Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"You're not old, you're a classic!"

So said the text of one of my birthday cards this morning.

I suppose a sixty-fifth birthday is significant – certainly it's an excuse for splashing out a bit, throwing a party, bringing in a piano player for the evening, having valets at the door, waiters, bar staff, buffet, flowers, candles, invitations to three thousand of one's BFFs, etc. (Well, maybe I exaggerate a little, but it's my birthday. So there.)

The invitation to my party had photos of me from age six to sixty-four, all of them – well, almost all –not-quite-smiling images. Seemingly, I rarely smile for the camera and there are countless grumpy-looking photographs, detested by me, that have landed over the years in trash cans on two continents. Comments about my photographic impairment have followed me through my life and I know they are true. I rarely smile. But I love to laugh.

The image of the six-year-old me has become more significant the older I've become – the grumpiness exhibited there I now read as bewilderment at the news that I would never again live with my mother from that day forward, and perhaps that image explains why I cannot look at a camera pointed in my direction with any equanimity. Each photo op brings with it a feeling of panic – a feeling that has never lessened through all the years.

Nonetheless, those photos have marked each milestone, each distance travelled, each companionable moment, and most important of all each loving glance – and isn't a loving glance one of the most important things in the world?

There's a photo of me looking quite shyly at the man I didn't know I was to spend next thirty-plus years of my life with. Another, I'm wearing the only solid green shirt and certainly the last shirt with a visible logo I have ever worn – well, it was Halloween in Philadelphia years before we moved here. A third, perhaps better for being partially hidden, is a passport photo from my thirties and then two from two family weddings. Only one has me actually laughing and there I am mid-guffaw at a comment the Celt made as we sat at lunch overlooking the Louvre. The last... ah that last photo... that is the one that shows how shy a person can still be after all this time together and how fatuous an expression a loving look can bring to a face crumpling into maturity.

That not all photos are harbingers of disaster is a theory I'm examining very gingerly, crabwise even, and despite the fact there are many, many photos of me on the Celt's iPhone, the world has not come crashing down around me. Even here, it is quite a step for me to show you who I am – in the form of photos, that is.

And that is what birthdays such as mine today are all about – opportunities to understand where one has been and to take stock of what one actually has, and the reasons to be happy. These birthdays are thresholds, vestibules or consummations, depending on your point of view – all perhaps, depending on how you use them.

So, today, what do I have that is so valuable, so joyous? Well, I have flowers sent by a friend who besides this gift traveled four-and-a-half hours to attend my birthday party; and there are the friends who helped me celebrate the fact that I'm finally reaching maturity; the friends who stayed till two in the morning laughing, remembering, laughing, planning and laughing. I have a loving partner – he whom I call the Celt, and who has over the years been a model of patience. I also have a sterling silver water pitcher that neither of us expected to own, having gone looking for a modern, sleek pitcher but coming home instead with an Edwardian piece of nonsense that we both love and which, for today only, sits proudly next to the Directoire clock we bought as a souvenir of our life in Amsterdam, which itself stands over a small enamel peanut-shaped box holding two peanuts – the two of us living in Georgia – which was brought home one day as a surprise present for me.

There are memories, too. Memories that come to mind when I use the pottery colander bought years ago for pennies in the market at Avila in Spain, where we ate figs, melting, honeyed and fly-blown – the best we've ever tasted. And I think that's what our house has become and I hope many of your houses are – reliquaries of our lives, comfortable, timely albums holding treasured shards of experience, memory, love and laughter. There are many, many more memories.

I said above that in one sense important birthdays are vestibules, and so they are – waiting rooms for the next stage, itself only a second away, places to be passed through, hopefully holding the hand of a loved one – the one who's just come home from work early and poured us both a glass of champagne from a wonderful case of a very fine vintage that was sent to me by his sister and husband at the previous threshold.

Where to go from here? Retirement slips further away but not for negative reasons and I continue to work with some of the best students I've ever had, yet work begins to feel like a leash. A wish to travel is growing on me, as is the desire for a cabin somewhere in Vermont, Maine, or the Gaspe. The blog, my occasional diary, has taken on a life of its own but it's not quite sure where to go from here. At heart I am a lover of history, of processes and of the good things that make us what we are, and of flowers. I adore flowers, so thank you, Will for these.


  1. Happy Birthday Blue, you are a gentleman and a scholar, and speak wisdom indeed. Thank you. Reggie

  2. Best wishes for a most wonderful birthday!

  3. I hope you have had a most joyous birthday. Best wishes for many healthy more to come.

  4. Such a wonderful wonderful card-at first glance I am thinking it is the real medicare deal, Already-I'm slowing down at 50 I fear! It is indeed a celebration, a toast from Me. You bring such gifts to us all with each post. Happiest of Birthdays to you Blue. pgt

  5. Oh, Bllue you brought tears to my 60 year old eyes. Happy birthday and a happy whatever comes next. It has been a joy and a pleasure to read your words and see the world through your eyes.

  6. Dear Blue, what a wonderful piece amongst so many wonderful pieces you post, and more appropriately so because it is your birthday. Many happy returns. Your reflections show a a kind and gentle contentment, and a continued zest for what is to come. How uplifting!

    Grow old with me the best is yet to come.
    What I aspired to be and was not, comforts me.
    I count life just a stuff to try the soul's strength on.
    Truth lies within ourselves: it takes no rise from outward things, whatever you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness and to Know rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape than in effecting entry for light supposed to be without.
    Who hears music, feels his solitude
    Peopled at once.
    Truth never hurts the teller.
    Take away love, and our life is a tomb.

    Robert Browning

  7. A belated Happy Birthday Barry! You and the Celt are dear friends, and how lucky I am to have found a fellow design devotee living only yards away. There is no one I would rather dish with, converse with, lament with, and complain to than you!

  8. Happy birthday, Blue. Wishing you just as much heart and beauty as you give to others.

  9. Reggie, Toad, Little Augury, home before dark, Columnist, Peak of Chick, le style et la matiere - to each of you a heartfelt thank you. You bring tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.

  10. Belated best wishes to the most gentlemanly of bloggers!

  11. Dear Barry,
    Wishing you the Happiest of Birthday "Weeks"! I adored this birthday message- like a wonderful movie it made me laugh, giggle and cry. I am happy to "see" you (I have photo-issues myself;) You are quite the handsome chap. My favorite photos being on both ends, evidence of a life well lived.

    Wishing you and your Celt many more memories, and many, many happy laughs!

  12. Joan and Toby, thank you both, very much. I am a very lucky man - more so for correspondents such as you and the people above.

  13. Barry --- I have waited too long add my comment. How could I possibly top the comments of the above? So, I just repeat what everyone has said, and add a big Thank You for the beautiful party.

  14. Blue --

    I'm sorry to be late to the party.

    I hope at least one of those irreverent cards pointed out that "it's not the years, but the mileage." (Nowadays, that gets attributed to Indiana Jones, but it earlier appeared in one of Eastwood's lesser movies.)

    You write: "Our houses are ... reliquaries of our lives, comfortable, timely albums holding treasured shards of experience, memory, love and laughter."

    That you write things like that -- all the time, seemingly effortlessly -- explains why so many of us are such faithful, devoted readers.

    P.S. The first 65 years are the hardest.

  15. WMTwigs, thank you, and you were very welcome.

    Ancient, thank you for making me laugh out loud! I often wonder what it would be like to have all y'all around a dinner table, chatting away till the small hours.

  16. A very happy belated birthday. Here's wishing you one perfect tomato and a bottle of wine. You don't have to be a classic to enjoy either. Cheers!

  17. The day after, the valet has gone home and a new batch of photographs taken by friends are, no doubt, making their way to your inbox. Somehow I think the face looking back at you is one that is thoughtful, appreciative of life's blessings and kind. Two peanuts in a peanut box...and much happiness. Happy Birthday!

  18. Dear Barry Blue,

    Happy belated birthday! Your postings are exquisitely nuanced and self aware while other blogs are mediocre and self indulgent. It is always a joy to read them and I wish you and the Celt the best.

    ox, Kendra

  19. Janet, smilla4blogs, and Kendra. A heartfelt, if belated, thank you. I've not seen photos of the party but the Celt says they're good. I have never got used to looking at photos of myself but you'd think by my age I'd have got oer that. However ....