The First Little Bastard Who Calls Me An Elitist...Sunday, November 29, 2015
My mother often told me, “Hay poca gente fina como nosotros.” This does not entirely translate correctly into English as, “There are few people with manners and good taste like us.” The problem lies in the Spanish word “educacíon” which not only means what you think it might mean but also it has the added manners attached.
Thus gente fina would send flowers in lieu of not showing up for party, would know when to thank you and most important would never offend anybody knowingly.
Gente fina my mother would also add liked Mozart and Beethoven, good books by established writers and admire paintings by the masters.
In a late 20th century epithet now seen as a damning insult, my mother was a elitist.
In 1994 I wrote a book review for the now defunct city business magazine Equity. The book was a posthumous publication by William A. Henry III. It was called In Defense of Elitism.
His first paragraph reads:
Somewhere along Bill Clinton’s path to the White House it dawned on me that the term “elitist,” which I had matter-a-factly applied to myself and most of my fellow liberal Democratic friends for decades, has come to rival if not outstrip “racist” as the foremost catchcall pejorative of our times. Once I began consciously looking, I found evidence everywhere – from tabloid newspapers to scholarly journals, from smirky game shows to sober academic discourse, above all in the public rhetoric of liberals and conservatives alike – that belief that any sort of elitism, and in the all-important hierarchy of values that must underlie such a belief, has been pushed outside the pale of polite discussion. The very word, used as a label, seems to be considered enough for today’s rhetoricians to dismiss their opponents as defeated beyond redemption.
All the above went through my head at a recent book launching by author/poet/extraordinaire Bill Richardson and illustrator (one of supreme good taste) Roxanna Bikadoroff. The book is a slim. It is called The First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps and it was launched at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks.
I know that my mother would have felt comfortable surrounded by the mature women (sparsely sprinkled with mature men) in a place that was well lit, with many books on book shelves and served with lovely little things that melted in one’s mouth or when not washed down by premium sherry. I would have been amazed if any of the women present might have sported tattoos in parts unknown. But I could be wrong.
I have always had admiration for Bill Richardson and in particular for his CBC Radio program (it lasted long enough for me to despair at its loss) Bunny Watson.
Last night (Saturday) my daughter Hilary, her daughter Lauren, 13, my wife and I watched Walter Lang’s 1957 Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, Joan Blondell and (yes!) Dina Merrill (supremely elegant in my books). Katharine Hepburn’s name in the film is Bunny Watson and she could associate numbers and places to other numbers and places like no other human being in film. It was only a week ago that I taught my Lauren about association which I consider the supreme and defining difference between humans and other living things. I asked Lauren why it was that I always smile when I look at my 2007 Chevrolet Malibu. Her answer was expected but pleased me, “You smile because the Malibu reminds you of Abi’s (my wife) gray cat Casi-Casi.
Bunny Watson: Just for kicks. You don't have to answer it if you don't want to. I mean, don't dwell on the question, but I warn you there's a trick in it. If six Chinamen get off a train at Las Vegas, and two of them are found floating face down in a goldfish bowl, and the only thing they can find to identify them are two telephone numbers: one, Plaza Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh and the other, Columbus Oh-1492. What time did the train get to Palm Springs?
Richard Sumner (played by Spencer Tracy): Nine O'Clock.
Bunny Watson: Now, would you mind telling me how you happened to get that?
Richard Sumner: Well, there are 11 letters in Palm Springs. You take away two Chinamen, that leaves nine.
Bunny Watson: You're a sketch, Mr. Sumner.
Richard Sumner: You're not so bad yourself.
Bill Richardson’s little book, so elegantly illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff who has contributed to all kinds of magazines (The Walrus) including (yes!) The New Yorker has poetry that is accessible, funny and challenging in some assertions. Bikadoroff is a pro who knows how illustration, when wisely done, can enhance type. Her illustrations have all kinds of Buny Watson moments. You can see something different every time you look at them that you might have overlooked before. But there is one that is my favourite. The illustration to the story The Night We Found the Riding Crop I associate with a famous photograph that Helmut Newton took of one woman riding another on a saddle in a living room. Newton’s photographs were erotic, but always to me they were done with elegance. Elegance is something that Bikadoroff, Richardson and Barbara-Jo have in spades.
This blog's (and most of my blogs) apparent randomness is a direct result and influence from Richardson's program Bunny Watson.