How do you celebrate a big birthday in late October? “Keep it simple,” Frank said. With that, an unexpected invitation set our course. “Why don’t you celebrate your birthday with us here on Shelter Island?” Karla, who was on the phone with Frank, is the partner of Frank’s oldest friend, Jim. They (Jim and Frank) have known each other since second grade at the Lab School, University of Chicago. “Your grandson and his fiancée, who live in Manhattan, are welcome to join us and spend the night,” Karla added. When Frank mentioned the invite, sparks flashed in my brain. I thought of friends and relatives who call Manhattan home. We hadn’t seen them since the pandemic. In Sunday’s NYT, I’d just read about the Manet/Degas exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and who knew what surprises the Museum of Modern Art might hold.
A lush multi-colored carpet of leaves covered our Santa Fe patio when we flew east to New York to celebrate Frank’s 92nd birthday. Landing at La Guardia, we snagged a yellow cab to East 66 th Street where we hunkered down in my author goddaughter Gitty Daneshvari's condo for three nights before catching the Hampton Jitney to Shelter Island. (She’s sold over 5 million copies of her 3-book School of Fear series, ages 9-12 years, worldwide!)
The weather couldn’t have been better: sunny skies, crisp cool air, blooming white and fuchsia cyclamen beneath tall trees. Late one morning, fueled by chocolate croissants and cups of cappuccino, we walked to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where Unsupervised, a huge floor-to-ceiling digital artwork erupted before our eyes. What would a machine dream of after seeing the collection of the Museum of Modern Art? The artist, Refik Anadol, used Artificial Intelligence to interpret and transform more than 200 years of art in MoMA. Other works that caught my eye: The Lovers by René Magritte and Henri Matisse’s famous and beloved Dance (I).
Unsupervised, a digital artwork by Refik Anatolia
Evening highlight: a heart-warming visit with my sister- and brother-in-law, Kerry and Dick Bessey, plus a bonus: margaritas made by Dick with fresh-squeezed lime and sublime tequila, the best margarita(s) I’ve ever tasted. (Know that in New Mexico, I’ve tasted a lot of margaritas!)
Wednesday morning we met my college classmate Alice Harper for a tasty brunch of baked eggs at Le Pain Quotidien before trekking together to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alice, who volunteers at the museum, had offered to give us a private tour of the Manet/Degas exhibition when the museum is closed (on Wednesdays) to the public. Entering via a special entrance, we followed Alice through security and into an elevator that took us to the exhibition floor. Stepping out of the elevator, I was struck by the feeling that I had magically landed in a great, grand mansion filled with art. The stillness was deafening; the absence of
crowds jostling for viewing position, palpable.
Approaching the exhibition, we walked through a hall filled with sculptures by Rodin. The Hand of God in white marble took my breath away as did Rodin’s erotic Eternal Spring. Alice led us to a painting by Manet outside the featured exhibition: Mademoiselle V . . . in the Costume of an Espada. Depicting a matador, Manet’s female model flourishes a non-matador pink cape. Well into the exhibition, I discovered the same model in Manet’s The Spanish Singer and again, in his famed Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. I was mystified by Degas’s painting of Monsieur and Madame Manet until I read that for reasons unknown, Manet slashed the right-hand side of the canvas showing his wife’s profile. That part of the canvas is empty, covered with what appears to be brown paper.
The Hampton Jitney dropped us in Greenport where we caught a ten-minute ferry ride to Shelter Island. Near the eastern end of Long Island and accessible only by ferry. Shelter Island boasts a non-summer population of some 3,000 (15,000 during the summer). Compared with the sometimes frenetic energy of Manhattan, Shelter Island is an unspoiled gem of tranquility. Vast parts of the island are protected wetlands. In fact, The Nature Conservancy owns at least a third of the island to be protected in its wild state.
Frank’s longtime friend, Jim Webster, a retired medical doctor who specialized in internal medicine and geriatrics while affiliated with Northwestern University Medical School and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, celebrated his 92nd birthday a few weeks before Frank’s. Seeing Frank and Jim together, I marveled that these two are just a few years short of being one century old! They are accomplished, each with a unique history and a generous heart. When I married Frank twelve years ago, I didn’t think of him as old. And I still don’t. I admit that too often I take his good health for granted but when we decided to marry, Frank promised that he would play golf until he was a hundred!
Saturday morning found us shopping at the local organic farm market for another birthday dinner , this one with grandson William. That afternoon, when William arrived with his fiancée Laynie, Jim offered William the key to Ruby and off we (Frank, William, Laynie and I) went, driving from one end of the island to the other. Racing along the roadway, William came to a sudden stop. In front of us, moving ever so slowly, was a large snapping turtle. We got out of the car and, stopping traffic, persuaded the turtle to turn around and head back into the swamp grass from which he’d come. The next day Frank and I flew back to New Mexico, having notched another significant birthday in Frank’s run toward 100.
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.