Don’t get me wrong; I love New York. I plan to be here for a while. But re entering the atmosphere after Rome was a shock. Rome was warm, sunny and beguilingly Mediterranean-like. New York is overcast and chill. In Rome I devoted myself to pleasure. In New York I’m slogging through the process of divesting myself of half of my worldly assets. Filling out forms. Digging out tax returns. Filling out more forms. Wrapping my head around notions like real cash out refinancing. I’m working with a mortgage broker who offers slight hope that I won’t have to add homeless to the list of fun things I do this year. The waiting is hard. I’m nervous that I’ll have to sell. I’m nervous that I won’t have to sell.
In Rome I had the luxury of the company of dear friend always ready to play sad songs on the piano. In New York I’m rattling around an apartment that appears to get bigger by the day. In Rome I slept through the night. In New York I’m glaring, pissed off, at the ceiling at 2.30am.
And my previously placid local has been invaded by dough-faced, suburban Nets fans who don’t think wearing a baseball cap backwards makes you look simple.
However there is glad homecoming news; the Ethiopian has been extracted from his orphanage and is making himself comfortable in Park Slope. I’m cooking for him and his family. Muffins. Tortellini. Raiding the garden for the last of the summer basil to make pesto. Using last fall’s canned tomatoes for amatriciana sauce.
The little guy appears ready to launch himself into the vibrant junior social life of the borough. I can’t really touch him yet, because he’s still bonding with his parents, but he already slaps off a pretty respectable high five.
The Jamaican too has welcomed me home in his own particular way.
“So when are we going to have sex again?” he asked the other night, a smooth two or three seconds after he told me that he’d hit on my closest female friend and she’d turned him down.
Really, sometimes I wonder whether, if the Jamaican didn’t actually exist, it would have been necessary, for the purposes of my story, to invent him.
I fired off a caustic and very funny refusal. Alright, it was mildly amusing. Okay, okay, so it made him sigh and roll his eyes. I like to think I play a good flirt, but it would be foolish to suggest that I’m in his league. I lack his brazenness. But flirting’s like tennis. You should always play with somebody better, if you can. So what if you lose.
Which doesn’t really bring me to the German, (although by some accounts he too was a vibrant party creature) but I’m going to make the segue anyway.
Everybody in my world calls him Joe.
I call him Mr Pilates, because I was taught never to use an older person’s first name unless invited to.
And he’s never going to ask me because he’s dead.
But deadness is no bar to having influence over somebody’s life. Ask Jesus Christ.
Pilates is everywhere now. But it wasn’t always the case. Joseph Pilates died pretty much unknown to the world at large. He was born in Germany but he fetched up in New York with a small studio and some heavy-hitting followers. Dancers, mostly, looking for a way to work through injuries. George Balanchine and Martha Graham, folks like that.
Sir Isaac Newton was once asked how he had managed to come up with his gravitational theory and he replied, “by thinking upon it without cease.”
Joseph Pilates did the same. He came up with hundreds and hundreds of exercises designed to keep the spine supple. He studied animals in the wild. He borrowed from yoga. He trained boxers. He worked with circus tumblers and disabled war veterans. He designed equipment that looks like medieval torture machinery. And then he designed more of it. Because one medieval torture machine is not enough. He was always looking for another way to solve an anatomical problem. He thought very carefully about what it means to be strong. He was boring on about core strength decades before it became a trendy workout by-word.
At the beginning of this year I decided to become qualified to teach the classical Pilates method. The practice has provided a metaphorical spine for my disordered emotional state. My mind often doesn’t know what to do, but my body certainly does.
I’ve always been good at sports and, until recently, never had to bother about my weight. In my family we don’t run to fat. But I haven’t been truly happy with my body for decades. I was thin enough, but I wasn’t strong. I had no real muscle tone. Sure, there were a couple of days back in the Jurassic period when I was training for a marathon that I thought, “hmm, not too bad.” But that was then.
That’s changed. Because of Joseph Pilates I now sit up straight. I don’t suffer from daily neck pain, which I had thought the inevitable outcome of heavy-duty neurosurgery. My right knee, which has been dodgy for decades, is feeling so good I’m thinking of running again.
So I’m devoting the next few weeks to Mr Pilates. Because I haven’t been putting in as much time with him as I should. There’s the little matter of clocking up 500 practice hours in order to certify. To do that I have to memorize all of the exercises. Every last one. On every piece of equipment. I think there are twelve pieces of equipment, but there could quite possibly be more. In fact, I know there are more. I have to learn the classical form, the variations on the form, the number of repetitions, the correct breathing. Mr Pilates was quite particular on the subject of breathing.
I have to learn which exercises are good for pregnant women, for post natal women. For people who have scoliosis and spinal stenosis. For people who have repetitive strain injury and arthritis and every sporting injury you care to name. I have to learn basic anatomy—muscles and bones—the Latin names of those muscles and bones, and what function they serve.
I have to shape up mentally as well as physically, because Pilates trains both the brain and the body.
That’s another thing Mr Pilates was quite particular about.