Friday, December 21, 2012

A December Story


                                              A December Story

     A bad piece of country lay ahead. We should have got across and delivered the packs we carried hours earlier. But the going on this brute of a barren mountain had been slow and hard. Now the night was coming down, darker and colder by the minute. Going on was more than we were up for. We thought we had not been doing too bad, the four of us with our packs and our dog, until the dark and cold stopped us in our tracks. And,to make things worse, we felt half lost, unsure of how to go on. So, we began to look for a place, protected, out of the punishing wind, where we could make camp-- such as it might be--and hunker down for the night.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

MY GIFTED EARS

 
                                                 MY GIFTED EARS

    I have a gift. It has been given me to be able to wiggle my ears. I can wiggle them in concert or one at a time, and to nearly any beat!  I have tried to be modest about this ability.
   But, sometimes, when I am alone, it gives me considerable pleasure to use my ears to beat out that great old hymn of empire, Rule Britannia. Sometimes I find myself “playing” variations on it.
   But there are other significant uses for wiggling ears.  Occasionally, I would get them moving up down and crosswise while advancing a particularly pithy idea in a classroom lecture. The students who were paying attention to what I was saying did not notice my ears. The others, desperate to grasp at any possible relief from their boredom, would usually give way to giggles.
   Or, an overwrought student, baring his soul over some crisis or other, could be restored to her felicity by noticing, through her tears, that my ears were going like sixty.
   They really can go!
   Which reminds me, about playing a tune: I am able to play the kazoo. My trombone kazoo on the ledge above this Mac is a treasure. I should tell you that I am self-taught on this wonderful instrument and learned its rudiments as a little boy by singing through a lilac leaf. Some there are who imitate the kazoo by holding a piece of cellophane over a comb and playing away. Those who play the swinette, do so by holding that comb tight over a pig’s ass and singing hard.
   I want you to know, too, that I am most likely the only one you know who has played the adagio, third movement of Mozart’s G-minor quintet in public on the kazoo. As I recall, that particular public was too stunned to respond.
   I played in earnest and reverentially, having been taught as a freshman in college that this Mozart quintet was the greatest of all music.
   Today, I see no reason to think otherwise and hope that my rendition on the kazoo would have given Mozart a moment of glee in the midst of his heart- break.
    But, I must confess that, try as I will, I cannot move my scalp.

Beginners, uncertain of their musical prowess, or those who may want to improve their embouchure, may want to consult the definitive, The Complete HOW TO KAZOO,  by Barbara Stewart.





Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kicked Out


 
Dear Readers of this blog:
    At the end of summer, Betty and I wanted to drive the Brainard Lake loop above Ward and so presented our life-time pass at the station below Red Rock. The usual jolly, out-sourcing, privatized lady in her faux uniform noted our pass and handed us a childishly written green half-page to the effect that these jolly outsourced old folks, now in charge of our public lands, would no longer admit us to these public lands on our federal passes.
   They begged that they could no longer “afford” so to admit us card-holders, even for a fifteen-minute drive-around. And the US Forest Service, now a jolly city ”business”, signed off on this infamous new policy.
    From the time, now several years back, when the Forest Service abdicated service and turned these public lands over to these privateers, I felt anything but jolly about it and always presented myself at the gate as angry and sour.
    But the ladies remained jolly to the end and professed to know nothing about the “public” nor its lands. Nor did they appear to care. They wanted only to be “paid off”.
   And now, this season, we are handed this “green slip” of pathetic pleading on behalf of the poor corporate outsourced jolly workers.
    Allow me to vent my spleen and share with.
                                                    ~~~~~


Boulder
October 25, 2012


Steve Werner,
    American Land an d Leisure Company
Paul E. Cruz,
     United States Forest Service

Sirs:
    I have before me the green, half page of poor construction about Golden Age access to the Brainard Lake area. This insult was handed me of late at the Red Rock Lake control station.
    I knew, when the Forest Service decided it was no longer a “service” but a provider of a product to its “customers”, that we were facing the end of our traditional uses of the forest. The corporate beast engulfs everything, even our public lands.
    It may have been in 1939 that I first saw Red Rock Lake, not to fish, but to search for a salamander with too many toes for my teacher’s research at C U. It was a tough to get in there in those days-- gorgeous, remote, with that mysterious stone lodge on the east side.
  And I recall vividly, in 1952, taking a six and one-quarter pound rainbow from Red Rock on a dry, size 16, Red Variant. The fish caused a sensation in the Denver Press.
    My wife and I have gone back time and time again over the decades; until, that is, as anglers, we were turned into  “customers”-- and effectively run out by rapacious privateers.
    It is difficult to find words for their effrontery-- or for the disintegration of the Forest Service from its historic role in the American Ideal of public lands.
    My revenge shall be to blog this letter and never to go up there again. No more that annual drive around the Brainard Loop and back out. Where once, with an almost child-like confidence in the splendor of our Rangers, and with that youthful excess of energy and stamina for fishing, we now feel reluctant to leave the safety of our car.
     I wish American Land and Leisure Co. a rapid economic down-turn back to darkest Utah or wherever it hides out. The work it does is not wholesome.  And of the Forest Service: I hope that it may somehow get out of  “business” and back into SERVICE of those sacred lands of ours.
    I’m yours, a lost customer

Gordon. M. Wickstrom
Bouldercreekangler.blogspot.com

Monday, November 5, 2012

More on the Greenback

 
                          
This morning’s Daily Camera (Nov.5, 2012) ,with its customary insouciancecarries a column by Ed Engle on the fortunes of the greenback cutthroat trout. Ed takes the party-line of the University of Colorado geneticists who have sought the birth certificate of the trout that for three decades has been thought to be the long lost authentic greenback. What they have discovered under their microscopes, they believe means that the greenback that we only thought we knew is, in fact, a forgery.
   I have been writing on this subject for two decades myself and now feel called upon to weigh in again on behalf of the greenbacks we know and have fostered. You may like to read on….

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Zinnias Are Using Me

 
                   

 out front every summer I plant a big, long, four-row bed of mixed zinnias. Like Katicha’s right elbow, they are much admired by connoisseurs.
   The thing is, for this essay, is that these zinnias have been grown from their own seed for at least eighteen years. I take the seed from the dead heads of the flowers, as I did this morning, to keep them in a cool, dry place until next May-- if the Lord lets us live….
   This morning I thought more carefully about what I was doing out there on the deck on this glorious October morning, pulling the dry petals with seed attached  from the dry blossom. I must then break the seeds free from the chaff of the petal.
    Lets see… if there is any one thing we may all agree upon, it is that the intention of each of those seeds is to fall to earth next spring in a rebirth. A new life. Right? Such is basic botany.
    It occurred to me also that I, ME, this morning, was as essential to my seeds new life next year as was the soil in which they were lodged for the sun and water to nurture them.
In my fingers was the life or death of these seed. I selected them, naturally or no.
    Then a funny thing happened, otherwise I should shut up and go do something useful.
    You see, I have one variety of zinnia that wants to dominate the rest. I like it a lot and call it my pom-pom for its pronounced and fine ball shape. It’s pink, a rose pink, that I like, even if my father did advise that pink was the “unnecessary color”. I’d protest to him, if I could, that this abalone pink is a strong and useful tint of an all but necessary color.
    So, there I was this morning faced with a box full of dead zinnia flower heads, I flew to my work only soon to realize that those pom-pom pink heads were coming to my hand way more frequently than the others. That variety was demanding precedence and getting it. Not only because they were plentiful, but because they gave up more mature, darker gray, spade shaped seeds than did the random others. The pom-poms harvested much more efficiently. They were making certain that, through me, by using me, they could dominate the garden next year and so fulfill their reason for being: plain old reproduction. They were making me a part of their life process. Without me, they were done for.
    But then there were heads of other blossoms: reds, of several hues, lesser pinks, purples, a few yellows and even fewer cherished whites. I really wanted their seed in order to relieve the heavy pinkishness of the bed. As I began to process the seed of these  “other” blossoms, I suddenly realized that they too were using me in the process of their destiny as a variety.
They were forcing me to be extremely careful of their seeds, almost to the individual seed. In this way they would live to bloom another season. They have their way of getting round their yellow and white weakness.
    Years and years ago, I was in thrall, and in many ways still am, to George Bernard Shaw, to be known hereafter as “GBS”. I was much moved by his evolutionary thinking and his effort to side-step Darwin in order for human consciousness  to enter, as a force for development, the competitive field of the species. 
    GBS championed Lamarckian theory and was highly criticized for it. I tried to keep the faith and, today, believe, in my foolish, fond way, that I and my zinnias are making a sort of point for Lamarck-- evolution in miniature, and saving a lot of money into the bargain. 
   Have you noticed how few zinnia seeds there are in a two-dollar pack? I’ve harvested a small fortune worth and will share some of them, even the pink pom-poms.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

On the Thirteenth Day of September

    Serious Pleasure

    It's said that Denver is now the capital of American fly fishing. Helping to prove it, two of us over-seas members of the venerable and premier London Flyfishers’ Club, are hosting the first formal Flyfishers’ Club dinner ever held on this side of the Atlantic.  This historic event is taking place this week at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. 
    G.William Fowler of Odessa, Texas, and I are in charge. My lawyer friend Bill Fowler has written a definitive account of this gentleman’s social club in London and himself frequents the club’s rooms in Brook Street.  Some will recall that I once wrote and produced at the Library a play imagining a furious debate between the two most famous members of the club, Frederick M. Halford who gave us the dry fly as we know it and G.E.M. Skues. He shook the trout fishing world by introducing the wet fly and nymph to the hallowed chalk streams south of London in the 1890s.
    Continuing the club’s tradition at such formal dinners (this one afar from London at the splendid Brown Palace) Boulder’s Anders Halverson, amid some little ceremony, will address the company. Halverson is today’s most provocative and fascinating  writer on trout and their geographies. His book, “An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World” changes minds everywhere it is read and predicts deep change in managing and angling for trout. It is as critical an issue as the virulent Halford/Skues stand-off at the club in London over a century ago. Harry Briscoe, President of “Hexagraph  Fly Rods” of Houston, will respond to Halverson’s remarks. 
   Both Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, the club’s patron, have sent us their warm greetings.
   Fowler has said that there is nothing quite as satisfying as researching the great Halford in the elegant club rooms in Brook Street, in the finest of all fly fishing libraries, surrounded with artifacts of four centuries of angling. As for me, you can imagine the pleasure of sitting at dinner “over there” and looking up to see my own books on the shelves of that library.  
    Next morning some of the diners will be going out after Front Range trout, helping to prove that Denver is indeed the exact center of American fly fishing, whether with Halford’s high floating dry flies or Skues’  deep-sunk nymphs-- still a matter of controversy even in Colorado.  And all of it redounding to The Flyfishers’ Club of London and its contribution to American fly fishing.
                                                ~~~~

      

                                                            

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Honor of Sticks

 
                                             
    In front of me here, propped up against the bookcase above my bench, is a “production”
fly fishing rod that an uncle long ago won on a lunch counter punch-board. He gave it to me, right off the bat, this three-piece, nine-foot set of sticks. I was maybe thirteen and hugely happy to have not one but two fly rods. Just imagine, a kid like me with two fly rods.
    Sticks! Is there any stick like a fly rod! And  is there any richer rough-and-tumble Anglo Saxon single syllable word?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Imponderables

 
                                 
 November, 2011

    Piscator says-- that he is puzzled that the recent programs on PBS’s Nova about string theory as a possible explanation of everything about our universe fail to take a  step back to  discuss the  problem of language itself. Can it bear the burden of the secrets of the universe?
     Piscator fears there may be a great gulf fixed between our daily language and cosmological understanding. For instance; is it really of any help to compare the universe to slices of a loaf of bread, each slice representing a  “membrane” on  which our  universe is made up of strings-- and the next slice of the loaf,  another and parallel universe? Piscator worries and so do I.
 
    My daughter tells me, in her new book, that the French philosopher Alain Badiou holds that he can show mathematically that absolute Truths exit and enter history as events. And so makes possible a “new politics”.Yet he attempts to explain himself in our daily language.
    It’s hard.

   July, 2012

   And now we have the Higgs Bosom, the ultimate particle that may, in fact explain everything. For a metaphor in order to think about it, we retreat to the language of trekking through deep snow and the accretion of that snow to our feet.
   Perhaps the universe resides outside all possibility of metaphor…. The universe may be like nothing but itself.
   Anyhow, I like the snow idea better than that of sliced bread-- which is another problem: our emotional and aesthetic preferences for one metaphor over another. Meanwhile, all that dark matter is still out there-- lurking, we think….
    It only gets harder.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A MYSTERIOUS GIVER STRIKES

 
    Beg to report that some nameless, extravagant soul out there has caused to be sent to me an extravagantly beautiful cherry wood gentleman’s walking stick from the distinguished London firm of James Smith and Sons. She or he who sent it must know that I now depend on such a stick and think of it as my friend, as I have my wading staff that for years has got me safely, and with some ease, around in the streams of the nation.
   This new stick is really impressive. Surely the giver will somehow give him or herself up and, confess.
  Who could have done such a thing!
   Thank you; yea, heartily.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yet Another Tale from the Wandering Fulbright: Likely the Last



                        A High Old Time at the Old Vic

    That Fulbright year, we went to everything the Old Vic produced: Hamlet, Twelfth Night, the three parts of Henry VI, Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, and closing with Henry VIII.  We got the Underground from Kew to Waterloo Station on the South Bank of the Thames and hoofed it on down the road, farther south to the beloved Old Vic theatre. All three of us, to sit up in the gods on benches for, I think it was, five shillings. I, in my professional zeal, sometimes went twice to see them.
   Our six-year old Linnea, at the matinee intervals, got her ice cream, and had a fine time.  Especially at the end of Hamlet, when, with John Neville, as that prince of all the princes, lying there dead in as beautiful a pool of light as I had ever seen, I saw Linnea’s eyes flood with tears. In a rapture she upped onto her knees on the bench, threw her arms around me and blurted out, “O, Daddy, thank you for bringing me”. I knew then that her education was assured.
   But what I wanted to talk about is the production of Henry VIII  with Edith Evans, sovereign lady of the English stage back then, as Queen Katherine and none other than John Gielgud, thought by many to be the greatest living actor, as Cardinal Wolsey. It was all the talk of the town. The opening would be a gala.
    Betty and I decided, as soon as we heard of It, that we must bust the budget, just this once, and book really good seats in the center of the orchestra. We just could not miss this sure-to-be historic performance.
   And so, there we were, on opening night, dressed as best we could and nearly breathless. A friendly young usher whispered to us that everyone in the English theatrical establishment who had the night off was in attendance to pay court to Evans and Gielgud. We shuddered a bit as we were shown to our so excellent seats, maybe twenty feet from the stage and center. And the performance began-- with the ritual playing of God Save the Queen.
  
    All went well. At the interval we even splurged on a glass of sherry in the theatre’s upper class bar and were minding our own business…. when we began to hear this remarkable female voice behind us, warm, refined, musical, of deep timbre-- and faintly New York American.
    I sneaked a look and there she was, Maria Callas, the diva of the century, perhaps of several centuries. She also was drinking sherry and bantering with her companions, Lord and Lady Harewood, her closest English friends-- and only ten feet away! I feigned an excuse to turn around. And there the great lady stood, graceful, relaxed, beautiful, all in the grand manner.
   As I dared to stare-- and it was a calamity for me-- there beneath her conservative, smart cocktail dress were… thick ankles! I recoiled inwardly and suddenly with a broken heart. I learned in an instant that the world was indeed badly flawed. The great soprano had been able to get rid of all her excess youthful weight except from around her ankles, and there was nothing under the sun that she could do about it.
   I had to pull myself together for the rest of the play and, upon returning to our seats, saw that Callas was sitting in the row just behind us and a seat or two deeper into the row! Imagine! She was in town to sing Violetta at Covent Garden in a couple days-- to which we had tickets up in the gods of the Royal Opera. Ever since we began listening to her recordings back in Wyoming, I had been besotted with her-- and, I am proud to say, still am.
    And so-- we managed, in the thrill of it all, to behave ourselves. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but Ralph Vaughn Williams just across the aisle from us. And so it went. We were surrounded.
   On stage, Evans and Gielgud were coming up on the famous scene in which the Queen begs Wolsey for his support-- which, of course, he refuses. Everybody in the house was waiting for this great moment.  When it came and the two great actors got into it, suddenly, the stage went dead quiet. Evans and Gielgud froze up, neither able to remember a word of their lines. The audience froze up with them, in that wonderful terror of  the theatre when things go wrong. The Queen and the Cardinal made faint little tries at getting back on track, but no good. They were entirely lost.
   So what did Gielgud do?  He offered Dame Edith his hand; she rose from her chair and its dais, stepped down, and accompanied Gielgud, on his arm, off the stage! Just as though that were the way it was supposed to play. They left the stage  in the grand manner.
   How long were they gone? Who knows?  Time stood still. Until, probably under thirty seconds, they swept back onto the stage and tore the place apart with a performance that truly did “ascend the brightest heaven of invention”. The audience cheered. Callas, right behind us, applauding away like any good old American gal, just like the rest of us. No doubt that she too, in her momentous career, had forgotten her lines.
   We are all of us together in this great mess called life.
   The theatre can be the site of a particular sort of forgiveness.

  We mused on this as we made our way home on a late train to our ancient flat in cold and cozy Kew--  now with this tale to tell.  
                                                       ~~~



Yet Another Tale from the Wandering Fulbright:



Yet Another Tale from the Wandering Fulbright
                                Likely the last                         

                        A High Old Time at the Old Vic

    That Fulbright year, we went to everything the Old Vic produced: Hamlet, Twelfth Night, the three parts of Henry VI, Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, and closing with Henry VIII.  We got the Underground from Kew to Waterloo Station on the South Bank of the Thames and hoofed it on down the road, farther south to the beloved Old Vic theatre. All three of us, to sit up in the gods on benches for, I think it was, five shillings. I, in my professional zeal, sometimes went twice to see them.
   Our six-year old Linnea, at the matinee intervals, got her ice cream, and had a fine time.  Especially at the end of Hamlet, when, with John Neville, as that prince of all the princes, lying there dead in as beautiful a pool of light as I had ever seen, I saw Linnea’s eyes flood with tears. In a rapture she upped onto her knees on the bench, threw her arms around me and blurted out, “O, Daddy, thank you for bringing me”. I knew then that her education was assured.
   But what I wanted to talk about is the production of Henry VIII  with Edith Evans, sovereign lady of the English stage back then, as Queen Katherine and none other than John Gielgud, thought by many to be the greatest living actor, as Cardinal Wolsey. It was all the talk of the town. The opening would be a gala.
    Betty and I decided, as soon as we heard of It, that we must bust the budget, just this once, and book really good seats in the center of the orchestra. We just could not miss this sure-to-be elemental performance.
   And so, there we were, on opening night, dressed as best we could and nearly breathless. A friendly young usher whispered to us that everyone in the English theatrical establishment who had the night off was in attendance to pay court to Evans and Gielgud. We shuddered a bit as we were shown to our so excellent seats, maybe twenty feet from the stage and center. And the performance began-- with the ritual playing of God Save the Queen.
  
    All went well. At the interval we even splurged on a glass of sherry in the theatre’s upper class bar and were minding our own business…. when we began to hear this remarkable female voice behind us, warm, refined, musical, of deep timbre-- and faintly New York American.
   I sneaked a look and there she was, Maria Callas, the diva of the century, perhaps of several centuries. She also was drinking sherry and bantering with her companions, Lord and Lady Harewood, her closest English friends-- and only ten feet away! I feigned an excuse to turn around. And there the great lady stood, graceful, relaxed, beautiful, all in the grand manner.
   As I dared to stare-- and it was a calamity for me-- there beneath her conservative black cocktail dress were… thick ankles! I recoiled inwardly with a broken heart. I learned in an instant that the world was indeed badly flawed. The great soprano had been able to get rid of all her excess youthful weight except from around her ankles, and there was nothing under the sun that she could do about it.
   I had to pull myself together for the rest of the play and, upon returning to our seats, saw that Callas was sitting in the row just behind us and a seat or two deeper into the row! Imagine! She was in town to sing Violetta at Covent Garden in a couple days-- to which we had tickets up in the gods of the Royal Opera. Ever since we began listening to her recordings back in Wyoming, I had been besotted with her-- and, I am proud to say, still am.
    And so-- we managed, in the thrill of it all, to behave ourselves. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but Ralph Vaughn Williams just across the aisle from us. And so it went. We were surrounded.
   On stage, Evans and Gielgud were coming up on the famous scene in which the Queen begs Wolsey for his support-- which, of course, he refuses. Everybody in the house was waiting for this great moment.  When it came and the two great actors got into it, suddenly, the stage went dead quiet. Evans and Gielgud froze up, neither able to remember a word of their lines. The audience froze up with them, in that wonderful terror of  the theatre when things go wrong. The Queen and the Cardinal made faint little tries at getting back on track, but no good. They were entirely lost.
   So what did Gielgud do?  He offered Dame Edith his hand; she rose from her chair and its dais, stepped down, and accompanied Gielgud, on his arm, off the stage! Just as though that were the way it was supposed to play. They were full of bravura and in the grand manner.
   How long were they gone? Who knows?  Time stood still. Until, probably under thirty seconds, they swept back onto the stage and tore the place apart with a performance that truly did “ascend the brightest heaven of invention”. The audience cheered. Callas, right behind us, applauding away like any good old American gal, just like the rest of us. No doubt that she too, in some performances in her momentous career, had forgotten her lines.
   We are all of us together in this great mess called life.
The theatre can be the site of a particular sort of forgiveness.

  We mused on this as we made our way home to our ancient flat, waiting for us all cold and cozy, in Kew, supremely gratified and now with this tale to tell.  
                           ~~~



Sunday, June 10, 2012

From the Splendors of the Past


                    Nugent Monck in Norwich

      I was told he was old, crotchety, and unpredictable. and who knows how he would receive me, once I got there-- to Norwich, to visit and learn what I could from the noted Nugent Monck, who had single-handedly established the long tradition of fine, non-professional regional drama in England. There were those who said that Monck knew as good as everything about staging plays. Be that as it may, he had surely known as good as everyone in the grand old days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  I was told that he knew all the good old gossip-- and the dirt.
   So, I took the train down to Norwich and by hook and crook found the old man’s house. At eighty-one he was in what would turn out to be the last year of his life: He died two months after I visited him.
    I knocked at his door and in due time this shriveled, awful looking, little old man, 100% frontally naked, opened the door and, with not the slightest sign of interest or enthusiasm, ushered me in. With no preliminaries; he thrust into my hand an old, worn text of King Lear and a fresh Penguin copy of it, saying that some “dreadful man” wanted Harley Granville-Barker’s cutting of the play, and I was to sit right down there in the hallway of his quite ordinary middle-class English domicile and transfer Barker’s cutting to the new copy. Me! standing right there, holding in my hand the great Granville-Barker’s own prompt book for one of the most important productions of Shakespeare in all the modern movement!
   Well, I usually do as I am told, and so sat at a small table in the hallway and went to work, line by line, while old Monck went upstairs to put himself together (put some clothes on) for our visit.
    By the time he came down, I was almost finished with the first act and shocked at how heavily Barker had cut the text. It was a revelation.  And Monck somehow owned the prompt book of that storied production!
   He took me to dinner at a good hotel and seemed to be enjoying himself, even with me. I mused on the slightly salacious turn in his conversation on a young woman and her young gentleman at a nearby table. When  he had outlined our next day’s tour of Norwich, it was back to his house where he had a comfortable room ready for me. I believe I was a little afraid of him….
   Next day, we were off to his famous Maddermarket Theatre that he had founded in 1921. The old hall in which the theatre had been built, Monck told me, was on the site of a medieval oratory where a bad priest had been murdered by his inamorata right in the middle of his mass. And since a mass may never be left unfinished, the ghost of this rotten cleric keeps coming back, “appearing” on the stage, over the site of the altar,  trying to finish his mass.  Monck and all the people of his theatre swear by this: their bona-fide, residential ghost. It really was spooky.
    Then Monck wanted me to see the exact spot in the square where tradition has it that Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s famous actor of fools and clowns, after his break up with the company, dazzled all England  by Morris dancing, non-stop, from London all the way to Norwich. He ended his dance, “right there!” Monck said, pointing at a marker in the cobbles. As I love lore like this, I fell for this juicy bit, imagining that famous funny man with a moving mosh-pit, pressing en masse, behind him, raucous and obscene, following him to the end, to see him drop to the ground in the grand manner, in performative triumph.
    I think I was most seduced (and I must be careful with that word when in reference to Monck) when I learned that Monck had spent ten days in jail in Birmingham, in, I think it was 1919, for the crime of blasphemy. Think of that! He had dared, for the first time ever, to show on stage, one of the medieval mystery plays, the Nativity Play from the beautiful York Cycle. Just think, he sat in jail, doing time, for presenting a piece of medieval religious drama!  What could be more distinguished!
   On my own, I prowled around town a bit, went in awe of the cathedral with its gray-black flinty fa├žade, and felt that I was coming to like Norwich, way out there, facing the eastern fens and the North Sea beyond. Cold, wet, and dark by definition..
   Monck insisted on our having a cab to the station and there he put me on the train back to London. He seemed reluctant, almost tender, to let me go-- poor old guy, so valiant, so brilliant, and now so alone-- and soon, so very soon, dead for all his pains.
    He had even cooked breakfast for me.
                                          ~~~~

By the way: Some yeas later in London, in Covent Garden, a performance artist took an empty store-front space, painted it from top to bottom in bright, flat, featureless white, then spread white sand over all the floor and swept clean an oval race course track around the fairly large room.
    Dressed  in black pants and shirt, his face whitened, he proceeded to walk continuously, with an absolutely unchanging pace and without the least expression, for seven days and seven nights. How he solved the problems of his biology, I have no idea. I know only that he walked continuously and steadily.
   He was compelling, beautiful, meaningful to watch in his perfect composure. People came in off the street to watch a bit; some looked in from the sidewalk (pavement) outside. 
I went to see him three times during the week. On the last day. I stood up close to the track. When, in his trance-like  concentration, he passed by me, I whispered at him, “Thank you.” He flinched with the faintest suggestion of a smile and went on. He had heard me!
    At the end his work of art, there was to be a party to which anyone might come. I’ve always regretted that I did not, but on the other hand, the lovely spell of his work might have been wrecked. As it is, I have remained thankful for what he had shown me of the human creature.
   Much as a woman, four years ago, walked home from Denver to Powell, Wyoming-- 520 miles. She was and is still dear to me. I regard her long walk as a work of art that, like the performer’s In London. It thrills and illuminates. I should have thought of Will Kempe.



Saturday, June 2, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: A BIG DINNER EVENT

 
JUST TO LET YOU KNOW WHAT WE ARE UP TO.
WE HOPE IT WILL BE AN HISTORIC EVENT
IN A MYTHIC AMERICAN SETTING.
AT THE VERY LEAST IT WILL BE AN IMMENSE PLEASURE
FOR US CLUB MEMBERS ON THIS SIDE ATLANTIC
TO GET TOGETHER, THINK HARD ABOUT OUR BELOVED SPORT,
AND TOAST THE QUEEN.


Monday, May 28, 2012

On Decoration Day


    Harry Briscoe, who makes fly rods and hunts for oil, in his warm and generous way sent thanks to me, of all people, for my service in WWII. I responded with the email below. Harry says that I should post it on this Decoration Day Sunday.
   And so, since I am nothing if not obedient, in or out of the Navy, here it is.

     Dear Harry, I bet you say those nice things to all the girls. 
     When I was close to being sent home, when the war was over in '45, I felt guilty that I had done little to help win the war. I had merely kept the stills cooking, making fresh water, for a Sea Bee outfit stymied on a tiny island in the Philippines. We were an outfit detached to rebuild wrecked rolling stock and commissioned for a longer war with fewer resources, but, in the end, the U.S. got ahead of the war, and so we were not needed after all-- not needed.
   I knew that when I got home this "education thing" (the GI Bill) was waiting. I was sure to reap greater benefits than I ever deserved. And such was the case. I have never ceased feeling that I owe the Nation a great debt. School teaching felt like an appropriate way to pay back the loan of my full life.
  You and my nephew-in-law send out similar gestures of thanks on this big spring holiday. Here in Boulder, the running of its popular foot-race shuts down access to the grave yards and the honored dead lying in them.  But I shall find a way through the blockades.
    I know some veterans who really deserve your kind thoughts; for instance, my 93 year old barber, Fred  Saiz.  But not I, Harry, not I. It may be fairly said of me that I followed orders, did mostly as I was told, and might well have been told to go another place and die-- as did my most excellent of  friends Ralph Metcalf in his first hour of combat on Luzon. I was, all the while, safe and sound down on little Calicoan cooking the salt out of sea water for my buddies to drink and wash their socks in.
   I was barely an 18 year old in a Naval Sea Bee outfit full of middle-aged construction men, the greatest of men, for whose association I am grateful beyond the power of telling. Had I not been given that war, I would never have been given those guys.
  And so, on Decoration Day, I wish I had been really useful and done something more than just privately memorable. Still, I am proud beyond the power of telling that I was part of it, ready to go, got there, and did my lowly job. I was among superb men.
   Back home, in the excitement of my undergraduate education, I felt I must somehow pay back for that education and the benefits accruing to it. I was obligated to the Nation I had served. I was obligated to its community and its welfare. I never got over it. That war was really something. There are things worse than war.
  Thanks for thinking of my good old ship-mates.
   Gordon


Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Very Flesh of Charles Laughton

 
       
             How to write “Laughton” ten times and write the
                      beautiful word Plangent the very first time

                     It occurs tom me, and sadly, that there is
                     an entire generation who know little about
             Charles Laughton, one of the greatest of stage and screen,

    In London, that year, Charles Laughton, having taken up the cause of a new, young, and not very good playwright, put his great influence and fame behind a production of this young man's new play. Laughton would even star in it. What an opportunity that was for us to see this great actor in person, live, on stage! We could hardly contain our excitement when we found ourselves at a matinee of the production in a West End theatre, the name of which I cannot now remember.
    Anyhow, the  play began and we were at once drawn into the magnetism of Laughton's personality, his peculiar body, and mesmerizing voice. The play itself was of little interest: it was all Laughton, bumbling around up there, snorting and huffing about in a depressing bachelor flat, the likes of which London is replete.
   Well, quite soon, at Laughton’s  every turn, there was a bit of applause and silly, nasal  male laughter. These tenders of adoration became more and more frequent, louder, and  disturbing, They turned into big clapping, roaring laughter, and remarks on how he loved the play and Laughton. The audience was terribly on edge and getting angry.
    Suddenly, Laughton stepped out of character and called for the curtain to be brought down. We in the audience sat in stunned silence-- until Laughton came out from behind the curtain to the apron of the stage to tell us that he really could not go on with this mischief in the audience and that the house management would have to see “this fellow” out of the theatre before he could go on-- and that he would be back when the offender was removed. So the curtain closed on him, the house lights came up, the ushers found the seriously drunken "fellow" and threw him out.
    When calm was restored in the theatre, Laughton again came front to tell us  how sorry he was for this embarrassment  to the production and the theatre  and that now he proposed to continue with the play if that suited us in the house. He became so very charming and humorous, He asked us what it is he ought to do. Should he go back and start again at the top of the act? Or should he recommence right where he had brought the curtain down before? He bantered with us, encouraging us to decide our pleasure. The finest sort of happiness swept through the crowd: we were all simply and over-whelmingly charmed. All that funny bantering with the great man. We decided that he should start again, back where he left off. That was fine with him; so he had the curtain taken out and proceeded to lecture us  quite "sternly" like a funny old uncle. He was, by God, going back into that set and climb up on that bed and pretend to go to sleep and if he heard one peep out of any of us, he would again stop the play and have us all thrown out into the street.
    He  then made a "big  production " of  getting his fat, lumpy body up on the bed, smiled, and waved a  cute little wave to us out in  the house and fell instantly to snoring.
    And so, we had shared this once in a lifetime, intimate moment with this great artist, a brief moment when we felt swamped in happiness. We went back to watching him at his work in this altogether forgettable play, but suffused with this gift that he had given us. Charles Laughton had recognized us, his audience, with  warmth and generosity. He had shown us himself -- and recognized in us his life's greatest treasure: an audience.
    A moral to this story? I believe that we all attend live performance with the shyly hidden desire to see something go wrong. One of the joys of the theatre is to see how actors can get out of trouble, perhaps as a model of the way we can, with an active imagination, get out of our own all too real troubles in life.
                                                          ~~~~

By the Way: My boss at the British Drama League took Betty aside and asked her how Americans made the good coffee of which she had heard. It was revealed that Miss MacKenzie just kept on adding a bit more ground coffee on top of that already used until the basket would hold no more. Miss MacKenzie was a survivor of the not so remote  bombing of London.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Navy Beans

 
                    A GOOD S0UP

    Betty got out a can of beans as part of a routine lunch today.
They were Navy beans, those little white ones, famous in the famous Navy bean soup in U.S. Senate dining room in Washington. For a split instant, the sight of those beans took me back to being there in the Capitol, risking a too short spoon in just that soup, in just that dining room, in an effort to do what we could against the war in Vietnam.
   In that instant, in spite of all our anti-war politics, I was in awe of the undoubted grandeur and the immense integrity of the Congress under that great dome.
    There were all those great men-- and single senate woman-- moving about the place.
   Perhaps it is because I am now almost double that age, that I feel that a visit there today to eat the senate’s bean soup would only fill me with contempt for how small and mean and dumb so many of those people have become.
    I am much better off lunching out of a can of beans with Betty here in Boulder where we know what to think. And think how splendid it was to meet Senator Fulbright going into the men's room that day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting In


 
         Getting  Inside the Drottningholm Court Theatre
    Go ahead, he said, in Swedish.
    We had taken a bus out of central Stockholm to Drottningholm to see the perfectly preserved, even with its period scenery, 18th century theatre in its palace where time had stood still and one could visit a complete, as though in a time capsule, court theatre of the Enlightenment. The only trouble was that we got there minutes too late for the last tour of the day.
   Horribly disappointed, I pled my case, as a professionally interested and now desperate Fulbright Scholar, to the ticket master by way of a nice lady who translated for me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Moscow Art Theatre at Lunch

 And with that Same Fulbright Again....

    The Moscow Art Theatre troupe came to London to do a season of plays at Sadlers Wells Theatre. They did the four big Chekhov and two new plays properly authorized by the Soviet cultural authorities. I saw three of the four Chekhov and one of the social-realist variety. I was so very moved, listening to them in Russian, watching them in my English. All that broken hearted magnanimity. ( Months later, at my second cousin’s home in southern Sweden, I was stunned at how his dinning room resembled the birthday party room in Three Sisters, just across the little Baltic sea, of course.) 
    I somehow or other wrangled an invitation to a luncheon at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly in honor of the Muscovites.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From My Miscellany

    To those who will see this posting: warm regards.
     How is it that I feel qualified, even called upon, to advise you to rush to see SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN?  As I sat beside Betty in the theatre yesterday afternoon watching this remarkable movie, I couldn’t but feel our seventy years of throwing flies together at trout-- and salmon-- resting delightfully between us. I would have been willing to bet that Betty was the sole woman in the theatre who had hit an Atlantic salmon on a fly-- one that I had tied.  How is that for qualification for advising you on this movie?

From My Miscellany

     To those who will see this posting: warm regards.
     How is it that I feel qualified, even called upon, to advise you to rush to see SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN?  As I sat beside Betty in the theatre yesterday afternoon watching this remarkable movie, I couldn’t but feel our seventy years of throwing flies together at trout-- and salmon-- resting delightfully between us. I would have been willing to bet that Betty was the sole woman in the theatre who had hit an Atlantic salmon on a fly-- one that I had tied.  How is that for qualification for advising you on this movie?
   I beg to advise that while the film is most certainly about salmon and the ritual of their pursuit, it is much about the vagaries and rewards of romantic love that is more than merely hormonal. It is about many things, in fact, that any close viewer must enjoy and cherish in her own secret way.
    But the McGuffin, the trick of the movie, is to establish a run of Atlantic salmon in a desert river, the Yemen. If the English can transport their farmed salmon to Yemen and get them to respond to their primordial urge to run up river as they do in Britain, then perhaps our own urge to love, throughout the whole and ancient range of love, can be successful too. Every angler who has fished the salmon hopes in his sorrow that his casting, casting, and everlasting casting, may yet, with one more cast, get a strike from that love running ever up-stream of him. If a great fish hits, it could mean his fulfillment-- out in this river that we are tempted to call life.
    I call your attention to the myriad images of streams of pure and living water in both the Islamic and Hebraic literary traditions. The aristocratic sheik in this lovely film wants only to fulfill the destiny of his desert water by planting heroic salmon in it. I wonder if the alpine water piped down to the exquisite fountains of the Alhambra at Granada was home to salmon in those long lost times.   
                                                                                           


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Wandering Fulbright #2

 
                      Two Brechtian Women
    By some hook or crook, on a dark and stormy night, when I was new to London, I found myself in a strange suburban flat at an even stranger party that I found pretty intimidating.
    I can remember none of the details except my general uneasiness, which became specific when a pair of tough-looking German ladies of uncertain years from East Berlin got me into a corner, scaring me half to death with their grinding, gravelly baritone, broken English gospel of Bertolt Brecht.
    They had that Bavarian swarthiness about them, skinny, muscular, dressed in working-class blacks and ready to make short work of me. I, poor bourgeois bastard that I was-- and sometimes still am-- who as yet knew all too little of the revolutionary Bert Brecht or of his politically and aesthetically explosive drama of and for the working class and world politics. Soon, I was to note, everyone in theatre circles was talking “Brecht”. And I got, as they say, with the program.
     But right now, these ladies made it clear that if I cared anything at all about economic and social justice, to say nothing of art and culture In general, I would hie me back to the United States and carry the Gospel According to Brecht to every corner of the nation. I was being intellectually roughed-up. They made me feel almost childish in what I thought was my own commitment to a new theatre.
     Those ladies were really something. I think they nailed me because I must have looked so pathetically vulnerable, a young (30) American who needed their proselytizing. And they did it to me-- in spades.
                                           ~~~~

By the way: I took with me to London a favorite solid red tie, of the most gorgeous red worsted wool by Wembly. Wearing it one day, a friend at the League  pulled me aside and said that in London only members of the “C P”. (the Communist Party) ever wear solid red ties. I needed to be warned.




Monday, March 19, 2012

To Be Compleat

 
                                      
                            WALTON AND THE REST OF US

    I cannot, this morning, think of anything with as fine or more useful a title of anything than Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler. It speaks to me of what can be the wholeness of the angler, of his style, and his accomplishment-- for whatever he fishes. We angle for many things in our lives. I angle for your favor as I write this.