I was really surprised by the fact that it was extremely expensive to rent an apartment in Manhattan. I couldn’t afford a decent apartment with the money I had.
After calling a few places from ads in a Japanese community newspaper, I found a place in The Bronx. The place was very close to the last stop on the Bronx subway line.
It was a Japanese woman named Mayumi who was renting out the space. She was the same age as me, 28 years old. It was a two-bedroom apartment and the place I was offered was a small space partitioned with a curtain in the walkway near the entrance.
There was a couch inside the partition that I could use as a bed. The size of the space was just the same as that couch and the rent was $400. I preferred to have my own room, but I decided to move in as I was feeling guilty about staying at Marino’s studio any longer.
Mayumi was a nice friendly person. Also, she was a charming woman. We sat at the dining table and talked a while after she had shown me around her place. Mayumi told me that she was studying sociology in the daytime and working in a Japanese restaurant in the evening. She said that she had been interested in history and had been accepted by two universities in Japan, but she decided to come to the U.S. instead.
A few days after I moved in, Mayumi asked me out to go to a park near the apartment. It was quite a large park mostly just land with some children’s play equipment. The park was surrounded by many trees. We talked again and Mayumi admired me for having talent because she didn’t think she had any.
One afternoon, Mayumi was making Gyoza for lunch and asked me to share it with her. It looked very nice, like a sample in a cookbook, but I hesitated to take it. And then she said, “Eat! You should eat when you have a chance!”. So, I ate them with her.
There was another Japanese girl who was renting a room in the same apartment. She was quite different from Mayumi. She was younger than us and seemed more aggressive and not typically Japanese.
Many Visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
After moving to The Bronx, I called John at Marino’s studio from the Bronx subway station regularly and I often visited him at the studio. I also talked with him on the phone in our apartment and we often talked for a very long time.
One day, we arranged to meet in front of the Metropolitan Museum. He was going to show me around the museum. John was able to go into the museum for only 5 cents because he used to work there handling artwork. He talked to a staff member at the entrance and got himself and me an admission button for only 5 cents.
When I came to Manhattan in the daytime, I usually waited until the evening, when all artists left Studio Marino, so I could go there. John took me to the Metropolitan Museum whenever I needed to spend the day waiting outside.
In the Met, what I remember seeing most is a well-known vertical painting by Picasso and a large painting by Jean-Paul Riopelle (I don’t remember the titles). I also remember seeing a lot of pottery, artwork from all over the world, and contemporary paintings. There was a beautiful large café in the museum. I wished I could go in there just once, but I never did. Every time I passed by, I could hear the nice sound of cutlery and dishes echoing around its high ceiling and into the hallway.
One of my favourite places in the museum was a room with some benches and trees and a lot of natural light from the ceiling. I also liked to look at the view from the mezzanine in the Great Hall. One day, I made sketches of the Great Hall from there and also sketches of panoramic views from the rooftop of the museum.
Started to Painting
One day, John and I walked into a building that had several art gallery spaces. I spoke to one of the staff members or perhaps he was the owner of the gallery. I showed him some of my watercolour paintings, and I added that those were the ones that I had painted a few years ago. Then he commented, “You should show the latest work you are doing now.”
After I got that advice at the gallery, I felt the urge to start painting as soon as possible. When I told John that I wanted to start painting, he suggested that I could work at someone’s workspace in Marino’s studio at night. John lent me his easel and made a space for me to work in one of the female artist’s workspaces. So, I decided to work on a series of abstract paintings. I had made the drafts of them in Cork just before I left for New York.
The next day, I went to an art store downtown and bought acrylic paint, tempera, brushes and a few stretched canvases. I had never used tempera before, but I found it displayed in the centre of the store and it was at a reasonable price so I thought I wanted to try it.
My work was getting more geometric or cubist, in an abstract style, since just before leaving Ireland. I often stayed at Studio Marino again after I had started painting.
At that time, there was a catering company that hosted various types of parties in the same 37th street building. John told me that there was a sushi chef who served sushi regularly there and one night, he brought me a package of maki sushi. John said that the Japanese chef had given it to him when he told him about me. The chef’s name was Kato. He seemed like the hired chef for the catering company.
At the Apartment in the Bronx
In the meantime, at our apartment in The Bronx, I found out that the younger Japanese girl wasn’t feeling good about me. One of the reasons was that I had used her microwave and I made a mess inside it. Actually, I didn’t know it was just hers because it was in the kitchen. I think it was when I cooked rice in it that it made such a mess.
In fact, I had never used a microwave before so I wasn’t sure how it worked. The girl said there was a strange liquid inside her microwave, so I think that the water from the cooked rice had overflowed and that was what she had found inside there. But I didn’t know that it had happened. She seemed annoyed about that and apparently, she took the microwave inside her room.
However, there was also something that this girl always did that Mayumi and I didn’t like. That was about her always leaving her dirty socks in the bathroom sink. They were usually full of soap and looked like they were being washed. While Mayumi and I were talking about it, Mayumi told me about the other day when the girl had gone out with a guy who she had just met in the subway station and they stayed out until very late. Mayumi went on to tell me that the girl felt bored with the guy so she decided to come back home. Mayumi pointed out that she didn’t seem to be aware of what she was doing. She seemed to have a rather critical view of the other girl and seemed to want me to continue to stay at her place, so she was trying to be supportive of me. I am not sure if it was simply because she needed someone to help her pay the rent.
However, I was finding the rent too expensive for what I was getting. I wasn’t in the apartment very much and I also had less privacy in that partitioned space. John once told me that the total apartment rent would be probably $1200, and we were all paying $400. If that was true, that would mean I was paying the same rent as other girls for less space. I didn’t have extra money to buy everything I needed and I needed to save money as much as possible.