I met John at a theater in Paris in January 1971. I have already told that story somewhere else, so I’ll only add that John was a physicist who was doing a three-year stint at Collège de France in Paris at that time. He had formerly worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, but when his first marriage ended in divorce, he applied for a couple of years’ research work at Collège de France.
In 1964, when John was a graduate student at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, he was living in a room that had been converted from a garage. One stormy night there was a knock on the door and his Cajun friend was standing outside dripping wet in his long London Fog raincoat. He pulled out a little thing from a deep pocket and the ‘thing’ turned out to be the cutest little tabby kitten with a white spot under her chin and four white paws.
That got to be Lucia who became the mother of Brünhilde and Siegfried – later on when John was married to Linda. Susanna was their fourth cat who just wandered in one day at the house they rented on Long Island. She adopted them and became one of the group to make it a foursome.
Thus began John’s passion saga with cats. He has never since then lived without one or two, , except for his first year in France. I myself grew up with cats and dogs, and I am a total nut for animals of all kinds, but especially for – cats and dogs. Already when I was a baby in Småland, we had a collie dog called Pojken, which simply means the Boy.
Before moving to Paris in the summer of 1969, John delivered three cats to his parents in Florida, after Linda had opted to take care of Brünhilde. Later when John and I visited his parents in Orlando, Lucia and I also became fast friends in no time. There is a picture of Lucia sleeping next to me on my pillow.
John was following in the footsteps of a friend and fellow physicist at Brookhaven, Wes, who later became a professor of physics at Nijmegen University in Holland and who has always remained a close friend of ours.
I first got to know him and his wife Patsy when we were driving my little Renault 4L (L for luxe!) from Sweden back to Paris in 1971. John had gotten to know my family and several of my friends, especially in Bergslagen, west of Stockholm, the most wonderful region in middle Sweden, which we returned to with friends in 1982. On our way back to Paris, we stopped by in Nijmegen to see Wes and Patsy, before they had even started a family and lived in an apartment.
That little second-hand car served me well for the year I spent in Paris in 1970 – ’71. Since my English teaching job was at l’Université de Paris Sud in Orsay, it was just about necessary for me to have a car. John worked in the center of Paris in rue des Ecoles and he didn’t need one. He walked to work in 15 minutes along the Boulevard St.Germain from the 6th to the 5th arrondissement.
When I first got acquainted with John’s studio in the 6th arrondissement, in rue des Saints-Pères, I was absolutely delighted to get to know adorable little Mélisande, just a few months old, named after the female lead of Debussy’s Opera. We were going to see that opera in Vienna with John’s parents, in the summer of 1972. The program said Pelleas und Melisande, and when John received the tickets, we were a bit worried that it was going to be all in German. We needn’t have worried though. It was sung in beautiful French.
Mélisande and I became close friends in no time, and of course when John and I traveled back to the United States at the end of the summer of 1972, Mélisande was with us on the plane. We had a fun time with our kitty in a cage on John’s lap and also sometimes out of the cage. On one of these occasions, Mélisande disappeared among the feet of our co-travelers, but with good help and a lot of laughing we managed to get her back to the lap where she belonged.
The launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957 had shown the USA they were not the leaders they assumed they were in space exploration and science. In the resulting political panic, much government money was devoted to recruiting and training new young scientists. John really was interested in science (His two major subjects were science and music.) and decided to major in physics at Duke, to eventually profit from the Sputnik fallout. When he got to graduate school, he started in nuclear physics but found it rather boring, so he switched to particle physics, at the real edge of fundamental knowledge. (He would later discover he preferred studying it to doing it, but that was later.) In fact, though, so many new scientists were created that there eventually turned out to be an excess of particle physicists.
However, during John’s last year in Paris – a year that was added to the two years stint he was counting on to begin with – he had been looking for jobs all over and there was not a single position in particle physics to even apply for. So for that one year in New Rochelle he ended up teaching general science as a permanent substitute in Rye High School. He was not very happy.
When I look at all the programs I have amassed from that year, I get the impression that we must have gone to the City every weekend. But one weekend we didn’t go. We got down to the mailboxes and found a telegram from Sweden telling me that my dad had just died. John right away suggested we go back and skip the City for that day. And so we did. We went back to the apartment and I had a good cry. My father was the most wonderful man I have ever known. He was honest almost to a fault, He was wonderfully loving and had a great sense of humor. His two attempts at starting his own accounting business failed, most likely because of his extreme honesty.
I was so very happy that John had gotten to know my dad the previous summer, even though he was very sick. He had then been suffering from leukemia for over a year. Most of that time he spent in the hospital in Malmö where my brother-in-law Per was an oncologist and Per saw to it that my dad got the best possible care and treatment.
After Dad retired in 1968 he had been given some prestigious jobs as auditor for the city of Malmö. And just a couple of years later he was hit with this incurable form of cancer. It seemed so cruel that when Dad was finally recognized for his real worth, he had to give up on everything. It was so incredibly sad.
When John and I were there, Dad told me to come into his study and he explained to me that from the little money he was leaving behind, I would get such and such a sum, and so on. It was spooky sitting next to him on the sofa hearing him talk about what would happen after he died. He had lost so much weight that his suit was hanging loose around his shrunk body
From a lack of the right diplomas he had never had the jobs he deserved, or at least not after the divorce when he had a nervous breakdown. It seemed as if everyone did have a breakdown after that terrible divorce, Dad, Mother and I who got into a long period of anorexia. My sister Gun seems to have escaped without serious traumas, at least as far as I know. Mother changed forever after the divorce.
My dear aunt Emma-Lena, Uncle Ossian, my mother’s brother and the entire family had moved first to Chicago and after retirement to Florida, they had settled in the Tampa region close to the west coast of Florida. Ossian was a man of few words and innumerable talents, but Emma-Lena and I had many many long talks about their lives and also about Mother’s and Dad’s life. She said that their divorce had not been necessary. I quoted her on that to Gun once who said “Oh if she had heard them arguing, she would never have said that.” How terribly sad. So Gun was probably more traumatized from hearing their violent arguing, which I don’t even remember, except one incident which I try to forget.
Mother got back in shape, at least temporarily, because of her love for her work and especially after she also became the theater photographer and married Arne. But when her career was over, she broke down definitively and in spite of short periods of some semblance of health, her enormous energy and love of life were gone. (Magda Molins theater pictures, Best pictures)
John came over to the U.S. for Christmas ’72 and I had driven all the way out to Kennedy Airport on Long Island to meet him. He flew Air France and so arrived at the International Airport. I parked my car on the ground level parking lot, the way you did in those days. I may have been a little late – it’s a long way from New Rochelle to Kennedy Airport. Suddenly I caught sight of a bus marked Westchester and there was John inside it standing right next to the driver. John saw me and the driver laughed and opened the door for him. Reunited again, but it was a narrow escape.
A few days later, we took a flight to Orlando to spend Christmas with John’s family. I had already, beforehand, bought at George Jensen a very elegant serving plate in stainless brushed steel holding a wooden carving block inside it. I had sent ti right away but It was meant as a Christmas present. However, it didn’t say so, and of course my future parents-in-law had already opened it when we arrived. They were delighted.
For my Christmas present John gave me the entire recording of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ by Richard Strauss. The entire synopsis was of course included. One Sunday, alone in my apartment in New Rochelle, I spent all day on the floor in my living room listening to the opera and reading the text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. I found his German quite difficult to read though, and when I mentioned that years later to my Austrian/Parisian very good friend Jürgen, a former colleague from l’Ecole Centrale de Paris, he said that didn’t surprise him. Von Hofmannsthal writes a very special kind of Austrian German, probably with a lot of dialect. Fortunately the text was also in English, but I was stubborn and wanted to read it in German.
What we very often did though, both with Allan and with John was buying the New York Sunday Times as we got back to New Rochelle from the City around midnight after a Saturday outing and then spend most of Sunday on the floor reading it. I would put aside the Business, Finance, Sports and Real Estate sections, and maybe more, and concentrate on the rest. The Magazine alone, if you wanted to read it carefully could take the rest of the week. At that time journalism was reliable writing, not simply Washington propaganda or ‘government stenography’ as it is now called by progressive writers and critics of the fake news media.
I remember every evening working on lesson preparations and test grading, a thing non-teachers are rarely aware of. Much later on, when my niece Kajsa wanted to switch to becoming a teacher from having been the boss’s secretary at Tetra Pak, I warned her that she must know how, as a teacher, you never feel that all your work is done. But she loves her job. She is lively and has a wonderful sense of humor and her students must love her.
And there was my very special friend and colleague, Girv Milligan. Girv was a dear friend of mine from Mamaroneck High School, who subsequently became our friend. He was a special-education teacher and did a fabulous job at it. His students looked up to him as a father figure, or so it seemed to me. The year John was in Paris and I was alone in New Rochelle, I wouldn’t have been able to take care of my little sailboat, Kijé, if it hadn’t been for the help I got from Girv – or Girvan as his English second wife Pam used to call him. In the old marina in Pelham, before John came over and we moved Kijé to New Rochelle, Girv scratched the barnacles off the bottom of the boat and I particularly remember how the keel was covered with those fiends. Also, I wasn’t the kind of woman who would take out my boat all by myself and so having Girv, accompanied or not by Pam and even once her son Dod, be the skipper on Kijé added a lot to my lonely life. I love sailing, but I did prefer having a male sailing buddy, especially in rough weather, which is actually the kind of sailing I like the most. Girv, the same as Allan, liked to sail in hard winds and we did so many times. I remember with Allan sailing across the Sound towards what we called the Great Gatsby, by which we meant approximately Great Neck on the northwestern coast of Long Island, which is the central location of the story in The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. There is (or was) actually a big white estate-like house close to the waterline just about where that story was supposed to have taken place. So we would tack towards it, or sail before the wind, depending on where the wind was coming from. Tacking is the most fun in sailing, I think, but sailing on a broad beam is of course the most relaxing.
The year John had come over to New Rochelle from Paris, we moved Kijé from the drab little cheap marina Allan had found in Pelham to the much nicer and closer New Rochelle marina. It was in fact just a short walk from my apartment in ‘Harbour House’ – British spelling! My student and friend Nora and her friend Rita came with us that day and a couple of other times as well. I needed someone who could handle the motor to get in and out of marinas, and that’s what John was very good at after all his experience with water skiing and motor boating as a young man in Florida.
Girv, however, was much more than a good sailor. He was an artist who made everything in wood from Native American-style masks and wonderful precision inlay boxes to furniture. He made a whole set of dinner table and chairs for a wealthy family in Westchester. I think they paid him very well. He once gave me a cubic box with inlays of different kinds of wood that I will forever treasure as a gift from a very dear and an extremely skillful friend. After his death a couple of years ago, his daughter Betsy whom we know well, sent us one of his masks.
We chose from photos and the mask is hanging on a wall in our living room. Girv and Pam were aging hippies with longish hair and Girv with a big mustache and a well-kept beard. They were always dressed in a bohemian and very relaxed way and Pam wore long hippy-like dresses and went to Buddhist Zen gatherings upstate New York.
Pam was quite a character. She came from an upper class English family and married a Persian (as she always said) business man who was probably a member of the inner circle of the Shah. I don’t know when Pam, her husband and their three sons left Iran, or Persia, as Pam says, but I do know that they got Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for them,
which, as far as I know, was never finished in their days. I guess the money ran out and Pam’s first husband finished his days on Mallorca, probably the cheapest place for him to live. However, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was sold quite recently and Pam was there to represent the original owner, so I suppose she was it. Her first husband had been dead for quite some time by then.
However, that one year in New Rochelle was anything but a boring one. It was filled with theater and opera, ballet and concerts, and I can only skim off the very major events in both the drama and the music fields that we attended that year.
The most remarkable theatrical event during that year was no doubt a play by Fernando Arrabal “And They Put Handcuffs On the Flowers”, director and designer also Arrabal. It was performed at the Mercer Arts Center, Mercer Street, in Greenwich Village in the fall of 1972. This totally unconventional play is partly a reflection of Arrabal’s father’s experience in a Spanish prison under Franco’s regime, which Fernando Jr. could never forget. He settled in France in 1955 to be able to see Bertold Brecht’s plays and to get treatment for his tuberculosis. The title in French of his play is ‘Et ils passèrent des menottes aux fleurs’, but it was written in Spanish. It became a great success all over the western world from 1969 on.
Le règle du jeu writes:
“‘Et ils passèrent des menottes aux fleurs’ est une œuvre atypique, une fresque apocalyptique et géniale, composée de rêves et de délires croisés de quatre prisonniers politiques, au moment où l’homme marche sur l’espace et les tyrans n’en finissent pas de mourir…” 1
I now know that there was quite fierce opposition to the play, shocked reaction by audiences and also negative reviews in the press. However, generally speaking, it was an astounding success. John and I were spellbound. The way the public was seated all around the stage, almost mingling with the actors, immensely increased the feeling of being part of the play. We were fascinated by the outspokenness of the play and the fabulous acting.
In the intermission the actors mingled with the audience as we were having tea or coffee. I went up to one of the actors who was standing by the bar as if he was waiting for me to come up and talk to him. I told him how enormously impressed we were. We were totally shaken by what we had seen. Probably due to my feeling of having grown up with the theater, I have never been timid about talking to actors after a show, and in this case my praise was very well received.
Arrabal was an extraordinarily prolific writer, with over a hundred plays published. Besides that, there were novels, essays and a huge amount of poetry. And there was his notorious “Letter to General Franco” published during the dictator’s lifetime. .
“Arrabal’s theatre is a wild, brutal, cacophonous, and joyously provocative world. It is a dramatic carnival in which the carcass of our ‘advanced’ civilizations is barbecued over the spits of a permanent revolution. He is the artistic heir of Kafka’s lucidity and Jarry’s humor; in his violence, Arrabal is related to [Marquis de] Sade and Artaud. Yet he is doubtless the only writer to have pushed derision as far as he did. Deeply political and merrily playful, both revolutionary and bohemian, his work is the syndrome of our century of barbed wire and Gulags, a manner of finding a reprieve.”
Another major event was seeing ‘Petrushka’ by Stravinsky in a Ballets Russes production that was nothing less than historical. Petrushka is one of my absolute favorite pieces of music, and, incidentally, when I first bought my sailboat, a little Rhodes 19, I wanted to name it Petrushka. However, I had second thoughts when I realized that I was going to cut out the letters myself in paper and paint the name of my boat on its stern. So second best was ‘Kijé’ by Sergueï Prokofiev, another piece of music that I adore. The only thing I can possibly have against Prokofiev’s Kijé is its shortness, and the same thing goes for his ‘Classical Symphony’. Those two are my favorite pieces by Prokofiev, and I love them both. So it was with great joy that I cut out the letters of Kijé (accent and all) in somewhat stiff paper, rowed my dinghy out to my boat and painted Kijé in black paint in the stern of my Rhodes 19..
In October 1972 we saw Petrushka, this incredibly wonderful ballet, at the City Center, by the Joffrey Ballet. The program says: Scenery and Costumes after the Originals by Alexandre Benols. Listing Michel Fokine as the choreographer seems a bit strange since he had already been dead for thirty years by then. There is no mention of any other choreographer. 2
A friend and former colleague of mine, Madge, a history teacher from Mamaroneck High School, quite a bit older than I, had one foot in France in her beautiful house in Dordogne where she spent half the year after her retirement. I was amazed when she told us that her father had taken her to Monte Carlo when she was a young girl to see the Ballet Russe. That seemed like long gone history to me. I was of course thinking right away of Petrushka, but I don’t remember that she ever told us which ballet she saw.
Amazingly enough, we saw virtually the same performance a few years later in Paris, in 1975, but of course now with different dancers. This time it stated in the program, more correctly, Choréographie d’après Michel Fokine, (inspired by Fokine), and, as in New York City, Décors et Costumes d’Alexandre Benols. However, the remarkable thing here was that Petrushka was now performed by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev with the extraordinarily beautiful and superb dancer Noëlla Pontois as the ballerina, Columbine. The most remarkable aspect of Nureyev’s performance, and no doubt of the original Ballets Russes, was the combination of theater, ballet and mime, which makes the entire ballet such an extraordinarily gripping event.
John and I also saw Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ by the New York City Ballet, choreography by George Balanchine, at the City Center in June 1973. The star was the outstanding and beautiful Allegra Kent. 3 I am not usually a Tchaikovsky lover, but this ballet is one thing I do like by him. It’s wonderfully dramatic and gorgeously beautiful, as choreographed by Balanchine. The music and the dancing melt together in a hymn to beauty.
And of course there was opera, with John being an avid opera aficionado. An extraordinary event, or rather two events, was hearing my favorite tenor ever, Jon Vickers in Otello by Verdi, in December 1972 at the Met. Teresa Zylis-Gara was Desdemona and this Polish opera soprano was entirely up to the task. I had already seen Otello in Malmö in a guest performance by the Royal Opera in Stockholm in the spring of 1964, with the outstanding soprano Margareta Hallin as Desdemona, and of course knowing the opera makes a great deal of difference. Margareta Hallin was, in the words of the notoriously shocking music critic Sten Broman (Sydsvenska Dagbladet) ‘the world’s best soprano’. In fact she was extraordinary. It is said that the only reason why she never accepted singing at the Met was because she didn’t speak English. Be that as it may, Hallin was a superb Desdemona and a superb soprano generally.
A funny little incident that I will never forget occurred at the Met in the fall of ’72. We were watching an opera – it could have been Otello and Teresa Zylis-Gara. We had good seats in the center of the orchestra. At one point the soprano climbed beautifully up on a high note. It was perfection. John and I both chuckled in sheer delight. It’s a funny habit that comes naturally to both of us. A serious middle-aged lady sitting right in front of us, turned around with an irritated look and hushed us. She clearly had no inkling of what made us chuckle so happily. She probably thought we were not paying attention to the singing. whereas In reality we were overcome by the beauty of it.
Another marvelous high point in opera that year was seeing and hearing Jon Vickers (again!) in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes in the spring of 1973. It was also at the Met. Here I was confronted with a first. I did not know Peter Grimes, but I knew the story and I found the performance enormously gripping. I was moved to tears at the end of it. The sets and costumes were by Tania Moiseiwitsch and the opening scene of the opera was gorgeous, reminiscent of a painting by Rembrandt.
We saw Peter Grimes again a couple of years later in Paris, and again with Jon Vickers. Heavenly. I suspect that the final scenes I remember from that opera were probably more from the Paris production. Peter Grimes is going mad with grief because the young boy who goes fishing with him has drowned. Peter Grimes of course blames himself for going out in the rough sea. In fact, I can still today hear in my head Jon Vickers’ uniquely beautiful voice when he screams in despair as he is told that the young boy had drowned. Then he himself gets into his boat to go and drown himself in the stormy sea. There are of course many excellent tenors who have sung Peter Grimes – Benjamin Britten’s friend, Peter Pears, above all – but I can not imagine anybody but Jon Vickers in that part. To me, Peter Grimes is Jon Vickers. With his incredibly powerful and dramatic tenor, it was heartrending.
A few years later in Paris we saw Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ – ‘I Nozze di Figaro’, as the program says. It was in December 1974 and we were with John’s aunt and uncle Ann and Larry who were visiting Paris. Larry was as big an opera fan as John. Cherubino was sung by the most wonderful mezzo ever, Teresa Berganza, another voice that to me is unique. Her aria – well his area, since she is playing Cherubino – in the Countess’s magnificent bedroom in Act 2, ‘Voi che sapete’ was so unbelievably beautiful that to say it got a standing ovation would be an understatement. The audience went absolutely wild and we would just never stop applauding. I don’t remember one other time when I applauded so furiously that my hands actually got almost sore. 4
If someone asked me very generally who is my favorite opera singer of all – a silly question no doubt, but let’s still assume – I do believe I would say Jon Vickers. His soft and at the same time extraordinarily powerful and dramatic timbre, so perfect that it is almost unearthly, makes me feel that I am in heaven. However, if the question was, more intelligently, which male and which female singer would be my favorite, there is absolutely no doubt. The female singer would be the mezzo Teresa Berganza. I have several favorite sopranos, but Teresa Berganza is my overall favorite female voice.
At the Metropolitan Opera we heard another wonderful mezzo, Marilyn Horne as Carmen, in June ’73. You might find her a bit heavyset for the role, but it didn’t matter. She was as seductive as a Carmen should be and perfectly into the part — and her voice is of course perfect for the part – she was Carmen.
Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne were the golden duo who sang in many operas as the leading soprano and the lead mezzo. We never got to see Joan Sutherland though, but I know her voice perfectly well from numerous records – today CDs. She is definitely one of my favorite sopranos, and it only happens very rarely that she gets ‘marbles in her mouth’, the way it happens all too often for Maria Callas. It’s an expression I’ve made up because that’s exactly the way it sounds to me. John seems to understand what I’m talking about. It was something that bothered me when I heard Callas on the radio even before I knew John. Allan and I used to listen to the Saturday afternoon direct broadcasts from the Met (sponsored by Texaco!!!) on WQXR, with an intermission talk by wonderful Milton Cross. What he didn’t know about opera wasn’t worth knowing. 5
La Callas is of course in a class of her own, both for her voice 6, for her looks and her generally intense acting that could make a stone shed tears. I have never seen her on the stage, just heard her on recordings and on videos, but two of our Paris-Argentinian friends adored her and they had seen her perform live.
However, Renata Tebaldi is, after all, my very favorite among lyric sopranos. For some strange reason I never saw her on the stage. She sang at the Met until 1973 but I have only heard her on recordings. She doesn’t suffer from any of the occasional quirks of la Callas or Sutherland, and she is just superb in her handling of the music, never shrill, always sure of herself and never making you wonder if she is going to manage a note or not. Sheer beauty, seemingly effortless handling of her voice.
I once gave my brother-in-law, Per, a recording of ‘La Forza del Destino’ by Verdi with Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi and Cesare Siepi. 7 Some time later I asked him what he thought of it. I expected an enthusiastic comment of course. Per was a great lover of operatic voices. Instead I got the impression that he had never even listened to it. One of my sources of sad disappointment. The thing with Per was that he liked to listen to excerpts only, and I guess I should have realized that he would never have listened to an entire opera.
We saw several Mozart operas that year, Don Giovanni, first in the fall at the New York City Opera, and then again at the Metropolitan Opera in the spring, with Cesare Siepi among other stars. Cosi Fan Tutte at the New York City Opera, which is one of Mozart’s operas that doesn’t do much for me. For one thing it’s too static and I like movement and drama, preferably with a pinch of humor thrown in . Not opera buffa, as I would call this ‘spectacle’ I am not a great lover of Don Giovanni either, but there is certainly drama and several beautiful arias.
However, the other Mozart opera that really stayed with me was ‘The Magic Flute’ (‘Die Zauberflöte’ in my program), George Shirley as Tamino, at the Met in November 1972. It’s an opera that is both a lot of fun and also has many beautiful arias. The sets and costumes were designed by no less than Marc Chagall, who also did the two huge wall paintings in the foyer of the Met that can be seen clearly from the plaza outside.
‘Tales of Hoffman’ (or ‘Les Contes d’Hoffman’ as my program says) is a very different opera that we saw at the New York City Opera in October 1972. It’s actually the only one among all the works by Offenbach that I definitely like. Beverly Sills sang all three heroines, and that is definitely the way I think it should be done. This was quite a few years before she decided to give up singing and become the general manager of the New York City Opera.
One of the most fun events during the year John and I lived together in New Rochelle was when we had dinner at the Asti Restaurant in Greenwich Village on East 12th Street. Everybody sings, the waiters, the bartender, the coat check girl, and even the chef. All of a sudden the lights go down and in from the kitchen comes a long line of monks dressed in hooded black robes, carrying candle and doing an amazingly good performance of the Anvil Chorus and Miserere from Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’. For the Anvil Chorus the bartender bangs on the bottles to mimic the effect of the beating of the anvils. The staff are all of them excellent singers, many of them professionals. Headed by the chef they wind their way in a long parade through the restaurant singing the chorus in a smashing performance and ending up back in the kitchen regions. Miserere which comes after the Anvil Chorus, later on in the opera, is a trio for soprano, tenor and chorus. Both solo singers were excellent, and the chorus is dark and ominous, as it should be. This was definitely a very special treat. An absolutely unforgettable and hilariously funny event.8 Sadly this wonderful show ended in 1999, and it’s now nothing but a wonderful memory. We went back to Asti a bit later on to see the show once again, this time with John’s parents, Margaret and Bert, who were visiting us in the fall of 1972, and they loved it too.
During that visit there was an incident that almost turned out bad. We had gone to the City to see the musical ‘Beatrice and Benedict’, the plot being based on Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. As we made our way up the stairs, there was a sudden backup, and we had no idea what it was all about. It turned out that some people were hired to search all bags and purses and of course it took forever. We still had no idea what it was about. We finally got to our seats and then a whisper started going around “The President is here tonight.” That was Nixon. John said “Jesus” and his mother, Margaret, got furious and said “If you say something like that one more time, I’m leaving.” Well, we didn’t quite know how she would leave and get back to New Rochelle, but John was quiet from then on. Just before the show started, the entire audience stood up and sang ‘The star-spangled banner’. Except John and me. There was, surprisingly enough, no comment about this from Margaret.
Before the show, as we were walking around the city a bit, we stopped for a milkshake in a milk-bar. I asked the waitress, who happened to be black what flavors they had. She said “Just one, honey – you and me.” That was exactly what I wanted so all was fine. Black and white has always been my favorite.
But enough chatting about opera and the most fabulous ballet I’ve ever seen. There was more theater and also musicals. We saw Pirandello’s ‘Emperor Henry IV’ with Rex Harrison, directed by Clifford Williams in the spring of 1973. It was a British production that came to New York City in 1973. We saw it at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. It was of course an experience seeing Rex Harrison alive on stage, even though he did seem a bit old, He was actually over 60 when he did Henry IV, but of course his stage presence and his voice were magnificent, as always. I can’t help but think of Professor Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’ though, when I think of Rex Harrison as an actor.
In April ’73 we saw at the ‘Circle in the Square’ (now on Broadway) the outstanding Irish actress Siobhan McKenna in a one-woman show with the title ‘Here Are Ladies’, which was originally the title of a poem by the Irish writer and poet James Stephens. She performed excerpts by various Irish authors, Sean O’Casey, James Stephens, ‘Saint Joan’ by George Bernhard Shaw, W.B Yeats, J.M Synge and ‘Happy Days’ – Oh les beaux jours’ – by Samuel Becket. John and I were to see this wonderful play at the Théâtre du Rond-Point in Paris in 1981 with Madeleine Renaud, another amazing performance.
The second act was all by James Joyce, two excerpts from Finnegan’s Wake, the marvelous Anna Livia Plurabelle and the Lullaby. The show ended with Molly’s soliloquy at the very end of Ulysses – Yes. unforgettable. The very essence of sensuality. Molly says Yes to love – here reminiscing about a former lover in Andalusia
The final words of Molly’s reverie, and the very last words of the book, are:
“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
It’s an absolutely fantastic ending, but I like a silly woman that I am felt sorry for Leopold who had been wandering all over Dublin on that day and who adored his sensuous wife who was constantly having affairs with other men. It’s heartbreaking, if you see it from that angle. But I get teary-eyed every time I hear it, read it or even think of it.
And there was the big question, the musical ‘Man of La Mancha’, inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote. When exactly we saw it was first a complete mystery for us. Why did my program say 1967 since we saw it together? Well, we didn’t. The program I have gave us some detective work, since John and I were both sure we had seen it together. However, I must have seen it with Allan in 1967 at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Greenwich Village, and John saw it a year later at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway, before we knew each other. That was the year before he moved to Paris in the fall of 1969, after two years at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. At the time I hadn’t read Don Quixote and I would most certainly have remembered it much better if I had. I loved Cervantes’ novel when I finally read it quite a few years ago. And that’s when it became clear to me that Sancho Panza is the real hero of the book, the one who again and again gets his master, the mad knight, out of real trouble whenever he has one of his whimsical ideas of saving damsels in distress, or some equally silly thing.
There has rarely been a musical that had as much success as this one.9 Richard Kiley won a Tony Award for his performance as Cervantes/Don Quixote in the original production, After 2,329 performances of the original version, the musical was repeatedly revived, the last time in 2002. It was made into a movie with Peter O’Toole as Cervantes/Don Quixote, with a professional singer doing the sound track.
In the middle of the spring term we had a visit from a friend and former colleague of John’s from Collège de France. Jacques, whom I also knew somewhat, was traveling around the United States, seeing friends here and there and then in the end, while he attended the APS 10 meeting in the city, spending quite a few days with us. We of course showed him around the City in a very thorough way and he greatly appreciated John’s guiding. John is indeed an excellent guide, which I am not.
One evening we were having dinner at home with Mélisande purring somewhere close by, when Jacques suddenly said. “Hey, John, what would you say about coming back to Paris to become the computing engineer in the Computing Center for Physics research that I’ll be directing starting this fall?” It was the beginning of the CCPN in the CNRS 11 John’s reply was “When do we pack?” Jacques, in the way of all too many French men, had only been addressing John, (even though I clearly remember him having admired my brand new diamond ring, so he knew perfectly well that John wasn’t going to move back to Paris alone.) but John replied for both of us.
John’s reply was to become a never-ending family joke, even though it was said very much in earnest. Dear Jacques was about to change our lives. John was to become one of the two engineers at the very beginning of the Centre de Calcul, Jacques’s nephew, Daniel, being the other one. The Center grew very fast. When it and we moved to Lyon, because of supposedly-political decentralization, the speed of growth of the computing center increased enormously and today there are so many engineers that, even before John’s generation started their retirements, I didn’t know half of them. A new wing has been added to the original building, which already seemed fairly big.
It is located on the campus of some of Lyon university buildings and some ‘grandes écoles’. The three Lyon universities are very much spread all over the Lyon area, north and east from the original buildings on the Rhône, where ‘my’ university was – the place where I felt happy in this city that never really welcomed me. My various classes at l’Université Lyon III in linguistics, for le professeur Haudry and several other professors were the place where I felt welcome and belonging. But more about that in another chapter. First there was Paris, where I was very lucky and got many lasting friends.
Then there was the momentous visit of my dear niece Kajsa. After some health problems of hers it was decided that she should take a year off and so, one day in May she came to see us in New Rochelle and stayed for maybe a month or so.
One Sunday evening after we’d been out sailing all day, we were invited to Girv’s house with Kajsa, together with actors, a gorgeous woman violinist called Olivia, who Girv was visibly enamored with. There was a photographer who was trying to put the make on Kajsa, a couple of musicians and more of the bohemian set kind of people.
As we arrived, Girv introduced me as his friend Siv, short for syvilis, and everybody thought that was hilarious, except maybe me.
Kajsa had been lying flat on her stomach in the bow of Kijé all day, and she looked fresh and rested. Poor me, I had been at the tiller with sunglasses on and my face was little by little turning into the looks of a boiled lobster, except for the white circles around my eyes. I never use powder so there was nothing I could do about my red face except feel
uncomfortable and hugely unattractive, while my niece and the other beautiful young women were sitting around on the floor looking smart and attractive.
We became in a way Kajsa’s vice parents, and she came with me to school every day and got to know and become friends with my dear student Nora and her friend Rita who didn’t take French. I remember that in art class, Nora’s art class, Kajsa sculpted a very nice little thing. I wonder if she still has it. So Kajsa who is now a French and English teacher like me, got to see the enormous difference between a Swedish Gymnasium and a U.S high school.
We also went sailing in my little 19-footer, a Rhodes 19. I loved my boat and I loved sailing.
We went hiking in the rocky park called the Palisades on Hudson River one Sunday.
You cross George Washington Bridge from northern Manhattan and you get to this wonderful hiking area on the edge of New Jersey and so very close to New York City.
John and I had already made this hike once before. The path climbs and descends and climbs again. My sister Gun told me years later that Kajsa had said about us “Oh wow, what stamina they had!”
During the month or so that Kajsa was with us, we of course visited New York City several times, walking around downtown Greenwich Village on one occasion, eating sauerkraut and hotdogs from a stand in the street, as I remember. Sauerkraut is an originally German invention that we don’t have in Sweden, so that too was exotic. One Sunday we walked around Lincoln Center, obviously a must to
see for Kajsa. I was wearing my Yves Saint Laurent suit that I soon thereafter got married in, except that, for the marriage ceremony, I was wearing the skirt that also came with it instead of the pants.
And of course we saw some great shows. Above all Alvin Ailey Dance Theater at the City Center 55th Street Theater. The star was wonderful Judith Jamison, who soon after that took over the management of the entire dance theater. They were all black dancers – and that was dancing! In an intermission the already then well established black writer and anti-war fighter, Dick Gregory, came out from behind the curtains and appealed to the audience to contribute to a cause that I think most of the people in the audience were not going to ignore. Cups went up and won the rows in multiple places of the theater, and I don’t doubt that they collected a sizeable amount of money for their cause, which was most likely connected to the Vietnam war.
We also saw a very funny show, black too, ‘Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope’ at the Edison Theatre on Broadway. I just remember that we laughed a lot and that Kajsa never seems to have forgotten the title. At least for years afterwards, she kept saying “Don’t bother me, I can’t cope”, if someone got in her way when she was busy doing something.
And that wasn’t all. Also with Kajsa, we saw Ibsen’s play Ghosts at the downtown Roundabout Theatre, a morbid play about a dysfunctional marriage and the sins of the father that come back to haunt the son. Oswald has inherited syphilis from his father, Captain Alving. It was well done though and it’s clearly a play that appeals to the taste of U.S. theater directors, since it’s been revived and lauded several times since the production we saw. My fellow countrymen, or in the case of Ibsen, next-door countryman, certainly enjoy writing morbid plays about family disasters, such as Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck’ and Strindberg’s ‘The Father’, both plays written in the 1880s. I think it’s safe to say that no play can be darker than ‘The Wild Duck’ which ends with the daughter, Hedvig, committing suicide because she believes her father doesn’t love her any more, not knowing the reason why. Her father has learned that she is another man’s daughter.
Girv and Pam came to see us twice in Paris, but after that Girv had enough of traveling. He preferred to spend his life alone with his cat, be it the black Magicat, or the later white Magnificat. Also called Supercat. Pam came alone to Europe after that and then traveled with her sister, wherever I don’t quite know.
But we went to visit with them several times on our way to other places in the United States. They lived up north close to Carmel in Putnam County, so Girv had a long drive to school. Before he reached retirement age, he got enough of the driving and the fastidiousness of regular hours and dressing in a jacket. I never saw Girv wearing a tie. He retired early to spend his life with his cat and his wood carving. His basement was full of wood shavings up over your ankles. Oh yes, and he made wind chimes from all kinds of metal pieces that he found, scrap iron, metal tubes and whatever he came across. There was a constant clanking and banging from all his wind chimes around his house whenever there was a bit of a wind.
They lived in an isolated house on a big lot that sloped down into a valley, in the middle of a forest and no other house in sight. Girv had built a sundeck overlooking the slope where we spent much of our days and always the evenings, surrounded by fireflies, birds and a chorus of different little sounds from the surrounding woods. There were potted plants all around the sides of the deck. Girv loved flowers and he also had an incredibly luscious vegetable garden. He always claimed that dill grew like weed but that has never been true for us here in Genas. They ate no vegetables except from their own garden, which was really plentiful. Well, at least in the summer. They had become vegetarians after we first knew them and we sometimes reminded Pam of some great meat dishes she had cooked for us, back in their meat-eating days. We still cook a dish we call chicken à la Pam.
We used to go for wonderful long walks with Girv in the woods and he picked wild leaves for salad, which we would never have recognized as being edible. We went swimming in a pond right across the road from their house. It was owned by a girl scout camp, but Girv was the caretaker of their camp so he had permission for us to swim in the pond. We swam among turtles and it was quite exotic for me who had never seen a turtle in my life before.
We have a cloth bag from Barnes & Noble with a picture of Mark Twain’s head on it, and whenever I see it, I think of how much it looks like Girv.
Later on in Paris we again picked up on the role of being Kajsa’s vice parents when she decided to study French, after having worked extremely hard on math and science at her lycée in Lund. She was tested and found to be VERY gifted for languages. Okay, change of course, and she landed in Paris with us, where I went over basics in French with her quite thoroughly before she took the placement test. It worked fine and she got into an advanced group, which had been our goal. She had already had some French in lycée, but not very much, one or two years maybe, two or at most three hours a week. What foreign students did, and still do in Paris, is take courses that are called Cours de langue et civilisation françaises at the Sorbonne
She passed the final exams fine, but somehow decided that life in Paris was what she liked and so she came back the next year. She then shared a room at La Cité Universitaire, la Maison de Suède, with another young girl from Lund, nicknamed Lillan, a somewhat atypical girl whom we got to know very well. The first year Kajsa had rented a room with a lady called Mlle Prat, and there was no end of jokes about the lady who was fairly young and fairly good-looking. Kajsa one day opened the door to the bathroom only to find Mlle Prat and her boyfriend together immerged in the water. They had forgotten to lock the door.
Kajsa has come a long way since those days. She is now a mother of four children, all very good-looking and outstandingly intelligent, three young women and one young man. And she is a teacher of English and French – like her aunt Siv. She loves her job, as I am sure her students love her. She and her terrific husband Peter (his wonderful sense of humor!!!) were here in Genas to visit with us a couple of years ago, and we hope they will come again. Like all our foreign visitors, they have seen Vieux Lyon and we took them on a tour through le Beaujolais. The enormous vineyards in le Beaujolais are well worth seeing even if the leaves have not turned autumn red. Hillsides after hillsides covered with vines. Kajsa and Peter are also both great readers, and to me that’s one of the most important things you can do with your time and with your life.
Continued: Chapter 24 – Back to Paris
- ‘And they put handcuffs on the flowers’ is an atypical work, an apocalyptic and brilliant fresco, composed of the dreams and the intersecting deliriums of four political prisoners, at the time when man walks in space and tyrants never die. ↩
- Petrushka was first performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris in June 1911 at the Théâtre du Châtelet and this performance was supposed to be a replica of the original one in Paris by the Ballets Russes. The company split after Diaghilev’s death in 1929. One of the two competing managers founded the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which became the best known branch of the Ballets Russes. It should be added too though that several American ballet companies can be considered as direct descendants of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. At the beginning of World War II Le Ballet Russe made its headquarters in New York City and toured a great number of the major American cities. (Descendants of the Ballets Russes) ↩
- “The beloved American ballerina Allegra Kent created and danced in nearly all principal roles in George Balanchine’s celebrated oeuvre during her thirty years as a dancer with the renowned New York City Ballet. “ ↩
- Teresa Berganza – Voi che sapete – “Le Nozze di Figaro” ↩
- Those were the days when radio hadn’t yet become infested with lies and propaganda. Even political commentators were worth listening to. Eric Severeid, Walter Cronkite, (Following Cronkite’s editorial report about the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson is claimed by some to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,”) James Reston and, a bit later, Tom Wicker lasted well through my years in the U.S. When I arrived in the U.S. in 1964, the presidential campaign was in full swing and I was fascinated by following up on it on the editorial page of the New York Times. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas in the fall of 1963, and it was now Lyndon Johnson vs Barry Goldwater. Those were the days when it hurt a candidate to be too conservative. We were all horrified by Goldwater. Well, we didn’t know what was coming forty years later. Or even well before that. Actors and clowns become presidents of the U.S. of A. and do what they are told to do by the Big Corporations – now also called the Deep State. ↩
- Hear her sing Mio bambino caro in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and you realize right away that this is a superb voice. And not the least for the intensely dramatic delivery – Maria Callas – O Mio Bambino Caro – Giacomo Puccini ↩
- She has been said to have possessed one of the most uniquely beautiful voices of the 20th century (Wikipeida) ↩
- AT ASTI, THE FAT LADY IS SINGING The curtain is falling on a restaurant where opera’s been on the menu for 75 years. Please tip the tenor – BY Bill Bell / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS / Friday, March 19, 1999 ↩
- After 21 previews, the musical opened at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in Greenwich Village on November 22, 1965, then moved to Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on March 20, 1968, then to the Eden Theatre on March 3, 1971, and finally to the Mark Hellinger Theatre on May 26, 1971 for its last month, a total original New York run of 2,329 performances. Musical staging and direction were by Albert Marre, choreography was by Jack Cole, and Howard Bay was the scenic and lighting designer, with costumes by Bay and Patton Campbell. ↩
- American Physical Society ↩
- Centre de Calcul de Physique Nucléaire, later part of IN2P3, l’Instutut National de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, the very prestigious national research organism that John was to work for from now on until his retirement. ↩