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Maira Kalman’s Dream Place

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Really?!
No. You know how things are just incomprehensible, and then they happen, and you wonder, Well, why did that happen? And I always saw myself in the third person—I had a vision of myself. The same way that I always had a vision of myself as a writer and I had a vision of myself that I could draw—it just came from some undefined place.

In terms of my upbringing, I always think about the fact that we had this olive-green carpeting throughout the whole house on the first floor—it was beautiful—and for years in my bedroom, I had the same carpet, like, literally the same rug.
As an adult?

As an adult. And I didn’t put it together until my sisters came over and said, “What?!” Are there things in your apartment like that?
I think the light in Tel Aviv informs the desire to have light in this space. I think maybe there was something also about clarity, that if there was a goal it would be to only have things around you that you really care about.

You said that you fell in love with this apartment at first sight. Why?
I fell in love with the block because there is something about the light on this street. And some places make you feel good: This is home. And other places make you feel despair—you know, How will I ever get out of here?! Tibor and I had one apartment once, and we spent one night, and I said, “We are out of here!”

And there is something about the basic bones of this building—something weirdly Art Deco in a not-hideous way. And something nautical—like we are on a ship. And it always feels like Fred Astaire might be in the next room. I don’t know why.
’Cause we are only watching Fred Astaire movies in this building; it’s in the lease.

I have been around you for many years in this apartment, and I notice that it changes a lot.
A ladder goes in, a ladder goes out. I don’t like anything permanent, I have to be able to flee. You have to be able to flee at a moment’s notice [laughing].

The apartment’s like a laboratory or something. How would you describe it?
Actually, it’s very … I love that idea. It would be pretentious to say Bauhaus, but, there, I said it. But it would be like some kind of school where you keep changing things. Or an exhibit. I feel like this apartment is like that to me: a different kind of exhibit each time, and weirdly it feels like it is lit. Like that suit of Toscanini’s is lit, but it’s not. I think if I had a shop, it would change every day.

You got that suit at a Doyle auction, right?
One person was bidding against me; my heart was beating so much that everybody around me thought that something horrible would happen if I didn’t win, so I paid $800. And now he hangs in the room and I talk to the jacket all the time, thinking of people [who have touched it]. There are a lot of people here in the room with me.

There is a lot of DNA on that jacket. Which object in this apartment do you like the best? Which means the most to you?
I still do have the little lunch bag that my mother made out of a towel and embroidered with my name on it for when I went to kindergarten. And it’s this big. I think she gave me five sandwiches and three apples, it’s huge! But if I had to choose one thing that I love, there is nothing. I am very sad to think about having stuff, and not having stuff. There is a sense about wanting to have nothing, and then there is a sense about having everything and not giving anybody anything and keeping it all. But the things that I have keep changing and go into different rooms. It is always a conflict.

Is it a commitment thing, the fact that you change so much?
In the I regret everything I say mode? [Laughs.] I regret everything I do.

Yes.
I regret everything: nice “up” ending for our talk!

But does it come from a joyous place when you choose things, or does it come from a critical, mean place?
I think it is like starting fresh. Every Monday morning is new hope. And I just like the idea that the set changes. It is a set. That is my home.


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