And then there were 2 (typewriters, that is)

Look What I have now!  Your letter so captivated me, I emailed my mom and asked if she still had her old typewriter.  Lo and behold, it was right there, only needing a new ribbon.  It’s a Royal, with my mom’s maiden name labeled on the machine and on its ginormous carrying case.  Feels special in a way I can’t quite describe.  

This is loads better then handwriting (since one can actually read it) but still wonderfully personal.  I had to laugh when I remembered that your machine doesn’t have an exclamation point, because mine doesn’t either.  Apparently they didn’t add them until the 70’s.  I guess people weren’t very emphatic before then.  I’ve managed to jerry-rig one out of a period & an apostrophe.  Good, not great.

Anyway, I know I’m upsetting the order of our letter-writing, but I just had to write you & show how excited and happy I am to have this thing in my life.

Typewriter news aside, things are going well.  I just got back from my first ever camping music festival, which was fun (saw the Flaming Lips–amazing!).  Kind of my last summer hurrah before school starts up.  But I’m ready for it, I think.  Hope you are doing well, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Bisous,

Rachelle la Belle 

Ghost I house

Tuesday August 30th I arrived home late and discovered I’d received a postcard.  My initial reaction was one of joy and confusion as it appeared to be a postcard from Europe.  Who did I know that was traveling in Europe?  I turned the card over and read the following: 

Dear Sarah,

Samuel Menashe received and appreciated your touching letter before he died on August 22nd.  He was very pleased a poet who loved the French language occupied the apartment next to his longtime ”lair”.  There will be a memorial service in late October and Fred will be aware of their location.

Best,

Nicholas

Samuel Menashe was, for me, a guiding light and source of great inspiration.  A poet who occupied the apartment next to my own for over 50 years, I moved in just as he had already been relocated to a home for assisted living.  Though I never had the opportunity to meet him, I felt a close kinship with my poet neighbor.  

A few days after I’d moved in I read an advertisement in the front lobby that listed free furniture.  I called to inquire and found that my neighbor Fred, a friend of Samuel’s, was helping empty Samuel’s apartment.  Fred led me into Samuel’s place, a rare glimpse into what the original layout of the apartments used to look like before they had been refurnished, and said I could have any of the furniture I liked.  The only thing I was in need of was a desk.   As chance would have it, I was able to recover the desk of a poet and save it from what certainly would have been a curbside funeral.  

Shortly after I resolved that I must start up a correspondence with Samuel and wrote him a draft of a letter in February.  However, I didn’t get around to sending out the letter until May; all the while thinking I should simply drop in and say hello.  Alas, I was only able to introduce myself to Samuel briefly through my letter, and must content myself with the fact that at least we knew of each other’s existence.  Though we never did meet, I feel honored to look after his desk and have some of his original type-written poems.  I can only hope that my letter was able to bring to him some small fraction of the surprise and joy I felt in knowing he was my neighbor, and knowing about his life.  

I bought a fresh notebook to use specifically for letter writing; the first letter in the book was addressed to Samuel.  The gift of Samuel’s desk and my desire to write letters to him were the first sources of motivation that pushed me to begin writing this blog.  The following is a excerpt of what should have been Until A Letter’s first post.

February 18, 2011

Dear Samuel,

Hello, though we never got the chance to meet, I live in the apartment next to yours. One of the reasons I liked the apartment so much when I looked at it was because my roommate shared a charming anecdote about how she was playing the piano and you knocked on the door to ask her to turn the music up so that you could hear it better.

I was looking forward to being your neighbor because I am a writer too.  Initially I wrote poetry and hoped to become good enough to call myself a poet.  I went to college and studied literature and French.  While at school I took several creative writing courses, mostly poetry.  However, the last course I took was fiction writing, which I have come to prefer in lieu of poetry.  Nevertheless I consider poetry my base.  I love the attention that must be given to the weight of each word and the way words look and are structured on the page.  I think I will always value poetry about prose.

At present I try to read and write as much as possible, and travel whenever I have the time and money.  Though I’ve traveled and lived abroad quite a bit, I never can seem to get enough.

I wonder if I might visit with you and chat bout writing, or poems, or whatever we happen to find interesting.  If not then I would be glad to simply be pen pals if you’d prefer.  En attendant, I have enclosed a poem for you by one of my favorite poets, Frank O’Hara.

Sincerely,

Your Neighbor

Response to the laundress

Good Morning Beautiful!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me an excuse to write again!  I can’t even express how excited I was to come home to that beautiful little letter!  In any case…my sister rang my phone early this morning and I couldn’t get back to sleep, all I could think about was what to write you back and so I made myself come chamomile + rose petal tea and here I sit…I’m in my tiny apartment that I love oh-so much, two cats hanging out, Mike’s asleep in the next room and it’s that perfect silence only accompanied by static outside sounds; birds; cars; wind.  There is a cool breeze occasionally (contrary to what has been a 90 degree humid week) and not that I’m complaining in the least about the heat, but the cool breeze really makes it feel like a “lake morning”.  That being said, I am venturing up north with the fam next week and I can barely contain myself!!  The past few weeks have been a blur of fitting in clients, cleaning, laundry, and other preparation to finally be able to relax…imagine that!

Right now I’m reading a book called “The Depression Cure” and it’s basically a collection of natural remedies more potent than any Zoloft or other pharmaceutical bullshit, so it speaks to “plenty of Omega 3 and socialization and exercise” and all of these obvious cures but it also speaks to our American lifestyle compared to our early ancestors surviving in hunter-gatherer society and how much happier and more fulfilled they were.  Pretty obvious stuff but in my old age I’ll say that I am truly happier, more content and, maybe most importantly, most spiritual when I’m in nature.  In the woods, by a lake, whatever…

Anyway, just mulling over things.  I plan to write you when I’m up there as well so I can bring you into my up-north brain.  Then again there has to be something said for you city girls, always among the hum of fashion and art and music and people, that is definitely in my heart too but I’ve just somewhere in there become the most maternal, child-less chick I know.  Oh, life.

So, dear, I hope this letter finds you so well.  I could tell you so much more but, alas, can only write so much!  We found this fabulous old polaroid so hopefully once we order some film for it, I will be able to enclose photos for you as well.  I hope your family is well, what’s the news with that?  What’s the news with your love life?  Tell me everything!

Love Always,

L. Bell

Ps. The best description of how the weather feels coming in my window now is the song, “These Days” by Nico…it’s almost like fall.  You’ll know what I mean.

Wooden postcard

Ma Chère Kiwi,
Je t’attend dans un parc à Brooklyn avec un thé glacé.  Il fait beau et j’ai plein de choses à te raconter.  Il faut qu’on se revoit bientôt car tu me manques énormément!

Xo.

My Darling Kiwi, 

I’m waiting for you at a park in Brooklyn with an iced tea.  It’s nice out and I have many things to tell you.  We must see each other again soon, I miss you terribly!  

Xo. 

La Belle Rachelle

Rachelle Ma Belle,

I bet you thought I forgot to write you, patience, patience chère fille, here is your very own letter.  I admit that I’ve left my letters (those of which I intend to write) pile up like a stack of newspapers I’d been meaning to read.  Alas, newspapers do not read themselves and letters cannot compose themselves, and what fun would it be if they did?  Besides, I love to write letters because I know full well the joy they brings, and because it is such fun to receive phone calls from elated friends and letters (though more often then not, text messages and emails) filled with exclamation points.  Unfortunately my typewriter does not have a key for exclamation points, which I find very upsetting since I usually prefer to begin most of my letters, Hi!!!!!!, or something along those lines.

At the moment I am seated in one of my new favorite cafes, Caffe Dante.  It’s situated just south of an area of very collegiate NYU bars and lackluster restuarants.  Dante is a small two-room cafe filled wall to wall with far too many tables and chairs.  I’ve never actually seen more then two or three tables occupied at a time, causing the cafe to seem more empty then it actually is due to the over abundance of empty chairs.  The service is usually brusk (I believe it’s a family run place, almost certainly Italian) there’s always a small dark-haried waitress with heavy eye make-up ready to take your order.  It’s the kind of place that has a separate menu for desserts, each of which is accompanied by a color photo.

But I love this place.  Everything about it is just right.  The size of the rooms, just large enough to feel comfortable without being too stuffy or desolate, the maple wood paneling and 50’s style bar with cut-glass bowls that look like they were your grandmother’s candy dish repurposed into light fixtures; it’s all mismatched enough to feel worn in and unpretentious.  Since there’s usually never anyone around I can appreciate the quiet (the only noise being a questionable radio station, the dishes being loudly loaded or unloaded behind the bar, ice being scooped into water glasses).  I honestly wouldn’t change a single thing about the place.  Enough already about Dante.  Just know that is has the perfect ratio of window light to potted plants, wood paneling to aged black and white photos, illuminated dessert case to patio seating, and I find it quite divine.  (Cheap literary pun intended.)

Tell me about your city, about our city.  What’s new in Minneapolis?  I still miss it terribly.  Tell me everything.  I hope you’re well and can’t wait to hear back.  It’s literally been years since last I heard from or saw you.  In fact, I think the last time was in Grenoble, n’est-ce pas?  Tell me about your adventures since then, next letter I promise to write about more then just a cafe.  Big love from the big apple to the Minne apple.

Sincerely,

Yours Truly

Letter from a laundress

Hello My Love!

How are you on this fine summer’s day?  As I write this I sit inside the laundromat, just around the corner from my apartment, and gaze out the window at the sunshine flashing against the passing cars.  It’s a fairly hot one today, reaching up to the high 80’s, however, from my seat I can catch a breeze from both the window and the ceiling fan.  I sit with my back to the washing machines almost as if guarding my dirty laundry.  In reality though, it is because I find the gentle whir and swish of the washing theraputic and calming.  Unfortunately this is not enough of a motivation for me to do my laundry on a regular basis…I still avoid it like the plague.  I eventually work my way through all the clean clothes and end up wearing things I’ve been meaning to get rid of, or even, at my lowest, buying new knickers instead of taking care to do the washing.

Another reason I don’t mind the laundromat is that it gives me an uninterrupted hour or more to do a bit of letter writing or reading.  Today I’ve brought with me a new book, “Secrets of the Flesh,” the biography of Colette.  I bought it yesterday after returning from a long bus trip (Montreal —> NYC).  After unpacking my suitcase, tidying up my apartment, I went straight to one of my favorite bookstores to get a coffee and peruse the books.  I’d been feeling the need to read an inspiring biography about a female author, this volume on Colette fit the bill perfectly.  Have you ever read any of her work?  She is most well-known for her Claudine novels (as well as being the author of Gigi) all of which were written at the turn of the century.  I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve only seen the musical Gigi starring Audrey Hepburn, and have not read any of her work.  Perhaps after I finish the biography I’ll look for some of her work and try to read it in French for a bit of practice.

Enough of my laundry and reading lists, what news have you?  I saw that your sister had a baby, congratulations to you all!  I trust they are happy, please do say hello from me.  How has your summer been so far?  Are you taking any summer trips?  I’m hoping to make a small trip out west this summer, maybe to San Francisco or Seattle for a week.  The only trip I’ve got on the horizon is a girlfriend’s wedding in Maryland at the end of August.  I’ve also been hoping to somehow find the money to visit a dear friend in Israel in the fall.  Crossing my fingers to make it out sometime in October.

Aside from these small trips not much is new.  Still living and loving New York, most especially in the summer.  I would love for you to visit, you’re always more then welcome to stay with me…just say when!

That’s all for today.  I’ve enclosed one of my favorite Ginsberg poems for you, since I know you’re a fan of his.  Hope you’re happy and healthy.  Missing you every day, dear friend.

Big Love,

Yours Truly