Letters from Venice – Part IV

Sept. 7, 1982

I am on a train from Edinburgh to London, the beginning of our sojourn to Florence! I really got the travel itch this morning at the train station. Finished off Edinburgh with a bang. After spending all of Sunday in  bed, watching Casablanca, reading Thomas Mann, and eating McVitties digestive biscuits, Monday, my last full day in Edinburgh, I spent at the British Watercolor Exhibition, which was exquisite, and last night went to see La Piccola Scala from Milan perform “La Pietra Del Paragone.” Terrible opera production, but I am perhaps spoiled by the Met’s spectacular shows!
We left the Turkey at the Rat Café, on the door handle – no note. I would love to see their faces when they find it! Great people at the Rat.

(The turkey was a paper mache prop turkey that Bob and I had painstakingly created on the kitchen table back at Princeton, in Edwards Hall, to solve Sam Shepard’s problem of serving a turkey on stage each performance. We filled the cavity of the turkey with sliced turkey breast, on the upstage side and came to love the turkey.)

The countryside is overwhelmingly beautiful. images-5 Such sharp contrasts of wheat and cabbage, evergreens and sheep, old farmhouses and old walls and the insidious new industries, which necessarily bilge blackness into the already overcast sky.

[torture….]

Why is it that writing kills the impulse to write? Observe and learn.

Sept. 9, 1982

Paris! After a very long night au bord du bateau, Channelcrossingwe have finally reached Paris! London was fine – we saw all the sights, Big Ben,images-Big Benjpg

Westminster Abbey,images-Westmin

which was totally impressive, but I feel all a-tingle just being here. We reached St. Lazareimages-Gare St. Lazareimages-GareSt.Lazareextthis morning at 7:00AM, called Hubert, Bob’s French Ami, and are at his apartment now. I am about to take a most welcome shower. Things are going our way also, the exchange rate is at a record high 7.04 F/$. So we are wealthy. Good news. Excuse me. To the shower!

AAAhhh!

There is something more of a challenge being here that stimulates my sporting impulse much more than English speaking Scotland did. An air of the exotic, even the pharmacists devient plus exotiques!  I can understand most of what Hubert says but am a little reticent to speak. That I am losing fast, however. Off to see the city.

Sept. 11, 1982

Three of the best days since leaving Princeton. Hubert has been a prince, giving us the run of his apartment, and of Paris. The first night we went out to a very nice gay restaurant with Ludovic, one of Hubert’s friends. It was very pleasant. Last night we had dinner at home – Hubert is quite a chef in his own right. Bob and I spent the day going to the Tour Eiffel, the American Church, CiDJ, to find information about jobs and housing for when I/we come back after traveling with Dad and Joan.images-undereiffel

Sitting on the banks of the Seine,images-Seine it is easy to think why Paris has seen so many fantastic artists in her history. At the Beauborg images-Beauborgthis morning (right next to Hubert’s apartment) – saw an exhibition of both Braque’s and Yves Tanguey’s works. They were both very different. Tanguey most closely resembles Dali, with his very heady symbols. I find him not to be terribly accessible, in spite of what he and his comrades chose to call automatic drawings. They seem after a time to have become automatically like their counterparts.

Also saw David Hockney’s photos in an exhibit. He does really cool things with composite images.

Sept. 13, 1982  FIRENZEimages-DuomoFirenze

We arrived yesterday at 1:00PM and ran like beheaded chickens trying to find Lee, Bob’s brother. Losing that battle, we went to the Piazza by the Palazzo Uffizi and Loggia, where we met this great old Florentine gentleman who assured us that Florence was bella, and antica. It was his favorite phrase, and every city that came up in conversation could not rival Florence and Rome. Arriving in Italy actually transpired on the train, where our compartment was peopled by two old people from Napoli and a younger man (40’s) who spoke a little English. Not enough. Because he told us we were 2-3 hours from Pisa. This meant we had time to go to the bar car, which was entirely at the end of thee train. Settling down there to eat our biscotti e bibeti, we pulled into a station which we were horrified to learn was Pisa. We jumped off the train, ran outside alongside and back on to get our packs, while our “guide” said “Pisa, Pisa!”  Thanks, buddy.

The other amusing incident on the train occurred when the Napolites started to breakfast after they awoke. From their huge bag emerged two meatball sandwiches and hot coffee from a thermos. (Bob and I, transfixed, continued to pop pruneaux and almonds into our mouths) and two very going sounding pastries, which they managed to make into the loudest breakfast, I have ever heard. It was all I could do to keep from laughing which would not have been the thing to do.

Last night we decided to splurge and go to a nice Italian restaurant. Lee very kindly sprang with his Visa card, and we found a table-clothed ristorante, and had an incredible spread, beginning with an antipasto of crab, mussels, calamari, etc. and prima pasta of Taglierani con panne e salmone, which was exquisite.

Next boiled salmon and an insalata verde. With wine and acqua minerale. It was great. At the table next to us, while we were wallowing in our shared dishes (probably about normal for two people), a table of five, very tanned and colorfully dressed Italians proceeded to put away the most amazing amount of food I’ve ever seen.

Contrary to this journal entry, there are other things to do in Florence than to eat and watch others do so.

This afternoon, we went to the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace, which were every bit as grand as I had hoped –long avenues of trees lined up to guide you or your eyes to an oasis of a pond, with clay potted orange trees and incredible statuary all over the place. The pergolas make beautiful naturally leaded ceilings over the pathways and it would have been a lovely place to write in.

Later, Bob and I went to Il Duomo, and climbed to the top, sandwiched between the two domes, and the German tourists. It is 460 steps to the top, worth every one on seeing the incredible view from the top. I took two pictures from the top – quite a splurge for my very discerning shutter finger*.images-fromtopofduomo

*Bob and I have designed a first class “camera-first” tour of Europe. Pose in front of every monument you see and take a close-up shot to include only 1 sq. meter of the monument’s wall behind. Ex: Perched atop of Il Duomo, don’t take the obvious photo with the city of Florence at your back, turn around and pin your subject to the Duomo itself. This way you can avoid those difficult landscape shots and record instead only the moment of bliss or horror registered on your subject’s face. And why trudge from monument to moment – you can take all those photos in your pensione room – just choose the most rustic wall, ie. the one having lost the most plaster, and shoot away.

–Your resident tourist and cynic in Florence.

We are staying in a great pensione off the Piazza della Indepencia. It is a huge room and the floors out in the hall are Mosaic tiles. Everything is really beautifully done.

Sept. 17, 1982

It was very hard to leave Bob and Lee in the station in Florence, but also is very exciting to go on alone. It is an extremely different experience to be sure – people are more likely to speak with you when you are alone and that makes traveling very much more pleasant.

It will be very relaxing to get into the mountains for a few days. I can tell already as we had into the mountains that they will be fantastic.

On our last day in Florence, we went to S. Gimignano, a Fourteenth century city atop the hills north of Florence. Though about as full of fellow tourists as Florence, it was still very different. When we arrived, the piazza was full of the market, but by the middle of the afternoon, it had cleared out sufficiently to be able to see the extant town.

We bought our lunch “stuffs” and climbed up into the Parco Publico by La Rocca to eat in the olive orchards overlooking the countryside. All was fine until poor Lee became plagued by his traveling friend, Montezuma (wrong country, right idea), so Bob and I spent the afternoon somewhat languorously amidst the dappled shade and sun of another secluded orchard while Lee visited with his friend. We were secluded all but for the young German hikers who were reading rather loudly from their tour book in Italian.

Letters from Venice – Part III

imagesAug. 22, 1982

The night before last after rehearsal we all trouped over to the Rat Café, which was an experience! At the piano in the back of this tiny little café, were a piano player and a very “Weilian” singer dressed in black with a green scarf looped around her throat. They were singing bluesy songs, accompanied by a poor sax player and some very enthusiastic percussionists whose ranks we joined with tambourines and spoons from the sugar bowls on the tables.  We sort of threw a coup, and the displaced Brits (Scots) joined us in singing songs from bad (& good) Broadway musicals. Except for the lead pianist who sipped his wine and pouted in a corner, confiding in whispered tones to a granny doll made out of apple face and rag clothes, which sat wisely atop the piano.

The sax player would punctuate every song’s finish with a blood-curdling battle cry of “MORE!!!!!” And the fun began again. We lasted with this until 2:00AM, when “The Americans” left, and the place went back to normal?

August 23, 1982 (Monday)

But this was the day to remember. Sunday. Oh, the props hunts we have been on cannot rival the garden spot we discovered. Bill Conley and I found storefront on Cowgate (very near the Rat Café) that was crammed full of junk. Every cranny. And objects like a bear’s head, to a close-and-play. There was everything. We walked in, to discover the two proprietors of this astonishing collection in the back room, amidst the continuation of this stuff, cooking breakfast on a wood burning stove, and watching Star Trek on a color TV. What a trip!

August 25, 1982

Saw the worst show on the Fringe today, “Momentum, A Play in 6 Crimes,”

“Worth getting up for” (1/2 truth) James Madison University.

(I remember being trapped in the first row for this god-awful show, at 9:00AM, and not being able to escape and having to watch the whole thing.)

Also saw Scagnarelle at the Royal Lyceum Theatre tonight- Wonderful! Collection of four Moliere shorts, directed by Andre Sorbonne, incredibly innovative and colorful.RoyalLyceum

Tomorrow AM, I am on the street to peddle our shows at the Fringe Office – also will be a chance to get tickets for some shows. I’m getting greedy to see things now – the bug is setting in! It’s fascinating, because after each show, you ask yourself- was that good? And if you liked something well enough to recommend it to others in the company, why did you like it? All these thousands of tourists and theatre people looking for the one show that Carol put it “Makes me go WOW!” Have yet to find it, and I’m not sure what it would be if I did.

Talked to Mark today on the phone, which was a great booster, yet, also a reminder of the length of separation. He said his show is sold out for opening night on September 10th – I’m incredibly excited for him. I only wish I could be there to see him perform.

Found a great bar that also serves cheap food tonight called “The Circuit.” Had dinner there with Lee and Bob. We talked more about travel plans. At this point I could either stay in Edinburgh for the last week of the Festival, then buy an Inter Rail Pass and travel down to Florence with Bob to meet Lee, or just buy an Inter Rail Pass and travel all over from Sept. 5-23rd. Who knows? Decision by Sunday when Lee leaves. Good night.

August 27, 1982

Went to see “Ethel & Julie” this morning; a show about the Rosenberg’s case. It was very well done, simple with the two Rosenbergs and a commentator figure and two multi-purpose minor characters. That seems to be very common in the contemporary stuff I’ve seen – a lot of doubling of characters. In Scagnarelle, each of the four leads was played by a different one. It really reveals the elasticity of British actors. I think we could take a lesson from these Brits!

Am going to see two more shows tonight – “Brecht’s Women” and a review called “Maidenhead Revisited.”

Sept. 1, 1982

“Brecht’s Women” was fantastic. Highly professional show, with great care obvious in all aspects. I am really glad to have seen it. Since then, I have seen “Lulu”, and “Prelude to Death in Venice” both directed by Lee Breuer of the American Rep Theatre. They were similar in flavor – very New York and slick and both very much vehicles of a highly egomaniac director. The Mabou Mines (Prelude) piece was just bonkers – no plot, but the neurotic rantings of a man through his wooden puppet which he cradled between two American pay phones. Very bizarre. “Lulu”, on the other hand, while being very remote from Wedekind’s German Expressionism, was a production devoted to the sensual exploration of his script – very much in keeping with the spirit of Lulu’s search for pleasure and happiness. Very High Tech, with video and miked to death. Carbone, the “Impressionist Painter” of the original script, became, in Breuer’s production, an anemic fey photographer whose focusing of his telephoto lens was not integral to his shooting but which was only suggestive of “extra-pictorial” effects. [what does that mean, Els?] Every instrument, whether it be actor or microphone was exploited beyond it’s normal uses – totally in keeping with the content of the script. It’s not a kind of theatre I aspire to create or even be a part of. But I would not have missed it for the world.

Today I went to St. Giles Cathedral,

my first really “old” church of a string of them, I’m sure. I was struck by the age of the church the minute I set foot inside. I know that is an incredibly trite thing to say, but it was absolutely my first sensation. Then the glorious color of the windows, muted and far subtler than the screaming modern palette of Twentieth century windows. The content of the windows, some of them, anyway, was Scottish history, something I just haven’t seen before in the states.

Today I really got a sense of the importance of certain images to the integrity of a play. Example. I thought the other day, that when the Xmas lights wouldn’t blink for “Action” (the Sam Shepard play which was one of the Princeton University offerings at the Fringe Festival, and which I was stage managing), that it didn’t really matter – we’d fix them for the next day. But now that I am operating them manually from backstage and I appreciate the regularity they afford to the otherwise entirely volatile and unpredictable world Shepard has created. For all these explosions take place, and there I was, backstage, constantly flicking the fucking tree: On-2-3-4, Off-2-3-4. And the voltage drops, which never seemed too important before, now became the only thing that broke the regularity of my flickering. I don’t know why I record this – it just struck me as interesting.

I’m embarking on reading “Death in Venice” a glimpse of what “Prelude to Death,” meant may be imminent!

“Bozzy,” a one-man show about James Boswell…not worth writing home about. You really have to have both a great script and an incredibly innovative actor to pull off a 1-¾ hour show. David McKail had me for ½ hour tops….

Sept. 3, 1983

Saw the New London Actor’s Company perform “Treatment” a play about London youth last night. The acting was incredible – very strident, but controlled, so that I had the feeling the actors had honestly been directed as weapons – never pointed directly at the audience, but I was always with the knowledge that there was a loaded gun in the room.

The one actor, Roger Monk, had such facility with his face to make himself incredibly ugly, that I was amazed. These actors truly know how to use and exploit their bodies to that effect. The group “always centres its work on the sheer mental and physical powers of the actor himself. The aim is to present a highly disciplined and entertaining theatre.” (From the program)

Stopped in yesterday to see four young London artists’ early works in a studio set up for the Edinburgh Festival. The installation was a combination of wooden sculptures which I would call languorous and paneled paintings composed of 6 x8 panels of slate spaced evenly apart in a grid shape, painted in Gauguin/Matisse-like shapes and bright yellows, reds and greens. I liked the work – the subjects, when not totally abstract, seemed to have been Biblical, from Paradise.

There is a great deal of that subject around. The Cambridge Experimental Theatre did “Tartarus,” a show with three actors and a kitchen table, exploring the “Universe”. Again, highly skilled work, the utmost care and concentration exhibited.

Sept. 4, 1982

We are finished! I have a great feeling of accomplishment, and relief at the end of this project. Seeing people off is a bit scary, as the total break from friends for such a long period is bound to be.

Mark called today – OH GOD! It was great to talk with him. Much less strained than last time, and a better phone connection. He’s talking about a European job possibility and about showing up by January. It would be so great.

The show is apparently not going so well. It opens in five days. I hope Mark is satisfied with his work on it anyway. That’s what counts. Though I know how much more frustrating it can be not to be able to control the quality of others’ work, as well.

Letters from Venice – Part II

NB: What follows here are actual diary entries from 1982. Please forgive my youthful perspective!

^*^*^*^*^

            We left for the airport on Tuesday, August 17, 1982, driven by Lee Benson, whose new Oldsmobile Cutlass introduced itself to us as a series of rattles, squeals and clatters. After a somewhat contortionist drive, we arrived at JFK, bought a ticket for Bob, and boarded the 7:00PM flight for London. In elegant form, while waiting in line for the ticket, I crouched down to find a more comfortable position with my 35 pound pack, and tumbled backwards with my jump suited, be-purpled legs flailing helplessly in the air. I knew it was going to be a long trip.

On the plane, we were delayed for an hour and a half, but once aloft, flew quite quickly to London. Our seatmate was a lovely English man named Adam, who insisted on treating us both to bottles of champagne in order to celebrate our trip to Edinburgh.

300px-KingsCrossWithMini.JPGUpon reaching London, we discovered at King’s Cross Station that the train trip to Edinburgh was L32; far beyond our means. Sought out a bus, then settled for the Night Rider, a L12 train leaving London at 10:00PM, arriving in Edinburgh at 5:45AM. Yikes!
Not having slept all night really, we went to nap in a waiting room where there proved to be three extremely loud and drunk assholes who were conducting some kind of “deal” which the entrance of an African disrupted. This interruption created a huge racial contest, refereed by another backpacker who yelled at them to shut up. She was chastised by the instructions – “Shut up, cunt!” Oh, the joys of human interactions.

The taxis are wonderful in London- glossy black sedans sometimes purple or brown, always whizzing by at breakneck speeds.image_mini

There is so much to learn. How to use the frigging telephones. How does one distinguish between a “rapid pip” and an “engaged” signal? Oh, for sleep aboard the Night Rider.telephone

August 18, 1982 King’s Cross

Sign in the Loo:

“Don’t blame the Loo lady for the Price

We work our hardest to keep them nice

Washing pans and mopping floors

Hearing all the banging doors

Clean toilets are our special task

A pleasant smile is all we ask!

Later, saw Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby St. – struck me like a mall version of Soho.

Dinner at Sagamantha, an Indian restaurant, which had a beacon above the front door, which was a rotating red police light, and where Bob and I, passing through Phase 3 of our exhaustion, lost it and started spewing water out in a fit of giggles!

If one thing will drive me nuts, though, it is the number of motorcycles. Every time I see one I think of Mark – and they all ride with leather jackets, which may cause considerable discomfort throughout the trip. I miss him…

Aug. 19, 1982

Edinburgh is delightful. We spent all night on the Night Rider, arriving at 5:30AM to the light of the new rising sun on the age-encrusted city of Edinburgh [ouch].

By our return to the downtown in the afternoon, the place was unrecognizable for the excited buzz of traffic and pedestrians scurrying around.

The tech staff/management at the YMCA, our venue for the first week, is incredibly accommodating and we spent three hours this evening in the space. All props and drops must be fireproofed so tomorrow we will do that.

Had my first spud with cheese (and Bob) at 9:50pm before a 10:00pm rehearsal – I hope to taste more leisurely taters laters…..

Letters from Venice -Part 1

June 2006 -This writing began while listening to “The City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt. The book evoked so many memories of my 13 months living in Venice right after graduating from Princeton in 1982. It never ceases to amaze me how instantaneously an author can tap into your own experiences and start awakening memories of people and places long dormant and unexamined. His book, set in Venice, around the tragic fire at the Fenice Opera House in 1996, covered a time almost thirteen years after I had left Venice, and yet, his descriptions of the city and the politics and the society there unzippered my brain and unleashed my memories. Berendt discussed the curator of the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Philip Rylands, and his wife, Jane Rylands extensively, whom I had met and worked with in Venice. Finishing the book, I was prompted to exhume the letters that my dear friend, Bob Stern had so kindly sent to me recently, saved and sent back almost 20 years later, and having digested those, I dug out my old Journal, “European Ventures!” begun Aug. 17th, 1982 as we left Princeton to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with 5 student-acted plays. We went with our drama teacher, Carol Elliot, and about 15-20 students. Bob Stern, my best friend, and I left for Edinburgh together. I have since gone to the ever-informative web to cut and paste images available to illustrate my adventures of acquiring my post-graduate degree in living. I’ve always been somewhat of an impulsive, pigheaded and fortunate girl – and, now at the age of fifty-three, I am reminded by world events which unfurl around us that indeed, life is only what you make of it, and how your perceive your success at making your life. It is, all too often and too predictably, being in the right place, opening the doors when opportunity knocks, all those clichés which have been drilled into our heads as children.  That time, now thirty years ago, was as magical and unexpected as any moment in my daily life now. Looking back through the miasma of time, if I strain hard enough, I can see in that reckless, twenty-one year old the seeds of who I am now, somewhat manic, terribly critical of myself, willing to take risks – and above all, a people pleaser.

I grew up in the Midwest, in a small rural town outside of Pittsburgh. Well enough outside of Pittsburgh, that the daily commute to the city vexed my father to the point of complete disinterest in making the trip any more, so that he relocated himself closer to work. This happened when I was about thirteen, and was painful at the time, but the seismic shift in our family structure also provided me with the first of many opportunities to come.

Shortly after my parents separated, my best friend, Liz, went off to boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. Now neither this specific fact, nor the concurrent divorce that my parents were working us all through would normally be considered particularly lucky, but the stressful confluence of events led to my being allowed to follow her the following year, to St. Paul’s School. This was one of the luckiest and happiest doors to open to me in my life, but you will see that it was only the first, and not nearly the last such lucky portal.

St. Paul’s is one of the best-endowed, most beautiful boarding schools in the United States, and this girl from Greensburg, PA took it by storm. I loved the classes, the dorms, the extra-curricular theater events that I became part of. Never a big sports person, I nevertheless rowed intramural crew, and kept generally fit, and overall loved the school.

The most influential teacher I had at St. Paul’s was without a doubt, Robert V. Edgar, English teacher, head of the drama program.  I began my stage management career working with Edgar on “Loot,” where my duties involved acquiring the manikin which appears as a prop in the play. I took this job very seriously, and went into Concord, went to a local haberdashery and somehow cajoled them into loaning the manikin to us, then carted it back to campus in a cab. Mr. Edgar believed in my skill as an actor, too. He supported my performance in Happy Days, by Samuel Beckett, my last year, as an Independent Study Project, buried up to my waist, then neck in a paper-Mache mound of dirt, spouting 60 some pages of monologue, with undoubtedly very little variety of tonal expression.

One morning, in my fifth form year, during breakfast in the large barn-like dining room at Upper Hall, I convinced my friend,Will Schwalbe, on a dare, to sneak upstairs with me into Middle Upper, the dorm where Edgar was a house master, and an all boy’s dorm, to knock on his door to wake him up. I’ll never forget coming in through the door way, and seeing the look of surprise on Artie Z’s face as he struggled wearing only his towel, to get back into his room from the shower. Without even reacting to the illegality of my being in a boy’s dorm, Edgar swung his door open, invited us in for coffee and the “Tutorial” began, a weekly opportunity to meet to discuss world events, or just SPS events, while we listened to classical music on Public Radio, or Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood on the turntable, if we were feeling silly, which we frequently were. The ranks of the Tutorial grew by only a few other students, since we considered the gathering to be elite. We were incorrigable intellectual snobs.  After Tutorial, at 7:55AM, we donned our coats, and all walked to chapel together, either through 5 foot snowdrifts lining the path, or through the verdent spring foliage lining the walkway from Upper.

Bob Edgar made us feel like adults, by valuing what we had to say, by laughing at our inane jokes, and by generally offering a droll, witty, smart role model for who we could be when we were finished with our educations. I really cherish those days, and credit them in no small way to my development into a life-long learner.

Cut to December of my 6th Form year at SPS. I had visited only three colleges in preparation for the application process- Stanford, Princeton, and Santa Cruz. When I sat down to it, I applied to Princeton early admission, with UC Santa Cruz as my back up school. In my typically irrational, impulsive manner, I eschewed Stanford because it was hot the day we visited there, and I didn’t like the architecture of the campus. Ridiculous youth.

My mother’s father had gone to Princeton, and had graduated with a degree in architecture in 1933. I had been successfully indoctrinated to the Princeton family over years of attending the Princeton vs. Yale football game with my Granddad, first taking lunch at Cottage Inn, on the “tailgate” of Grandad’s car, then sitting on the Princeton side of the stadium, cheering our team onto victory. Also, having been at St. Paul’s School’s similarly ivied halls for four years, I felt more comfortable on the campus of Princeton then just about anywhere else. It didn’t hurt that about 30 of my friends from St. Paul’s would be calling Princeton home for the next four years.

I plowed through the next four years pretty uneventfully, starting in the Woodrow Wilson School as a poli-sci major, and after one year, maybe even one semester, switching to the Art History department where I discovered a Friday morning slideshow/lecture on the History of Gardens was a successful antidote for a rowdy Thursday night at the pub. I liked the small scale of the Art History department, loved thinking about aesthetics and brush strokes, and enjoyed reading about the early contemporary artists and the choices they made forging new styles of painting. When senior year rolled around, I had become enamored with early twentieth century painters in the New York circle of Alfred Steiglitz, and was inspired to write my thesis on Georgia O’Keefe and John Marin and Arthur Dove, and their particularly American qualities. What intrigued me most then, and still does to this day, was the idea of a single person’s ability to be a catalyst for creativity, by providing a safe haven for creative thoughts and actions. Patrons of the arts fascinated me.

I also worked actively in the theatre at Princeton, not with the Triangle club, who produced musicals and musical revues, but in the small octagonally shaped bunker theatre in the center of the campus, right next door to the Art and Archeology department, Theatre Intime. There I worked on a number of shows, and the last two years, spent both summers on campus as a co-producer for the summer seasons we produced. It was a natural extension of Edgar’s Tutorial – producing and mounting our own fully realized shows for the paying public. The confidence we had in ourselves was staggering.

To support my academics and extra-curricular events, I had a financial aid package including moneys from my parents and grandparents, a scholarship (arranged through the generosity of my grandfather, from his classmates), student loans acquired through the bank in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where my Princeton grandfather lived, and a work-study job at the University. I had chosen to work in the food services division of the University, and spent my share of time peeling and chopping eggs in the Student Center, and making omelets and sandwiches for students over the course of my four years. However, I discovered that I could cashier, make more money, deal directly with people and occasionally have time to read a book during quiet stretches at the Student Center. So I spent most of my senior year in that capacity.

It was on one spring afternoon just prior to my graduation when I had finished my lunch shift as cashier, and, on the way out of the Student Center, stopped at the vending machine to buy a TAB. I was plunking quarters into the machine when someone tapped me on the right shoulder, and I turned to see Louisa J, a graduate student from the Art and Archeology Department standing behind me.

“Hi, Louisa,” I said as I retrieved my can of soda from the machine.

“Els, hi. I have a question for you.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I was wondering, do you know of anyone who would be interested in going to Venice, Italy for six months to au pair for my daughter, Anna, while I write my dissertation?”

Without missing a beat, I opened that door upon which opportunity had knocked.

“That would be me,” I said. We made arrangements for me to spend a Saturday afternoon getting to know Anna, at the graduate student housing, near the campus, and Louisa walked away. I stood there, stunned, opened my can of TAB, took a swallow, and considered my new trajectory.

Later that week, I met the infamous Anna on the “swim-date” Louisa had arranged for the two of us to get to know each other. We sat on our beach towels on the hot concrete pavement surrounding the small pool at the graduate student housing, I in my one-piece, and Anna, age 6, in her two-piece suit. She sat eyeing me warily, sizing me up, and after some consideration, voiced her question; “Why do you have a moustache?” I didn’t really have an answer. It probably was no coincidence that while in Venice, I began what was to become a life-long waxing regime. Occasionally as the technician wands the scalding wax onto my upper lip, I will see Anna’s innocent and curious face looking up at me, and as the wax zips off my lip, I can see the sparkle in her eye.