A View from the Rose

by Barak Fravasi

Wilson had hoped to spend some time in the newly reopened Rose Reading Room when he came to New York, a fact I knew from our conversations this summer in Wellfleet, and though our correspondence during a typical academic year couldn’t be considered regular or frequent, I suppose I did consider his sending a picture of the renovations, or a postcard of the new Rose, very probable, a short email with an image attached being the most likely form of communication from Wilson, I thought, not knowing whether postcards of the renovated Rose had yet been printed much less whether Wilson would bother seeking out an appropriate stamp and a mailbox. He would be busy with his meetings in New York, I told myself, something I knew from the Wellfleet conversations in August as well, but the email that arrived with Rose Reading Room in the subject line but no photo attached came as a surprise, and before reading the text in the body of the email I was tempted to reply immediately, quickly telling him that he had forgotten to attach the image, I told him later in person, the problem not with the renovated Rose, Wilson had written, which is as dramatic and beautiful as ever, with views from the windows lining the Great Hall that I’m appreciating all the more, and it seems for the first time given my long absence from the Rose, he continued, but the name Stephen Schwarzman is everywhere, he added, engraved on the bases of pillars to one’s right and the bases of pillars to one’s left, and on the floor and on the ceiling and seemingly in every direction one might be tempted to gaze, wrote Wilson, not joking, as I at first thought he might be, there being in my view nothing wrong with sponsorship and philanthropy, as I remember telling you in Wellfleet, he continued, but the number of times Stephen Schwarzman appears and the degree to which this sort of repeated encounter with Stephen Schwarzman is unavoidable, and here I mean the name Stephen Schwarzman and not the man himself, of course, he added, needlessly I thought but obviously in a state of serious agitation, this unavoidable repetition of exposure to Stephen Schwarzman made me feel I had eaten something inappropriate for breakfast, something spoiled perhaps or with an uncommon sort of bacteria inside, and unfortunately I’m being only partially metaphorical here, he wrote, I have no issue with seeing the name Bill Blass on the floor once or twice, or the name McGraw in the Rotunda once or twice, just as I think there is something fitting about seeing the names Carnegie and Rockefeller once or twice, but finding Stephen Schwarzman multiple times at every entrance, on the walls and on the floors, is just too much, wrote Wilson, and as I sat in the Rose reading Boccaccio I found myself worrying suddenly that the blank wooden panel above the western-most arch of the Enclosure, as the librarians refer to the structure dividing the Rose, he added, again needlessly, the same panel that holds an electric Exit sign above the eastern-most arch, wrote Wilson, would soon be filled with a message acknowledging Stephen Schwarzman or perhaps just the name Stephen Schwarzman by itself, since the meaning of such an inscription would be clear to any patron who had made it as far as the interior of the Rose, he continued, and there was no calming Wilson even days later when I saw him in Boston, and we spoke about this, at the annual New England Italian Studies conference.

(from Last Conversations, expected 2017)

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