Discover more from A Writer's Notebook
An illustrated diary of my recent trip through Seattle, New Mexico, and NYC—plus, a Paris busker and my work in a museum (sort of).
“A Friend of Guillermo”
I got in to Paris Tuesday evening after three weeks in the States. At the start of it, at a Red Lion Inn in SeaTac, Washington, I looked out at the 3 a.m. lights of the airport and surrounding businesses and wondered if I should walk to the nearby Denny’s or not. I was jet-lagged, in the middle of a 22-hour layover, and I could see the yellow and red Denny’s sign rising up through some trees, about a mile away.
I had not registered that this layover would be so long when I booked the ticket. I only noticed the reasonable price. When I first realized just how long I would be spending in the Seattle airport, I planned to tough it out. I would sit in a coffee shop and read, and stream some movies, and get some work done, and try to sleep on the floor of the terminal near the gate. But I was too tired. The carpeted floor was hard and dusty. I couldn’t do it. I caved and booked a hotel room after just a few hours.
I checked in at 4 in the afternoon, took a hot bath, then crashed. The double room was large, and clean, and decorated with aging wooden furniture from the 1990s, and heavy curtains with a pattern last popular in about 1981. The bathroom had a large closet and a low porcelain tub. There were doors leading to the two adjoining rooms on either side of mine, secured from my end with flimsy and inadequate-seeming deadbolts. The carpet in the hallway was covered in mysterious stains, and the elevator was slow.
I had entered the hotel with an airport luggage cart that had my bags on it, which I had pushed all the way from the terminal across the street, into the elevator, and up to my room. No one seemed perturbed by this.
I wasn’t sure if it was safe to walk to the Denny’s in SeaTac at 3 o’clock in the morning, or if I should pay nearly double to have someone else bring it to me, in which case my order would surely be missing something. In the end I went with the app. I watched as the icon of a car—allegedly belonging to someone named Guillermo—made its way across the digital map.
I got dressed and went downstairs to meet Guillermo. Outside the automatic hotel doors, the receptionist and another female employee were smoking cigarettes in the fluorescent light of the concrete porte cochère. A small white car pulled up to the edge of the shadows beyond the lights and a young woman got out. She had a plastic bag in her hands, the unmistakable shape of a Denny’s breakfast packed to go. She was small, thin, and blonde. When she spoke I saw that all of her front teeth were broken and jagged, as if she had, at one point, been hit in the mouth with a heavy metal pipe.
“Guillermo?” I asked, as she handed me the bag.
“I’m helping Guillermo out tonight,” she said.
I took my order back up to my room. Pancakes, and a side of scrambled eggs, still hot. They had forgotten to include the butter.
In Albuquerque the days were hot and dry, except for a few times when it rained. When it rains in the New Mexico desert in summer, a rush of earthy perfume is released. The smell of the dust, and the sand, and the red dirt, the smell of hot rocks, and sage, and chamisa. There were wild yellow sunflowers growing on the roadsides and in ditches. It was so hot and dry that the Japanese pagoda tree in the front yard was suffering, and had already started to drop its yellowing leaves.
Getting anywhere at all in Albuquerque requires driving on congested interstate highways or sweltering surface streets with too many traffic lights, with the windows rolled up and the AC blasting. The drivers were aggressive, as if your need to merge or change lanes were some kind of personal affront. If you used your turn signal more than a second before, other cars would take this as a challenge and speed up to pass you. Deadly accidents occurred daily.
I spent most days pushing my father’s wheelchair around. He can operate it himself but it’s faster if I push him. On days when it was not so hot, or in the evenings, we went outside and sat under the shade of a gazebo and watched a flock of finches flutter down from the pine trees to search the lawn for seeds. I made sweet potato gratin, red pepper shakshuka, salad Niçoise. A family of skunks moved into the backyard. We found the three babies huddled together under the large dead rosebush one evening, and then on subsequent evenings we saw them out scavenging, looking for grubs. One night when I came home late I found one of them standing in the middle of the driveway, surprised by the automatic light. It was tiny, but remained motionless with its tail in the air, standing its ground.
On my way back to Paris, I was supposed to have a five-hour layover in JFK following a red-eye from Albuquerque, but due to a series of mishaps I ended up having to book a different connecting flight, and expanded the number from five to 16. I decided to make the most of it. I stored my luggage and took the Subway into Manhattan to go to the Met. I visited the usual suspects—Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Sisley, Pollock, Frankenthaler, Picasso—and saw a temporary exhibit of paintings by Cecily Brown called Death and the Maid. It was smaller than I expected. Afterwards I sat in Central Park for a short while before getting back on the train.
It was nice to be among New Yorkers again, even for such a short time. I have missed them.
So now I’m back home. I learned recently that a passage from my book High Heel inspired the theme of an art exhibit at the University of Connecticut’s Contemporary Art Galleries, called And All That Remained Was Her Beauty, curated by Macushla Robinson. The show opens on September 14th, and deals with beauty and sexual violence. Robinson told me she was inspired by my passages on Ovid in High Heel, and intended to include this scan from my book as part of the exhibition:
I’ll leave you with this short video of a Paris street busker, violinist Sarah Nojosa, that I took today near the Louvre:
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