Monday, March 18, 2013


March might be my favorite month.  Particularly, I like the mix of temperatures and the kind of clouds and light and air we get in New Haven.  After the hard cold and before the pollen.

In the early days of the month my daughter’s birthday falls. Which means I have memories not only of celebrating her birthday at this time of year, but of the late February into early March days of that year, 32 years ago, when she arrived.  It was that period when “the dead of winter” (say mid-January to mid-February) begins to shift toward spring.  And then, a birthday, and then… Before the Ides of March are come, they are preceded by Einstein’s birthday, on the 14th.  This date has some significance because Einstein, or, as I like to call him, “Uncle Albie,” is one of my wife’s few heroes.  I even painted a picture of him for her, ages ago, based on my favorite photograph of him.

Next, the day after the Ides, is our wedding anniversary.  We chose March because we decided it should be the same month as our daughter’s birthday (she was already 4 at the time).  I suppose, in 1985, the 16th fell on the day we wanted, but I liked that it was just after Uncle Albie’s birthday and between the Ides and St. Patty’s Day.  It’s also the birthday of my eldest brother, who died shortly before his 13th birthday.

So…28 years ago we got married.  At that time of year this year, we attended a play we sponsored at my favorite theatrical venue here, run entirely by grad students, and I reviewed it, as I do all the shows there.  It’s a funny show, a take-off on Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in 1927, which happens to be the year my late father was born.  Before the show, while we were eating wienerschnitzel und spรคtzle and drinking a bottle of Bordeaux, a table-mate (he was a Greek grad student studying mechanical sciences), hearing we were sponsors, seemed to think I should know more about Lindy than I do.  And I manufactured facts that were wrong (I thought the flight took place in ’33, and involved radio broadcasts during the flight), though I knew the  name of the plane and the flight’s origin and destination.  He seemed to know none of this.

The play makes you question what the purpose of theater is—which is what one expects of Bertolt Brecht—but it’s also the case that that’s what generally happens with one particular student, Kate Attwell, whose work I’d seen before.  She and her three collaborators managed also to question the purpose of Brechtian questioning of theater, and in a highly entertaining way.  The silliness of it reminded me a bit of a troupe called The Neo-Futurists that I've seen perform in Chicago.

On our anniversary, we went back and saw it again at the final performance, at 11 p.m.  It was the kind of show—inviting a certain measured interaction with the audience—that was worth seeing twice.  And it felt good to be invited back, as behind-the-scenes participants.

In those idle moments when one thinks “what would I do if I were rich,” being a patron of the arts always comes to my mind.  In this world there are many causes requiring funds, many injustices, many threats to the common good.  I don’t see myself as a philanthropist, though if I had tons of money I might get busy trying to fight things I’d like to stop—fracking, for instance.  But one thing I know I would do is support and foster the arts wherever I happened to be.  My wife has always favored education as a primary good.  Me, I don’t care about knowledge as much as talent.  Talent amazes me.  Knowledge only interests me, maybe.  Contributing to the work of creative students seems to satisfy us both.

Earlier in March, a few days before my daughter's birthday, I met up with her at her workplace in Manhattan and we rendezvoused with her guy at a pan-Asian restaurant across from the Film Forum where we went to see the divine Mae West in I’m No Angel.  It was part of a month-long film series on the year 1933.  Only three films from that year are ones I know: Dinner at Eight, King Kong, and Duck Soup.  All were on the program.  But I wanted to see a West film, and she did not disappoint.  One thing that surprised me is that her way of speaking—I mean how she pronounced her words, breathing over them, often speaking through a smile while barely moving her lips—reminded me of a woman I once knew when she was a grad student.  Hearing West made me think how long it’s been since I’ve seen her or spoken to her.  Anyway, the great charm of West—who in this film winds up with a very young Cary Grant—is in her outspoken one-liners, aimed to imply that sex is all she thinks about.  Or, indeed, all that anyone should think about, in her company.  Refreshing, to say the least.

The other film on the double bill was Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy, a film that, I must confess, began to make me doze with its extremely slow pace, hypnotic music, minor dialogue, and flickering film-stock (this was a very old, Czech print).  The part I liked best, actually, was the propaganda footage added to the end, of beaming half-naked workers laboring, starkly lit—a nude little boy with a hammer, even!  It wasn’t even vaguely erotic, mind you, it was so clean and earthy, so ennobled by energetic activity.  Quite amusing, in fact.  Whereas the rest of the film was a sort of torpid romp through decadent groves of Freudian imagery—like a nude woman (Lamarr) chasing after a horse.  OK, sure.

In any case, it was a nice enough double bill after warm sake with “the kid” and her guy, laughing about the films I showed her from puberty through her adolescence.  And it was nice to have some apple strudel on the house as her mother and I awaited the last performance of Lindbergh’s Flight.  I told the Managing Director who offered the treat that it was our wedding anniversary, and he asked what number.  When I said 28, his eyes glazed a bit.  Most of the students in the program won’t be 28 for a few years yet.  It’s not surprising that, no matter how smart and talented they are, they can’t fathom such a stretch of time.  I have a hard time fathoming it myself.

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