Lucky Chris – Part 2

I have on my desk at home a little 2″ x 3″ picture – an adorable full length view of Chris at 2 years, 4 months, or about 1 and 1/2 months after he came to live with us. It was taken just inside the door of our dear friends, Jennifer and Harris’ condo in North Hollywood. It was Thanksgiving day, 1991, and Chris is dressed up. He is wearing adorable red and green checked pants and a bow tie in the matching fabric. He has on a yellow cardigan with shiny brass buttons, and a white button down shirt and white sneakers. Just on his right shoulder, you can see a glimpse of the same red and green plaid fabric in what must have been suspenders. His expression is classic Chris – eyes wide open, direct and impish, his mouth in a gentle smile. His left hand reaches deliberately for the door handle which is just head height, and his eyes say, “Watch me – I’m going to bolt.” Believe me, we were always watching Chris as he told us directly that he was going to bolt. He looks happy and well fed, secure in our love even after so brief a time.

IMG_2662

I remember about that time, that he had only eleven words in his vocabulary – ball, jeep (everything vehicular was a jeep), Dad (referring to his foster parent Jim, not his adoptive dad, Jim), dog, cat, and a few other simple words. This would have been one of our earliest social engagements beyond trips to the park, and this adult Thanksgiving dinner with our friends Harris and Jennifer, was not holding Chris’ interest. He was ready to depart as this picture so exactly conveys.

Chris now lives in San Francisco, and works as a fisherman. He continues to surprise and worry and entertain us with the antics of being Chris. Back in early November, Chris told us that he had found a place to live through Craig’s list. He had advertised “Free Fish” because who doesn’t like free anything, as he had written on his Facebook account. He moved into an in-law room in a house in San Francisco with a couple of disabled roommates.
Chris has always been kind and understanding about disabilities or differences in people. He has compassion and yet a good sense of humor about things that are just not fair, right, or on the up and up. He has been pretty clear-eyed about the writer’s benefits of living in this household. He and I constantly joke that “Well, you will get a lot of material out of this episode.”

But in the past few days, he has suffered from the following things which would make anyone question his luckiness:
1) Power went out in his room. He had not lights, TV, computer use, etc.

2) He witnessed the woman of the couple in convulsions on the couch and had to call 911 while her boyfriend sat on the couch next to her eating cookies and doing nothing. She has still not come home from the hospital, leaving her unstable and agressive boyfriend in charge at the house.

3) Hearing loud fighting and shouting the other night from the upstairs kitchen area, Chris popped out onto the stairs to hear the other roommate saying, “Put the knife down.” Police were called and his male landlord ended up at the hospital for psychological examination.

4) While the roommate was gone, Chris called the psych ward at the hospital and was told that his male landlord was in the process of being discharged. Chris went to sit in his car to watch the house to try to assess his own safety, and saw a black van pull into the driveway. His landlord’s brother got out of the van and proceeded to retrieve his belongings from Chris’ downstairs room because “My brother wouldn’t let me get my stuff when he kicked me out three months ago.”

5) Later that night, the landlord returned and Chris awoke in his downstairs room just off the garage to the smell of car fumes. He went out into the garage to find him running the motor of the car in the garage with the door closed. Police were called again and  the landlord was taken away again for observation.

6) Two days later, he has returned home and has begun calling Chris the “n” word, and being otherwise verbally abusive. “GET OUT OF THERE!” I said for the 15th time in two days.

Chris has now packed his clothes and cleaned his room. Metaphorically, he stands at the door, looking back at me and smiling. He has come a long way from that early stance at the door – much has happened to our son, much of it good, much of it not good, much of it life-altering. I suspect this is one of those instances where his life will be altered for the better. There is never a dull moment with our son, that’s for sure. Open the door, son!

Letters from Venice – Part XI

January 12, 1983   On “Over the River and Through the Trees”

Hemingway insists on the dissection of this absolutely dissolute old colonel’s life and this old team mentality of “you can’t love ‘em until they’ve lost a limb’ – it is not (I don’t think) the male chauvanist pigness of the man is man, war is hell party line that bothers me (although evidently it has made a bad impression) so much as the absolute neglect he has exhibited in the development of his other characters, especially the 19-year-od Contessa with whom the Colonel (autobiographically accurate) falls in love. I mean really…she’s a twit. He has this one love scene in a moving gondola that is a mix between those trite cinematic effects of trains going through tunnels at the climax of a love scene and a bad translation of an Italian “Joy of Sex” manual. You should read it after  you’ve been in Venice – nothing else could possibly warrant its digestion save familiarity.

The Poison Pen

Letter to Bob

Dated January 18, 1983 (the day after my 23rd birthday)

Dear Bob,

It was so fantastic to talk with you this afternoon (morning for you!) What a birthday present! And did I mope this afternoon after? No, I wrote a letter to Caroline, slept a ½ hour, and then took a walk in the dusk to deliver a note for Louisa. I saw everything through “Bob” eyes! The news that you could arrive in a month has greatly livened me up! It was very warm today and though’ the fog had receded by this afternoon; the Venetian gray winter doesn’t seem to let up.

As a treat, I must tell you about my birthday luncheon. My friends James and Verena invited me to pranzare at their apartment, which is an entire floor of a palazzo overlooking a campo that overlooks the Grand Canal, a lovely place. They had invited this professor named Bernard Hickey, who is Australian and teaches at the University of Venice, which is called Ca’ Foscari. Anyway, he is absolutely cherubic and after several glasses of Chianti, he was chirping about how lovely birthday parties are, etc. Really very funny little man, with white hair and a very Australian accent – he reminded me of a character from Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Anyway, nor was I feeling any pain, and was explaining what I thought about this love scene from Hemingway’s “Over the River and Into the Trees”, waved my arm over the table, spilling my wine, which hurled across onto Professor Hickey’s front – at which point he chortled,

“Oh, what fun! Now it’s really a party! Thank you my dear – you’ve really made it a party!” In all sincerity! He really wasn’t being facetious! His point was that I had spilled first, letting everyone else know that it was OK to spill, much to the chagrin of the hostess, who on command produced a patch of exactly the same material as the original cloth and undid my social gaff – It was quite riotous…

So passed my birthday luncheon – the dinner was a bit tamer – but all in all, quite a fun day! Followed by your great call – I stay tuned for more details on your sojourn – it would please me to no end –infinitely. It is lovely in Venice in the winter!

Awaiting your loving letters…and missing you, Bobbino…

Love, Els xoxox

January 19, 1983

Had a wonderful birthday – James and Verena invited me over to their house for lunch, with Bob Morgan and Bernard Hickey, then picked up Anna and went to visit Jane Rylands – had had quite a bit to drink at lunch. Dinner at Montin’s with Louisa, Anna & Ronnie, as well as the Ostrows (Steven’s folks) Bob and Bill called yesterday to wish me Happy Birthday. Today I spent about two days with Bob Morgan, who is a twenty-year-old forty-year-old. He is consumed by negativity and these bad experiences of people seem to plague him – is my naivete just revolting or what? I think I’m getting carried away with this Henry James novel. Of course Miss Archer is an appealing character to relate to and just my age…Meeting such characters as Bernard Hickey (Mad Hatter) is enough to make one romanticize in the style of James. He just chortled all over at lunch. Really funny guy.

January 23, 1983

Big events yesterday included buying a black woolen long cape and going to Italian Theatre for the first time. The theatre was very bizarre, heighted by quasi-comprehension and wondering whether its all female cast and thus sexual undertones were supposed to be shocking or not. They were not.

Yesterday was also the opening of a show called “New Drawings in America” at Ca Pesaro, to which Anna and I went. Really some bad stuff – one full painting of glitter – Sunset at Lake George. Bob Morgan’s birthday, so I bought him a little glass beetle for his garden for good luck. It’s hard to believe he is 40 years old. He seems much younger than, say, Bob Stern or Mark – really projects a great deal of negative feedback on people. But when he spills his guts, so to speak, he is interesting. I am fascinated by the variety of things he has done – talked today about his New York shows (he’s a painter) and how he got his first show by going around to about 30-40 galleries with his box of 10 slides. Ivan Karp at OK Harris told him some places he should go and one of these told him if he could get together thirty paintings of the quality of his slides, he could get a show that September. Which he did. It must be almost worse than auditioning!

I learned today from Ronnie Katzenstein, that there is in Vicenza a foreign-American oasis, in the military base. There they use American money, have satellite phone systems which cost like local calls within the states, have beamed over American TV, and can fly anywhere in the world for $10. I could go to the US for $10 if I were in the military –unfucking believable. I guess that’s why the military budgets are so grossly out of proportion. It really makes one blench, though.  Listening to T.S. Elliot. It is great:

In an old house

            There is always listening

            And more is heard than is spoken

            And what is spoken remains in the

            Room waiting for the Future to hear it.

            And whatever happens began in the past

            And presses hard on the future.

            The agony in the curtained bedroom

            Whether of birth or of dying

            Gathers in to itself all the voices of the past, projects them into the future.

            The Treble voices on the lawn

            The mowing of hay in the summer,

            The Dogs and the old Pony

            The stumble and the wail of little pain

            The chopping of wood in autumn

            And the singing in the kitchen

            And the steps at night in the corridor

            The moment of sudden loathing

            And the season of stifled sorrow

            The whisper, the transparent deception,

            The keeping up of appearances,

            The making the best of a bad job-

            All twined and tangled together,

            All are recorded.

            There is no avoiding these things

            And we know nothing of exorcism

            And whether in Argos or England

            There are certin inflexible laws, unalterable in the nature of music.

            There is nothing at all to be done about it.

            There is nothing to do about anything.

            And now it is nearly time for the news

            And we must listen to the weather report and the international catastrophies.

                                                                                    T.S. Eliot

 

Letters from Venice – Part X

January 7, 1983

Anna and Louisa were slated to arrive in Venice tonight at 7:00. Alvise, poised with flowers and I with an unabashed grin awaited as the 7:30 train from Trieste arrived in the station repleat with leering outlookers and No Judges…Tomorrow morning there is a train from Yugoslavia. But I only wonder where they are tonight?

Two days ago, Sandy and I went to Padova and saw Giotto’s fresco-encrusted Capella Scrovegni and the Basilica del Santo, magnificent.

Capella Scrovegni

Last night, I took Sandy out for dinner at Montin’s, the occasion being commissioned by her departure from Venice this morning at 11:40. I was very saddened, “I was sad” as Sandy so charmingly says, to say good-bye to one who has been my best friend here in Venice, she was someone I could always count on to do things with, and ventured to many places others don’t dare. I send my best wishes to her via air waves. I hope she gets a job in Rome with the Daily American – that would be a terrific boost to her morally and financially. Though I guess not really so terrific financially, Sandy introduced me to more people in the 1 ½ months we knew each other than anyone else in Venice has. And she knew the most interesting people. I hope/trust I will see them all again.

And so, the riccio sits in the fridge awaiting Anna as do I (though not from the fridge). Sylvano  reappeared again today, like a Fuller brush salesman returning to his best customer – whatever the hell that means, though I’ve been speaking Italian somewhat, I was surprised at how tongue-tied I was today. Partially contributed to by the fact that I am feeling molto distacca da lui sessualemente. I just realized after talking to MWM the other day that it’s not worth it to me to play these petty little flirtations when I’m not even attracted to him powerfully, except as an interesting intellectual playmate – for that we are well suited. I just won’t let myself be bullied.

Letters from Venice:

What a happy coincidence, that the first letter I picked up was this one.
Letter to Bob:  Labeled “Part 1, stay tuned!!!”

Postmark dated Jan. 1983 (day unreadable)

Dear Bom [sic]

Really, what the fuck was that? I’m blushing. Try again…..Dear Bubberdoobyduckydart! Oh I love you Bob! Stern! I can’ tell you how joyous your pink pelican pouch of love made me. I feel a little silly. This measly little aerogramme hardly seems abastanza in ritorno! We’ll see. Or Vediamo.

Your carta di Natale era bellissima, e benfatto…. Ho travato il cuoro rosso nel centro. E? Rotto? Oppure semplicemente malscritto? Spero che hai sbagliato con la stampa, e infatti, il tuo cuoro non e rotto.

But from the sound of your letter, rumors of which I had heard from Susan, this was perhaps not merely a typo….I can only say I’m very sorry, B ob, that things didn’t work out, but also it’s better to realize that now? But it doesn’t make it any easier, I know. What you said was very lucid, I think it would be a mistake to stay living and “loving” in 55 Park Place- please live with Gary & Michele – I can’t think of two better people whom you could build a very warm home with, however temporary until June. I’m sure, I hope, that your relationship (platonic) with Bill would improve without that separate tension – do the divorce, then mend the fence…. (Thanks, Abby!)
The thought of you quasi-solo at Xmas time made me very sad – I can’t stand seeing good things wasted – damn, damn, damn. I had a party Xmas eve while waiting for Mom to arrive Xmas day, which needed you! It was a good party, but drinking gets fairly dull. My Christmas with Mom was pretty good – I was shocked by how wiped out by the trip she was. I got a letter from her today so I know she’s survived. She said she had a good time, but the letter felt a little formaloso…. Ah well, it can never be the way you plan/dream it!
I am working now – in the morning doing interviews for the hotels that I’m looking at for this guidebook I’m collaborating on. It is fascinating. And well paid, though that harvest hasn’t yet come in. I heard yesterday from Ed the Funk, who is living at home, working 60-65 hrs/week in a warehouse and had been studying for his GRE’s. He’s going to apply to Grad Schools…. he and Raquel are doing well…. together again. He thanked me for the tape of Nightstage, which I had totally forgotten about doing or sending. That made me quite Newstage –sick, MWM sick, etc. But it was good to hear from Eddie. He is really embarrassed about going back to school. Oh hell, why does everyone have these “should” complexes about what they should be doing? They are doing what they are doing now. They will do what they will do. Now, take me, Miss perfection…. I am doing nothing that will advance my Career. I am meeting people, having fun, seeing a lot, and maybe learning Italian. But when I come back to the US (Yes, I still plan to do that in July) I think I will look for a job in Washington, DC – I know this is a jump – Damn. Stay tuned – I’ll continue on another aerogramme. Ciao, Bello!
xoxo  Els

Letter to Bob labeled “Part 2 wherein the author describes future plans & passions

Postmarked Jan. 14, 1983

Dear Bobby,

Now where was I. I was talking about when I come back to USA. I got a letter from Bob Edgar who moved to Washington, DC and works for Wolf Trap Center. He had a job for me in January. But if he still has a job I will go there in July. Now…MWM…I am more in love and more uncertain…scared than ever visa-vi MWM. He is coming in May and may stay until July when I go back. I do want to make a go of it with him wherever. I don’t want to live in New York, but I want to see how he’s doing. It’s so weird being here without him—sometimes I get scared that our idyllic relationship was a figment of our mutual imaginations. Obviously I can’t make any decisions based on only three months with him and so far, four without. I know I love working with him, and I support his work and he mine. Yes, I have met other men here –no, no one has touched MWM in my mind – I really think he’s an incredible individual. Anyway back to the job issue. I will go to Washington if there is a job – I will definitely want to talk with you about where you’ll be going –if to Yale, etc. When you come to Venice (I wonder if he noticed how subtly and easily that sentence co-opted Bob Stern to come to Venice?) …Seattle has all the old appeal of the Old West, and I could be coerced into going there to live. Susan says she’s planned my baggage move to Hopewell, but I couldn’t work at McCarter, I don’t think.

I think we need a conference –can you come to Venice, bring MWM, Susan, Bill and 4 sharp pencils? I have found out where all the good conference facilities are.

It started to snow today, but it was so pathetic, it was barely noticeable. But I noticed! It even made me get that happy first-snow feeling.

Anna and I are having a rough honeymoon- Poor Louisa seems really tired out and sometimes a bit short-tempered. I hardly blame her – she has quite a bundle of a 6-year-old…I am counting the days until July – I wish I knew more Origami. We have carnival to plan for, too. Wee are going as due porcini and uno porchino. (Get out yer dictionary, it’s really quite clever – I was berry proud).

Allora; siamo arrivati al fine di questo discorso, questo saggia. Scrivero di piu nel futuro. Fai la stessa roba, ok? Oppure vienei qui e noi possiamo parlare noi stessi…

Skiddly doo dad a. Good fortune and find a cozy housetta in Princeton to share with Gary & Michelle. Thank you for your magnificentary epistolary spedition. I hope I have given you enough nitty gritty – I realize none is very specific, but that I keep daily in my journal, which will be published in July – color of napkins at the luncheon table, etc…. I love you!  Ciao, Els xoxox

January 11, 1983

Coming back to write in this journal A.A. (after Anna). I see the closing sentence of my last entry, and it seems to be my theme song. The first two days of Anna were incredibly rough, due to a bad case of jet lag, culture shock, parental change, any number of factors. But today, Anna was one of the happiest kids I’ve seen around. She had glowing reports from her teachers, who said she was 100% more responsive today. Louisa and I had a great talk tonight – I’m in a very luck position, hired by someone who is sensitive to not dream of taking advantage of me, and we will settle into a very workable arrangement, I’m sure. Lots of mail these days, from MWM, Susan, Tim Stone. I guess just the rebound after my partying over Christmas, and worrying that I’ll be dropped out of the social scene, though there is no reason to fear that. A liberal dose of insecurity goes a long way.

Incredible letter from Kaja on Sunday, with the news of her imminent return to Bali & Indonesia. I never dreamed of such exotic end for Kaja, or for myself, for that matter. She talks of perhaps coming to Venice – what a wild reunion that would be. Ah, dreams!

Letters from Venice – Part IX

December 14, 1982

Sunday, two days ago, was perhaps my coming out party in Venice. Sandy had a lovely party at James Mathis and Verena Freu’s apartment in Campo S. Vio, near the Anglican Church, wherein I had my theatrical debut as well.

Campo S. Vio

At James and Verena’s earlier in the day, we cooked and ate lunch, and I met Geoffrey, an English painter-hedonist-shockeur who invented seedy sides to some of the loveliest people I’ve met in Venice. Anyway, he roped me into reading at the Christmas Carol sing at the Anglican Church, Mathew verses 1-11 to the most devout Episcopalians I’ve met since St. Paul’s School. Each reader bowed or bobbed or nodded or inclined at the altar before reading , and all read with various personal inflections of English – I, the last and only American of the readers, was frightfully aware of the sharp edges to my words. But then last night, in the Vaporetto, speaking of Carol Bertrand’s very nasal lecture (American from California a la Libbet Lewis) said that when Americans speak, they “sing,” which was a lovely, if unique viewpoint on the difference between English and American speakers. Anyway, back to Church. The organist so butchered the Christmas carols by playing them at a lugubrious 17 rpms, that all conceivable joy was sopped from Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Also, I was seized by giggles because my friend Sylvano was there and had to share the hymnal with an incredibly uptight old biddy named Jeanne di Bianco – the next day I saw why I had recognized her. She is the president of the Circolo Bretannica in Venice. After the church (the service was run by Peter Lauritzen, well known historian in Venice, who looked quite a bit taken aback when I announced to him I was going to read), Sandy’s party was lovely, and I met some really great people. I got a call from one painter, Bob Morgan, whom I had talked with at length at the party. He went to Princeton in “65 and has been living in Venice for almost 10 years, except for two years which he spent in New York during those ten years. He is very interested in the theatre – we will go sometime when something besides Lady Chatterly’s Lover is playing – we both agreed it would be too embarrassing to go to it. I have seen one of his paintings at the Rylands – a portrait of Philip which is lovely, and which Augustus coos at when Philip is not at home to fill the role of coo-ee. Others of interest at the party were Marcia and Mary, two painters from Florence. They are Americans, too, but are here to study Europe’s cache of reproducibles. I saw the slides and pictures of Marcia’s work – really wonderfully done – she has a skill in drawing unequal to anyone I’ve seen in it’s verity to detail, but as she admits herself, there is a point after which one must stop copying, having learned and to on from there. I played traduttrice (translator) for Marcia and Sylvano who discussed her drawings. It was fascinating. All together, an exhilarating evening – at 12:00, James started playing his jazz records and we jitterbugged on the marble floor of their flat.

Last night I went to the Circolo Britannico – joined actually, and heard Carol Brentano’s lecture on the nativity paintings (selectively from 13th Century to 16th Century, which was fascinating. Afterwards, we went to a concert at San Stae, free, I Giovani in concerto, playing Vivaldi, Marcello, Mozart. They were for the most part pretty talented young musicians, but the most interesting thing to watch was their insegnatore (teachers), whose facial contortions and mannerisms would befit any page of Joseph Andrews, or any work by Hogarth. Really incredible. I disgraced myself by giggling throughout.

After San Stae, Louisa and I went to Montin’s where Virginia was showing her slides of the famous regatta, and of Venice proper. They were wonderful. She has a special eye for color and the possibilities of seeing the reflections in the canals of the palazzos – they looked like paintings by Munch, or Kirchna, with their distortions and too-close-for-comfort descriptions of a city of Atlantans, who only occasionally emerged to walk above the water on the rough boards flanking the Basilica. Some of them were really quite extraordinary.

Tonight we are purported to have the pleasure of having a real “Venetian” meal prepared for us by a friend of Louisa’s, Giorgio, who wants to come here with his food and do it in our kitchen! Sounds good!
Tomorrow we are celebrating Louisa’s birthday by going to the Fenice to see a ballet called Renard, by Stravinksy and another by Eric Satie, and a last piece by….oops, don’t remember.

Talked to Mom last night, and we are equally excited about her visit. She arrives eleven days from today! She said Strohmeyer (her editer at the Bethlehem Globe Times, where she was a life-style editor) was running around the office telling people it was her birthday, but apparently no party resulted. Damn. It was a grossly unsubtle hint to him to arrange something. So, things are looking up. I am loosening up, allowing myself to let go of what I don’t have here, i.e., MWM, Bob, Bill, Susan and Laura, and to embrace this city as the elegant terrarium in which I am potted for nine months! Having some liquidity financially has rounded my view of European living, I must say. Ciao for now.

Letter from Kaja McGowan, a dear friend from high school, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire

Dated: December 15, 1982

Dear Els,

            It is ten days until Christmas and I wonder what it must be like to be in Venice. I’m so tempted to take you up on your offer to go and maybe I shall?! One never can tell what may happen. You’ll be surprised perhaps to know that I am now in Los Angeles. I came here in flight, so to speak, fearfully flying from commitments and the comfortable habit of living a domestic sort of life. I have such trouble at times resolving all the women in my soul. It is like Doris Lessing’s multi-colored compartments; I wish eventually to let all my women blend into one Golden Notebook. Conflicts forever arise between the woman biologic and the woman artist. I love Mark, but my soul felt trapped, my creative instincts submerged. What makes matters worse, is that I do not know the clar calling of my heart by I patiently wait for signs and manifestations for the nourishment of my soul. I had considered graduate school at UCLA, then I began to try for a folk ensemble dance company called Aman, and then suddenly,  I woke one day and knew my calling. I know begin the process of return to Bali and Indonesia, where I have been invited by my old teacher. I received a letter from a very famous Indonesian novelist/poet/ and philosopher, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. I met him in Bali, now two years ago, and he wrote a poem about me entitled, in translation, “the opening of a flower.” I choreographed a dance to the poem and performed it at  his art center in the mountains. It seems so long ago, and suddenly I received a letter inviting me back! It is so strange, because before the ltter arrived I had dreamed of my old teacher Tbu Reneng, and now I shall be returning to her and to the biography I’ve been dreaming to write on her life. Still, often, I do not always know if I have chosen rightly, those renunciations that I place at the foot of ‘art’! I love Mark, but my sould yearns for Bali? I believe that if feelings are strong between two people, love can withstand such inquests for the soul…

            And how are you and what are your dreams and plans? I shall always be close to you in spirit, but I feel a loss of touch somehow. It is frightening to think that is has already been more than four years since we have seen one another. I long to hear of your thoughts and your passions, how you are changing and the internal conflicts, if any, that you are facing…Tell me of Venice, too; I have such romantic thoughts about Venice! How will you be celebrating Christmas? I love what you write by Gauguin. It is so true. I close with a poem and a wealth of warm thoughts for a friendship renewed on paper bu internalized for eternities.

            If but to set this life upon one course

            And know the wiles that wait at every bent,

            T’would be such comfort to put all one’s force

            Toward singular intent.

            Yet life seems all one dabbling; of here & there,

            Of ebbe & flow, of never reaching far enough ahead

            Diversions trail like tousled hair,

            Ne’er taut as Ariadne’s silken thread.

 

            I wish you a very Merry Christmas

                        And an Equally Wonderful New Year!
Let’s attempt to meet sometime during the year to come – I’ll come to Venice!!!

                                                            All my love,

                                                            Kaja

 

P.S. I shall be returning East in January to begin negotiations for Indonesian visas and perhaps to attend the Cornell Language Program in Java. Who knows, but if you write after January 11th, then my home address is best. Take care again and ride in a gondola for me – have you been serenaded nightly? (Just curious!)

Dec. 22, 1982

Interior Fenice Opera Venice

The Ballet was fantastic- I really learned what it meant to play with masks, and to realize fully the potential of a theatrical mask. The Renard piece fell pathetically short of this goal in its execution. The choreography was so loose that the dancers didn’t have much to show off – the whole piece seemed messy, though it had a fascinating ending in the crucifixion of Renard as a pseudo-Christ figure, with the emanation of “real” blood and the removal of his mask just as he was dead. But it seemed like a way of trying to save the piece with a convention, rather than concluding an already successfully deployed convention.

The second piece was a film  by Duchamp, Picabia, Rene Clair et.al,, backed by the music of Eric Satie, and was in a Futurist/Dadaist vein. Both because the film had these absurd images, like a funeral parade breaking into a jog, then a full run, and eventually so sped up it resembled some futuristic image by Boccioni, it was fascinating. Appropriately, Peter Borten, an American in residence with the Fenice Symphony this year told me that the musicians had been instructed by the conductor to skip some passages and hadn’t heard so that the music, which already lacked a totally harmonious cohesiveness became more in spirit with the film itself!

But the “Boeuf Sur Le Toit” by Cocteau, music by Darius Milhaud was by far the most spectacular of the three. The original Raoul Dufy set, was built in an exaggerated, larger than life scale, so that the actors, who wore enormous paper mache heads seemed in scale (at least their heads) with the brightly colored bar wherein the story took place. Here, too, was an example of their having studied precisely, and in detail , the character type they portrayed, so as to have the whole body in tune with their head. Truly fantastic. The true skill of acting with a mask on comes when you can convince the audience, by means of your other body movements, gestures, postures, that your face has undergone a change of expression. This was accomplished by several of the actors, in particular, the police man, whose expression registered everything from an insouciant smugness to the terror of being decapitated! We went across to the Taverna to have a glass of wine, and met Peter Borton, who seemed very nice.

Thursday night was Louisa’s birthday, and she went to Harry’s Bar with Alvise. Linda and I went to a weird chamber music (more medieval) concert at the Hotel Metropole.

Hotel Metropole, Venice

Friday night, nothing really.

Monday night went to a club here in Venice, invited by James, and Sandy. Fascinating group of people, and the club was lovely – drank too much Prosecco, and awoke with a god awful hang over.

Tuesday night a party at the Rusconi’s house to thank all the volunteers for the Venice Committee. Lovely party. Some new characters, like Buzz Brunetta, a ’56 alum from Princeton, who was, when he arrived at the party, already sloshed, and who only got worse as the party transpired. Carol and Bob Brentano, a California teaching duo, here in Venice this year. Sam Packard, a Fulbright Scholar from San Francisco, who is in Venice working for an architecture firm and teaching at the University. Peter Stafford, a 50-ish hotelier who is going to Edinbugh to help establish a new hotel there, Paola Doria, a lovely Venetian woman who works part time at the Venice Committee and her husband and sun. I will miss Sandy when she decides to move on – she is truly a delight. I look forward to her meeting Mom in three days(!) when she arrives.

Got a telegram today from MWM which was lovely. It was so reassuring to know that it was a message from the heart and “hot off the press” as it were, because he sent it last night at 5:45 and I received it today only at noon! So close. It’s reassuing to know that I can make contact that quickly.

December 22, 1982  Telegram from MWM

Dearest Els,

Please consider this coupon good for a dinner for two in Venice Greet your family there Package will follow  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year I love you

MWM

Jan. 2, 1983

I put Mom on the plane to Milan this morning at 7:30, meaning our travels began at 5:35 from Fondamenta Nouve. We had a wild week, beginning on Christmas day, Saturday when Mom arrived. Linda and I cooked dinner, after her nap Mom came down to eat, but was really quite exhausted. Sunday AM we took Linda to the train to go back to England, then that afternoon, visited San Marco and walked around. Dinner Sunday night with Sandy, James and Verena. Mom was charmed by James, and we had a good quiche. Monday we spent shopping, and had a binge of clothes-buying for me, even at the Chi-chi Elisabetta all Fenice!!! Monday night we went to Montin’s for dinner with Sandy, stayed very late, drank very much. Tuesday AM we caught the 8:05 Rapido to Florence, checked into the Porta Rossa, went to the Uffizzi , looked for a couple hours, took lunch at the cafeteria there, then went back to the hotel for siestaville. Tuesday night, dinner at the Cantinetta Anitori, very nice. Wednesday AM, to the Academia to see David, then to the Duomo (or Tues. night to the Duomo? Yes) then went to the Palazzo Davanzanti and around to the Brunelleschi’s Loggia Dei Innocenti –

Brunelleschi's Loggia Degli Innocenti

lunch at Il Profeta, reportedly Harry’s Bar people. Afternoon train to Venice – dinner at home Wednesday night. Thursday lunch at Montin’s, after the morning at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (where the Venice Committee offices were) and the Academia.

http://www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it/  Scuola Grande Di San Rocco Scuola Grande di San Rocco Interior

Thurs. afternoon siesta. Thursday night “Pub crawling” with Sandy, starting at Harry’s, on to Floriano, on to Hotel Metropole for Jazz, and last to the Hotel Danieli for piano bar and prosecco! Friday night, after a crazy day of preparation, a New Year’s eve Party – Sandy, James, Verena and two friends of Sam’s, Deborah and Harvey. Good time. Saturday morning in, and afternoon at San Marco and home. Sandy over for dinner after drinks, and we talked until 11:00PM. Sunday 4:00AM up to go to airport…Phew. Not too much wasted time, though I’m sorry Mom didn’t see more of Venice’s sights – it seems we spent more time drinking than anything else!
Called MWM tonight to wish him happy birthday, etc. He has found a job driving a Sea Food truck in New York, no auditions yet. He spent Christmas out in Wisconsin with Kerri, who apparently is very unhappy. God, it was great to talk with him. He was talking about coming in May and staying until July, when he would fly back with me. Sounds spectacular, my only concern being that if we lose the apartment for June, he would really be up a creek. Damn. That would be a pisser. I am pooped. And so closes the Christmas chapter of Venice.

 

 

(Upon her returning to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Mom wrote the following column, which appeared in the Bethlehem Globe Times on January 5, 1983.)

Venice Doesn’t Dispute the 20th Century – It Ignores It

“Did you like the Academy?” Elsbeth asked as we exited Venice’s major museum.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was warmer than some of the other places we’ve been.”

I spent Christmas week with my daughter who is temporarily in Italy, and that comment was less the remark of a complete philistine than of a person exposed to such an unfamiliar profusion of art as to be dumbfounded. So many Titians, Tintorettos, Georgiones and Bellinis that, I am ashamed to admit, they began to run together in a blur. For an American whose proudest accomplishment in the past two years has been getting on speaking terms with a computer, spending a week in Venice teaches, among other things, a lasting lesson in humility.

In the United States, to be dubbed a holdover from the 18th century is a snide kind of opprobrium. In Venice, the centuries 12th through 18th are constant companions. The city, perched precariously on the northern rim of the Adriatic, subject to every caprice of tide that floods up its canals, preserves a museum of architecture and painting that recalls a philosophy in which man was noble, and God was king – along with the artists who described Him and the patrons who supported them. Titian’s tomb in the Venetian church of the Frari is as large as that of Cosimo de Medici in Florence.

It is not that Venice disputes the 20th century. It simply ignores it as irrelevant. With the web of canals and footbridges that cross them making automobile travel impossible in the city, heavy industry has centered in nearby Mestre. Venice remains a city of tourism, banking and art. With a population about the same as Bethlehem’s, it can be traversed by foot in little more than half an hour.

Elsbeth is connected with another great Venice industry – art scholarship – accompanying a graduate student with a fellowship to study the painter, Lotto, helping her to care for her 6-year-old daughter. That makes her part of the Venetian American community, a group of about 200, most of whom know each other, and have picked this city out of all the world as a place to live. Even after only a week there, it isn’t too hard to understand why.

One man I met made a fortune by the age of 38 with a shoe store in the Middle West. He has lived in Venice in a high-ceilinged antique-filled second-floor apartment overlooking the Grand Canal three of the 10 years since he retired. Since moving there he has read 400 books with discrimination, becoming an authority on the likes of Hemingway and Mark Twain, and exerting a magnetic attraction over artists, writers, publisher. While I was there, he was arranging for an apartment for the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, just then arriving from the United States.

It has been said of New York that the reason so many important things happen there is that people are crammed so close together that they constantly bump up against each other, producing a creative friction.

With its far smaller population, Venice seems much the same way. You can’t go out the front door, get in your car, and drive alone, privately to your destination. You walk. Starting out from a residential area with few people on the calle or stone-paved sidewalk, within a block or two beginning to meet others, till arriving near the Rialto bridge, the market center of the city, you are in the midst of a dense, chattering crowd.

If you choose to ride rather than walk, it will probably not be in the expensive gondolas or Chris Craft water taxis, but on the vaporetto, the lumbering boats that hold 70 or so people jammed together as in a bus.

People encounter each other in the piazzas and stop to talk a while, or they take coffee in a bar. In the winter tourists are fewer, but reportedly during the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras, police are required to direct the press of pedestrian traffic, 40 percent of whom are dressed in costume even during the day.

The city itself wears a permanent costume-with its buildings rising straight up from the pavement, only an occasional vine peeking over a wall, a rare peek at a walled garden, it avoids barrenness by the variety of rooflines against the sky – the turn at the end of the twisting calle that opens on a bridge over a canal.

In December, geraniums still flamed in pots clustered outside second-floor windows, and outdoor flower stands were filled with roses and anemones. It is hard to find that American standby, carnations, anywhere. They are known there as “funeral flowers” and to give them is an offense.

Along the Grand Canal that snakes its watery way through the city, the palazzos appear boarded up, with their shutters closed and the paint peeling off their walls at the water line. But at night a lighted crystal chandelier elaborate enough to glitter at Versailles, glimpsed through a single open window gives a hint of the elegance of the life lived behind the mask.

Grocery shopping becomes and adventure – each item bought in its own special place- the bakery, where the baker called out to have a New Year’s almond cake not in his stock brought in – the open-air butcher shop where a female butcher skinned a chicken in one fluid motion – the green grocer where you may not touch the produce, but let him pick it out for you. Speaking in her charmingly hesitant but eager Italian, Elsbeth was given nothing but the best.

The one great disappointment was Harry’s Bar – the establishment once haunted by Hemingway, now frequented by celebrities who go there to hold court. We went only for a drink, having been warned it is too expensive a place to eat. When a new patron enters, every head in the place swivels expectantly toward the door hoping it will be a famous face.

The bar was crowded. There was one empty table.

We were asked if we wanted dinner. No, just a drink.”Well, you can’t sit down,” said the maitre d’, noting our interest in the table.

“But the bar is too crowded,” we said.

“You can’t sit down,” he repeated. “This is reserved.’

We stood momentarily, unable to believe we were actually going to be turned

 away. Could you say you’d even been to Venice if you hadn’t had a drink at Harry’s Bar?

            Apparently fearing we intended to remain rooted there indefinitely, our persecutor had a change of heart. “You can sit down for 15 minutes,” he announced.

            The dark paneling one expects to see is upstairs, I am told. We didn’t get that far. We sat in the tiny, brightly lighted room with a crowd of similarly unimportant people, who were far better equipped with furs and makeup. We looked at them. They looked at us. We each had one $5 glass of prosecco. Admittedly throwing it down in 15 minutes made it a fairly heady experience. We left.

            You can have Harry’s Bar. But Venice? Ah, that’s another story.

Shirley Collins

Letters from Venice – Part VIII

 

Nov. 16, 1982

Three days or four into our training. We are running every morning much to the amusement of the Venetian commuters, and it is a welcome quickening of the physical system.

Yesterday, I met Jane Rylands and her 16-month-old son Augustus. I was charmbed by both but remained convinced that naming your baby Augustus is tantamount to cruelty. I will enjoy working for her, though. It is great to get out with a purpose and goal. Tomorrow morning Louisa and I are going to volunteer our services at the Venice Committee – stuffing envelopes. But I just get so bored without work. You know you’re in trouble when your day’s high point is shopping for celery root!

Went to hear a concert of Stravinsky and Bartok at the Fenice Grand Theatre the other night. I am impressed by the novel presentations of music I’ve seen in Venice. One piece by Stravinsky called “Feu d’Artifice’ was presented with a futuristic light show amidst a fabulous set. But the Bartok ‘opera’ was called “Castello di Barbablu” (Castle of Bluebeard) and was really very interesting. Set in a simple symmetric set, the rogue Bluebeard and his too-curious consort moved in a carefully choreographed dance which was repeated four times in the course of the piece, once in blue light, once in yellow, and once in red as she discovered the coffer (coffin) filled with dolls and another luckless wife. The music was incredibly dramatic, as Bartok is, and the sets, lights and choreography contributed to a very powerful performance by the five performers. Three of the four women in the piece began as almost a running crew, all dressed in rustling floor-length black dresses, with their red hair piled in buns atop their heads. They glided across the floors in the castle, helping the “new” wife to undress, preparing the bed, down left, etc. But in the end, in a great horror sequence, they appeared as previous wives and glided up to a mirror behind the center upstage door and wisped away as apparitions. It was quite beautiful.

 

Dec. 3, 1982

Long time no write. Shitty/great day today. I am waiting for a transfer of money from the states, courtesy of George Setton, and a causa del scciopero (strike), the bank is closed and knew nothing of it. And I am very frustrated at not being able to express myself very well. But what the hell – it’s challenging. I met a wonderful guy who lives in the Corte – actually, he has a studio there – named Sylvano. He invited me to go to a poetry reading tonight, which should be fun.

I am immersed in this translation I’m doing for Serge, Louisa’s friend. 60 pages of bad English to worse Italian. Keeps my mind going and supposedly pays well.

With Christmas just around the bend I am so excited that Mom is coming. It doesn’t feel like Xmas so much, only because I lack the ubiquitous American reminders of its imminence, no Christmas music on the radio, and the meekest of Xmas decorations in shop windows. I do prefer the restraint, but at the same time, I always enjoy “getting in the spirit” which seems far off yet.  I can buy a little Xmas tree at the Rialto, and decorate it with little ornaments Juli bought little earrings to decorate hers with.

Letters from Susan and Bill still make me incredibly homesick, as did Aunt Nancy’s death – obviously tangential to the other emotions as well. It is crucial for me to get out to these lectures and concerts to keep busy – as I am a busy person and living a a quasi-solitary life doesn’t agree with me at all.

Last night we watched “Gli Uccelli” (The Birds) by Alfred Hitchcock

and today they were netting piccione (pigeons) in the Corte right outside my door! I came up the calle from doing my shopping and encountered a very unlikely pigeon-feeder, a stoop-shouldered sunburned man, bent at the waist, cooing at the birds, while dropping seed, and backing up down the calle toward the Corte del Palludo. (the courtyard outside Louisa’s rented house – means Court of the Swamp) I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that they were capturing the pigeons, taking the sick ones to the hospital, and the healthy ones to Milano! My own theory is that all the little buggers were on their way to the bouillon factory. Little ironies that are just too much to ignore sometimes! Really it was quite funny. So my days are laced with connections with people and funny events and are colored with success and failure, just as Mark predicted they would be. I’ve always been a sort of dilettante, I fear, and being here for this length of time makes such a position impossible to hold. Because the beauty of dilettante-ship is to be able to move on to the next thing when the first becomes too difficult, or when you perceive you might fail. But I’ve done it this time! I’ve gotten myself in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, know about three people, and can make myself completely miserable if I so choose. But hell, that’s no way to go.

 

 

December 5, 1982

Made a new friend in an artist who lives in the Corte del Palludo. Very cool guy. We went to a poetry reading the other night, which was difficult to understand, but I can tell a great deal from gestures and presence as actors, as well as intuit something of their involvement with their poetry. Last night Sylvano and I talked about his painting and how it relates to philosophy – the pre-Aristotelian denials of the reality of things and thingness. We talked about music as a drug, and how music doesn’t exist except as a drogue. My involvement in these conversations is still fairly limited verbally, but I understand a great deal when I listen.

Today, Sunday. I am going to Torcello with Sandy (an American expatriate in her mid to late 50’s whom I had met and liked immediately), and it’s a beautiful day. At four is a concert of Stravinsky’s “Sagra della Primavera” (Rites of Spring) which I have always wanted to hear – I will imagine Isadora Duncan dancing in burlap as I listen. I am looking forward to a ballet in a week or so, based on Cocteau’s piece “Boeuf sur La Toit” and another to the music of Eric Satie.

Louisa’s birthday is coming up, so I hope to treat her to this ballet for her present.

Julie and I had a falling out over Sylvano, my artist friend, and from her expression and reticence to talk about him, I imagine that she has had more than limited dealings with him in the early days of Venice. I am sort of in a quandary because there is this wall between Julie and me, and unlike with my friends at home, she is unwilling to acknowledge its existence, surely she expects that I will drift away from such a reception – is that what I will do? It reminds me a little of the dynamics with a friend at Princeton. Speaking of which, I must write to her. Got a fantastic, loving, news-filled, action packed letter from Bob, who has applied to Yale Graphic Arts program. I hope he goes- he is so talented it makes me puke! (Not really) As I said, he will be my one internationally acclaimed friend!
The translation goes, but slowly, tortuously. Sergio asked me to come to “teach” English to his son – very surreptitiously in the guise of a chess player/backgammon pal.

Should be interesting. I have never laid eyes on an English book to see how the language is taught. Blindly I go. Which will be funny considering my mancanza dei paroli italiani. Vediamo. (lack of Italian words. We’ll see)

 

Letters from Venice – Part VII

Oct. 24, 1982 IMG_0772-tm

I arrived in Venice three day ago. It is fantastic here – truly bellissima. The apartment is great, too, very big. I moved into my room today – Louisa and Charlie, a friend from Princeton who is here visiting have gone away for a week of travels in Italy, to Florence, etc. We three had a great time last night and went to El Souk, the Discoteca of Venezia and danced and drank up a store – it was really fun. Interesting, too – all the men watched themselves in the mirrors – very consistently.

Today I went to visit San Marco for the first time – God, it was so impressive. I could see from the water at the front of the Basilica that “acqua alta” is not joke. It really does get deep and puddles are a given. piazza1

Took it easy the rest of the day, and moved, etc. Tonight I took a walk around Venice with my map, but without looking at it once. In a way, it was also a test for myself. I find myself becoming increasingly reticent to make contact with people on the street – there is an expectation that I will be approached by someone only interested in coming on to me. I’m concerned about this rather egotistical paranoia, but the truth is, they do come on…a lot. Boring to write about and read, Els. (Especially thirty years later)

I found a really soothing spot tonight – on the Fondamento Nouve, right on the back end of the Hospitale Civile, there is bridge under which boats can pass to make deliveries at the hospital – thus, there was an interior, hollow lapping sound that was almost chilling, combined with the all encompassing exterior sound of the water off the island. And the lights of the boats drilled across the murky night – oh, so great! A mist that cooled me off. It will take time to make Venice my home, but the physical plant is so beautiful. I’ve never been in a more beautiful city.

Oct. 27, 1982

Yesterday I found the Palazzo Fortuny Palazzo_Fortuny

and the Cecil Beaton retrospective ’22-71. He really had an extraordinary sense of appropriate images and his choice of subject and paper, etc. It was fascinating to see his concern with opulence and fabric in the thirties when such consciousness would almost have been sacrilege. His Modella Russa was absolutely exquisite – very much like Fred Sommer’s collages. His dramatic control of light, and his appraisal of contrasts of light and dark fabrics/grounds are truly amazing. One photo of Audrey Hepburn where the actress, dressed in black, was in front of a brown wall and held up her pallid white hand in a gesture of halting the viewer from coming closer – a guarded gesture – really beautiful contrast of the hand against the wall.

Julie, the American across the court came over for coffee today, and we went to see a Groucho Marx movie and then I had dinner at her house with her husband, Paolo – wild arrangement – she speaks English, he Italian – and never the twain shall meet. It’s ok, they both seem to understand – neither is at a disadvantage. More tomorrow.

Oct. 28, 1982

The hardest thing about adapting to life here in Venice is this sense of busyness I have culled all my life, and the fear of lethargy which is pervasive these days. It would be easy for me to spend all my afternoons with Julie, but in doing so, that would allow her to speak when we meet people, and while I’m hearing Italian spoken, I would not be speaking. I also need a project. Learn Italian – why is it when I have this opportunity I am so afraid of speaking, of knowing how to speak.

Nov. 2, 1982

Susan Smith called last night and it was a true lifter of a call – to know Bob and Bill and MWM are thinking about me. She said she thinks MWM is making plans to come over!!

Anyway, I was inspired, and today I spoke only Italian, at the market and in the shops; even bought a Gazzetino, and read it!

Tomorrow I meet with Philip Rylands at the Guggenheim, and I don’t even have my letter of introduction from Peter Bunnell. Oh hell. I wonder what there would even be for me to do at the collection.

Sunday, Julie & I went to the Lido and rented bicycles and tooled around. It was beautiful, the fog was lounging over the Laguna, and it was impossible to see from the Lido to Venice. view

(Had we been able to see this is what we might have seen)

I bought notebooks today to begin my “project” – recording poetic observations viz. art in Venice. The opening is a poem about one of the Cecil Beaton photographs from the retrospective 1922-1971 at the Palazzo Fortuny. I think it’s weak at best, but it will provide a framework for my writing. I need an “advisor” to keep on my tail about it. Hmmm. “Phil?” Anyway, I’m babbling.

Nov. 8, 1982   (Written in red ink on a white folding stationery) Return address:
c/o L. Gallavresi

Cannaregio 6253

30121 Venezia

To:      Bob Stern

55 Park Place

Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Bob,

These are my red Ruskin letters. (This means I just wrote one to MWM, in which I also quoted Ruskin.) For you, I found a great passage on the virtues of architecture:

“…we take pleasure or should take pleasure in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate: rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise. And again, in decoration or beauty, it is less the actual loveliness of the thing produced, than the choice and invention concerned in the production, which are to delight us, the love and the thoughts of the workman than his work. His work must always be imperfect, but his thoughts and affections may be true and deep.”

Stones of Venice, App. 7.

Found that and I thought of you, because it not only applies to you as architect, but Bob the doer and builder of beautiful things, whether they be prints, sets, or relationships. I love you very dearly, Bob.

Susan called two nights ago and raised my spirits to their peaks! She also sent me a letter that I got yesterday. She sounds as though McCarter agrees with her and her home in Hopewell sounds lovely, too. Have you seen it? She told me about her new “friend” Gary. I am so glad she met someone nice and close to Princeton! Long distance with John didn’t seem to work too well.

I met Philip Rylands, had of the Guggenheim collection here in Venice, and he told me there might be things for me to do for visiting American scholars, the end of November. Also, he might use me as a babysitter for his 16-month-old son. “My wife is going absolutely mad,” he said. Very stuffy young Brit.

I cleaned the whole fucking apartment today, down to the tiles, which are the floors for the whole place – white tiles, which show all. Tonight I am making Gnocchi Verdi, and after trying to explain to the hardware store man what I wanted was ‘cheesecloth” –“la stoffa che e poroso per prosciugare l’acqua del formaggio, etc. etc.,” he told me they don’t use it here in Venezia. Well my next stop was the cheese store, and sure ‘nuf, the ricotta was so solid it didn’t need to be drained. Lesson 3 in living day to day in a foreign country where you don’t know the idiotic colloquial expressions…yet. I am really improving. My cheese man told me “parla bene l’italiano.” Flattery, flattery…

Tell Bill I say hello and give him a loud succulent smack for me. Talking to Susan made me feel so much closer to y’all there!

Louisa is away lots, but we have a great time when she is here. The neighborhood kids are little hoods, and I am sitting in the kitchen listening to Brahms and the sound of their little toys being hurled all over the Goddamned courtyard. Ah the bliss of urbanity. Now the little fuckers are pounding on my window. Excuse me while I get my shotgun.

Love to MWM. But you two take care….xoxo Els

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!!!

 

The Jewelry Box

I have on my dresser a battered green leather jewelry box. It is filled with some very old jewelry, as well as with the many beautiful gifts that my husband has given to me over the past thirty years.

The Jewelry box

If you were to see the box, you would ask yourself – Why has no one replaced this battered old thing? Originally a deep hunter green leather it sports an elaborate but delicate tooled gold border around the top and sides of the box. Once it was lockable; the keyhole well worn on the front of the box. Now it doesn’t even close, due to its largess of riches. Inside, there is a green silk lining and a wooden inset which fits perfectly inside and has a long horizontal ring tray and two square receptacles which hold a collection of jewelry. Two square velvet pillows crimped around the edges provide real estate for broaches to be pinned on them.

The most notable thing about its disrepair, however, is the top of the box, which sports two, continent-shaped holes in the green leather. These holes, revealing the buff colored cardboard under the leather, the left the shape of Australia, the right the shape of Africa, with a bite out of the horn. Around these continents in the remaining sea of green are a series of systematic scratches in the leather.

These scratches denote hours upon hours of adolescent phone calls from my parents’ bedroom in my childhood house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. We had two telephones in our modest colonial house: one black rotary dial phone which rested on the hefty wooden desk in the corner of the den, and one princess phone on the bedside table of our parent’s upstairs bedroom. Here is where I would take my phone calls, bent at the waist, my elbows resting on my mother’s bureau, as I chatted idly with my girl friends, while digging industriously into the top of the leather jewelry box with an open safety pin taken from the dish on the top of the bureau.

Who can say why a normally responsible eleven or twelve-year-old girl would consciously destroy her mother’s jewelry box? As I recall, I was generally not very nice to my mother at that time – surly would describe my attitude in general, but I don’t think it was anger at my mother that drove me to tattoo the top of her jewelry box.

Things were getting rocky between my parents around then, and perhaps I went into their bedroom to take the calls because I thought I would find out why – frequently I would sneak into the room when I knew one of my brothers was on the phone with a girl; breathlessly, I would listen as they cooed at each other, titillated by the endless expressions of love between them and hungry to experience whatever that special bond between boys and girls was. I would giggle with my friends Lisa and Pixie on the phone and spend long moments discussing the perceived wrongs that one of us had experienced in school that day. There was something comforting about digging away at the box – probably if I were an adolescent today, I would be digging away at my own arm – but then, there was some satisfaction in knowing that my mother would later return to her jewelry box and experience irritation that someone had mauled its delicate lid. What is so strange now in retrospect is that she never mentioned it to any of us – of course she knew that it was one of the children doing it – why did she never inquire?

All I know is that now I have the same jewelry box on my dresser – it is one of my favorite possessions. It’s beauty is scarred, like the childhood memories of my parents’ marriage. Its delicate cargo from the generation of my mother and my grandmother – the garnet heart on the gold chain with garnets evenly spaced up the chain – from a watch fob belonging to her father, which she thoughtfully made into a necklace for me because the garnet was my birthstone; my high school ring nestling in the horizontal tray in the back, along with some very old engraved wedding rings belonging to my grandmother’s parents; the blue enameled butterfly pin from my father’s mother which I still wear on spring days when I am buoyed by the expectations of summer; the tarnished silver thistle pin worn on my tartan elementary school uniform; the pink pearl necklace and drop earrings given to me by my husband on our 15th anniversary in a Pasadena eatery. So many treasures not the least of which are the memories of those hours spent idly marring the top of the box.

Butterfly, Harbinger of Summer

Labor Day Labor of Love – The Backstory

I’m not sure what motivated my husband and I to redo our living room furniture this fall. There was a pervasive sense of optimism when we returned from our summer vacation to the Cape, the start of classes behind me, auditions for the eight fall shows relatively finished, cast lists posted on the callboard in the Drama Center. First hurdle behind.

And the fact that we embarked on this journey on our anniversary, Sept. 1, after 29 years of marriage, was a delight. Off we went to the newly discovered West Elm store in West Hollywood, where we worked with friendly Rachael to select the perfect couch, the perfect side chairs, a coffee table. I was like the proverbial pig in shit.

I like to renovate and redecorate my homes. I’ve always enjoyed it. The most extensive example was the complete gut and redesign of our kitchen in our last home. The least extensive is probably this foray into replacing our inherited furniture. Perhaps I am my grandfather’s daughter. John Marcy Coon, Princeton, Class of 1931, architect and business owner, John constructed the bridges spanning the highways and turnpikes throughout Pennsylvania. He also designed the Nesbitt Hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

He designed and built his home in the suburbs of Wilkes-Barre, set amidst the fields and forests of Shavertown, a beautiful white brick home with an elegant L shaped layout which cradled the back porch  overlooking an “infinity” field, the border of which w dripped off the back side of the hill on which the house was located. My grandfather rented the field to a local farmer to plant and harvest. Every fourth of July we would gather on the edge of this field and shoot off the fireworks assembled for our delight by Uncle Lou, my Mom’s sister’s husband – Roman candles, sparklers punctuated the night which was already aglow from the hundreds of fireflies which we chased and jarred with abandon.

John Coon was among the earliest adaptors of solar power, including a solar panel system over the kitchen back door, which powered  all the hot water in the house. He designed a large brick incinerator in the heart of the kitchen, which warmed our backs when we gathered for breakfast at the table overlooking the circular driveway in the front of the house, and burned the trash generated in the home. It sounds like a grand home, which it was, but it was also a cozy home. There was an upstairs bedroom and bath over the garage just off the kitchen where we kids would stay when we came to visit on those innumerable Christmases and summer visits. This was strategically placed at the completely opposite end of the house from the master bedroom and guest bedroom, where our grandparents and parents slept. However, there was little danger of our waking Nana and Grandad, who gathered each morning in the kitchen for breakfast, and watched the Today show at a loud volume, which usually cued us up and out of our beds in the garret bedroom.

The back side of the L which was the living room, faced on the one side onto the large patio, and on the other side to a broad expanse of grass, and the fenced in pool area, where every day after work (in the summer months), John would put on his bathing suit, walk out the gently curved slate stepping stone path to the pool, ascend the low diving board, and dive into the pool, gliding beneath the water to the shallow end; when he emerged, dragging his hand through his majestic mane of hair as he smiled indulgently at his grandchildren cavorting around him in the pool.

A  book-lined den was the exit point for the pool pathway, and in the den were two of the chairs which I still have in my home and which were the impetus for this Labor Day’s labor of love. I have recovered both chairs since inheriting them from my mother; the last time in some orange or rust colored fabric which seemed like a good idea at the time, but which after 10 years or so, are disgusting. The high wing back chair, too big for our new downtown condo,  I donated it to the School for use on stage. It immediately made its way into the furniture cast of Lady Windermere’s Fan, and I discreetly waved to it when it appeared in the third act, Lord Darlington’s study. It always was an attention-grabbing chair. I’m so happy I could assist it in making its stage debut.

The other chair, a comfortable reading chair, originally upholstered in a nubbly navy silk (at Grandad’s house), had been the chair which was in Chris’ room when he was still young and willing enough to be read to before falling to sleep. Both Jimmie and I read the entire Harry Potter series from that chair, and spent hours sitting in it waiting for Chris to fall asleep. I have bonded with that chair and am not able/willing to let it go. It currently sits in our bedroom which is accepting of the orange fabric, but I have a bolt of upholstery fabric (selected after the West Elm chairs and sofa) waiting to grace it.

So, imagine our delight, when, after careful perusal of the West Elm site, we entered the store and lovingly selected the beige fabric for the new sectional. I should say the entire reason for this reno really was my attempt to return to the edenic chaise that we had gotten rid of shortly after moving into our new condo. There is nothing I like more than plunking down on a chaise with my feet up after a 14 hour day in the theatre. What could be better, right? The previous chaise was banished due to the ungodly feline stench that remained after years of owning cats, who, as they aged, increasingly lost their bladder control. Nuff said. The couch had to go.

In the mean time, back at West Elm, Rachael expertly guided us through the selection of the Dunham sectional sofa with Linen Weave “Natural” color, the Two Veronica Taper leg chairs with Retro Ikat pattern in Blue Lagoon, and Chocolate Legs, the Rustic storage coffee table. I was giddy from the spree, and practically skipped down the sidewalk to the car as we left the store. Rachael had explained that the furniture would arrive in stages – the coffee table almost immediately, followed in late October by the chairs and in early November by the couch, which has an 8-10 week lead time but which would be delivered with their “white glove” delivery service…

Letters from Venice – Part V

Sept. 18, 1982

“Dear Diary” if this isn’t a flight to freedom via occupation – i.e., writing, I don’t know what is. There are these people next to me who are trying to get their baby to coo while Daddy is poised overhead with a camera like a doctor with a microscope over a specimen jar. Mommy is cooing in…yes, baby talk in French – an international bad habit. I wonder, will I coo at my babies? – God, I hope not. Well, here I am in Como, Lake Como, and northern Italy. I was just out on this jetty in the middle of the lake, and burst out laughing at my educational process – this week of solo traveling between Bob and Florence and Dad and Joan in Amsterdam. It all began in Milano, when I waved goodbye to Bob and Lee. Crying (as always these days), I climbed into the train and miraculously, a space opened up in a compartment full of very friendly Italians – (Ed. Note: All this is hence colored by today’s incidents.) While en route to Milan, we spent two of the three hours in discorso, using the Italian dictionario, the map, and all sorts of handy visual aids. They were very nice, counseled me against “bad men,” and with the exception of one of them, kept their hands off me. The one was relatively harmless; he kept offering me a ride to Como on his “macchina” at the station. In spite of his assurances that his wife was coming along, I intuited that it was not terribly safe. One of the men, named Franco, was very polite and sensitive to my discomfort when it occurred. At Milan, he helped me to call Louisa in Venice, and took me to see Il Duomo in Milano Centrale. Beautiful, with 100 carved figures on the outside alone. And hundreds of spires, also. It was great. Afterwards, he put me on the train and I left for Como.

Which was, and is beautiful. Lake ComoI arrived at 6:35 or so and proceeded to the Hostel, which was, yes, chiuso, (closed) since June. There, I met a German fellow with a car, and we ate dinner, and then searched for a place to stay. Ma tutto era completo (All hotels were full). And even in the towns on the north side of the lake, there was nothing. So we parked the car, and with Walter’s blanket, I slept on a beautiful bluff over looking the lake, and Walter (God, that name cracks me up) slept in the car.

LakeComoatNightI was reminded of our alpine location, about 12:30 when it began to become very cold. But god, it was glorious when the sun started to come up, and the roosters at various points around the lake began to crow. I awoke at 6:30AM for the last time, to find three hawks circling over my head – I sat bolt upright and gave them the visual clue that I was alive, even if at that point I did smell like dead meat! Came down to Como proper, saw Walter off to Austria, and sought out a bagno publico (public bath), which I found and used in luxury. On my way out, past the market, a vender gave me two apples, not prime by any means, but surely edible, all was looking up when I went to the Grande Piazza and sat down to soak in the sun. Then comes this “nice little old man,” who sits down next to me and starts talking. So we had a nice conversation – the guy was old enough to be my grandfather. Then he asked me if I was hungry, after we’d discussed how “Couragio” (courageous) I was etc. for the night before. And so I go to lunch and he guy wants wine – first tip. “No, I don’t drink,” says Els, catching on quickly. Well, lunch was fine, though I lost my appetite sometime after he asked me to have dinner ad before he told me it was better if I stayed overnight in his house –It wasn’t safe “solo.” Well, granted, it apparently isn’t safe solo, nor did I want to go near this guy’s house, even for caffe, or cognac or cinema, or anything. I just felt stupid to be part of this aging man’s heart attacks or wet dream –god I sound hard. I really guess it boils down to the fact that I felt stupid and selfish and naïve and guilty and entirely justified in leaving him after lunch. Quite a tasty little psychological soup, that!

So, I’m passing the day solo and trying to remain as inconspicuously so as possible I pity the man who comes near. Old Iron Fists Collins here. Tonight at 11:30PM I’m taking the train to Thionville – will sleep on the train. “Sleep”, a euphemism for remaining on guard. I’m sitting on the edge of the lake, which is no punishment or exile – God, It’s glorious.

Sept. 22, 1982

The evening after my imbroglio, I spent with a beautiful young Italian boy- I say boy, because he was about 18-19, and was refreshing in his playfulness. He approached me by offering me a smoke – of hashish, no less, which I politely refused – images of imprisonment lingered in my brain the entire time we were together, even after he buried his “drogues” in a hole nearby. It was really a lovely evening, spent talking about inanities, really, listening to his ghetto blaster and watching the night settle in. There are certain safeties of being with someone and also a comfort of human companionship, of course.

ThionvilleAt Thionville, after a long night on the train with no sleep (I slept on the floor in the passageway, kicked every five minutes or so) I found L’Auberge, and the propriertaire let me sleep all day long in spite of the fact that the hostel was closed. It was great. There, that night, I met Mikie and Tom, a Finnish woman and Canadian man traveling together and we went out for a beer (coke). It was especially refreshing to speak English in more than the most crude way.

The next day, I spent reading, walking around Thionville, Thionville2 and buying books (when it rained). First French books, and a dictionaire. The next day, the 21st, on to Bruxelles, Bruxellesand finding the hostel gutted and ferme (yes, you guessed, closed), I proceeded to Chab, where I met Jessie James, an American vet who was stranded in Brussels, waiting for his veteran’s pension. Pretty interesting guy – “Jessie James” isn’t far off the mark – has quite a few tricks up his twenty-seven-year-old sleeve. Told me about “doing an American Express” to “double your money.” I had to like him, though he was incredibly smooth to the point of being “glissant.” My roommates at the hostel were fascinating –Oorna, a young Israeli woman – I would have liked to travel with her. She reminded me a little of Jessica, tough, but with a true mirth that comes of having seen some things. She had served in the army two years and was proud of her country, but had problems with the evacuation from Beirut of the Palestinians. It is getting very rough in Europe now, with assassinations of Jews occurring in Paris, Amsterdam. It is not a good time to be Jewish and traveling here.

On to Amsterdam today to get my mail!