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According to Proust

     According to Proust, in his iconic In Search of Lost Time, Françoise, the beloved family house maid, belonged to the world of the “simple-minded”, those “understanding nothing except those rare truths to which the heart has direct access”. He doesn’t stigmatize that sort of person. He believed that they were “more essentially related to higher natures than most educated people” and goes on to say that the only thing that would had made the difference was simply “knowledge”.

     My childhood and adolescence were quite sheltered. I attended the all girls Madam’s of the Sacred Heart boarding school to whom I owe my first initiation into the world of knowledge. I was introduced to creative writing and, in history class, learned about the ancient civilizations that flourished along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I was genuinely alarmed when we were about to go to war with Iraq, not just because of the horrendous human toll it supposed but because I saw the possibility that the priceless artifacts housed in museums would be tampered with, perhaps disappear, thus robbing the whole world of access to the cultural understanding of the area as well as of the beauty that every piece entailed.

     My training in the appreciation of the arts blossomed in the Jesuit run St. Louis University under the hallucinatory illustrated lectures of Father McNamee. I had just turned twenty one years old, was about to graduate from College and having been denied a Fullbright Scholarship had to figure out what to do with my life. I married a classmate from Brooklyn and we came to live in New York. Even at such an early stage of my life I knew that New York City was the center of the universe. I had majored in English and had somehow learned that Greenwich Village was the “art” neighborhood par excellence, a place where painters, musicians and writers roamed freely, specially the wild bunch known as the Beatniks.

     It took me a five year detour to get to the Village. I went through our ill advised marriage, bore a child, lived in a roach infested apartment in the upper West Side from where we eventually moved to the sparkling new Lincoln Towers and then zap! the divorce.

     Nothing better could have happened to me. I had to grow up. I had to learn to take care of myself and my child. I knew where I wanted to be.

     I found just the right place on Bleecker St. I had missed having two things, a piano and a bicycle. The piano came with the apartment and I purchased the bike. How lucky was I to be in New York in the Sixties! It would become for me what Paris was for Hemingway in the 20’s, a truly movable feast. From my window I could see wonderful roof tops, fully developed healthy leafy trees and the Empire State Building. The long swath of the street opened before me revealing it’s enormous mix of complex, alluring humanity. “Look Out The Window and See”, Donovan’s song, served as accompaniment for the visual party forever unfolding. I played Rachmaninoff on my piano, listened to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Peter, Paul and Mary and so many other groups that were to enrich our lives forever. My bicycle was the preferred means of transportation. I rode it to work but also made long range expeditions to Central Park, my toddler in tow in a bike seat on the back. I had found the author of Beat Coast, Stanley Fisher, on Hudson St. and then started commuting to the East Village in search of Allen Ginsberg. I hung out near him in Tompkins’s Square Park along with other people who revered him. Mostly I read his work and started writing myself. I would eventually publish a poetry collection titled New York in the Sixties.

     I walked and walked and walked the lovely streets of the West Village. The ghost of Anthony Bleecker, the poet after whom my street was named, must have incarnated in a gentle walking companion. Jeff was a poet himself. He had an excellent eye for architecture and we would explore individual streets in awe of the feeling of each such as friezes, sculpted details, plays of light, vegetation. At all hours of the day. Sometimes just before sunrise, on cool or warm days, at night. During Spring we grew enamored of the bursting of the leaves of the Gingko trees.

     We took part in literary readings at Gallery Gwen in the East Village and in those sponsored by St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. We hung out in cafés, specially in the Figaro where, in the Summer, we enjoyed the garden in the back and over dosed on banana splits. Sometimes we went to an Italian restaurant, Emilio’s, that also had a nice garden and bountiful servings of clams. I witnessed the opening of the first ever sushi place in Manhattan, just off 6th Ave. on 3rd St., and became friends with the cook who some times would give me extra pieces to eat. I ate so much sushi one day, to the point that I had to take a furlough for quite a long while.

     Little did I know then that I would be forever bound to the Village. As time went by I realized there was no other place in NY where I wanted to live. I have dwelled on three different apartments on Bleecker St. before I finally settled on what was from the beginning one of our favorite Streets, Charles, named after Charles Christopher Amos, a relative of Richard Amos a wealthy landowner in the 18th Century.

     My daughter went to a kindergarten run by nuns on Elizabeth St. Later she attended PS 41 and graduated from Elizabeth Erwin High School. She, of course, is a child of the Village.

     These days we take my grandson, Joshua, to the playground where his mother used to go as a child, the one on Bleecker near 11th St. The addition of the Hudson River Park to our neighborhood gave Josh what he calls “the beach”, that great space from where as the children cavort in the water and sand they can also see the enormous variety of ships on the Hudson.

     New York is the center of the universe, but the West Village has truly been the center of my life. One of many. I have been particularly blessed with the gift of having quite a few lives. Those who know me well understand.

©María Arrillaga

Uploaded - December 10, 2010.

Letras Vol.01/2010

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