“An Instant of Artistic Grace”

Van Cliburn on the Cover of Time Magazine on May 19, 1958

Some artistic careers blaze brightly like meteors before being snuffed out, leaving nothing behind but a crater. Such was the short but brilliant musical career of Van Cliburn who went to Russia at the height of the Cold War, and performed in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory during the first Tchaikovsky International Competition, which he won handily. After getting an eight-minute standing ovation, Van Cliburn reminded Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov o “som kind of angel.” In The Ivory Trade (1990), Joseph Horowitz wrote:

His lanky six feet four inches, his blue eyes and mop of frizzy blond hair, were recognized everywhere. People hugged and kissed him on the street, calling him “Vanya” and “Vanyushka.” He was showered with flowers and personal mementos. Women wept when he played, and students shouted “First prize!” Outside the conservatory, militiamen were used to maintain order. His pandemonious victory, announced April 14, confirmed the popular verdict of days before. The Cliburn furor was of unprecedented, unrepeatable, incomprehensible proportions.

Van Cliburn in Moscow. Note the Roses Strewn Across the Stage.

And then what? Cliburn went back to Texas to live with his mother, performing occasionally—but with considerably less éclat. After the ticker-tape parade through Manhattan, and a few concerts with diminishing returns, that was just about it.

What his fans did not, could not know at that time, was that Cliburn was gay. Had that become publicly known, he would have been reviled by the same public that seemingly adored him. It is such a pity. Today, his sexual preference would be met with a shrug (though perhaps not in Russia). In 1998, he suffered the indignity of being sued by his long-time domestic partner, mortician Thomas Zaremba, for palimony. The case was thrown out of court as palimony is not recognized by the State of Texas, He died in 2013 in Texas at the age of 78, years after his last successful concert.

Stuart Isacoff, in his book When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and Its Aftermath calls his Moscow concert “perhaps the best concert of his life … an instant of artistic grace.”

TEGOBA

That’s Short for “The English Group of Buenos Aires”

Each time I have gone to Buenos Aires—that’s now three times in all—I have gone to one of the weekly meetings of TEGOBA, The English Group of Buenos Aires. At leastsince 2006, it has been meeting on Friday nights at a cafeteria in the upscale Belgrano suburb of B.A. called FAME, located on Cabildo across the street from the Congreso de Tucuman SUBTE stop.

The above picture was taken in 2006, when I was quite a few pounds heavier. (I’m the walrus at the far right.) At my left is Marta Viajera, who is the coordinator for the group. The others are a combination of Argentinian professionals and visiting Americans, Brits, and others who want to socialize in English over a nice meal.

A few days after this picture was taken, I broke my right shoulder in a blizzard that struck Tierra del Fuego. I slipped on some ice at the corner of Magallanes and Rivadavia and smashed my shoulder into a high curb. Usually, that would make someone turn sour on a place. Instead, I decided I loved Argentina and its people, and I resolved to return. And I did, twice so far. I hope I have it in me to back back at least one more time.

And, to be sure, i will join the group at Avenida Cabildo 2921 for another meeting of TEGOBA.

Two Abysses

A Hiker Walking Along a Narrow Ridge Trail with Mount Rainier in the Background

In my dealings with Martine, I am faced with two abysses. On one hand, I wish to be compassionate with a woman I have loved for thirty years. On the other, I don’t want to destroy myself by not looking sufficiently after my own survival. It is possible to be so compassionate that I no longer have the wherewithal to support myself in my fairly abstemious life style.

Martine is clearly in need of counseling. Unfortunately, I cannot force her to see a therapist if she doesn’t want to; and she clearly doesn’t want to. She is currently planning another escape, this time to Salt Lake City, where she thinks she will get free or super cheap housing when she really doesn’t have much money to spend. I fully expect for this second escapade to fail; and I will be called by her or some social worker to send her a ticket back to Los Angeles.

Each time she returns to L.A., she will hate the city (and perhaps me, too) even more. Yet she is not healthy enough to live on the streets, especially in a city that has a real winter.

I am walking on a narrow path and have to find my way somehow.

 

Why I’m Not in Politics

Would I Be an Enlightened Ruler? Mebbe Not

Many years ago, a very cute young woman of my acquaintance thought I would make a good president. I looked at her, laughed, and said that I would probably be seen as another Caligula or Heliogabalus. Just look at some highlights of my first hundred days:

  • The following conservative pundits would suddenly be found dead: Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, the hosts of the “Fox & Friends” television show, Steve Bannon, and Bill O’Reilly.
  • Certain functionaries of the present administration would have their tongues removed, including Kellyanne Conway, Steve Miller, all of the Trumpfs, and Betsy De Vos. In addition, the head Trumpf would be physiologically unable to use Twitter once this thumbs were removed and hammered into his ears.
  • Selected weasels in Congress would be too crippled to show up for duty, most especially Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
  • Anyone associated with the so-called “Alt-Right” would be considered guilty of treason and treated accordingly. Rope is cheap.

In certain conservative circles, I would be seen as the bloodiest ruler in American history. So, perhaps you all would think better of me if I were a most reasonable and non-violent member of the opposition.

Power has a way of changing people—and not always for the best.

Swag

Costco Shoppers

I do not often go to warehouse stores: There is something about a shopping frenzy that makes people ugly. It’s all about the getting of swag, and showing others that you can afford it because the light from the gods shines directly from the heavens onto you. Me, I needed to get one or two nonstick pans because two of mine were already leaching their chemical formula into whatever food I warmed up in them. As usual, Costco did not have what I wanted. I could have purchased a whole pot and pan set for $199, but there was no selection of individual pots. Also, I looked for Schick blades. The last time I went, I was looking for Gillette Mach III blades, but they had only Schick. Today, they only had Gillette Mach III shavers and blades. I resolved not to return to Costco until after the Christmas madness.

When I got home, I ordered a nice nonstick covered pot from Amazon. Whatever their crimes, Amazon does usually sell what I want—and I can get it shipped to me free using Amazon Prime. As for the Schick blades, I won’t really need them for a while.

After my unsuccessful shopping trip, I went to the Santa Monica Public Library main branch and finished reading André Gide’s Lafcadio’s Adventures, also known as Les Caves du Vaticane. It was a kind of anticlerical romp, in which a couple of sharpers convince some wealthy old Catholics that Pope Leo XIII was being imprisoned in the caves under the Vatican by a cabal of Freemasons. They were naturally asked for funds to release the captive pontiff.

Desert Oasis

My Brother Dan at Simone Pond in the McCallum Grove

A couple of years back, I did a posting about Thousand Palms, where I took a hike with my brother Dan and Martine. On Sunday, Dan and I hiked farther, to the McCallum Grove, where there was a beautiful pond called Simone Pond. The stunning oasis is a few miles from Palm Desert, just north of Interstate-10 off Ramon Road.

All the palms at this oasis are native California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera), unlike the Arabian palms which are now all over Southern California—except at Thousand Palms. The palm groves here are both beautiful and eerie. There is not only a noticeable temperature drop amid these palms, but also a stillness seems to reign. And, at Simone Pond, there is a large body of water in which the trees across the water are perfectly reflected.

I would have to say that this is my favorite place in the whole Coachella Valley. (Second place goes to the Palm Springs Air Museum) at the airport.

Reflected Palms at Simone Pond

The oasis is part of the Coachella Valley Preserve and is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. Currently, there are no fees to visit this desert gem. It is well taken care of, as the only trash I saw was a single empty water bottle.

Favorite Films: Stalker (Сталкер, 1979)

Dunes Near the Room That Is the Goal of Stalker

While I was visiting my bother in Palm Desert, we saw Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a film based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s classic SF novel, Roadside Picnic. He did not like the film, which took 161 minutes to traverse a field and enter a building in search of a room.When one entered the room, one supposedly got all one’s wishes satisfied. Dan was bored by the film’s length, whereas I felt the film zipped by at light speed.

There is something about slow films, such as Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath and Ordet, Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc, and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Monogatari. The main characteristic of these films is a movement of spirit. If you follow this development, the film’s perceived slowness is imaginary.

In Stalker, one cannot just walk across the field and into the room. The interstellar aliens that landed in what is called “The Zone” change things around such that the stalker and the men who hired him to guide them must throw steel nuts bound in rags to check out the path ahead—and under no circumstances must they return the way they came. Several times, they pass a wall of old ceramic tiles, but in each case, the terrain around it is completely different.

The Stalker’s Daughter, Called “Monkey”

I am not saying you will love the film. I certainly do. But my brother, who shares so many film tastes with me, did not.If you demand fast action, you had best stick with CGI and Marvel Comics adaptations. But if you let yourself be guided by one of the greatest directors who ever lived, and follow the story line carefully, you will become one of Stalker’s fans.