Letters from Venice – Part VI

Dear reader, as I explained earlier in this series on Venice, these writings are literally from my early 20s journal and from letters sent back to me by one of the original recipients, my dear friend Bob. I got to the end of Part V and started to read Part VI and became mortified by the content of next section, complete with gushy badly written french poetry. But if you have opted to stay with me on this so far, then I guess you will forgive this, too.

Sept. 22, 1982   ON The TRAIN TO AMSTERDAM (A MWM)

(Poem written in bad French)

Je veux que tu sache maintenant, mon cher,

Que je suis bien contente.

Avec toutes les choses nouvelles a voir.

Comment c’est elegante.

Mais sous les vues, immenses et varies,

Je me percevois de ce realite:

Que je t’attends avec toute mon ame.

Ce n’est pas a dire qu’a cause de cette attente,

J’omis n’importe quoi.

Mais seulement que, en tout cas,

Je fais ce que je dois.

Et enfin, je dois t’attendre, parce quie tu es tellement cher.

Et toutes les choses dehors and dedans

Rendent ta valeur plus claire.

Translated roughly:

I want you to know now, my dear,

That I am very content.

With all the new things to see

Oh, how it is elegant.

But through all these vues, great and varied,

I am aware of this reality.

That I wait for you with all my soul,

That’s not to say that because of this waiting

I omit anything

But only that, in any case,

I am doing what I want.

And finally, I want to wait for you,

Because you are so incredibly dear,

And all things outside and within

Render your value more clear.

Letter from: MWM (Name and address redacted to protect the blameless)

(MWM was an actor who had played in a production of Threepenny Opera, which we had done the summer after I graduated from Princeton. My friends Bob Stern, Veronica Brady, Dale Coye and I ran a summer theatre at the Theatre Intime, a building on the campus of Princeton. We hired professional actors to perform in the shows, and I stage managed the shows, Bob designed the scenery, Bob, Dale and I, along with some young interns, built the scenery, and Veronica was the artistic Director, and ran the box office. Susan Smith was also involved as the Managing Director. It was a phenomenal summer. In the basement of the building adjacent to the theatre, there was a small café, where we all retired to after the performances were over and that’s where we had met. MWM was a very sweet guy, and he rode a motorcycle, as he lived outside of Princeton. We had a lovely summer tryst, and then when I went to Europe, corresponded for several months until I met another man in Venice with whom I became enamored. Ah, fickle youth! MWM visited me later in the year and we took a trip to Southern Italy with some of my Venetian friends. It was disastrous for our relationship, but more on that later.

Sept. 23, 1982

ArthurFrommerHotel

c/o Hotel Arthur Frommer

Noorderstraadt 46

Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS

Dearest Els,

Well, where to begin. First, thanks so much for all your letters, cards, news, etc. It really is a lift after the end of a hard day and lately there have been many hard days.

I can’t believe that you sent that package but it was great to get it. Thanks so much, it’s beautiful. I put it on Friday and I do believe it calmed my ragged nerves. Many people commented how nice it was, original, etc… I loved it. Thanks, Els, for being an incredible woman. The play has not gone well. Biff I think is strong and the character is well delineated however the play is so technical that if these basic technicalities are not working, the whole play suffers. Reed is absolutely the worst director I have ever worked with and I do not think I shall be working with him again! He is what they call an “anti-director” practicing what he calls the ‘Socratic Method’ of direction which consists mainly of asking us “how does it feel” concerning anything and everything from line interpretation, blocking, movement basic script analysis – everything. His blocking is ‘organic’ which means basically that there is none except that which the character has chosen to do. It is absolutely crazy!

The cast kept hoping that he would give us some kind of concrete blocking and even a semblance of direction. We waited until three days before opening. At that point the owner of the theatre, Tom Ryan, lost control. And so, for 15 minutes they stood their [sic], Alan Reed and Ryan, yelling at each other, calling each other names, and other such absurdities in front of the whole cast and crew. It was just wonderful theatre. In any case, Friday went as well as can be expected.

“Philadelphia Inquirer” came out with a review today. It was not as bad as I expected. They almost liked me. I will mail copies next letter. What really killed the cast is that the critic wrote how well and carefully directed this piece was by Alan Reed and yet he had nothing really good to say about anybody else. “Life is not a bed of roses,” comes to mind occasionally.

Plans are progressing for an apartment in Montclair or there abouts.

Jeremy, my friend from Europe, was able to raise $25,000 here, so if things work out in Santa Fe in Oct., I might be able to have a job there in the future if I want it. That was really good news. Overall things are going on or about even keel.

Your letters continue to bring me joy, visions, beautiful memories and some good dreams. Thank you..—

Greet Bob warmly for me as well as your Dad and Stepmother.

Els, take care of yourself. Know that I am at your side in ways as yet unexplained.                                                                                    I love you

MWM

Sept. 24, 1982

Well, we have begun our trip in France! I met Dad and Joan in Amsterdam, which is a beautiful city. I got a fantastic letter from MWM yesterday, and in spite of the disappointment of not being able to afford to call him, I feel very in touch with him. We are in Arras, France on our way to Rouen tomorrow, Saturday, where there is a market, which is supposed to be the thing to see in Rouen.

Rented a car in Amsterdam. The European drivers all drive 120 k /hr at least. It feels like breakneck speed! And they don’t let you loiter in the passing lane! We are in elegant quarters in Arras, an apartment for about $25.00. Two rooms, very spiffola. I am exhausted!

Sept. 27, 1982

Four days out of Amsterdam, and ten pounds later, we have seen the Cathedral at Amiens, Rouen, Rouen Cathedral, the Bayeux tapestry, and today the Chateau at Angers. Chateau D'AngersSplendid sights and more than obscene cuisine. I called MWM from Bayeux, which was great.

I’m reading the Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, a really important book for anyone getting his or her bearings in a modern world.  About dignity and not compromising your integrity, or compromising which are both your choices. You need never be the victim of circumstance.

I met another “life student” at the Bayeux tapestry – 64 years old, had taught herself Italian, English, Greek and Hebrew. Fascinating woman.

So much to see, it is nice to be spoiled for a while – one only wishes there were some way to save some of the grandeur for later on!

We are in La Rochelle for the night, a beautiful port town- very “quaint” in the travelogue sense.

October 3, 1982

Yesterday, we drove west in the Dordogne Valley, from Sarlat Sarlat to

BergeracBergerac, city of Cyrano. Along the winding river, which flirts with the myriad of roads at its side.

Last night we had dinner at the Cro-Magnon hotelCro-Magnon Hotel

and combined with natural lunacy (it was a full moon) we were in hysterics over this British couple of 65 or older who was next to us. “Really, dahling, these potatoes are so underdone, I don’t know if I can eat them!” Dad and Joan thought them to be newlyweds, but I don’t know. Whatever they were, they were incredible.

As have been my dreams the past two days. I dreamt yesterday that I became the Queen of England and last night that Bob and I did “Camilla” (another of the plays we had taken to Edinburgh) in front of an audience at a Dude ranch, on horseback with our backpacks. We came on stage riding (our entrance was interrupted by a stampeding herd of bulls escaped from the corral outside), took off our backpacks, and did the reading of the play from these music stands which we tried artistically and stylistically to swat into parallel planes separating us. I didn’t know the lines and I was less than helpful to Bob in figuring them out. When half the audience had left, we gave up and left the stage.

The Dude ranch consisted of fifty to seventy-five horses of the most variable sizes ever witnessed. Weird things happened on this ranch – I rode out on one horse, and came back in on another. I had a little theatre where I and cohorts were doing this very macabre play which involved an upbeat final scene of laughing people, at which point, the audience exited through the stage and out the back of the theatre, which was a warehouse. Only if they turned around and looked at the theatre as they left would they see the total carnage above the garage doors – bodies with the feet cut off at the ankles, heads mounted like hunting trophies, with grinning bloody faces, etc. all visible through the transoms above the garage doors. Ok, Els, lie down and start talking….

The last important thing about this dream and that of the night before was that Kaja McGowan appeared in both dreams. Last night she was in a store: MWM and I pulled up and she told me that she was getting a divorce. She was smoking like a chimney and was very high-strung and hard – totally un-Kaja-like. I will write her a letter today to tell her I’ve been dreaming!

Then there was the Dude Church for which all the youngsters were the Deacons. I couldn’t find the collection basket till at the last moment someone handed me a plate and we collected. But I ran into Betty Henry, who stopped me and wouldn’t let me finish. Then, as we finished, instead of taking the money to the front, we sat down in the congregation. An obese man next to my collecting partner asked how much we had made.

“$1.65,” we said.

He took the money out of the dish and put it in his pocket, meanwhile, pulling out the contents of his pockets which included a huge amount of foreign change and a “Grosse horologe,” made of gold but with crayon Louis XXIV design on the face.

Oct. 7, 1982

Just pulled into St. Jean du Luz, tonight, on the coast of the Atlantic, and on the edge of the Pyrenees. St.JeanduLuz

It is great to be near the ocean. I am going to get up and take a walk, I think, along the shore. Stayed in Pare last night, after seeing Lourdes, an incredibly sobering sight. I felt like I was on the filming site of Night of the Living Dead, with all these invalids wheeling by, carrying candles to place in a grotto under a ceramic statue of Mary, and receptacles of all sizes ranging from necklace sized to gallon jugs to collect samples of the healing waters. Dear God. I would have laughed, except for the clear intensive hope of these people. Dad is of the opinion that it is a mere moneymaking scheme of the church. I think that probably more than half of those pilgrims were really holders of a faith- one that I am not privy to, but that makes it no less real for them. I saw one nun lean out and grab a woman’s hand who was wheeling by– it was that human caring that brought those people there, I think. The desire to be of one with others around them, and that happened to be the solution. Who are we of good health to begrudge those people? Don’t we seek those human embraces from the attendants at the gas stations who change our pneu creve ou gonfle? **

(**While on the road earlier that week, in our rental car, we’d had two mishaps. The first was a flat tire at the side of the road, where our extensive pursuit of the game, Milles-Bournes as children had provided me with the French vocabulary necessary to explain our predicament to the gas station attendant, who repaired our tire. The other incident happened while we were visiting the Remy cognac plant, and in the pouring rain, backed our rental car out of the parking space and into a soon-to-be hysterical French woman’s car. A trip to the insurance office later we left Remy.)

Oct. 10, 1982

We are in Poitiers, France, having visited in Bordeaux last night and St. Emilion today. In Bordeaux we stayed at this relative flea bag, but the high point of the visit was when we walked over the the “Foire Aux Plaisirs,” The visiting county fair, and rode the Ferris wheel, which was very high, and very much fun.

Foire Aux Plaisirs

Again, an interesting perspective on our American status. There was a house called the American Show, highly gaudily decorated and sporting every tacky object you can imagine, from an all black Dixieland Jazz band to a Roy Lichtenstein comic book portrayal of two women in virtually nothing but sleezy “Uncle Sam” tutus. And the course that you walked on (We saw no other Americans doing this thing) took you out on a balcony in front of the crowd gathered below, and you walked over vent that blew air up (a la Marilyn Monroe, to give the men a thrill when an unsuspecting woman in skirt passed over.) This one guy had his hand up in a Tricky Dicky Nixon sign, and the crowd below laughed.

St. Emilion was great – miles and miles of vineyards stretched out. But one thing I realized is that the Chateau reconstruction project sounds very appealing to me after seeing the small-townness of St. Emilion. I will look in Paris to see if anything has turned up, but I think the former sounds more instructive for my French and more psychologically healthy for me.

Oct. 15-16, 1982

images-undereiffel

I’ve now been back in Paris for two days – tonight’s my second night – quite a bit has happened in that short time! But tonight I went to see View From The Bridge, by Arthur Miller, at Gallerie 55, and directed by Fiona Scanlon, who has great reviews for her English-Speaking Theatre. I was very happily and frankly surprisingly impressed with the quality of the production. It is really a difficult play, and the actors had by the end of the first scene, established the motivations of the main character for the whole show, and not in a bludgeoningly obvious way – the director was very subtle, but firm. I met the director and gave her my address in Venice – she said she’d need people after Christmas and would drop me a line. I liked her, though she seemed a little drunk.

Last night, I met Ben, a very friendly Frenchman from les banlieus, whom I am not leaping at the chance to see again. Suffice it to say, I am learning about being on my own and making choices about whom I will associate with.

Went to the American Church today – there was really nothing – especially not for as short a time as I’m here for. I really think I should go back to Gallerie 55 tomorrow night after the show and talk with some of the actors about options, opportunities.

God, I’m tired!!!

 

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