SUSAN ZELOUF lets the great world spin …
In Hilton Als’ loving preface to New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham’s posthumous memoir Fashion Climbing, Als recognises Cunningham’s childhood as “A familiar queer story; being attacked for one’s interest in being one’s self” yet determined “he would be himself, despite the pain.” An archivist of New York style until his death in 2016, Cunningham, astride a bicycle in his blue French worker’s jacket, pedalled through Manhattan, a familiar figure in midtown: “Bill’s skinny frame bent low near Bergdorf’s on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, his spot, capturing a heel, or chasing after a hemline”. This is where, one morning in 1981, click click click, Brigid and I (“happy recipients of his interest”) engaged the lens of the Beauty-Keeper. We were making the rounds with jewellery samples from WorldWear, carrying 1950s zippered train cases picked up in thrift shops, or, as the Times Style section caption described them, “boxy bags filled with memories”. To be noticed by Bill Cunningham, “someone who lived to discover what you had made of yourself”, was and still is like a sturdy little boat, ferrying one across many an abyss.
French high-wire artist Philip Petit had the same effect on New Yorkers who witnessed or subsequently heard about le coup, his 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The opening pages of Colum McCann’s 2011 IMPAC award-winning novel Let the Great World Spin look up in awe (through jaded eyes and out skyscraper windows) at Petit’s inconceivable tightrope walk. Even now, the memory of Petit’s feat balances, no, outweighs the horror of 9/11. Recollecting this singular act, we rewind the tape, making whole again what has been destroyed: buildings, lives, hearts.
In “A Dress Rehearsal for Our Deaths”, NY Times Opinion writer Bari Weiss characterises the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur as “a dry run”, a reminder that we don’t have forever, “the one day of the year when we Jews are asked to look our mortality in the face”, to “abstain from eating and drinking and making love, since corpses can do none of those things”. Reflecting on death, Weiss posits, brings us closer to life, urging us to “squeeze out every bit of life out of every day that we have,” according to Weiss interviewee Rabbi Angela Buchdahl. So, might death be the secret to life? If living each day as if it is our last is the key ingredient in a recipe for a beautiful life, actor and comedian Jim Carrey offers his own twist on the dish to talk show host Bill Maher: “My secret is making the wrong choices and committing completely.”
The age of mindfulness is about showing up for and being present in our own lives; it’s how we do, not what we do. While I agonise over choices I’ve made and whether I’m on the correct path, my furniture maker husband (the Buddha) teaches by example to concentrate fully on seemingly mundane tasks; peeling potatoes, doing the washing up and tidying the truck carry as much weight as gilding the interior of a luxe cabinet. What a lucky girl I am, if not a very mindful one …
In an article for the NY Times, Dr Rachel Clarke, specialist in palliative care with Britain’s National Health Service, suggests In Life’s Last Moments, Open a Window. Bereft both of resources and further options in attending to the dying, Dr Clarke observes that patients in her care often find solace in nature, an open window, birdsong: “What dominates my work is not proximity to death but the best bits of living.” Hilton Als concludes his ode to Cunningham by noting that “The light that lit Bill from within – his heart light – was that of a person who couldn’t believe his good fortune: he was alive.”
(1) I’m reliving Philippe Petit’s astonishing 1974 aerial walk between the Twin Towers through 2008 documentary Man on Wire. (2) I’m spinning through the complete works of Colum McCann, borrowed from my local library. (3) I’m loving the world to the moon and back via NASA’s Blue Marble image 2012. www.nasa.gov. (4) I’m remembering Bill Cunningham through his secret memoir Fashion Climbing. To order visit omahonys.ie. (5) I’m listening to the call of the wren and other common Irish birds at greennews.ie/know-your-birdsong. (6) I’m stashing my memories in a boxy Chanel travel case. (7) I’m investing wisely by buying art I love, like The Hare’s Form by Margo Banks from her exhibition “The Wild Side” at theorigingallery.com. (8) I’m styling myself after Caroline Issa’s street-smart belted polka dot maxi dress, with one bag to rule them all. (9) I’m eyeing up a good secondhand hardcover of John J. Audubon’s 19th-century masterpiece Birds of America at abebooks.co.uk. A first edition made $9.65 million at Christie’s, making it the world’s most expensive book. (10) I’m travelin’ light with this LV monogrammed hat box case. Order the Boîte Chapeaux 50 with snappy red lining from www.louisvuitton.com.
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