A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

Malamud, Singer, Roth, Bellows, Doctorow & That Bronx Gypsy
Saturday, March 22, 2014



Hart and Schaffner are dead; Marx, ringed round with laurels, has notoriously retired. But the firm itself was dissolved long ago, and it was Saul Bellow who, with a sartorial quip, snipped the stitches that had sewn three acclaimed and determinedly distinct American writers into the same suit of clothes, with its single label: Jewish Writer. In Bellow’s parody, Bellow, Malamud and Roth were the literary equivalent of the much advertised men’s wear company — but lighthearted as it was, the joke cut two ways: it was a declaration of imagination’s independence of collective tailoring, and it laughingly struck out at the disgruntlement of those who, having themselves applied the label in pique, felt displaced by it.

Judging the World
Library of America’s Bernard Malamud Collections
NY Times Review by Cynthia Ozick March 13, 2014



Jerome Charyn - Photograph by Deborah Flomenhaft

That cover review in my NY Times Sunday Book Review caught my eye. Inside (and more later) I read one of the most amazing interviews with a writer that I have ever read. It was an interview with Philip Roth.

Until around 1963 I had no concept of a writer’s religion. It never occurred to me that my fave science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov was Jewish. At the time (and even for me today) a writer’s perceived religious background was immaterial.

It was in 1963 that my ears first heard from my philosophy professor, Ramón Xirau, that Baruch Spinoza (considered to be a Dutch philosopher who ushered in the Age of Enlightenment) was a Jewish philosopher. By 1965 I was reading all I could find of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, not only because I like his writing which was challenging but also because he was a Jesuit priest. Thus, to me, he was a Roman Catholic writer. From there I went to discover the two British authors who had converted to Catholicism, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. I had read C.S. Lewis in the late 50s as a science fiction writer but was not aware of his deep Anglican thought.

So much for the religion of writers. It has never been important for me. On the other hand I was never interested in reading Philip Roth. Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow. I have never seen pictures of these guys smiling. They seemed much too studiously serious for me. And then there was Isaac Bashevis Singer. He, too was obviously Jewish and serious.

I must thus state here that I have never read Malamud, Singer, Bellow or Roth. But this is going to change in the next few days as I am going to read a Philip Roth novel and who knows what’s next?

As soon as Rosemary, our two daughters Alexandra and Hilary arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I instantly became a member of Book-of-the-Month Club. One of my first purchases was E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. Since then I have enjoyed, Billy Bathgate, City of God and The Waterworks. It never occurred to me think Doctorow is Jewish. While I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Picture This, again that author's religion did not compute with me.  

Since the late 80s I began to read Jerome Charyn and became so enthused that by October 1995 I was sitting in Charyn’s apartment interviewing him. I had no reason or interest to ask him, “What is your religion? Are you Jewish?” All he told me during the interview was that his parents were originally from some place in Russia. He intimated that he (Charyn) had Gypsy blood in him. If you look at this author photos beginning in the middle 60s you would readily believe this.

 
Jerome Charyn - Photo by Bob Jewett
In my Buenos Aires of my youth, my best friend was Mario Hertzberg. He lived with his parents and two brothers in an apartment across the street from my house on Melián. Once he showed me a framed picture of a slightly older version of himself. I inquired and he answered, this was my other brother, he died in a concentration camp a few years ago. This was 1950. My knowledge of Hitler, WWII and especially of concentration camps was spotty. In our neighbourhood I was “el inglesito”, Mario was “el alemán” and our mutual friend Miguelito “el tano” as he was Italian. The word Jewish did not come up.

It was during my military service in 1965 that to make some ends meet I worked as a waiter in a la Boca dance/bar on weekends. One day I noticed one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life sitting at a table. I inquired and was told she was a “lady of the night”. In Spanish it was “Es una puta rusa.” I had not known that for many years Jews in Argentina were blanket-called Russians.

This was confirmed when I acquired a beautiful girlfriend called Susana Bornstein. My family instantly said, “Es una rusa.”

In the two years in the Argentine Navy I never met or read in any list the single name of a non-commissioned or commissioned Jewish officer. The Jews of Buenos Aires seemed to be part of the arts. They wrote plays, directed films, were sculptors and painters or were part of the avant-garde.

All of the above somehow conspired, ever so pleasantly, when I finished Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham. That coincided with my reading on March 15 (I get the Sunday NY Times delivered the night before) the March 16 Book Review with the cover piece on Bernard Malamud by Cynthia Ozick. It made me think about Jewish writers. Inside I found a remarkable interview (Q& A) with Philip Roth by Daniel Sandstrom, the cultural editor at Svenska Dagbladet, for publication in Swedish translation in that newspaper.

The whole interview was fantastic but this segment charmed me and made me look twice at the man who has never posed with a smile:

I know that you have reread all of your books recently. What was your verdict? And what was your opinion of “Sabbath’s Theater” while reading it again?



When I decided to stop writing about five years ago I did, as you say, sit down to reread the 31 books I’d published between 1959 and 2010. I wanted to see whether I’d wasted my time. You never can be sure, you know.



My conclusion, after I’d finished, echoes the words spoken by an American boxing hero of mine, Joe Louis. He was world heavyweight champion from the time I was 4 until I was 16. He had been born in the Deep South, an impoverished black kid with no education to speak of, and even during the glory of the undefeated 12 years, when he defended his championship an astonishing 26 times, he stood aloof from language. So when he was asked upon his retirement about his long career, Joe sweetly summed it up in just 10 words. “I did the best I could with what I had.”

And then further down Roth gives a list of American writers in an interesting context:

Do you feel that there is a preoccupation in Europe with American popular culture? And, if so, that this preoccupation has clouded the reception of serious American literary fiction in Europe?



The power in any society is with those who get to impose the fantasy. It is no longer, as it was for centuries throughout Europe, the church that imposes its fantasy on the populace, nor is it the totalitarian superstate that imposes the fantasy, as it did for 12 years in Nazi Germany and for 69 years in the Soviet Union. Now the fantasy that prevails is the all-consuming, voraciously consumed popular culture, seemingly spawned by, of all things, freedom. The young especially live according to beliefs that are thought up for them by the society’s most unthinking people and by the businesses least impeded by innocent ends. Ingeniously as their parents and teachers may attempt to protect the young from being drawn, to their detriment, into the moronic amusement park that is now universal, the preponderance of the power is not with them.



I cannot see what any of this has to do with serious American literary fiction, even if, as you suggest, “this preoccupation has [or may have] clouded the reception of serious American fiction in Europe.” You know, in Eastern Europe, the dissident writers used to say that “socialist realism,” the reigning Soviet aesthetic, consisted of praising the Party so that even they understood it. There is no such aesthetic for serious literary writers to conform to in America, certainly not the aesthetic of popular culture.



What has the aesthetic of popular culture to do with formidable postwar writers of such enormous variety as Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, William Styron, Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow, James Baldwin, Wallace Stegner, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Penn Warren, John Updike, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Robert Stone, Evan Connell, Louis Auchincloss, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Russell Banks, William Kennedy, John Barth, Louis Begley, William Gaddis, Norman Rush, John Edgar Wideman, David Plante, Richard Ford, William Gass, Joseph Heller, Raymond Carver, Edmund White, Oscar Hijuelos, Peter Matthiessen, Paul Theroux, John Irving, Norman Mailer, Reynolds Price, James Salter, Denis Johnson, J. F. Powers, Paul Auster, William Vollmann, Richard Stern, Alison Lurie, Flannery O’Connor, Paula Fox, Marilynne Robinson, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, Hortense Calisher, Jane Smiley, Anne Tyler, Jamaica Kincaid, Cynthia Ozick, Ann Beattie, Grace Paley, Lorrie Moore, Mary Gordon, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty (and I have by no means exhausted the list) or with serious younger writers as wonderfully gifted as Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Nicole Krauss, Maile Meloy, Jonathan Lethem, Nathan Englander, Claire Messud, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer (to name but a handful)?

That is one incredible “but a handful” but for me there is a glaring omission. Why is E.L. Doctorow not in that list? 

Jerome Charyn - Photo by Miriam Berkley

I was thinking about Doctorow because during the writing of several blogs on Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham I found this!. It is a 1971 review for the NY Times of  Doctorow's The Book of Daniel by Charyn.


Jewish or not, that man( Charyn) of letters, over 50 novels, told me about one of his novels (which I have) Darlin' Bill, a fantasy about "Will Bill" Hickok, won me the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981. It is given to 'that novel that is a commercial failure but is nevertheless a literary achievement'. You have to lose in order to win. In past years it's been won by Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon and Bernard Malamud."

Before 1981, by 1973, Jerome Charyn, then thirty-six, had written seven novels. Each one had "sunk into invisibility". He decided to "scribble a crime novel". He invented a New York tribe of pork-eating marrano pickpockets, the Guzmanns (from Lisbon via Lima), angels of doom in the fall of ping-pong-playing NYPD homicide detective Manfred Coen in Blue Eyes. And should Charyn write a sequel to his 2012 Under The Eye of God, that ex pink commish, Isaac Sidel, Vice President of the United States will sit at the White house as the first American President.

My life has been rewarded every time I have opened a Charyn novel, something that began for me in 1989. Next on my agenda, any novel I can find at the Vancouver Public Library by Philip Roth. And who knows Malamud, Singer and Bellows next?

Inside my copy of  Doctorow's The Waterworks I found a clipping from the NY Times, March15, 1999, 


WRITERS ON WRITING
Quick Cuts: The Novel Follows Film Into a World of Fewer Words
By E.L. DOCTOROW



This  is the link just for you John Lekich if you have gotten this far. 

Jerome Charyn - Photograph Mariana Cook


Mileage of I Am Abraham on Twitter

Teddy's Desk

That Silver Sword of Appomattox

That Dark Lady from Belorusse

And Zero at the Bone

Currer Bell

Glock- Verb-Transitive

Blue Eyes, the butterfly and a picot

That Vampire of Paris







I Am Abraham & Mileage On Twitter With Old Photographs
Friday, March 21, 2014




One of my favourite writers in Newyorican Jerome Charyn. Recently he published I Am Abraham a novel on Abraham Lincoln. Like his previous novel The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, I Am Abraham is a first person autobiographical novel. Charyn’s novel puts us into the head and mouth of Lincoln.

Thanks to the internet and that I have a daily blog (over 3000 of them since I began in January 2006) I am able to write about anything I want (I rarely rant) and I illustrate it to my taste. Luckily some years ago I traveled to New York to interview and photograph Jerome Charyn. This means that I can illustrate my I Am Abraham “reviews” with my portraits of him.

After I write a blog I then put a link into facebook (note that this must be in lower case) and in Twitter. It just so happens that Charyn has three Twitter handles, one as Charyn, one for his Lincoln novel and the other for the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. His friend/agent Leonore Riegel also has a Twitter handle. And some of these Charyn/Riegel connections are in facebook.

All that means is that I can re-tweet and re-facebook to my heart’s content.

Then I had another idea. I used the wonderful American Civil War photographs available in the Library of Congress and other official sites to illustrate (not the blog) but the Twitter and facebook re-postings.

A few days ago I received a notification from Twitter about my two most popular tweets of the week.

It would seem that the attraction consisted in the old photographs I used. My friend John Lekich has explained. “They are old photographs but those people look alive.” 


Teddy's Desk

That Silver Sword of Appomattox

That Dark Lady from Belorusse

And Zero at the Bone

Currer Bell

Glock- Verb-Transitive

Blue Eyes, the butterfly and a picot

That Vampire of Paris







Tit for Tat - Me & My Sensitive Nipples
Thursday, March 20, 2014






The NY Times headline caught my eye and I decided to look up the origin of the expression “tit for tat” which I believe was much in use when I was a young boy and a young man. I had not heard of that expression in the last few years until I saw this NY Times use.

I also believed that the expression must have a sexual connotation. It does not. This is what I found. And this was pretty cute, too!

For most of my early years I was oblivious to the human breast and in particular the female one. I was much more interested in the horsepower of the original Chrysler 300. In 1955 when I was 13 years old I would read with lots of interest Tom McCahill’s car reviews in Mechanix Illustrated of automobiles that were not yet called muscle cars.

I must admit that in 1955 I had not seen one single female breast in a pristine undraped manner. The closest were Mexican magazines that showed daring cleavage courtesy of the then very hot girl, Brigitte Bardot. 


Alex W-H crossing the equator Dec 11, 1966
In 1955 I was in a small mining town in Northern Mexico, Nueva Rosita in the state of Coahuila. My mother taught the children of the American engineers of American Smelting & Refining Company. It was a mining town with a two room school. One room was from the first to the fifth and the second room from the sixth to the eighth. My mother was the teacher in the latter and I was in the 8th grade. We were six boys in the eighth grade.

It was at the beginning of that term that I became worried. I was developing and alarming sensitivity in my nipples and I was growing tiny breasts. I knew very little about sex but I was still confused enough to suspect that my body was telling me that I might have to soon wear skirts.

I waited for the problem to resolve itself but it did not. Meanwhile I felt very good that I was attracted to the extremely lovely Ana María Ramos who had huge eyes and dramatic black eyebrows. I rarely ever got enough nerve to talk to her but when I did my whole body tingled.

Finally I had to go to the only person I had any confidence with, my mother. She was not able to illuminate any of my suspicions about my body but did arrange to have me see a doctor.

I have no memory of the doctor but I do remember that he told me stuff I have never forgotten. He told me that what was happening to me was quite normal and that the little breasts would soon disappear as my body was being surged by all kinds of stuff as it prepared to convert me into a man.

It was the second fact that makes me wonder how many men (and women) are aware of this.

My suspicion is that most idiot men (I am an exception thanks to that Nueva Rosita doctor) think that only women have sensitive breasts. In fact I found out that sensitivity in the breast area and in the nipple varies in both women and men. There are women who will never ever be sensitive as there are men who will never lose their extreme sensitivity. I am one of those who have suffered from tight T-shirt burn on my nipples. Ha! 

In 1966 I was handcuffed to the yardarm of the ELMA cargo ship Río Aguapey and painted with Prussian blue. It took me a while to remove the paint from my nipples. Luckily I was able to convince the sailors not to use adhesive tape on them.





I cannot speak for other men but I can write here that my personal sensitivity has made me a great admirer of female breasts and in particular that empty concavity between breasts that is so commonly called cleavage. I have a particular preference for the concavity between smallish breasts.

I was able to study this variation in concavity at the American Hotel in Nueva Rosita where my mother and I shared a small apartment. Beside the dining room there was a reading room with a magazine rack. There was a handsome bachelor engineer called Juan Jaime who was subscribed to the men’s magazines of the day, True, Argosy and Esquire. None of these featured nude women, just vast expanse of cleavage. Once or twice Jaime did leave (was it a mistake?) a Playboy and was able to see all of what I had only an imaginary inkling. 


At age 71 I have to note that my interest in that empty concavity has not diminished. Unlike the average 71 year-old, I have thousands of files featuring that empty and hallow (hollow, too) concavity and more, too.

As a portrait photographer more often than not, those concavities have faces. The former mean nothing without the latter. Sometimes a pair or even one hand can compensate for the lack of a face.

In 1997 when Vancouver Sun's Saturday Review editor Max Wyman  was about to retire he called me up to tell me that he thought that I should review a book for him. He was going to send it to me by courier. I remember that he said something like, "It is appropriate that you review Marilyn Yalom's A History of the Breast for us." 

 

Some 10 or more years ago I was often invited by three architects and two journalists to accompany them for beer at the Number 5 Orange or the Marble Arch. They would always order a couple of pitchers of beer. The men behind the bars all knew me so I was indulged in bottomless soda water which was my beverage of preference. As the exotic dancers’ talent for dancing began to diminish in inverse proportion to breast augmentation my interest waned. I had given up my pipe smoking years before and the architects smoked lots. But I must clarify that these men were not drunks. As soon as their two pitchers were consumed they got up to legally (I am almost sure) drive, unimpaired home. 



There was one day that I will never forget as it was the last day I ever went to a strip bar. I have been back, of course for unmitigated circumstances. Just as we were about to leave, one of the architects said, “Let’s wait to see her tits. Then we can go.”



I have never liked the word tit or its plural tits. I felt shocked and offended. I was ashamed that somehow by the use of that word, the female human being up on stage was cheapened and demoted to a moving object.

That happened at the Marble Arch and the paradox is that my interest in taking erotic photographs has increased as I attempt to do this photography with justice, respect, love and lastly with lots of zing!

In this age of pornography, where subtle is not in the vocabulary, I feast on subtlety. And somehow a word that must accompany subtlety is elegance.





Helen Lawrence A One Take Film & Larry Campbells' Ghost
Wednesday, March 19, 2014



 
Mayor Gerry Grattan McGeer


This is the background as I see it to tonight’s terrific opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Production of Helen Lawrence – Vancouver Confidential. It was conceived by Stan Douglas with story by Chris Haddock and Stan Douglas & written by Chris Haddock. It runs to April 13.

1. Bill Millerd in the program notes writes: 

In the spring of 2012 director Kim Collier (Tear the Curtain!/Electric Theatre Company) talked to Rachel Ditor and myself about the project and we became intrigued, not only by the new technology that Stan Douglas was working on, but also the involvement of Chris Haddock.

2. Playback (a form of it) Raymond Chandler’s second-to-last novel (followed by the unfinished Poodle Springs) had been written in 1944 before, Little Sister, 1949, and The Long Goodbye, 1953.

I found this out in the introduction by Philippe Garnier to Playback - A Graphic Novel by Ted Benoit and Francois Ayroles. The latter is the illustrator and the former the man who adapted the original film treatment by Chandler who had tinkered with it until 1947 when he tried to sell it, unsuccessfully, to Universal Pictures.




What is interesting about this original screenplay was that it was set in Vancouver. Chandler wanted to explore the ramifications of Canadian liquor laws, its justice system and wanted to play with the idea of crossing borders with necessary documents. When Chandler was unable to sell his screenplay he moved the action to La Jolla, California, and renamed it Esmeralda. The original version of Playback begins with a beautiful blonde on a train to Vancouver.

3. I met Chris Haddock, if briefly behind the scenes of Larry Campbell's victory night at the Vancouver Public Library atrium in November 2002. I had taken the photographs for Campbell’s campaign and I was aware how Campbell’s career as City Coroner had been the inspiration for Haddock’s Da Vinci’s Inquest. I think Haddock and I might have nodded at each other, we both knew the man. 


Larry Campbell & Jim Green, Nov 2002
 

4. When I saw the opening performance of the joint Arts Club Theatre/Electric Theatre Company production of Tear the Curtain on September 15, 2010 I was amazed by an original blend of theatre with film that reminded me of a Czech theatre production called Magic Lantern that I saw during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The production combined live theatre with back projection.

5. Helen Lawrence is an almost seamless (more on why below) improvement of what has preceded it.

In a seamless  production you would be at the movies seeing a film and not knowing that the actors in back alleys, hotel rooms and bars were not there but on a lit stage and filmed while combining their images to the background and foreground.

Luckily for us Helen Lawrence is done so that you see the silhouettes of the camera persons behind the huge scrim in front on which is projected that combination of actors and backgrounds. The actors are in “living” colour but the finished product is in effective black and white with lots of noir lighting touches.

The actors all look the part, in particular Nicholas Lea (as Percy Walker, he of the hatpin), and Lisa Ryder as the Chandler blonde. Everybody else is just about perfect.

But there was one person mentioned but not seen. The Vancouver mayor, shortly after the war, 1947 in Helen Lawrence, would have been Gerald (Gerry) Grattan McGeer.  His picture is shown above. The likes of him would have never allowed for a corrupt-on-the-take police chief like Gerard Plunkett’s Chief James Muldoon or a nasty drunkard Sergeant Leonard Perkins played to tipsy perfection by Tom McBeath. I just wish our Honourable Senator would have perhaps used spring break to appear in tonight's play. Campbell would have fitted in perfectly.


Major Larry Campbell - November 2002

I am a sucker for anything experimental and I tip my hat to the Arts Club Theatre Company for taking a chance. I have always considered Robert Montgomery’s 1947 camera-point-of-view film noir Lady in the Lake a masterpiece.

Some might say why go to the Stanley to see a movie? I would answer, “Go to the Stanley to see a one take movie and you see it being filmed. Now that’s a movie you will not see anywhere else.” 

Malibu Noir



Jerome Charyn's White House & Teddy's Desk
Tuesday, March 18, 2014



 
Theodore Roosevelt - The Commish at his desk.

It was a cowtown compared to London, Paris, or Berlin, a carbuncle south of Baltimore, created by George Washington, the first American king, to house a squalid little government that was frightened of its thirteen constituent states. It was built on a swamp, around a limestone mansion for the president-king, a mansion that began to crumble and peel soon as it was put up. It was a city of mosquitoes, Washington, D.C., with a dampness that bit at you in the winter and made you feverish in the long, summer blaze. It couldn’t even rule itself. Congress squatted over the city, prepared its finances, and stroked it to sleep. It had a few scattered markets and fisheries, not centers of trade, just monuments, cafeterias, alleys, and government houses. But it was the wartime capital of the world.
The Franklin Scare – Jerome Charyn – 1977


Ulysses put his son to bed, but he couldn’t find the key to his trunk. He walked out of the Willard in his old travel uniform with missing buttons and a frayed cuff, crossed the miasma of Pennsylvania Avenue, and wandered into the Mansion. Nicolay & Hay [John Nicolay and John Hay, secretaries to Lincoln and his biographers] hadn’t expected Grant until tomorrow. And here he was in the middle of a White House gala with mud in his boots.



Folks swarmed around him – gloves were lost, crinolines collapsed, and shoes were trampled on in that swarm. It was like an invading army in our salon. And that’s how I first met Ulysses Grant. I looked into his blue-gray eyes, and could feel that sense of risk I hadn’t been able to find in my other generals. He fights, he kills. He stole the Mississippi from the Rebels. And now he’s come to the capital in his rumpled uniform, a commander who made sure his mules were fed.
I Am Abraham – Jerome Charyn - 2014


A reader lives through many disappointments and frustrations in one’s life. As a lifelong reader I can attest to this.

Perhaps the most taxiing one is waiting for a favourite author to get on with it and write another. As a Joyce Carol Oates fan I can count on at least one a year. But, alas, Colin Dexter, Eric Ambler, Daphne du Maurier, Michael Dibdin, José Saramago and Reginald Hill, not to mention John Cheever, they no longer have access to a writing desk.

This means that I often re-read du Maurier's The House on the Strand, Ambler's A Coffin for Dimitrios, and Dibdin's  the Dead Lagoon. There is not one year that I don’t dip into Cheever’s The Swimmer.

I am particularly jealous of those who discover a writer with a long suit of novels late in the game. They can have an orgy. Rosemary and I are patiently waiting for one more Andrea Camilleri, Montalbano procedural to be translated from the Italian. While she does write in English Donna Leon and her Commissario Guido Brunetti solving crime in Venice appear only once per year.. When is the next one? And aren’t those who can buy or check out all her, 20 plus novels in a reading frenzy to be disliked for that pleasure?

I know that with patience I can expect a Le Carré, a Joseph Kanon and a Martin Cruz Smith soon enough.

Another terrible frustration is when a favourite writer loses a publisher. There is one pleasant exception I can cite here, my friend and Niagara-on-the-Lake author R. Robert Janes has just published two new Kohler/St-Cyr on The Mysterious Press (the same publisher of Jerome Charyn's Isaac Sidel novels of which I will mention  below) in which they are printed on demand.

A similar frustration happens when authors abandon my favourite protagonists. Robert Wilson left Inspector Falcón in Seville and Arturo Perez-Reverte insists on writing serious novels while we wait for one more Capitán Alatriste.

There are a few compensations beyond re-reading. I can discover new authors or especially now turning on my wife and a few friends to some of these authors who do not suffer writing cramp.

One such author is Jerome Charyn who to date, after the recent publishing of his “first-person-novelized-biography” on Lincoln, I Am Abraham has 34 other works of fiction listed and 12 non-fiction ones including one of the best ever about New York City, Metropolis.


Some of his novels are curiously linked.

We know that in I Am Abraham, mulatto seamstress and First Lady confidant, Elizabeth (Yib) Keckley holds a school for the black children (and Lincoln’s sons Tad and William) in the White House Basement:

She didn’t want to be consoled. All she wanted was a classroom. So I [Abraham Lincoln] to sit in one of her classes, not to spy on her, you see, but to get acquainted with Yib and her chalkboard. She didn’t seem startled when I entered her classroom in the basement and sat down on a tiny stool next to Willie and Tad and the servant boys. I’d just come back from the War Department and was still wearing my chapeau. It was unconscionably impolite, and I placed the stovepipe hat on my knee, like a toadstool on a writing desk. Desks were in short supply, and all her pupils had to sit around a rickety table with their tablets and black lead pencils, while Elizabeth, still in her mourner’s black gloves, scratched a word on the chalkboard with all the flair of a schoolmarm.


Turpitude.
I Am Abraham, Jerome Charyn- 2014


He was a common sailor, a boy in summer clothes, Seaman Oliver Beebe. He hadn’t come off any ship. He was only a barber, a barber who stayed on land. He mingled with obscure admirals at the old Navy Building on Constitution Avenue. He went from office to office, clipping hair. The admirals trusted him. He was quiet, discreet, and he had small, lovely hands that could massage a bald spot or powder runnels behind a Navy man’s ear. Seaman Olive Beebe.


He came through the north gate with a card signed by the Chief of Naval Operations. A soldier inspected his barbering tools. A Secret Service man accompanied him to the usher’s office. It was routine business. One of the admirals had recommended Seaman Beebe. The President’s other barber was sick. An usher escorted him up to the second floor. He was gone in half an hour.

No one expected to see him a second time. It was the end of May. He wore the same summer “whites.” The weather in the mansion was intolerable, but the sailor didn’t seem to sweat. He had the President’s signature on his pass. He was given full authority to come and go. The Boss snatched him up from the admirals. He had nothing to do with the Navy now. He was assigned to Headquarters, the Commander-in-Chief.
The Franklin Scare – Jerome Charyn – 1975

You must at this point trust me that if you have enjoyed I Am Abraham, the next Charyn novel to find and read is The Franklin Scare. You will learn of the barber seaman who lives in the White House attic, you will find out of the complex relationship Roosevelt had with his wife and you will be startled (all in good fun) to discover Beeb’s connection with J. Edgar Hoover.

But Charyn’s relationship with White House goings on does not end here.

You might know that Theodore Roosevelt was the first acting Police Commissioner in New York City. He worked at a famous desk. Read Caleb Carr's The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness to learn more.

What you might not know is that another man, a fictitious character in a string of Charyn novels, Isaac Sidel who rose in the ranks to become the “Pink Commish” (because of his leftist leanings) also occupied that desk.

What is delightful and delicious is that we know that by the end of Under The Eye Of God (Jerome Charyn – 2012) Isaac Sidel is Vice President of the United States and is about to become the occupier of the White House (there are problems with the Pres) and perhaps sit at that other desk once used by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.


The January sun beat down on his pate. He bit into the wind that swept off the canal. He could finish up his seven days of mourning right now. He clung to Daniel and Darl, clung to Marianna, and he knew what would please him most in the president’s palace – the waft of butternut cookies from the White House kitchen, with both of Inez’s babies beside him.
Under the Eye of God – An Isaac Sidel Novel



The Lord's Fiddle
Monday, March 17, 2014



The Lord's Fiddle
Chayym Zeldis


 
Karen Gerbrecht


Last night
I dreamed that God
decided He'd learn
to play the fiddle.

But there was none
to be found in heaven,
so He entered the
Great Vault behind the
cloud-bank,
in which reposed holy treasures,
such as the Tablets of the Law,
Aaron's rod,
Moses' wicker-basket,
Elijah's brand,
David's harp,
Yael's dagger
inter alia.

Taking a good sum of
cash (U.S. dollars are
always good)ÊGod departed
for earth.

But to His surprise,
He discovered that nowhere
was there a single fiddle
for sale.

The stores were empty:
it seemed that
everyone on the planet
was fiddling.

So He tried to borrow one.

But ÊPaganini, Heifetz andÊ
Menuhin Êwere all dead,
and those alive - even the
jolly, good-natured Perlman -
refused to lend Him theirs.

"Never lend anyone your fiddle,
or your car, or your toothbrush,"
they told Him.

("Or your wife,"
murmured God.)

But then
an old Minskener
(who in 1907 emigrated
from Czar Nicolai's Russia
to NYC)
in a cubby-hole of a store
down on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan,
called out that he had
one fit fiddle left,
and would sell it to God
if He promised to play
lively tunes.

Back in heaven, though,
God couldn't find anyone
to teach him.

A wizened, little Angel
who'd played
backgammon with Abraham,
chess with Solomon,
pick-up-sticks with Gideon,
solitaire with Job,
explained Êthat Êall the
famous violinists and teachers
no Êlonger had any connectionÊ
to fiddling.

"You see," Êsaid the Angel,
"the violin has nothing to do
with heaven -
only with the pain of earth."

That was it.

So God took his fiddle -
glowing like a ruby
in the navel of the sky,
silent as a mute who knows
the secrets of the universe
but cannotÊÊutter a word of them -
to the Great Vault behind the
cloud-blank,
blessed it
and kissed it
and locked it away
along withÊÊMiriam's timbrel,
Samson's jawbone,
Joseph's vari-colored coat,
Jacob's ladder,
and the single pebble
that - crooning like
a shepherd's psalm -
put Goliath
to sleep.





Between The Sheets - An Excruciating Play That Satisfied
Sunday, March 16, 2014





It is my feeling that Toronto’s young playwright, Jordi Mand probably has never heard of Horace’s advice from his Ars Poetica where he instructs poets that they should never resort to a "god from the machine" to resolve their plots "unless a difficulty worthy a god's unraveling should happen.” But she did take the advice.

There is no deus ex machine that can possibly save the bleak ending of the Pi Theatre production of Mand’s play, Between the Sheets which my granddaughter Rebecca Stewart (16) and I witnessed in this site specific play inside a real third grader’s classroom  at the Admiral Seymour Elementary School in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Strathcona.

Many of our city’s couch potatoes say we live in a no-fun city. Why venture out when downloading a movie from Netflix is so easy?


Standing left, Caitriona Murphy, centre Stephanie Moroz, right Jordi Mand

Or we could go to see a conventional and safe play at a major Vancouver venue and be properly entertained without the taxing of our emotions or thought processes.

Why would anybody leave the comfort of a roaring fire in the den to pick up one’s granddaughter (not a happy camper at school) to take her to a play on a bleak and gray Sunday afternoon and have her say, “So you bring me to a school on my spring break!”

The fact is that Rebecca Stewart and I did all the above and found Between the Sheets so excruciatingly real that we felt embarrassed to be present during the escalation of what began as a parent/teacher meeting.


The director of Between the Sheets as well being the Artistic Director of Pi Theatre, Richard Wolfe has his own theatrical agenda. This agenda is to push us (Lotus Land inhabitants that we are, we need some of that) into theatre that will challenge us. Last year’s Terminus (also a Pi Theatre production) probably caused many planning trips to Ireland to cancel abruptly. Terminus made Dublin seem like a hell on earth. But I would never reject Wolfe's idea that plays should be sugar-free. One needs such jolts.

Such was the delivery of this play, the starkness of the location under unpleasant fluorescent lighting, the smell of the linoleum floor (I asked Rebecca to check for chewing gum under the desks but she told me that it would only happen in high school) and finally a performance so real that it seemed effortless, that I felt that I did not belong there. My Rebecca added later that unlike in a normal theatre you could read the expressions on other people’s places since was sat around the proceeding but left the centre of the classroom empty.

At one point, Caitriona Murphy (who plays Marion, Alex’s mother, whose father and teacher Teresa Stewart, Stephanie Moroz is perhaps having a fling with) brushed past me as the whole classroom was the stage.

The dialogue at one point made me think, “This is terrible. She is using the expression ‘trophy wife’. This play is full of clichés.”  And then I thought again and saw how real all this seemed. People do talk like that.  It was not a reality show. It was a discussion between women who in the end do meet for a few seconds and see eye-to-eye. That brief comfort zone was then shattered with no resolution.

I feel that I was right in taking my 11 year-old granddaughter Lauren Stewart to see the excellent Arts Theatre Production of Mary Poppins a few months ago.




I  also feel that taking Rebecca to Between the Sheets (lots of f-words and the shocking use, once[!], of the C-word, Rebecca opened her mouth wide) was a challenging afternoon that in its own way did entertain us, but more important it helped, perhaps diminish that chasm that sometimes separates grandfathers from their granddaughters. 

Between the Sheets is on until March 26. For info here.



     

Previous Posts
Lauren & Casi-Casi Met Up

Edwin Varney - Unstampable

Edward Clendon River - Michael Turner & Modigliani...

Boeing 747 The Queen of the Skies

In Search of My Relevance With The Goblin Market

Marv Newland's Scratchy - Itching Us On

Rain

Cool Ember

In the Spirit of Guilhermina Suggia

Vida



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11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17

5/28/17 - 6/4/17

6/4/17 - 6/11/17

6/11/17 - 6/18/17

6/18/17 - 6/25/17

6/25/17 - 7/2/17

7/2/17 - 7/9/17

7/9/17 - 7/16/17

7/16/17 - 7/23/17

7/23/17 - 7/30/17

7/30/17 - 8/6/17

8/6/17 - 8/13/17

8/13/17 - 8/20/17

8/20/17 - 8/27/17

8/27/17 - 9/3/17

9/3/17 - 9/10/17

9/10/17 - 9/17/17

9/17/17 - 9/24/17

9/24/17 - 10/1/17

10/1/17 - 10/8/17

10/8/17 - 10/15/17

10/15/17 - 10/22/17