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High life

Being blind for 48 hours concentrates the mind

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

New York

Life is definitely beautiful, as long as one can see, that is, which for two miserable days last week I couldn’t. Having had a glaucoma operation two months ago, I needed to use drops for a while but didn’t pay attention — too many girls in their summer dresses, and things like that — and the next thing a pain started in one eye. I ignored it and went out and smoked and drank, and woke up the next day, opened my bleary eyes and felt nothing but extreme pain in both. I quickly shut them and the pain went away. I tried opening them again, and it got worse. It was the weekend and no one was around to help.

Despite the pain I tried to telephone Switzerland and the mother of my children but couldn’t see the numbers on the dial. After a Herculean effort I got through and she went to work. She told me that an ophthalmic emergency hospital was open on 2nd Avenue and 14th Street, but I didn’t like the sound of it. Through a friend, Donna Acquavella of the well-known art gallery, an appointment was made with the numero uno doctor in New York, Stanley Chang, not David Tang, for Monday morning. I decided to ride it out and stayed in bed with my eyes shut. With 48 hours to go, it was a bit like being blindfolded by the Taleban, but without their horrible smells, music and religious slogans.

Mind you, as Dr Johnson said, imminent death — or blindness, in my case — concentrates the mind, so I lay around with my eyes closed and the brain working overtime. I tried to think of the beauty of women — past and present — but it was too frustrating. So I switched to art. Edward Hopper and Childe Hassam, to be exact. No one captured American life like Hopper, the loneliness and loveliness of the seaside and its haunting aesthetic. Hopper’s stillness is art at its fineness. It engages the viewer’s psyche and imagination, the latter as necessary to appreciate the artist as the eye. While his contemporaries were switching to abstract bullshit, Hopper continued to be a true painter, churning out tranquil vacation spots, gritty city scenes, and hauntingly beautiful and poignant scenes of everyday life.

Childe Hassam, who died a year before I was born, is my second-favourite artist. His Impressionist style is just right, depicting gardens, nature and — the picture I’d give 40 of the best Picassos for — Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday, the very same canvas that got Brooke Astor’s son in trouble with the Feds. She had it hanging in her drawing room, but she was gaga and thought she was Agamemnon. Her son sold it for little and helped himself to some of the moolah that was coming to him anyway. Now he’s facing two years, which I find disgraceful. He’s an 85-year-old gentleman who served in the second world war with distinction and a man who has never broken the law. The streets are full of vicious criminals and bombers and the state is sending a gent to jail because his mother was a socialite and gave some of the Astor money away.

But back to Childe Hassam. His style was Impressionist but he painted idyllic images, the way I like to see life depicted, none of that depressing crap of that arch-fraud Freud. Both Hopper and Hassam would have had a field day with nurse Jenny, and although I’ve been cruelly betrayed by Jessica Raine, if either artist were alive I’d commission a portrait of her and to hell with the expense. (I’m some art shark. A very old man once approached my first wife in the early Sixties at a railroad station and asked her to pose for him and she called him an old pervert and shooed him away. I said nothing. His name was Kees van Dongen. Then, 20 years later during a drunken moment, I gave a Van Dongen away to a male friend; the painting’s name, ‘Along the Canal’, one of his first.)

On Monday I was cured instantaneously by the great doctor Chang, not Tang, and now use different eye drops and have valiantly tried to stop smoking as much as I did before the scare. Just before it, however, I had the good luck to be invited by the producer Graydon Carter to the opening of I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, Sue being the last of the great, schmoozy, cobra Hollywood agents, who at the height of her reign could make a star of anyone merely by issuing an invitation to one of her A-list parties. Mengers is played in the one-woman, one-act play by the great Bette Midler, dressed to kill, pumping out profane one-liners and biting wit that would make Noël Coward blanch. Sue Mengers died a couple of years ago but I can’t remember enjoying a show more. Midler is Mengers, drinking on stage, lighting up one joint after another, being brassy and outspoken and letting us in on bitchy gossip about the stars.

As I said about art, I’ve had it with depressing crap like Freud’s, and in the theatre I’ve had it with even more depressing Pinteresque bullshit. Give me a foul-mouthed, profanity-laden Bette Midler poking fun at celebrities whom the media take seriously. When she loses her last great client Barbra Streisand, who also happens to be a close friend, she shrugs and says, ‘Ah, I think I’ll go to Israel with her and watch Barbra outjew the Jews.’ It’s making 700,000 big ones a week and I didn’t invest in it when I had a chance.

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