It's 8:30 a.m. in New York City. On my way to a meeting, I pass the Tourneau watch store on East 57th Street. Twenty-three clocks adorn the exterior of the building, giving times in other cities and time zones. They prompt memories:
Rome, 2:30 p.m. My first visit to Rome was as a student. At the train station, I directed the cab driver to take me to the Hassler, Rome's most elegant hotel. A doorman with top hat assisted me in unloading my luggage. We bowed to each other. Then I crossed the small square to my modest lodging, the Pensione Pfister. Glorious views of the Spanish Steps and the Villa Medici where Velázquez, Corot, and Berlioz once studied. Below was the house where Keats spent his last months. The golden rays of a late afternoon sun shone on the roof tiles and tawny stone of nearby buildings.
Cairo, 3:30 p.m. Early morning mist on the Nile. Fishermen in small, painted wooden boats cast nets upon the water. Five feluccas appeared, sails billowing. They glided silently along this ancient river, carrying mud bricks, stone, and draft animals. Women with clay jars on their heads walked in single file to the river's edge. Children waved from the riverbank.
Montreal, 8:30 a.m. A childhood visit during World War II. The long train trip from New York to Montreal. By horse-drawn sleigh up Mont Royal in a snowstorm.
Moscow, 4:30 p.m. I left the Bolshoi Theater following an evening ballet. Snow was falling. With colleagues I walked to Red Square to gaze at the Kremlin walls and towers and at St. Basil's Cathedral, with its colorful domes. It was built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the taking of Kazan from the Tartars in 1552. A timeless Russian winter scene.
London, 1:30 p.m. A summer job working in a bookshop in England. I traveled by train from Gloucester to Wales and bicycled through the Wye Valley, stopping at Tintern Abbey. Sitting by the river, I read Wordsworth aloud.
Tokyo, 9:30 p.m. At the hotel desk, I requested an English-Japanese phrase book. I wandered around Tokyo. Lost, I consulted the book to discover how to ask for the location of a taxi stand. The first phrase in the book was: "Put up your hands or I'll shoot." I turned to the cover page: published by the Department of War for the invasion of Japan. Nothing about taxis.
Paris, 2:30 p.m. In Paris many years ago, I listened to Mother converse in French. She'd learned French growing up in Russia and had lectured at the Sorbonne. I understood little of what she said, but enjoyed the musical sounds of the language, and shared in the admiration of her listeners.
Rio, 9:30 a.m. I spent my time on the white sand beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, cooled by the waters of the Atlantic. Sea, beach, and mountains. Swimmers, kite fliers, and volleyball players. Palm trees, posh hotels, and decorated sidewalks. As I watched a soccer game on the beach, rain began. A group huddled under a large umbrella borrowed from a nearby food stand. I joined the faces of Brazil - brown, black, white - beneath the umbrella.
Time passes. The 23 clocks notwithstanding, I am late for my meeting.