 'perfect,' and our homes don't have to be either." [1]

 

TEXT TAKEN FROM SUSAN SONTAG'S ON PHOTOGRAPHY; CAROLYN PURNELL'S "COLOR, CHROMOPHOBIA, AND COLONIALISM," [1] VIA APARTMENT THERAPY; REFERENCES DAVID BACHELOR'S COLOUR AND CHROMOPHOBIA, AND MICHAEL TAUSSIG'S WHAT COLOR IS THE SACRED?MARIA POPOVA'S "AESTHETIC CONSUMERISM AND THE VIOLENCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY"; ALL IMAGES BY HORST

You, but Better in Every Way: Paul Fortune, Personal Branding


[ED: repost; originally posted July 16, 2012]

"How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers—in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose?

I admired all the great personalities down through time, like Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde. They seemed to be so perfectly themselves in every way. I didn’t think, Those are great souls, but I did think, Those are some great personalities for our age. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein — they did things, but they were things.

I know that personality is just an invention of the news media. I know that character exists from the outside alone. I know that inside the body there’s just temperature. So how do you build your soul? At a certain point, I know, you have to forget about your soul and just do the work you’re required to do. To go on and on about your soul is to miss the whole point of life. I could say that with more certainty if I knew the whole point of life. To worry too much about Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol is just a lot of vanity." [1]

"How should a person be? I sometimes wonder about it, and I can’t help answering like this: a celebrity. But for all that I love celebrities, I would never move somewhere that celebrities actually exist. My hope is to live a simple life, in a simple place, where there’s only one example of everything.

By a simple life, I mean a life of undying fame that I don’t have to participate in. I don’t want anything to change, except to be as famous as one can be, but without that changing anything. Everyone would know in their hearts that I am the most famous person alive—but not talk about it too much. And for no one to be too interested in taking my picture, for they’d all carry around in their heads an image of me that was unchanging, startling, and magnetic. No one has to know what I think, for I don’t really think anything at all, and no one has to know the details of my life, for there are no good details to know. It is the quality of fame one is after here, without any of its qualities." [1]

"The great interior designer Paul Fortune has helped shape David Fincher’s Los Feliz home, made a marvel of Mark Jacobs’s Paris apartment, and created a landmark with a glamorous renovation of the iconic Sunset Tower hotel.  He put the first Cadillac through the roof of the Hard Rock, and moved a Hollywood craftsman house across a parking lot to make the gem that was Les Deux Cafés.  Inhabiting a space somewhere between David Bowie and James Bond, Paul is himself a paragon of taste and panache—his devotees run the gamut from furniture dealers to fashion designers to film directors (to this end, dig Fortune’s cameos in both Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and her ex-husband Spike Jonze’s Adaptation).

Born in Liverpool and educated in London, Fortune moved to New York and then Oregon before he stumbled on Los Angeles and the rumored gin hideout for Laurel & Hardy.  At once a love affair was born.  The then graphic artist, and later music video director, set to work making the ‘20s house—a strange mongrel in 1978 of its country cabin bones and a former owner’s Mutiny on the Bounty-themed nautica—into a home.  The ever-evolving space, most recently gifted a pool and outdoor shower, is now every bit the beauty and the celebrity as its notorious guests.

Shirking gimmickry for timeless essentials, Fortune has turned his hilltop redoubt into something of a legend, and in the process made himself a master of the form. His look is ultimately the real LA: the green and white stripes of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the lilting palms, the sunshine, rough-hewn stone walls, Prada suits…

Chris Wallace: Wait, how have you managed to make sunshine your  look?

Paul Fortune: It’s true. After my childhood in the North of England the California light was irresistible, but now I’m getting nostalgic for gloomy, grey vistas. The grass is always greener… or greyer.

CW: Every designer and artist I know is an enormous fan of your work, of your way . And it does seem to me that your signature, your vibe, is more of a vibe than a specific template or grouping of materials.  It is more like a lifestyle. A space bearing your touch is incredibly chic—I mean, impeccable—but also feels safe to flop around in, to smoke in, to live in. How are you able to achieve that?

PF: I don’t do a signature look so much as create an atmosphere.  It’s really art direction, which is not just about the furniture but also the space, the light, the people in the space, tantalizing fragrances, delicious cocktails… I think it’s absurd to force a “style” onto a place when all you really have to do is coax its true personality out with the right elements. There is too much ego in design and not enough empathy. There is also too much emphasis on the new groovy next thing. If you look at a magazine like The World of Interiors, you see that the best design vernacular is consistent in some way—using a certain set of rules or constraint, but making a lasting and timeless effect. I think there are many current designers (and I use that word loosely, very loosely) whose work will never stand the test of time.  You constantly see some effect—explosive colour, chandeliers in gardens, the 70s—that suddenly is everywhere and becomes mass, and, consequently, a ghastly blight. It’s like reality TV, people mistake it for something real, when in fact it’s the opposite. Really effective design is truly 'green.' It lasts." [2]

"CW: Where did your sense of design come from?

PF: I was always fascinated by environments other than my own and would sit glued to the TV, watching Hollywood movies from the 30s and 40s, American sitcoms of the ’60s, whatever, agape at the scale, glamour, styles and general strangeness. I would re-create favorite scenes in our garage for my family, forcing my cousins into silly costumes and faking the sets. My re-creation of the barge seduction scene from de Mille’s Cleopatra was a big hit (with myself as Cleopatra of course), though the Dads were mortified.

CW: But it was beautiful.

PF: In my eyes of course.  But then you have to be gay to be a good decorator—sorry, just look at the facts. You can count the number of straight decorators on one hand… barely. Why is that? Maybe gays are more aware of their surroundings.  But then there are some hideous gay decorators too so we have to discount the gay factor—but not entirely. It’s still a requisite somehow. Maybe at birth the fairy Godmother gives you the gift of perfect taste as you have to have some compensation for all the slurs and barbs your gay life will have to endure (not that I had to endure that many personally; everyone at an all boys Catholic school is available at one time or another).  For me, creating a perfect cocoon was an answer and reaction to who I was and how I needed to cope with life." [2]

"There are certain people who do not feel like they were raised by wolves, and these are the ones who make the world tick. These are the ones who keep everything functioning so the rest of us can worry about what kind of person we should be. I have read all the books and I know what they say: You — but better in every way. And yet there are so many ways of being better, and these ways can contradict one another!" [1]

"CW: Did you ever have heroes, role models, icons?  Do you now?

PF: I’ve never had heroes or role models (dangerous concept I feel), except for writers, perhaps, who were a major outlet for my fantasies as a child, and still are. But I do admire certain people who have managed to create a unique world: Dutch connoisseur and collector Axel Vervoordt, for instance; Yves St Laurent, his houses were extraordinary and the realization of his very gay sensibility; Baroness Karen Blixen, who led the ultimate lifestyle driven life; Jean Micheal Frank, the most exacting decorator ever—and a tortured queen who jumped out of a window in NYC in a perfectly cut grey flannel suit (he wore ONLY grey flannel—even his swimsuit was flannel!); Ronald Firbank, an Edwardian dandy and meticulous chronicler of a fantastic world and extraordinary people; etc, etc.

CW: How have you evolved your aesthetic?

PF: Practice, patience and constantly looking at everything." [2]

"CW: Is there a red thread to be found throughout?  Is there a consistent nugget that remains—beneath clients’ requests, changing times, locales, etc—that is Paul Fortune?

PF: Nothing blatant.  A house or any piece of design should gradually reveal itself over time. I still find aspects of the house I’ve lived in for 30 years a revelation and this is inspiring and educational. Nothing is done; everything is in flux. The most successful interiors invite repeated visits with continued appreciation—the more banal and trendy interiors, the opposite (do you want to hang out in that groovy hotel lobby again? I don’t think so).

We had an amazing storm last week and the light was ravishing. I took the afternoon off and made a pot of white tea and sat by a window watching the rain falling through a grove of eucalyptus trees… mesmerizing. Nature never disappoints. Except I hate the whole food chain thing—why can’t all animals be vegetarian?" [2]

"CW: These are tough times. Everyone thinks they can do it themselves and need not hire a designer. House & Garden, where you were an editor, closes after 105 years…  How do you deal?

PF: I drink a lot!!

Living these days I must say is a constant challenge for the conscious person (or even the semi–conscious person). Living in America for over 30 years has been both exhilarating and disappointing. To see so much beauty and invention destroyed and reduced to the lowest level is frankly heartbreaking but I’m trying to be Buddhist about it all and do what I can.

Restoring the Sunset Tower was a way for me to give back to Hollywood a little of the feel and look of a more gracious and inviting era.  Don’t tell me it’s a better world now. It can and should be a better place. Look for the best and don’t accept the shit they are dumping on you. There are alternatives, recognize them and insist on them." [2]

"For so many years I have written soul like this: sould. I make no other consistent typo. A girl I met in France once said, Cheer up! Maybe it doesn’t actually mean you’ve sold your soul — I was staring unhappily into my beer — but rather that you never had a soul to sell.

We were having Indian food. The man next to us was an Englishman and he brightened up. He said, It is so nice to hear English being spoken here! I haven’t heard any English in weeks. We tried not to smile, for smiling only encourages men to bore you and waste your time.

I thought about what that girl had said for a week. I was determined to start the task I had long been putting off, having for too long imagined it would take care of itself in the course of things, without my paying attention to it, all the while knowing in my heart that I was avoiding it, trying to patch myself together with my admiration for the traits I saw so clearly in everyone else. I said to myself sternly, It’s time to stop asking questions of other people. It is time to just go in a cocoon and spin your soul. But when I got back to the city, I neglected this plan in favour of hanging out with my friends every night of the week, just as I had been doing before I’d left for the Continent." [1]

FIRST IMAGE, OF PAUL FORTUNE'S "EARTHQUAKE ROOM," TAKEN FROM "FREESTYLE: THE NEW ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN FROM LOS ANGELES" BY TIM STREET PORTER, 1986; IMAGES OF PAUL FORTUNE'S LAUREL CANYON HOME ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN HOUSE & GARDEN, 2004; IMAGES OF MICHELLE WILLIAMS, PAUL JASMIN AND PAUL FORTUNE IN THE SAME HOME BY SCOTT STERNBERG FOR BAND OF OUTSIDERS, FALL '08; PORTRAIT OF PAUL FORTUNE SMOKING BY ARI MICHELSON; TEXT [1] TAKEN FROM HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE BY SHEILA HETI; TEXT [2] TAKEN FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL FORTUNE BY CHRIS WALLACE FOR DOSSIER, 2010; "TOP FIVE PERSONAL BRANDING MYTHS" IMAGES TAKEN FROM PERSONALBRANDINGBLOG.COM

In the Land of Gods and Monsters: Lynch and Ruscha, Los Angeles


[ED: repost; originally posted December 2, 2012]

What a fine thing it would be, Harvey thought, to build a place like this. To drive its foundations deep into the earth; to lay its floors and hoist its walls; to say: Where there was nothing, I raised a house. That would be a very fine thing.
The Thief of Always, Clive Barker

I.

"Although one or two pictures suggest some recognition of the criteria of art-photography, or even architectural photography, the majority seem to take pleasure in rigorous display of generic lapses: improper relation of lenses to subject distances, insensitivity to time of day and quality of light, excessively functional cropping, with abrupt excisions of peripheral objects, lack of attention to the specific character of the moment bing depicted—all in all a hilarious performance, an almost sinister mimicry of the way “people” make images of the dwellings with which they are involved. Ruscha’s impersonation of such an Everyperson obviously draws attention to the alienated relationships people have with their built environment." [2]

"In 1965 Edward Ruscha published Some Los Angeles Apartments, the third in his ongoing series of photographic books, and completed a group of ten related drawings that depict variations on the ubiquitous Southern California apartment building.

Ruscha’s apartment book chronicles the artist’s fascination with Los Angeles and its unique characteristics. Having moved there from Oklahoma in 1956, Ruscha was immediately excited by his new environment and stimulated by its fast and mobile landscape. The car, in fact, is central to the development of Ruscha’s work. His love of driving around Los Angeles, exploring the city and absorbing its character, coupled with frequent trips along Route 66 to visit Oklahoma, gave him a visual perspective defined by the windshield, driver’s window, and curbside. He found gasoline stations, apartments, vacant lots, and palm trees during drives around Los Angeles and photographed them from where he stood beside his parked car." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "1029 S. Union," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "1029 S. Union," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"Although it was not Ruscha’s intent, Some Los Angeles Apartments also documents an aberrant chapter in a fifty-year history of distinguished architectural achievement in Southern California. A combination of factors contributed to the growth of a distinct and adventurous architecture during the first half of the twentieth century. The open, horizontal space and temperate climate promoted outdoor living and the proliferation of single-family houses and apartments with patios and gardens. Los Angeles also developed—by plan and circumstance—as a decentralized city with many commercial centers joined by an efficient and complex system of freeways that established the private car as the primary means of transportation. The mobility afforded by the automobile contributed greatly to the overall dispersal of low-density residential buildings, usually only one or two stories high. In addition, by the 1930s, a strong economy coupled with an atmosphere of optimism and experimentation encouraged a talented group of young architects to design an imaginative California Modern style of house and apartment." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "6565 Fountain Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "6565 Fountain Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"The earliest suggestion of a modern architecture appears in the work of Irving Gill. His Horatio West Court (1919) displays a modernized version of the then dominant Mission Revival style. During the teens and twenties, this common form of residential architecture—derived from the Spanish missions built in California in the eighteenth century—was typically wood framed, sheathed with white stucco, and oriented around a garden space. The solid massing and plain surfaces of Mission Revival architecture related to current abstract architecture being done by Adolf Loos and Walter Gropius in Austria and Germany. Gill further pared away detail, emphasizing broad white surfaces with deep recesses, arches, and horizontal bands of windows meeting at the corner, offering abundant light, ventilation, and ocean views. Gill’s synthesis of the Mission style, with its stress on simplicity, geometry, light, and shade, was well suited to the California Climate.

The rapid growth of the Los Angeles population and residential and public development through the 1930s led to the proliferation of bungalows, ranch houses, and tract housing, all clad in various period styles—Regency, Colonial, Tudor, Spanish, and Streamline Moderne. However, the most distinguished contribution was made by a few architects, most notably R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, who arrived in LA in the 1920s. Both were born and trained in Vienna, had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, and were deeply committed to the International Style. Their aesthetic, which demanded that materials, details, and form symbolically and functionally relate to a rational machine precisionism, was easily adaptable to the requirements of the Southern California environment. Neutra’s Landfair Apartments and Strathmore Apartments (both 1938) are pure International Style. Simple, direct, and rational, they are one- and two-storybuildings with a small number of apartments, suggesting single-family residences. Their clean planes of white stucco, generous bands of horizontal windows, and flat roofs with gardens were compatible with a simplified, modern, outdoor-oriented life-style. Schindler’s structures reveal more complex compositions, emphasizing spatial and volumetric forms that are both functional and aesthetic. On the façade of Schindler’s Mackey Duplex Apartments (1939), the internal vertical and horizontal spaces project to external volumes that are integral to the composition rather than merely decorative. Schindler’s De Stijl forms exerted a strong influence on the development of Los Angeles architecture, offering innovation and adaptability in apartment design." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "2014 S. Beverly Glen Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "2014 S. Beverly Glen Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "15120 Victory Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "15120 Victory Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"Other variations on International Style apartments using a court or garden plan were provided by Gregory Ain and J.R. Davidson, two architects influenced by Neutra and Schindler. Ain’s Dunsmuir Flats Apartments (1937) is a severely geometricized International Style building staggered back on a deep lot. A long, narrow outside entrance on one side allows garden areas on the opposite side of the building. Each apartment is two stories, with the ground floor opening onto a private patio, and all rooms are illuminated on three sides by narrow strip windows. The front elevation is dominated by a row of enclosed garages, completing a plan that is consistent in layout, structure, and materials with convenience, privacy, outdoors, an the automobile. Davidson’s Gretna Green Apartments (1940) displays the same concern with patio gardens, well-lit living spaces, and convenient car accommodations in a simple, well-organized, and substantial white stucco structure. Like Neutra and Schindler, Davidson’s training in a European Modern aesthetic is comfortably adapted to the new California Modern style. A variation on apartment structures is seen in William Foster’s Shangri-La Apartments and Hotel (1941)—a massive Streamline Moderne structure displaying curved corners, decorative glass bricks, and fanciful lettering on the entrance canopy. The desirable corner location, affording sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, encouraged a high-rise building, with balconies on the upper floors, that offered both private apartments and hotel rooms.

The increasing population density and continuing growth of commercial centers in West Los Angeles and along the Wilshire Boulevard corridor in the 1950s generated more high-rise apartments, but these were on the model of New York residential buildings. Victor Gruen’s Wilshire Terrace Apartments (1959) is a massive rectangular box with pattern and texture dominating all four sides. The interior circulation, double-loaded corridors, necessity for elevators, and lack of access to outdoor areas marks a distinct departure from the California Modern Architecture of the previous two decades, which emphasized the advantages of the Los Angeles environment." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "1018 S. Atlantic Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "1018 S. Atlantic Blvd.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

"By the time Ruscha photographed contemporary apartments in 1965, the distinctions between architectural styles and life-styles and been blurred and even disregarded. The spread of freeways crisscrossing the Los Angeles basin and the subsequent development of properties at interchanges and off-ramps, along with a population density too high to allow spacious single-family residences and garden apartments, spawned the appearance of the Los Angeles ‘dingbat’ apartment. Dingbat—a word of unknown origin traditionally used to describe a typographical symbol or ornament that calls attention to an opening sentence or break between paragraphs—is an appropriate word to describe architecture that displays superficial ornamentation and signage to call attention to itself in order to distinguish it from a similarly plain apartment building next door. Dingbats, which predominate in Some Los Angeles Apartments, are typically two-story walk-up structures with a side-loaded exterior corridor and exterior circulation. Usually a boxy rectangle of wood construction with stuccoed exterior walls, these 1960s apartments display an eccentric, embellished, cheap, and often ridiculous version of the pure Modern style exemplified by Neutra and Schindler. Designed to be cost-effective, they were built to fill the entire lot from the sidewalk property line to the back, with parking efficiently tucked under the living areas in carports. They retain none of the privacy, cross lighting and ventilation, flowering gardens, or architectural originality that they hope to announce by their decorated facades. However, they were of great interest, not necessarily to the people who lived in them, but to Ruscha, precisely because they expressed the freedom, diversity, newness, and irony of the visual experience of Los Angeles." [1]

Edward Ruscha, "2206 Echo Park Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

Edward Ruscha, "2206 Echo Park Ave.," from Some Los Angeles Apartments, 1965

II.

The older the house, the more have likely died inside. This house is old.
— Brooks Sterritt, "A Face is Made of Fourteen Bones"
Man, the ‘interior designer,’ is... an active engineer of atmosphere... Everything has to intercommunicate, everything has to be functional—no more secrets, no more mysteries, everything is organized, therefore everything is clear... modern man, the cybernetician, [is] a mental hypochondriac, as someone obsessed with the perfect circulation of messages.
— Jean Baudrillard, "The System of Objects"

"In 1997, while promoting his new project, Lost Highway, Lynch granted his first interview to a design journal, the Swiss publication form. Question: ‘Do you ever dream of furniture?’ Answer: ‘I day-dream of furniture, yes.’ The stuff of fantasy, furniture is also a long-standing hobby for Lynch and became a minor business venture for him in the 1990s, after the critical and commercial failure of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and during a period when Lynch struggled to get another film off the ground. In the interview, Lynch explains that he had been making furniture ever since art school and sold his first piece at Skank World, a small Beverly Hills shop specializing in mid-century design. In April 1997 several of Lynch’s pieces, including the Club Tables featured in the photograph of the interior of the Beverly Johnson House, were displayed at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, one of the world’s more prestigious furniture exhibitions. Lynch sold the line—including the Steel Block Table, the Floating Beam Tale, and the Espresso Table—exclusively through the Swiss design company Casanostra, with the small constructions of wood an steel priced between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars. On Casanostra’s website the last piece is sold with the tag, 'Coffee in an asymmetrical world.'" [3]

"Similarly, the October Films press kit for the picture promoted it as the work of a visionary auteur who conceives of film as an inherently intermedial endeavor, combining music and art direction, painting and photography in a symphony of design:

The design within the house also corresponds to Lynch’s overall vision. ‘I always like to have the people stand out, so the furnishings have got to be as minimal as possible so you can see the people.’ Lynch adds, ‘There were many things that had to be built for the story to work,’ and since Lynch has lately expanded his activities to include the design of furniture, he actually built some pieces for this set himself, most notably the case that contains the Madison’s ominous VCR.

Lost Highway’s furniture, it seems, is transparent, opening onto views of Lynch’s eccentric genius. The romantic idea of the auteur, developed most famously in the 1950s in the pages of the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, was bound to a related notion of the expressive mise-en-scène, of a controlled cinematic décor bearing the traces of a presiding aesthetic personality. Style, for the discerning “Hitchcocko-Hawksiens” at Cahiers, would have a soul, humanizing the industrial products of Hollywood’s dream factory. And it is hard not to think of Lynch’s furniture as a kind of artistic cameo, the equivalent in the realm of objects of the cheeky appearances of his beloved Hitchcock, always popping up in his own films and turning them into ever more reflexive and ironic gizmos in the process. What’s more, the furniture—and the domestic drama of Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee (Patricia Arquette) that occupies roughly the first half of the film’s disjointed narrative—is staged in an über-modern home that is Lynch’s real property, one of three houses (including Lloyd Wright Jr.’s Beverly Johnson House) owned by the director in the same canyon outside of Hollywood. The feature article on Lost Highway in Rolling Stone, explains how Lynch remodeled the house inside and out for the film, adding the tiny, narrow slot windows to the exterior and building a ‘tunnellike hallway’ on the inside, into which Fred Madison will repeatedly be made to disappear." [3]

"The press kit also insists on the centrality of the home’s design to unlocking the film’s secrets or producing more of them:

The house inhabited by Fred and Renee is similarly integral to the film’s scheme, combining stylistic elements of yesterday, today and tomorrow, just as the narrative does. In fact, the house’s peculiar design could almost serve as a metaphor for the entire film: when seen from the front, there are a few small windows, providing limited opportunities to see inside. But when it is approached from other angles, one realizes that there are many ways to observe the interior.

The Madison’s home, we are assured, is like the broader style of the film’s décor, both ‘blazingly modern and absolutely retro in look and feel.’ Dropping references to expressionism, the surrealism of André Breton, psychoanalysis, and film noir, Lost Highway’s marketing announces David Lynch’s return to form through his modernity, and his modernity through an unlikely equation between the modern, minimalist house and modernist narrative complexity. Less is more." [3]

"Aesthetic modernism is part of the film’s status as stylistic pastiche, but also part of its real narrative aspirations and claims to aesthetic legitimacy and power. Lost Highway poaches the design lessons of high modernist architecture—utopian rationalism and functionalism, chiefly—and ironizes them in the service of modernist narrative in the mode of art cinema, blurring art and pornography, visionary idealism and mass-market materialism. In Lost Highway, transparency and rationalism fail in precisely the location where so many postwar architects imagined the future of the modernist impulse—the happy, newly pleasurable open-plan design of the mid-century domestic interior, whose dream of more permeable boundaries between inside and outside becomes another nightmare. The film’s relentlessly pornographic imagination is part of its own meditation on auteur self-fashioning as furniture. This befits an artist who, on the heels of two commercial flops, has become well acquainted with the vagaries of mass taste and finds himself embroiled in another campaign to sell himself. In the process, the auteur’s romantic soul is hollowed out, hardening into a merely functional thing. The Lynchian signature becomes a design icon, a fetishized commodity, an ironic advertisement for its own hidden mysteries whose views are forever deferred: furniture porn." [3]

"In Lost Highway these ironic objects—furniture, bodies, and the souls of authors—are set loose in a strikingly dehumanized and unsentimental film. Instead, Lynch positions his furniture in a dark, highly reflexive meditation on the enigma of personality itself—on the very idea of human interiority or other, obscene secrets on the insides of things. The Madison’s modern home allows Lynch to pose the question of the interior in several ways: through the troubled status of bourgeois domesticity and privacy, here again contaminated y theatricality; through the etiology of Fred’s psychological distress, which Lynch again gives harrowing architectural form and here drives the narrative fragmentation; and through the enigma of Renee/Alice, whose mysterious sexuality is asked to speak its truth, in the fashion of pornography." [3]

"The Madison’s living room, with its wooden auteurist prosthesis, draws on the romantic soul of wood—its integrity, warmth, and temporal stability—to protect against the violation of domestic intimacy by technology and psychic malaise. The VCR case’s compensory quality is immediately noticeable because of its functionality and superfluity. There is already a capacious horizontal niche for the VCR carved into the half wall of light wood, which makes the additional wooden sleeve around the VCR an unnecessary design flourish. The case’s evident lack of functionality is all the more flagrant within a semitransparent partition designed, in mid-century fashion, for multifunctionality: it is at once media console, storage space, and room divider, separating the living room from the stairway behind it. But the console offers scant consolation, because its design elements are echoes or repetitions of the house’s exterior: the row of snake plants that frame the console are also arranged in a line outside the Madison’s front door, stretching across the front of the house. The plants call our attention to other graphic repetitions: the nested horizontals of the wooden media console and VCR case are echoed in the horizontal vents in the house’s façade as well as the vertical encasement of the home’s narrow windows—fortress-like slits—and the front door’s own rectangular shell. In these ways the inside is always an outside; this modern house wears its heart—the living room—on its sleeve." [3]

TEXT [1] TAKEN FROM THE EXHIBITION TEXT OF "EDWARD RUSCHA: LOS ANGELES APARTMENTS 1965" BY RICHARD MARSHALL, WHITNEY MUSEUM OF ART, 1990; ALL RUSCHA PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN FROM THE SAME; TEXT [2] TAKEN FROM "ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY," EDITED BY JASON GAIGER AND PAUL WOOD, 2003; TEXT [3] TAKEN FROM "DAVID LYNCH" BY JUSTUS NIELAND, 2012; ALL OTHER QUOTES CITED IN TEXT; ALL OTHER IMAGES TAKEN FROM "LOST HIGHWAY," DIR. DAVID LYNCH, PRODUCTION DESIGN BY PATRICIA NORRIS, 1997

It is Distinctly Possible to Stay Too Long at the Fair


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
— from "Late Fragment," Raymond Carver
There are unheralded tipping points, a certain number of times that we will unlock the front door of an apartment. At some point you were closer to the last time than you were to the first time, and you didn’t even know it. You didn’t know that each time you passed the threshold you were saying goodbye.
— from The Colossus of New York, Colson Whitehead

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was. Some time later there was a song in the jukeboxes on the Upper East Side that went “but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me,” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

Of course it might have been some other city, had circumstances been different and the time been different and had I been different, might have been Paris or Chicago or even San Francisco, but because I am talking about myself I am talking here about New York. That first night I opened my window on the bus into town and watched for the skyline, but all I could see were the wastes of Queens and big signs that said MIDTOWN TUNNEL THIS LANE and then a flood of summer rain (even that seemed remarkable and exotic, for I had come out of the West where there was no summer rain), and for the next three days I sat wrapped in blankets in a hotel room air conditioned to 35 degrees and tried to get over a cold and a high fever. It did not occur to me to call a doctor, because I knew none, and although it did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was. All I could do during those years was talk long-distance to the boy I already knew I would never marry in the spring. I would stay in New York, I told him, just six months, and I could see the Brooklyn Bridge from my window. As it turned out the bridge was the Triborough, and I stayed eight years.

In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the bridges were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots—the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street. But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young.

I remember once, one cold bright December evening in New York, suggesting a friend who complained of having been around too long that he come with me to a party where there would be, I assured him with the bright resourcefulness of twenty-three, “new faces.” He laughed literally until he choked, and I had to roll down the taxi window and hit him on the back. “New faces,” he said finally, “don’t tell me about new faces.” It seemed that the last time he had gone to a party where he had been promised “new faces,” there had been fifteen people in the room, and he had already slept with five of the women and owed money to all but two of the men. I laughed with him, but the first snow had just begun to fall and the big Christmas trees glittered yellow and white as far as I could see up Park Avenue and I had a new dress and it would be a long while before I would come to understand the particular moral of the story.

It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there—but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month. I was making only $65 or $70 then a week then (“Put yourself in Hattie Carnegie’s hands,” I was advised without the slightest trace of irony by an editor of the magazine for which I worked), so little money that some weeks I had to charge food at Bloomingdale’s gourmet shop in order to eat, a fact which went unmentioned in the letters I wrote to California. I never told my father that I needed money because then he would have sent it, and I would never know if I could do it by myself. At that time making a living seemed a game to me, with arbitrary but quite inflexible rules. And except on a certain kind of winter evening—six-thirty in the Seventies, say, already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and and imagine women lighting candles on the floor above and beautiful children being bathed on the floor above that—except on nights like those, I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it. I could write a syndicated column for teenagers under the name “Debbi Lynn” or I could smuggle gold into India or I could become a $100 call girl, and none of it would matter.

Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about. I could go to a party and meet someone who called himself Mr. Emotional Appeal and ran The Emotional Appeal Institute or Tina Onassis Blandford or a Florida cracker who was then a regular on what the called “the Big C,” the Southampton-El Morocco circuit (“I’m well connected on the Big C, honey,” he would tell me over collard greens on his vast borrowed terrace), or the widow of the celery king of the Harlem market or a piano salesman from Bonne Terre, Missouri, or someone who had already made and list two fortunes in Midland, Texas. I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count.

You see I was in a curious position in New York: it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there. In my imagination I was always there for just another few months, just until Christmas or Easter or the first warm day in May. For that reason I was most comfortable with the company of Southerners. They seemed to be in New York as I was, on some indefinitely extended leave from wherever they belonged, disciplined to consider the future, temporary exiles who always knew when the flights left for New Orleans or Memphis or Richmond or, in my case, California. Someone who lives with a plane schedule in the drawer lives on a slightly different calendar. Christmas, for example, was a difficult season. Other people could take it in stride, going to Stowe or going abroad or going for the day to their mothers’ places in Connecticut; those of us who believed that we lived somewhere else would spend it making and canceling airline reservations, waiting for weatherbound flights as if for the last plane out of Lisbon in 1940, and finally comforting one another, those of us who were left, with oranges and mementos and smoked-oyster stuffings of childhood, gathering close, colonials in a far country.

Which is precisely what we were. I am not sure that it is possible for anyone brought up in the East to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, means to those of us who came out of the West and the South. To an Eastern child, particularly a child who has always has an uncle on Wall Street and who has spent several hundred Saturdays first at F.A.O. Schwarz and being fitted for shoes at Best’s and then waiting under the Biltmore clock and dancing to Lester Lanin, New York is just a city, albeit the city, a plausible place for people to live, But to those of us who came from places where no one had heard of Lester Lanin and Grand Central Station was a Saturday radio program, where Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue were not places at all but abstractions (“Money,” and “High Fashion,” and “The Hucksters”), New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu.

In fact it was difficult in the extreme for me to understand those young women for whom New York was not simply an ephemeral Estoril but a real place, girls who bought toasters and installed new cabinets in their apartments and committed themselves to some reasonable furniture. I never bought any furniture in New York. For a year or so I lived in other people’s apartments; after that I lived in the Nineties in an apartment furnished entirely with things taken from storage by a friend whose wife had moved away. And when I left the apartment in the Nineties (that was when I was leaving everything, when it was all breaking up) I left everything in it, even my winter clothes and the map of Sacramento County I had hung on the bedroom wall to remind me who I was, and I moved into a monastic four-room floor-through on Seventy-fifth Street. “Monastic” is perhaps misleading here, implying some chic severity; until after I was married and my husband moved some furniture in, there was nothing at all in those four rooms except a cheap double mattress and box springs, ordered by telephone the day I decided to move, and two French garden chairs lent me by a friend who imported them. (It strikes me now that the people I knew in New York all had curious and self-defeating sidelines. They imported garden chairs which did not sell very well at Hammacher Schlemmer or they tried to market hair straighteners in Harlem or they ghosted exposés of Murder Incorporated for Sunday supplements. I think that perhaps none of us was very serious, engagé only about our most private lives.)

All I ever did to that apartment was hang fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better, but I did not bother to weight the curtains correctly and all that summer the long panels of transparent golden silk would blow out the windows and get tangled and drenched in afternoon thunderstorms. That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and ever procrastination, every word, all of it.

That is what it was all about, wasn’t it? Promises? Now when New York comes back to me it comes in hallucinatory flashes, so clinically detailed that I sometimes wish that memory would effect the distortion with which it is commonly credited. For a lot of the time I was in New York I used a perfume called Fleurs de Rocaille, and then L’Air du Temps, and now the slightest trace of either can short-circuit my connections for the rest of the day. Nor can I smell Henri Bendel jasmine soap without falling back into the past, or the particular mixture of spices used for boiling crabs. There were barrels of crab boil in a Czech place in the Eighties where I once shopped. Smells, of course, are notorious memory stimuli, but there are other things which affect me the same way. Blue-and-white striped sheets. Vermouth cassis. Some faded nightgowns which were new in 1959 or 1960, and some chiffon scarves I bought about the same time.

I suppose that a lot of us who have been very young in New York have the same scenes in our home screens. I remember sitting in a lot of apartments with a slight headache about five o’clock in the morning. I had a friend who could not sleep, and he knew a few other people who had the same trouble, and we would watch the sky lighten and have a last drink with no ice and then go home in the early morning, when the streets were clean and wet (had it rained in the night? we never knew) and the few cruising taxis still had their headlights on and the only color was the red and green of traffic signals. The White Rose bars opened very early in the morning; I recall waiting in one of them to watch an astronaut go into space, waiting so long that at the moment it actually happened I had my eyes not on the television screen but on a cockroach on the tile floor. I liked the bleak branches above Washington Square at dawn, and the monochromatic flatness of Second Avenue, the fire escapes and the grilled storefronts peculiar and empty in their perspective.

It is relatively hard to fight at six-thirty or seven in the morning, without any sleep, which was perhaps one reason why we stayed up all night, and it seemed to me a pleasant time of day. The windows were shuttered in that apartment in the Nineties and I could sleep for a few hours and then go to work. I could work the on two or three hours’ sleep and a container of coffee from Chock Full O’ Nuts. I liked going to work, liked the soothing and satisfactory rhythm of getting out a magazine, liked the orderly progression of four-color closings and two-color closings and black-and-white closings and then The Product, no abstraction but something which looked effortlessly glossy and could be picked up on a newsstand and weighed in the hand. I liked all the minutiae of proofs and layouts, liked working late on the nights the magazines went to press, sitting and reading Variety and waiting for the copy desk to call. From my office, I could look across town to the weather signal on the Mutual of New York Building and the lights that alternately spelled TIME and LIFE above Rockeffeler Plaza; that pleased me obscurely, and so did walking uptown in the mauve eight o’clocks of early summer evenings and looking at things, Lowestoft tureens in Fifty-seventh Street windows, people in evening clothes trying to get taxis, the trees just coming into full leaf, the lambent air, all the sweet promises of money and summer.

Some years passed, but I still did not lose that sense of wonder about New York. I began to cherish the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given time no one need know where I was or what I was doing. I liked walking, from the East River over to the Hudson and back on brisk days, down around the Village on warm days. A friend would leave me the key to her apartment in the West Village when she was out of town, and sometimes I would just move down there, because by that time the telephone was beginning to bother me (the canker, you see, was already in the rose) and not many people had that number. I remember one day when someone who did have the West Village number came to pick me up for lunch there, and we both had hangovers, and I cut my finger opening him a beer and burst into tears, and we walked to a Spanish restaurant and drank bloody Marys and gazpacho until we felt better. I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world.

And even that late in the game I still liked going to parties, all parties, bad parties, Saturday-afternoon parties given by recently married couples who lived in Stuyvesant Town, West Side parties given by unpublished or failed writers who served cheap red wine and talked about going to Guatalajara, Village parties where all the guests worked for advertising agencies and voted for Reform Democrats, press parties at Sardi’s, the worst kind of parties. You will have perceived by now that I was not one to profit by the experience of others, that it was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces and began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.

I could not tell you when I began to understand that. All I know is that it was very bad when I was twenty-eight. Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen. I could no longer sit in little bars near Grand Central and listen to someone complaining of his wife’s inability to cope with the help while he missed another train to Connecticut. I no longer had any interest in hearing about the advances other people had received from their publishers, about plays which were having second-act trouble in Philadelphia, or about people I would like very much if only I would come out and meet them. I had already met them, always. There were certain parts of the city which I had to avoid. I could not bear upper Madison Avenue on weekday mornings (this was a particularly inconvenient aversion, since I then lived just fifty or sixty feet east of Madison), because I would see women walking Yorkshire terriers and shopping at Gristede’s, and some Veblenesque gorge would rise in my throat. I could not go to Times Square in the afternoon, or to the New York Public Library for any reason whatsoever. One day I could not go into a Schrafft’s; the next it would be the Bonwit Teller.

I hurt the people I cared about, and insulted those I did not. I cut myself off from the one person who was closer to me than any other. I cried until I was not even aware when I was crying and when I was not, I cried in elevators and in taxis and in Chinese laundries, and when I went to the doctor, he said only that I seemed to be depressed, and that I should see a “specialist.” He wrote down a psychiatrist’s name and address for me, but I did not go.

Instead I got married, which as it turned out was a very good thing to do but badly timed, since I still could not walk on upper Madison Avenue in the mornings and still could not talk to people and still cried in Chinese laundries. I had never before understood what “despair” meant, and I am not sure that I understand now, but I understood that year. Of course I could not work. I could not even get dinner with any degree of certainty, and I would sit in the apartment on Seventy-fifth Street paralyzed until my husband would call from his office and say gently that I did not have to get dinner, that I could meet him at Michael’s Pub or at Toots Shor’s or at Sardi’s East. And then one morning in April (we had been married in January) he called and told me that he wanted to get out of New York for a while, that he would take a six-month leave of absence, that we would go somewhere.

It was three years ago he told me that, and we have lived in Los Angeles since. Many of the people we knew in New York think this a curious aberration, and in fact tell us so. There is no possible, no adequate answer to that, and so we give certain stock answers, the answers everyone gives. I talk about how difficult it would be for us to “afford” to live in New York right now, about how much “space” we need, All I mean is that I was very young in New York, and that at some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young anymore. The last time I was in New York was in a cold January, and everyone was ill and tired. Many of the people I used to know there had moved to Dallas or had gone on Antabuse or had bought a farm in New Hampshire. We stayed ten days, and then we took an afternoon flight back to Los Angeles, and on the way home from the airport that night I could see the moon on the Pacific and smell jasmine all around and we both knew that there was no longer any point in keeping the apartment we still kept in New York. There were years when I called Los Angeles “the Coast,” but they seem a long time ago.

ALL REMAINING TEXT BY JOAN DIDION, "GOODBYE TO ALL THAT," 1967