Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 13: The Cloisters

July 27: A Resting Place

Soundtrack: Carmina Burana

To wake up in Sister Laura’s tiny apartment in New York, surrounded by the photos and souvenirs of a life lived watching movies, was always surreal and delightful. Black and white glossies of the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Jeremy Brett, and David Suchet looked down from the walls; my favorite was a magazine ad for Barney’s with Dean Stockwell in a suit. She had cupboards full of toys gleaned from years of Sci Fi Conventions and movie promotions and kachina dolls collected from curio shops out west.
While watching Catherine Deneuve in The Young Girls of Rochefort, we put together an exotic picnic of hummus and pita bread and baba ganouch, and baklava and left the parking space round the corner from the Rodeo before our quarters ran out. In Chelsea we picked up Barb and started uptown for the Cloisters; it seemed to take forever, but we finally got close enough to park in a lot facing the Hudson and walk over to Fort Tryon Park. We took the tour of the gardens and rooms filled with hangings and medieval artifacts. I was surprised to learn that the building was not brought over stone by stone from Europe but designed to look as if it were and built by wealthy philanthropist.
Twenty years before, Doug and I had brought Charlie to the Cloisters for a Fourth of July picnic, with salmon mousse (!) and champagne on the lawn, before Laura Anne was born. Unlike the characters in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, we were not gathered up by the Grim Reaper.
Charlie had rolled down the grassy hill above the castle and later we took a taxi over to watch the Macy’s fireworks on the other side of the island. It was a rarity in our lives - a trip for pure pleasure, not part of a tour or a gig - just to give Charlie a chance to see his aunt in New York City. Although Laura and I had made the trip by train the year I finished Americorps service, finishing my degree left no time make the cross-country trip with Charlie. The last time we would travel together, in 1999, was to Uxmal in Mexico so that I could research a paper on MesoAmerican Art. Charlie was working on a report on Malcolm X and we had used the Thanksgiving weekend to finish our classwork for the fall semester. It was a lovely getaway, but disappointing since some of the ruins were being excavated. We took dozens of slides for my project and hoped to return when the Pyramid of the Magician was open for tours.
After I started working as a teacher in 2000, Charlie began to gradually show signs of a mental illness that his doctors at Kaiser Permanente couldn’t seem to get under control. With the ensuing roller coaster ride in an out of sanity, there never seemed to be enough time for us to travel the therapeutic “road away from Here” that Steinbeck took in 1960.
So Laura was taking this part of the trip in his place and we still had to decide what to do with the last of his ashes. Laura and Laura and Barb sat in the shade by the high stone wall talking while I walked around, looking at the garden that edged the grounds toward Riverside Drive. I tried to interest them in scattering the ashes in the gardens, but they weren’t into it. There was an enormous oak tree set back near the western wall that seemed perfect to me, behind some hedges so no one would notice. So I went back to the HHR and got the little ceramic vial we had brought all the way from L.A. and walked round and round and round the tree, leaving the last of Charlie in this beautiful place with a view of the sunset over the Hudson River.
That evening we went downtown to a screening of Woody Allen’s Scoop, which turned out to be eerily appropriate. It wasn’t until much later that I found a snapshot of Charlie, age three, standing smiling and happy in an arched window at the edge of the Cloisters garden, not far from the big oak tree.