LATELY I’VE BEEN getting into a groove of not replying to messages that have a natural ending to the conversation without the addition of my final word. I know that I could reply, “Got it,” or “Okay,” or “Stay in touch,” or even just, “Thanks,” and yet I am far too busy indulgently enjoying the newfound pleasure in silence. Chalk it up to soaking in the letters of Thomas Merton on the Oregon Coast a couple of years ago. At the moment, I’m reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence very, very slowly. In part it has something to do with my rather recent interest in restraint, and discreetly not displaying my feelings publicly, and something to do with indulging in life elsewhere, i.e. not online.
Which makes me think of the images we return to for sustenance, absent chatter. I have a few: the majestic Sagredo Bedroom, dismantled part and parcel from a Venetian palace and reinstalled at the Met, complete with fat wooden cherubs, amorini, actually, pawing their way across the ceiling over the impossibly heavily-damask-draped bed. I lived in New Orleans for a year as a teenager and something about the night heat, the constantly brewing storms, the barely passable Saint Charles Avenue in a spring monsoon, sticks with me as a possibility for Venice, although I’ve never been.
The other picture I often revisit in my mind, and now and then in person, is Joseph Cornell’s shadowbox collage, Setting for a Fairy Tale (1942), on display at the Guggenheim. It was perfectly consoling when I was 22, 23, 24, 25. Now I’m much more likely to pour a glass of wine and turn on Arab Strap’s “Come Round and Love Me,” to produce the same effect. Desire is a vow.
The image that emerges tonight, however, is a striking image that I saw as part of a minor exhibition of Robert Frank’s photographs, displayed within a folio entitled Black White and Things, alongside The Americans at the Met. At the time, I took special note, as “a photograph of a woman, clad in a fur stole and form-fitting gown with bell-shaped hem that falls widely from the knee, taken from behind as she passes through a doorway –– and away from the viewer –– in Paris, 1952, stopped me cold to contemplate how many entrances and exits unfold in our lives. Was it the first time he saw her? Or the last?” This is a mystery for our age; one I think of every time I choose not to hit “send.”