Sunday, March 4, 2012 — The first robin redbreasts returned to our part of Delaware last week. The blackbirds flocked in last week, too, and, after what I suppose to be their long flight, bathed in the murky puddles left by the recent rain. As I have written previously here, my former next-door neighbor’s big black and white tuxedo cat, Bootsie, quite tall on hind legs, would lean over the rim of their backyard birdbath for a drink. He looked like a little man attending a jazz age party who had boozed too much and was throwing up in the fountain. Enticing as that water may seem, frankly, what bird would flap about gleefully in a basin of water infused with cat backwash?
Speaking of the mind of a cat, a mystifying pursuit, I admit, my Valentine cat, Keats, is living all nine of his lives at once, I think. Typically male, he sleeps all day, stretching and getting up only periodically to eat, then carouses the night outdoors. Sometimes he returns before I go to bed and sometimes he does not. Sometimes I find him in the morning curled among the yellow daffodils blooming in my garden. Maybe he spends the night with his other people – all nine families; I don’t know. —Or, maybe a 1920s limousine drives up around midnight and takes him someplace; maybe he meets people I’d like to know; maybe he will introduce me…. The other night when it was pouring rain, I walked over to my neighbor’s porch, the one where Bootsie used to live, gathered Keats into my arms and brought him in. Expressing his displeasure at this turn of events, lashing his long, thick tail, nearly clanging it against the steaming radiator by the front door, he insisted on returning to the rain. I let him out. “Come back in,” I suggested (you know, with cats one can merely suggest, politely). “No. I’m good,” he seemed to say.
A pair of cardinals flits among the branches on the dogwood tree outside my window as I write this, and I am listening to the music of the blues – well, the blues and New Orleans jazz. I am listening to Sidney Bechet (May 14, 1897–May 14, 1959 – he died on his birthday) playing his soprano sax. Such extraordinary musicianship and talent he had. It is curious that I haven’t heard of him or his music before – or perhaps I have and just not realized it; his name is familiar. Woody Allen introduced me to his music in his movie Midnight in Paris, which I returned to see a second time, via a DVD my friend Jackie lent me. The song Bechet performs in the movie is “Si Tu Vois Ma Mère,” meaningful to me, and hard to listen to just once.
That movie is so right up my alley. Like Gil Pender, the protagonist, in the movie I found a vehicle by which to return to 1920s Paris and meet all my favorite writers and artists – the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Faulkner, Picasso, Dali, and so on, and Gertrude Stein. I would love to have a salon like Gertrude Stein’s, where friends, artists, musicians and writers just drop in. That would be so cool. I guess Gertrude Stein would not say “so cool” – “Oh, Ernest, it’s so cool of you to drop in. Oh, Pablo, that painting is way cool.” However cool, though, in the movie next we returned to La Belle Époque, my other favorite era where Woody Allen introduces us to, among others, Degas (painter of the dance (ballet, one of my favorite activities) and dancers) and Toulouse-Lautrec – remember the 1952 Moulin Rouge movie where José Ferrer, on his knees, portrayed Toulouse-Lautrec? Well, if you’re not old enough, you can probably find it available on DVD. I, nevertheless, am old enough, almost, to have lived in these two eras – the two eras sandwiching World War I. I wax nostalgic: ah, but were I living then I would not be writing this blog. Maybe I’d be publishing it in serial form in newspapers or pamphlets, though. (When I worked in federal legislation at the National Education Association in Washington, D.C., years ago – yet more recently than the 1920s – teachers used to write in for phamplets and Congressional roosters.)
Woody Allen makes the point in his movie that when you believe living in another era to be better than this one, you are in denial of the present. OK.
I watched the movie Hugo (extraordinary) the other day, too, returning yet again to the Paris of that era. Composer Howard Shore’s soundtrack to this movie is mesmerizing. I noted that a number of artists had commented on iTunes that the music is ideal for concentrating on artistic endeavors; I find that so for my writing. This is why I downloaded the soundtrack. Brian Selznick’s story is genius – no wonder the novel topped the New York Times bestseller list – as is Martin Scorsese’s directing, as always. Martin Scorsese and Johnny Depp are two of the movie’s producers.
I returned to playing my guitar two weeks ago. Our Hospice music therapist suggested I do so; then we could play guitars together. Since Emma began exhibiting signs of dementia, I haven’t played it. Over the years, I have composed many songs for my guitar. Copies of all but a handful, unfortunately, are in storage in California. I do not have the funds, about $3.000, to bring them and all my belongings here. So, I practiced the handful I have with me.
For the present, while Emma is subdued, I have made time to play my guitar every day. I definitely am rusty after these five or so years of not playing, but it comes back. Magically, three days ago, my ability to pick the strings returned. I couldn’t do it and then it just kicked in. I have heard that when you don’t use a certain brain function for a while and then begin using it again, that the function is restored – unless you have dementia or something like that.
The music therapist returned this past Friday and she accompanied me on my songs, picking her guitar strings contrapuntal to my strumming and vocally harmonizing to my singing. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of nerve, or just plain idiocy to put oneself out there and sing in front of someone who is a professionally trained opera singer. But, I did, and our performing together was – well – so cool. Carole King, step aside ….
The return of spring signals to me that Emma’s condition changes with each change of the season, and usually just after Dr. Patel’s visit. He is scheduled to visit in a couple of weeks. He is a better predictor than I, so when he visits, I will ask him what is to come. I hate being blindsided and having to deal with bully nurses and their ilk.
Presently, however, I am charmed to revisit my guitar, to experience, nearly lost in time, a return to myself.