Unlike my best childhood friend Micky, I never had aspirations of becoming a fighter pilot or astronaut. Whereas he had (and still has) perfect vision, a requirement for military flight school, by the time we attended Space Camp together in middle school, I was already sporting my first pair of glasses. While Micky went on to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis and serve multiple tours around the world, I pursued the life of a glutton and became an impresario of pedantry. I blame it on my eyes.
Actually, my vision isn’t terrible. But I do feel handicapped without my second pair of eyes.
When I travel, I always make sure to bring extra contact lenses and a pair of glasses.
I rarely, if ever, have to resort to wearing glasses. But two years ago, whilst in Paris, I was glad to have them.
Somewhere between dinner and my friend’s flat, I managed to scratch my left eye. It swelled and turned into a faucet. Out came the contacts. I didn’t sleep a wink.
I have two pairs of glasses that I wear now, both of which I bought outside of the United States. I have a very narrow face and, short of buying cute, but juvenile-looking children’s glasses, I’ve found American frames too wide for me. European- and Asian-made frames seem to fit me better. I also prefer their styling.
I purchased one pair in Hong Kong while I was living there over a decade ago. The wire frames were new when I bought them, tailored slightly to fit my face.
I acquired the other pair at an antique store in Mayfair in London in 2000. Originally engraver’s glasses, this pair is over a century old and made of nickel. Worn perched on the tip of the engraver’s nose, the frames had hinged extensions to the temples that wrapped around the engraver’s head and were secured in he back by a strap. This kept the frames from sliding off the tip of the engravers’ nose as he hunched over his work.
The extension temples on the pair I bought had been snapped off just after the hinge. But I know what it was supposed to look like because there was an identical pair next to it that was in its original state. I had no need for the extensions, so I was thrilled to find a pair that I wouldn’t have to destroy in order to make useful.
When I found them, the Mayfair frames still held the original lenses, two crudely cut class discs cloudy with scratches. The frames came in a little leather case, incredibly well-preserved, lined with velvet cloth.
My friend Dunham, who was with me when I bought them, asked what I was going to do with them. I told him that I was going to wear them someday, after I figured out how to remove the old lenses and find a lens cutter who could custom grind prescription lenses to fit. Failing that, I convinced myself they’d be an interesting conversation piece to have around.
I shrugged, went home, and dropped them in a drawer.
Seven years later, I rediscovered them while cleaning out the drawer. I took them to a lens-maker for a look-see. He said that he could grind the lenses, but he couldn’t remove the screws, which he feared had corroded into the frames. He suggested that I take them to a jeweler.
I took them to one of the best jewelers in Kansas City. After a bit of cleaning, one of their amazing craftsmen was able to remove the screws and take out the old lenses. He told me to take the frames back to the lens grinder to have the new lenses fitted and then to bring the parts back to him to be screwed in.
So, it was with eyes, still slightly puffy and bespectacled with engraver frames, that I arrived for lunch at l’Arpege after that sleepless night in Paris nursing my leaky eye. Thankfully, Chef Passard’s food was so lovely that I forgot about my ocular woes. I won’t go so far as to claim that his food was curative, but by nightfall, my eye was back to normal.
Here are my Mayfair spectacles, holding down the bill at l’Arpege, which was not in any danger of floating away. This is the only photo I have ever taken of these frames. They look so comfortable in their surroundings here that I don’t feel like I need ever take a picture of them again.