15th September, 2017
For Brenda Bufalino, with love.
Waiting for Patti Smith…and this was before the crowds arrived!
We have been in New York City for 13 days. Just being able to write that sentence feels like a major achievement! Really, how do you city people do it? Hey, how did I do it, for 22 years? Even my dear Joel who is New York born and bred and lived here for 75 years – until I whisked him away to Tuscany – woke up the other morning and said, “What the fuck are we doing here?”
Well there are three good reasons why we’re here. First and foremost, always, is to see our children and grandchildren. We “see” them weekly on Skype or Facetime when we are back in Tuscany and for sure it is one of the gifts of the Internet (although there seem to be more cons than pros these days when it comes to the World Wide Web). I’m so ancient that I remember when you had to reserve a time slot with the phone company in order to make an overseas call! And then, if you were lucky enough to get through, you could almost visualize those transatlantic cables running under the sea as the voices of loved ones disappeared only to surface moments later sounding like they had swallowed vast quantities of salt water. So, yes, to be able to touch/click an icon on a screen and not only see the face of your child, or the gap in your grandchild’s teeth, but also be able to hang out, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, even sharing a meal – lunch in New York simultaneous with dinner in Tuscany – is a miracle of technology that allows for meaningful connection in real time.
But really, there is nothing like the feel of hugging your child, or the ecstatic leap of a grandchild into your arms, or watching and hearing another grandchild play classical piano before we all sit down at the same table in the same time zone and share a potluck dinner. Nothing will ever make-up for physical presence. My daughter and I shared one of those mother/daughter days last week, the kind we do so well. Bopping around Soho and Little Italy, trying on make-up and boots, admiring each other in a new pair of jeans, linking arms under an umbrella and talking about everything over lunch.
What joy to have Joel’s son stop by this morning so we could give him a birthday hug; to see the love between these two beautiful men.
We are a combined family to which the terms ‘in-laws’ and ‘step’ are no longer attached. We all belong to each other and to be in the same space at the same time is a blessing beyond words. For this alone we brave the horrors of the long haul flights, the physical depletion of days of jet-lag, the noise and filth and fear and aggression of the city, and hope we have the stamina to do so for the rest of our waning years.
The second reason for being here was the opening last week of Joel’s stunning show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, much of it never-before-seen work, including a room of Joel’s latest photography. If you are in New York please go see it. It will inspire and revive you. www.howardgreenberg.com
And last, but never least, we came for our friend Brenda Bufalino’s 80th birthday celebration (do Google her, although, ahem, like most artists her site is a bit out of date, there are also some good YouTube videos to be found). What to say? Where to begin? For me personally, it began in 1973, when, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I began taking modern and jazz dance classes with Brenda and within a few months became a proud member of her first dance company.
It was Brenda who let my creative genie out of its tightly corked bottle. And it was Brenda who a few years later, seeing me headed toward the world of addiction, wrote me a letter saying she was concerned that I wasn’t building my “inner temple.” I remember reading those words and being pierced by their truth. I remember knowing then that those words would haunt me until I either paid heed or died. It would be another 13 years before I began breaking ground for the foundation of that inner temple and while it may have a few leaks here and there it is nonetheless erect, intact and a place of ever-evolving inner peace, morality and compassion. So yes, Brenda saved my soul, too.
But this really shouldn’t be all about me. This is about Brenda. So let me try to describe her to you. She is a force of nature. She is the most courageous woman I know. She is a true artist who never gave up, who created through a failed marriage, motherhood, in the face of poverty, uncertainty, critical judgment, sexism, ignorance, fierce competition, the inanity of celebrity parading as art, and yes, through illness and the aches and pains of aging. Brenda just kept going. Creating companies, choreography, music, books, ceramics and even at one point. her own line of dance clothing. As a young woman determined to overcome her fears she bought a horse – the creature she was most afraid of – and broke it herself. And she’s a generous artist; teaching, inspiring and encouraging generations of dancers. She’s a harsh mistress, demanding the very best of all of us who are lucky enough to be invited in. She teaches not just the highest level of technique but encourages us to develop our own vision. She has always been ahead of the times creatively, while being right on time rhythmically. She’s beautiful, absurd, magical, sexy, witty, indomitable and inimitable. She is a visionary who continues to perform and teach Master Classes around the globe.
The celebration was hosted by friends on the grounds of their country home. The weather was grey and damp, but the spirit was sunny and warm. A huge tent housed a jazz band and dance floor and as some 100 or so family, friends, dancers, musicians and patrons gathered around, Brenda took to the floor. She named just about all of us, slotting us into the different eras of her life and honouring our contribution to it. And we kept looking around at each other and feeling the ongoing river of which we are a part; the overlap, the passing of the torch, the incredible DNA of the Brenda Bufalino Tribe. And the ghosts were there, too; early deaths, suicides, the missing.
When we were all accounted for Brenda turned to the band and with a-one and a-two and a-there she goes, singing that jazz, baby. The voice like aged cognac; deep and round and full of spirit. Then the mike is put to rest and those feet pick up where the voice left off, the feet a voice of their own; the footwork precise and innovative, the taps made to whisper and rattle and snap and trill; the accents coming where you least expect them and yet so right. Her feet are speaking, singing, drumming; the vocabulary is multilingual and there is just no way Brenda is 80!
If you go back to my post of 23rd April this year, entitled The Gift of a Lifetime, you will remember that Brenda is one of my seven “sisters” whom I took to St. Ives, Cornwall, for 5 days. Half of the sisters live in Europe and were unable to make it. But here is the other half.
Scout, Vivian, Brenda and me.
So, yeah, to hell with the city. To hell with politics and greed and sheer stupidity. It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we have each other, as long as we honor the truth of history, both personal and universal. As long as we show a little kindness everyday, especially in cities because they are harsh; the lack of space, of peace, of nature, it’s not really how we’re meant to live.
Joel and I will be happy to return to our Tuscan farm, to bathe in the goodness of the land, the light, the simple pace of life lived without the desperate need for fame and fortune. But we sure will be sad to leave the physical comfort and abundant love of family and friends.
P.S. I’ve been hearing from a number of you that you are missing hearing from me more often. I miss you, too! I will try to get back to a more regular routine once I get home. But know that I have, for the last few months, been completely engaged in the writing of a new novel. It’s an intense ride which leaves me physically shaking every day. So please bear with me. And please, it goes both ways…I’d love to hear from you, too!
with love to you all, Maggie