Déjà vu: Cantata on 37 hours in New York City

Forest Cantata (1947), Jackson Pollock, Artist. (Peggy Guggenheim Collection)

by LJ Frank


Uncertain of beginnings, endings and the in-between.



Last week. New York City. My flight landed in the early morning. I checked in the hotel and prepared for the afternoon. The entire afternoon consisted of a consulting project. The project was tailor-made. The small group of participants arrived with cups of coffee or water in hand. I supplied the material. Project direction was suitable and timely. There would be a follow up. Afterward – dinner, drinks, and conversation. The next day was free until my return flight scheduled in the evening.

The next morning I got up, had breakfast and walked. Partly cloudy and ambiguous. Ambiguity and New York City are siblings. I headed to the Guggenheim at 1071 Fifth Avenue.

As I was about to enter the museum she was walking out. Our eyes met. Her face was striking and familiar and yet there was a slight blurriness to her, like looking through glass covered with raindrops that needed wiping to achieve clarity. An odd feeling enveloped my senses. Where did we meet or had we ever met before? Was it raining at the time?

“Forgive me…you look very familiar.”

“You do too.” She nodded.

We then both moved to the side trying not to block the entrance.“You’re obviously leaving.”

“Yeah. I saw what I came to see.”

“Ah. Was it what you expected?”

“Better in person.”

“I was in town and thought I’d visit.”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”

“Thanks. Would you have time to…?”

“Sorry, I’m on my way to an appointment.”

“May I ask, do you live in the city?”

“Well…I did and miss it. I try to cram as much as I can in a few hours when I’m here.”

“I feel the same.”

“It’s funny.”


“Your voice also sounds familiar. Where exactly did we meet?”

“I was having the same thoughts.”

A car pulled up in front of the museum. A driver honked the horn.

“I better go. Perhaps it was years or decades ago…but where?” She shrugged yet, somehow I thought she knew more than me. But then again, perhaps not.

“I don’t know. It was nice…I mean…”

“You don’t need to say anything. I’m also at a loss. I…”

“Thanks. May I…ah…call you?”

“That would be complicated.”

“Well, enjoy the rest of your day.”

“Thanks. Same to you.”

We smiled at each other. She walked away and approached the car, stopped, and looked back at me and smiled again. A curious look then crossed her face as she bit her lower lip. I also found myself biting my lower lip. She got into the car. I walked into the museum. I looked at the paintings visualizing her face, her eyes, and hair. Her presence was jarring in that up until I saw her, I seemed lost in thought and suddenly I became awake. Why? An hour or so later I departed the museum and walked down the street towards a restaurant I ate at or should I say experienced, during my last visit years ago.

Walking in a city can be a pleasure, though I don’t like walking on cement, in fact I don’t even care for the word cement. I prefer asphalt that allows me the perception that I have a bounce to my aging step.

Walking in New York City is like walking through history with each block an emotional and physical exchange. A memory of what is and once was…a building vanishes, torn down, and replaced or given a face lift of sorts or perhaps restored reminiscent of an architectural era with motifs and signatures expressing the thought of the architect and his interpretation of form, function, context and desire to make a statement.

Any city allows for self-expression when not confined to a provincial spirit but opens the door to thinking about the interplay of the senses and the sensory – the fragrances emanating from bakeries and restaurants, day and evening fashions, a smile of someone in thought, a glassy-eyed person reminiscing, a man sitting on a chair playing a saxophone or clarinet.

There’s an underbelly to a city as my romantic leaning mind knows…from rodents to roaches to noxious fumes and unclean water to the emptiness of aloneness surrounded by people. I blocked things out and rationalized.

The city is an expression, an impression and an abstract like the tints and textures found in an art gallery or the painting on the side of a building or a holiday display in a store window. The hues of a season and the imagination color the city’s character and give it meaning behind its name at least for the time being.

Each side street I crossed, each face I looked at in the passing crowds I saw her face. It was like a déjà vu experience of being in a place and seeing someone that you thought you saw years ago in a similar location. Who was she? What was her life like? Where did she live in the city and where did she live now? Why didn’t I ask more pointed questions? Did I really want to know?

My flight was briefly delayed. When I boarded the plane that evening, I was haunted by her presence that insinuated itself in my mind and a memory in search.

What do I know or want to know? I breathe, write, and meditate.