not in our stars, but in ourselves
Hi, kids. Long time, no post. Bad, bad, bad. Please forgive me, if you can. I haven’t watched all that much in the past week – although I’ll have more on that score presently – and on Thursday, I went down to North Carolina for a wedding.
I confess: I was nervous. I am a snobby New England elitist, a lefty from the northeast, exactly the kind of sneering godless pinko your mother warned you about. Going to a state that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons was not my idea of a good time. I half-joked that I would tell people how much I lift, and then ask them which bathroom I should use. But I was a good girl, and I went along with my boyf to his friend’s town, and I was surprised to discover that it was actually lovely. I shouldn’t have been, I guess, but there we were. His friend lives in a little town within the so-called “Research Triangle” in the center of the state: an oasis of mostly progressive people who work for, attend, or are otherwise involved with any of the three large universities in the area. In short: it was nice. Good food, good bars, good people, at least from what I was able to tell in the four days I was there.
The Monday before we left, I made my boyfriend watch (on alternating Mondays, we subject each other to a movie we think the other should see, because we believe in equality) On the Beach. The last time I watched it myself, longtime readers may recall, I’d just returned from Australia – indeed, from Melbourne, where it’s set. It packed an emotional wallop for me then, and I was curious as to whether it would do the same now that I’m much happier and more settled. It did. Don’t worry. I was crying (and apologizing for doing so, because I’m a huge loser) by the end. Beyond that, however, I was struck by what a terrific performance Ava Gardner gave. I read her autobiography earlier this year, when I was on vacation, and I don’t think I’ve ever related more to a movie star – or to any other famous person. Perhaps as self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ve started believing that I’m aging the same way she did: by the time she did On the Beach, she was 35 or 36, and the past couple of decades of drinking and staying out all night were beginning to show on her face. Not that she wasn’t (as I’ve never been) still stunningly beautiful, with hardly any makeup; but the lines under and next to her eyes were deepening, the face was getting ever so slightly puffy, the voice was crackling and getting lower and lower. Eventually, Ava was so convinced of her own completely evaporated beauty that she began to refuse to appear onscreen or even in public. By the time she was 67, she’d suffered some significant health problems, and died of pneumonia. She went hard, and burned out quickly, and I wonder if the same won’t happen to me. One tries not to think of such things, but one does, all the same.
Anyway, so there we were, near Raleigh. I knew Ava was from North Carolina, but I couldn’t remember where exactly. As my boyfriend and I wandered through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (which are gorgeous), I happened to look it up: Smithfield, NC, about an hour from where we were. And better than that – there was a museum in her hometown! Off we went.
We were both a little concerned by the town and by the outer appearance, I have to say, but once we went inside – heaven. Thoughtfully laid out, full of details that corroborated everything in her autobiography, and – best of all – brimming with Ava memorabilia:
Best of all, Ava was the kind of crazy dog lady I know I can be in my heart:
So anyway, this summer, I aim to be more like Ava. Not so much in the tumultuous personal life, but in the good humor, the vivaciousness, the wit, the sparkle, the enjoyment of womanhood without any of the shackles of being a glamour queen. Ava, wherever you are, thanks for being a hell of a broad.