Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Farewell UWS, Farewell Again to Gran

Our last night as residents of the Upper West Side in New York City. And not just any Upper West Side, but a neighborhood that was passed down to me by my grandmother.

How, you may ask, can a neighborhood be passed down? How can a life?

We went to Henry's restaurant for dinner tonight, a TREAT and an ode to my Gran because it was her favorite place. It styles itself as a modern American Bistro, beautifully decorated with dark wood stains and Arts and Crafts lighting. It feels very masculine. It is on the Northwest corner of 105th and Broadway, in the same building as the Clebourne where my grandmother lived in a grand apartment on the ninth floor. Memories flooded through me. Going to Henry's was the high point of her day, week, month for years. She was able to bask in her celebrity, and not be lost in her inability to care for herself.

In the early days of Henry's, it was decorated with old French prints, such as the one above. This elephant was her favorite, and she constantly admired it. When the owners changed the decor, they presented her with this huge framed print. Was it the irony of an elephant, an animal of the wild, pimping for cigarettes that captivated her so? She thought that it looked like the elephant was laughing. Je ne fume que le nil . . . I only smoke le nil . . . was it a big cosmic joke?

I was shocked to remember that Henry's has only been open for the past ten years - it is the same age as my oldest son.

My grandmother represented community, family, the arts, and the place to be was the Upper West Side.

My parents met through her, when my father was chaplain at St Hilda's and St. Hugh's where my grandmother taught creative writing and my mother was a freshman at Smith College. I grew up in Chelsea at General Theological Seminary, but the UWS was never far, and my sister and I were often seen with her at the Cathedral Library, at V&T's Pizzeria, and the Hungarian Pastry Shop, all places that have longevity in a fickle market.

I went to Barnard College, and although I flitted from coast to coast, and sometimes another continent, I always found myself back on the UWS. As an adult, I chose to live near her Clebourne apartment, growing with my own family. Each apartment represents the addition of another child: 114th and Riverside, 106th and Columbus, and now we're leaving 106th and Broadway, now that my daughter is five, and the other two are eight and ten.

Now I think I get it: je ne fume que le nil, said with irony. Things change baby. Nothing stays the same. You can't step in the same river twice, blah, blah, blah. I can imagine Gran smiling, laughing. je ne fume que le nil. It's time to move on from the Upper West Side. Write your own life.

Here we come, Katonah!


  1. I love the line about how your Gran "basked in her celebrity" because she certainly was a star! Plus she definitely earned every drop of that "celebrity," no question in my mind. Like the Mrs. Ws, I'm sure she's watching us down here and enjoying life as a real star in Heaven. Bless her.

  2. so exciting. good luck. this was a beautiful entry.

  3. Good luck! I feel the gut wrench all over again, this time for you. But it will be good!

  4. Thank you everyone! The mover's come in an hour . . . and Jean, you said it! My Gran is STILL a star!

  5. Oh Lena,
    I am in tears with your naming of all the special places where I sat with your Gran. And, of course, I will always be indebted to you for my intro to Birdland, etc. :)

    You are held in my heart in these moments as the movers take you to Westchester County where PURPLE awaits. Take a deep breath........


  6. Sorry you are leaving when we've just reconnected. Katona will allow a stretch of the legs and lots of space for continued creativity! xoH

  7. Lena,

    This was certainly an emotional entry for me! You are right... so many memories, and such precious ones. You will pass all this on to your children... and grandchildern!

  8. Lena

    A friend just forwarded your lovely blog about your Gran to me.

    She was a wonderful woman, neighbor and supporter of HENRY's. We loved her, miss her and appreciate all your shared memories.

    I hope the print stays with you and helps keep her star front and center in your firmament.

    Best of luck with your move and please stay in touch.


  9. Thank you so much everybody! We are now in our house, and just got the internet running this morning! I will post again tonight . . .

    And Henry - I'm completely geeking out that my blog got to you - what a wonderful circle of connections! I will be sure to stop by and say hello now and then!

  10. Congratulations on your new adventure--I'm sure you will love it and write about it all one way or another! This post made me nostalgic for my days in NYC, when in theater school at the tender age of 18. I live on 74th and Broadway--the fringe of the UWS, yes? I think at the time I thought it was, and then later learned it technically WASN'T. You'll have to tell me. :)

    I'm catching up now and enjoying following all the great "new" things. Loved the deer post. And the driving post. I did not drive from the time I was 17 until I was 28, when got my first car and had to learn it all again. It was a huge accomplishment to drive on the highway for the first time, when I'd feared it for years. I love it now. I feel so free.

  11. Thank you Kim! And 74th street IS the UWS, fo' sho' . . . and thank you for sharing about the driving conundrum, and how freeing it is . . . I even found myself imagining driving to the city!