Archive for the tag 'Maria Callas'

My Birds and Bees.

February 28th, 2016

A while back, I decided to convert one of the bedrooms in my house to a combination exercise, reading and music room.  Besides a bed for the occasional out-of-town guest, the room also contains a treadmill which I hardly ever use, a writing table piled high with books I have yet to read, a big boombox on which I play mostly classical music when I’m reading the local morning paper or the Sunday New York Times, and two fairly large bird cages.  My father used to raise large Brazilian parrots, but I am not quite as ambitious.

Up until a year ago, I had four lovebirds, a pair in each one of the cages, but then the older pair, whom I named Papageno and Papagena (from Mozart’s The Magic Flute), suddenly died within months of each other, perhaps because they were truly inseparable.  And then, when the younger pair, whom I named Gustav and Alma (Mahler), went through the motions of procreation, I placed a nesting box in their cage.  Soon they were in and out of there.  After a couple of weeks, I checked, and found three eggs in the box.  Another five or six weeks went by, with lots of activity, and then I sensed something was terribly wrong when Gustav and Alma stopped popping in and out of the box.  With great trepidation, I opened the box, and found that only one of the three eggs had hatched.  The baby bird was about two inches long, was partially covered with feathers, but it was clearly dead, even though its little body was still warm to the touch.  I felt remorse and guilt about having named the parents Gustav and Alma, because in real life the Mahlers also lost one of their young children, for whom Gustav wrote the very sad Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”), based on the poems of Friedrich Ruckert.  These days, Gustav and Alma continue to be very affectionate with each other, grooming and feeding each other, but I don’t see them mating anymore.  Perhaps they are still grieving over the loss of their one and only offspring.

Meanwhile, I could not bear to see Papageno and Papagena’s cage sitting sadly empty, so a couple of months ago I went to a local pet store  and bought, not another pair of lovebirds, because Mozart’s lovebirds could never be replaced, but four parakeets instead, two of them blue, and two of them yellow.  I’ve never had parakeets before, but I liked the way they chirped when I approached them.  The two blue ones already seemed to be a pair, so I named them Robert and Clara (Schumann).  The people at the store said one of the yellow ones was definitely a male, but that the other one was still too young to determine its gender, so I named the male Frederick (Chopin) and the asexual one George (Sand).  Whatever gender George might turn out to be, they also seemed to be a pair.  And now my house is filled once more with the songs of nature. The birds are happiest when I am in the room with them, reading the paper and listening to classical music.  They like whatever music I put on, but definitely seem to favor Vivaldi’s guitar concertos, and old Maria Callas recordings of Puccini arias.

I am now glad to report that George is, in fact, female.  But something strange is happening in their cage.  While Robert and Clara (Schumann) continue to spend a great deal of time together, as do Frederick (Chopin) and George (Sand), in recent weeks I’ve noticed George in flirtatious dalliance with Robert, to the annoyance of both Frederick and Clara.  But George always returns to Frederick, and Robert to Clara, then all seems well again, though only for a while.  I really have no idea what’s going on with these parakeets, but I’ve now also put two nesting baskets in their cage, in the hope that they might soon produce baby parakeets.  Will these be blue or yellow, or green if of mixed parentage?  Just like America itself, divided politically into red and blue states, with the odd purple one emerging hither and thither.

In any case, if I do get baby parakeets, of whatever hue, and they start to make their sweet baby chirps, maybe the grieving lovebirds will be inspired to give it one more try.  The nesting box is still in their cage, and maybe enough time has passed so that the scent of untimely death can now be replaced by that of new life.


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Remembering Ed Ruhe

June 21st, 2009

“He takes with Him Memories of Ourselves” by Paul Stephen Lim. Reprinted from Dreamtime: Remembering Ed Ruhe: 1923-1989, edited by Robert Day and Fred Whitehead. Published in 1993 by The O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, MD 21620.

I remember taking Ed Ruhe’s “Novels into Films” class in the fall semester of 1969 (with people like Chuck Sack and Jim Pearce) and how, years later, Ed often said that it was the most extraordinary group of people he had ever taught. What really made the group extraordinary, of course, was Ed himself, with his boundless enthusiasm and passion for the visual in print, the literary on film.

I remember innumerable afternoons and evenings spent around the large and cluttered dining room table in Ed’s apartment, talking both small talk and Big Talk. Whatever the subject of conversation, whether it be an essay on cannibals by Montaigne, or an obscure movie by Kurosawa, Ed would reach back at some point and pull out some dusty book from those inexhaustible shelves to further the discussion.

I remember trips to Kansas City with Ed to dine at some new Italian restaurant, to hear Kathleen Battle, to see the Alvin Ailey Dancers, to marvel at the latest foreign film at the Bijou, to browse through the bookstores and record stores at Westport.

I remember sharing with Ed a rare 1958 Maria Callas recording of “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson and Delilah, which she had suppressed because she had been unhappy with her rendering of three or four notes, and Ed’s playing the said recording over and over, trying to determine exactly which three or four notes had displeased the diva, until we both gave up because it was nearly midnight, and much too late to call Jim Seaver and ask him for his opinion.

I remember the parties at Ed’s apartment, not only the lively ones, but also the deadly ones. One, where an out-of-town friend of Ed’s decided to show over 200 slides of tombstones he had photographed in Europe, and how the guests slipped away quietly until there was no one left, but still the show went on. Another, in which Ed listened quietly to the interminable chit-chat about the significance of I-forget-which-novel by I-forget-whom, with the discussion ending when Ed finally said, with great impatience, “Only time will tell, and we won’t be there to hear that discussion.”

On a more personal level, I remember bringing early drafts of my plays Conpersonas and Chambers to Ed’s office and subjecting him to the agony of listening to me reading all the parts, and the heated discussions we had afterwards because he said my plays were “too complex.” Years later, the reviewers in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere said the same thing, and when Ed saw how depressed I was, he took me aside one day and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being too complex. It just means you’ll never be rich.”

I remember the last movie I brought to Ed’s apartment, to watch on the new VCR I had convinced him to buy. The film was Pedro Almodovar’s The Law of Desire. I’d seen it before, but wanted to view it again with Ed, to see if the movie would strike him the same way. It did. Toward the end of The Law of Desire, there’s a scene where the flamboyant transexual heroine goes to the hospital to visit her brother, a victim of amnesia. The woman brings with her a faded photograph of two little boys at the beach, a photograph of the two of them when they were still young and happy. She thrusts the photograph in her brother’s face and begs him to remember. “You must remember,” she pleads, “because if you don’t remember, then I do not exist.”

Ed Ruhe was a great teacher. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t miss him, not only because he had a tremendous capacity for friendship, but also because he had a phenomenal memory. He’s gone, and he takes with him bits of ourselves which only he knew and remembered, memories of ourselves that now no longer exist.