My annual letter, December 1998

"Behind us people are playing baseball and a rehearsal is being held in the theater. For a moment Central Park is one of the most remarkable places on the planet. The bird is still sitting there when we finally leave." -- From Openly Bob by Bob Smith (Weisbach/Morrow, 1997), at the end of a birdwalk in Central Park. This is what thrills me about New York: the disjuncture/conjunction of baseball and theater and birdwalking and park gazing. All that, and the more occasional occurrences such as Elaine Stritch's voice as she orders a cappuccino at the end of the coffeeshop counter, passing Laurie Anderson on West 22nd Street while wearing a t-shirt from one of her performances, running into Janis at the West Chelsea galleries, running into Daniel at the "Rendezvous" show at the Guggenheim, meeting Rachel for a play when she visits her parents, etc. etc.

This past year has been the usual and incredible mix of normal and extraordinary events. The year 1998 started with a trip to Florida, joining my friends Karl and Ed (from Ithaca) in Key West. After a few days there, I drove up the Gulf Coast to Pensacola. For many years I had wanted to see Sarasota (Ringling Museum), Tampa (the victorian Plant Hotel, now a museum), Seaside (neo-traditionalist city planning), and Pensacola. Since taking the car across a state boundary would have resulted in a drop charge, I took the bus from Pensacola to New Orleans for the Midwinter meeting of the American Library Association. Our ALA room was the third floor of a Bourbon Street guesthouse, a favorite of mine partly because I met Mac there. Mac has become one of my most steadfast dinner companions here in NYC, though we were living in Columbus and Ithaca way back then (15 years or so ago). He and Christie and I are co-subscribing to the New York Theater Workshop season, so far "Culture of desire" combining Warhol and Dante and "The most fabulous story ever told" (what if God had created Adam and Steve?).

Later in January, I went to Alfred for a visit to my mother and family. Mom had a tumor removed from her colon in October and I went to Alfred at least monthly after that until her death in April. My March trip, the last one before she died, was a very good visit. Most of us kids and Dad were there to discuss, at Mom's urging, plans for her memorial service. She selected hymns and Bible verses. For many years, she had said that she was happy to share vicariously in my travels, and we had a good time looking at my pictures and cards from Italy in later January.

The trip to Italy was partly to conduct a NACO (name authority cooperation) workshop at the American Academy. As recompense, and with the intercession of the Academy's librarian Chris Huemer who I first worked with in 1970 in Ithaca, the Academy provided a room for me and my traveling companion Bill in the Villa Aurelia (a 17th-century villa badly bombed when Garibaldi holed up there but restored by an American heiress in the late 19th century and then given to the Academy). The Academy's buildings are on the top of the Janiculum (one of Rome's seven hills). Bill and I wandered the streets of Rome, visited the museums, and went to Florence for the weekend. Each trip seems to have a theme; in Italy, it was Bernini and Caravaggio. Of course there were works to be seen by others but somehow the Berninis just kept appearing, to great delight. I also must have gone into a thousand churches, taking an open door as a request to enter. Alas, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Borromini's masterpiece) was never open, though Dean and Price did find it open when they were there in April.

February brought a trip to Toronto for the annual College Art Association conference. I have been a co-editor of the newsletter of the Gay and Lesbian Caucus for a few years. It has been enjoyable to scour the galleries, museums, etc. looking for information for the newsletter, asking for "press" releases. It's small press of course, which is to say, this computer and Kinko's.

The annual Art Libraries Society conference was held in March in Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Visual Resources Association conference. I stayed the first few nights with Allen (formerly Dallas, now librarian at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). As most of you know, I'm a spotty correspondent and it was great to have some more time for seeing Allen. Philadelphia has a very likeable downtown for walking. Daniel and I stayed at the ARLIS conference hotel, the Doubletree (where we'll be again in January for ALA Midwinter). VRA and ARLIS meant seeing lots of friends and a busy schedule of meetings, etc.

During my March visit to Alfred, Mom and I had some good conversations, including looking at the pictures from Italy and talking about plans for a trip to Spain in April.

Rachel (from Rochester) and I had agreed in October to visit Spain in the spring. We flew separately (on frequent flyer tickets) to Madrid, landing within a couple hours of each other. A colleague picked us up at the airport and had helped with the hotel selection. Isabel and Gerardo also joined us for a day trip to Toledo. It is an old, hilltop city in a marvelous setting. Gerardo had lived there a while before and took us to his favorite cafes and sights. After Toledo and a few days in Madrid, Rachel and I rented a car and drove to the Catalan Pyrenees. The Romanesque mountain churches were a real delight for me, though Rachel preferred the baroque cathedral in Zaragoza. We stayed at the Parador in La Seu d'Urgell and in AlcaƱiz, the latter being part of a fortress that was started in the 11th century. Rachel picked up an inner ear infection which gave us the opportunity to see that medical care was about the same everywhere; lots of staff running about in medical garb, seeming to have a million tasks before you were number one in the queue. This was my first "real" visit to Madrid (a stopover in the airport many years ago doesn't count) and the Prado and other museums were full of great paintings, both those of the expectable Spaniards and the great Flemish masterpieces (e.g. the "Deposition" of Rogier van der Weyden and Bosch's Prado Epiphany) that came to Spain because of centuries-old trade connections. I had studied the Prado Epiphany in grad school and each square inch was familiar and delightful.

When we got back from the Pyrenees, there was a note at the hotel to call my father in Alfred. I had talked to my brother just before leaving and it was clear that Mom's health was deteriorating. She had indeed died during the time we were in the Pyrenees. In the odd way that life deals us its cards, I was vicariously traveling for her even at the end. Mom's memorial service a few days after I got back was evocative of her, of our relations with her, and of each of us.

Mom and I had each been in a duel with cancer, starting in October 1997. Hers was invisible but life-threatening; mine was visible but not so threatening. The nose patch continues to merge with the rest of my face, after two more rounds of reconstructive plastic surgery. I am glad that my youngest sister lives in the 2nd-floor apartment in the family homestead in Alfred above my father, and that my brother and his wife and son live on a hill outside the village.

Late June brought the annual conference of ALA with the usual mix of friends and business. The first night in Washington, I stayed with Sherry, a long-time friend since 1979 when I went back to Cornell for my second stint there. On the last day in Washington, Daniel and I went to the Mark Rothko show at the National Gallery, and ran into Arno and other librarians feeding their art diet. The Rothko was one of three Whitney shows I also saw elsewhere this year (Keith Haring also in Montreal, Bill Viola also in Amsterdam).

Soon after ALA, the family gathered for the Fourth of July in Queensbury, New York (60 miles North of Albany) at my older sister's house. Most of us gathered again during the August reunion of the Bond families in Alfred. A.J.C. Bond was my grandmother's second husband, and he and his first wife had six daughters. There was quite a crew at the Bonding, including several people from New York City.

In mid-September, Mac and I went for a weekend on Fire Island, a barrier island off the Atlantic coast of Long Island. We stayed at a ridiculously baroque guesthouse called the Belvedere. The decoration of the pool area included an Apollo Belvedere, just like Rome?!

Since I hadn't been to Montreal in a while, a airfare war tickled my fancy and I visited in November. It gave me a chance to see some art, some city, and my friends and colleagues at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

My friend Geurt from Amsterdam was not able to come to Italy or Spain when I was there, so I decided to visit him in Amsterdam in late November. We had a good visit, with extra highlights being a day in Utrecht and Leuven, Belgium. In Utrecht, I climbed the 450 steps of the cathedral tower while Geurt visited his mother and aunt. In Leuven (Louvain), we saw the Dirk Bouts retrospective (he's a 15th-century painter) and it was incredible, as was Leuven with its flamboyant Gothic city hall and lovely neo-baroque train station. On my last day in Holland, I went to Rotterdam and was thrilled by the Bosch "Prodigal son" at the Boijmans, the new Netherlands Architecture Institute, the modernist house that is now the Chabot Museum, as well as flakes of snow in the air. We still hadn't seen snow in NYC when I left though we got a bit on the 23rd of December. (A computer meltdown the day after I got back from Amsterdam slowed down the writing of this letter. What can I tell you, I'm a computer codependent.)

You'd think from all the out-of-town time that I was trying to avoid New York City. That's not true. In addition to the regular work at NYU and a bit of moonlighting at the Whitney and Morgan Library, I've been going to art, music, theater, and dance events, as well as some movies. Thank heavens there's no TV to distract me. The gallery district in West Chelsea has gone from sparse three years ago to booming now. There are still a lot of galleries along Broadway and in Soho, and I even get to uptown galleries now and again. The Met now has a wonderful show of Flemish paintings.

Two groups which meet regularly have also been a constant delight through the course of 1998. We art catalogers gather every four-six weeks at one of the art libraries in the city. It keeps my art cataloging spirit going even though the job at NYU is more general and administrative. I am also a member of a bookclub that meets about every month. Our name is Page 98, from an early tradition of reading page 98 as part of each gathering. By the way, I was amused to look at the page number from which comes the quote that starts this letter: page 98!! Though baseball is part of the conjoining in the quote, I have not taken up either playing or baseball fandom.

My Christmas was spent with my sister and her family in Queensbury. I hope you all have been having a fine holiday and have a great 1999. Yikes, it's almost Y2K; may you have no significant glitches!

Love and peace and joy to you and yours.

Sherman Clarke
New York, New York

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