Writer and artist Jane Freeman, who has lived in Tribeca since 1976, shared some of her recollections and art with us last year—and now she’s letting us take a peek at a handful of her journal entries. These are from the 1980s: “When Tribeca was young,” she wrote, “when ships slid past my windows blasting salutes, commencing ocean voyages; when streets were still by dusk; before any school or supermarket or nail salon came; when the restaurants were all informal and stayed open after hours, and the coffee shops closed after lunch; when the view of the Hudson was wide, serendipitous, and ready-made, I was young, too….” Her paintings are interspersed throughout. (The photo at top—of Freeman lying on the roof of 143 Chambers in early 1980s—is by Harold Appel.)
November 29 / Yesterday I bought twelve tubes of Winsor & Newton for $52 and change. Also Donald Justice’s Selected Poems. All morning I’ve been vainly searching for something classical on FM and have finally settled for jazz. I prefer jazz very late at night with beer. I thought Sunday morning radio was the providence of cantatas and partitas and such. Hmm. All those paints (few, really, considering the price) I bought intending, naturally, to resume painting, but I have been perversely writing instead. When I settle to write, I end up painting, or eating lunch, or suddenly remembering I had an appointment somewhere.
January 18 / I’m writing this at Riverrun, a café on Franklin Street. Out the window, the streets are heaped with grimy meringue and the wind chill factor is below zero. I type with gloves minus woolen fingers. Since I don’t use heat in the loft, walking around is not much chillier than sitting home typing, and so I stroll about the city hours at a time.
July 8 / As Gertrude Stein said, quoting her brother, “It is awfully hard to go on painting.” The other day Judith Goldman, who is writing a book on Jim Rosenquist, called and said to come on over across the street [Chambers] and have martinis with her and Jimbo, as she calls him. He is light and serious, a tow-headed fifty-something in a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt and baggy trous. I’m painting him in his loft from memory (Jim and gin) with the hurricane-force fan in his studio blowing the Hudson in.
The phone rings thrice a day for an olive-importing company, which isn’t here; I wonder if it ever was.
June 26 / Lately my luck has been of the ill variety. I had to come up with a huge amount of money, plus interest, plus certain fishy-sounding etceteras to pay off the criminal loftlord who once kept coyotes in a loft on W. Broadway and has been trying to evict us in scandalous ways. You should see what’s happening to real estate around here. Construction and destruction in every direction. Jackhammers and pile drivers ravening from dawn, skyscrapers burdened with additions. The streets are plugged with cars in perennial gridlock that regard pedestrians as bowling pins. I must not be the only street crosser who has noticed that Mack trucks speed up as soon as you step over the curb….
September 6 / Another wrong number calling for an olive oil factory; and for someone named Jeanette; and with an offer from the phone company for my calls to find me wherever I am; and for a contribution to the homeless people’s fund.
July 27 / Last night, went for drinks on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Watched a rainy day end from way up high. Could see beyond the harbor, from the river to the bay to the ocean. Despite her recent superfête, Miss Liberty looked lonely in the rhino-skinned water. Whistler would have painted it: all grizzle-ashen, no lines, a few moist lights from south Jersey: soundless, colorless, stealthy. The picture window finally and incrementally retracted its view, like a TV just shut off. I watched Japanese businessmen sip opulently endowed cocktails. I nibbled on crab fritters and goat cheese, eyeing the sophisticated women who all seemed glossy, bejeweled, and strangely relaxed.
December 4 / I am having a one-person show this summer in a restaurant in the World Trade Center, which doubles as a gallery. This sounds like a big deal, with press releases and all, but actually the space, though large, is mediocre for showing art, unless they were to remove all the tables and banquettes. Alas, the restaurant cannot pretend to be a real gallery.
February 23 / A life of art, reading, and reflection laced, of course, with worries of a financial nature and unavoidable interruptions. I’ve been practicing a macrobiotic way of eating for four months and it suits me. One evening, as I was feasting upon brown rice, lentils, seaweed, steamed kale and tofu, Jimmy Breslin called from Florida to see how I was getting on with typing his manuscript. Did I like it? Yes, I said, very much, though the cannibal scenes shocked my vegetarian mentality. “In fact,” I warned, “I’m eating dinner right now, so let’s not discuss it.” “Oh yeah?” Jimmy said. “Whatcha eatin’?” “Oh, just some greens and grains,” I said. To which he replied in his polite way, “You’re fuckin’ nuts!” and hung up.
June 18 / I have supper each balmy summer night on the lower Harrison Street roof, where I’ve installed my houseplants and wind chimes for the season. The dark descends, the lights go on and the buildings begin to look like sheets of slides. Such fascinating compositions people make in the light-box squares of their lofts. Surprising how many watch TV, with flickering images thrusting process colors in the industrial-size but cozy rooms. Sometimes a party starts indoors and makes its way roofward. But before the dark comes, the sky is pastel blue with chalky pink clouds.
I’m in a show at Rutgers called, rather redundantly, “The Autobiographical Self-Portrait.” At the last minute, the curator wanted to come by to see new paintings, but I had none. That morning I got up at six and painted five small oils on Masonite, which she accepted for the show. There will be a catalogue.
October 13 / I got a ticket for going through a red light on my bike at about 3 m.p.h., having first made sure the intersection was empty. In nonfreezing weather I like to pick up and deliver manuscript jobs to the publishers, zipping up Sixth and down Fifth (the only two bike lanes in the city, so far). Saving a dollar each way by avoiding the subway, I have managed to amass a small fortune. But on that fateful day, two patrol cops caught me gliding through a red light. They ignored the bike messengers streaming by, committing their daily infractions. The cops asked for my ID and reprimanded me for not having a bell. (I promptly bought one; its gentle ting-a-ling will surely be heard above the sirens, ghetto blasters, and yelling in the streets.) I was fined $50. In high dudgeon, I said, “What if I don’t pay it?” The cop said, “Then your driver’s license will be revoked.” I announced, “I don’t have one.”
October 1 / A ferry voyage to Staten Island, and a late-evening walk in Lower Manhattan’s empty, grisaille streets prompted a rereading of Whitman and Hart Crane. There are different ferry models: I prefer the older kind with pews for seats, though I usually stand fore or aft, hanging over the rail to hear the swash of the river against the craft’s lumbering girth. There’s a wide view of the sunset, the colors smeared and smudged. With a foghorn blast, the ferry pulled out of its berth, slid away from the pilings, and gained the bay. Twenty meditative minutes in the wind, vibrating against the water, smelling salt. The Statue of Liberty wafts by in a vivid pallor. The city fades to dusk and lights come on like chalked dots on a blackboard.
June 13 / The New York Times today published a photo shot from West Street, up Harrison. You can spot Edward Albee’s loft, across the street from me. How strange to see the incursion of new condos to the south, in lots where we walked our dogs in acres of chamomile weeds.