Thursday, October 31, 2013


(Can this really be more than half a century later?)

1960 was the year of the Kennedy–Nixon Election. I, of course, supported Richard Nixon. I was still too young to think for myself. I came from a strong Republican background. Bob Rich— my maternal grandfather, for whom I was named – after all, had been a Republican member of the House for almost two decades. Furthermore, "Experience Counts!" John Kennedy was nothing but a young whipper-snapper!

In typical fashion, I overplayed my enthusiasm. I wish I had a photograph of it!! For the Halloween parade at Steele Elementary School, I went as a Nixon supporter. No jest intended. I wore black pants with 'NIXON' in white adhesive tape up one leg, and 'LODGE' on the other, an 'N' on one shoe, an 'L' the other, campaign buttons on my sleeves, and a sandwich sign with Nixon-Lodge campaign posters. I carried two other double-sided mounted posters on wooden sticks and, of course, wore a Nixon boater hat with extra buttons on the band.
I was crushed when Nixon lost.

(How quickly …and soundly I changed!)


On April 18, 2007 I listened to NPR, and at the end of an obituary for Kitty Carlisle Hart, as she sang Smoke Gets in Your Eyes during the credits, I recalled the autumn of my sophomore year in New Haven. Yale Glee Club conductor Fenno Heath’s secretary was a strikingly elegant blond soprano named Judith (I think), a student in the Music School, and had the female lead in a local production of Roberta at a High School near East Rock. I went to see her in the show. Her principal song was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. I remember talking with Judith occasionally— particularly the morning after the 1968 election. We were horribly depressed that Nixon had won. Judith commented, however, that maybe it would work out for the best since Nixon evidently wanted the job so badly. (Fenno’s Glee Club office in Hendrie Hall had a moody bust of Sibelius, which I thought rather curious, since Sibelius had been out of favor for several decades. Now, of course, he’s considered one of the greats of the Twentieth Century).

Anyway, on Saturday night 04/21/07 I went to a small, local Spizzwink(?) alumni get-together at Perry’s on Union Street. After a fine lunch with Adam K at the Rotunda in Neiman-Marcus and a too-short nap with Rose and Rupert, I really wasn’t up for the evening—especially with the downpour. I got a taxi with a cell-phone-chatting Asian cab driver, who didn’t seem to pay much attention to the weather conditions, or the traffic. So I was grateful when I managed to get there alive.

On leaving my flat, I had picked up my copy of the Spizzwink(?) song book from 1971. When I opened it I came across a notation on the back of a sheet of music: “Latest Harris Poll H 43 N 40” The night before the ’68 election, it had looked as though Humphrey would win! Devin, one of the newer alums and a graduate student in Poly Sci at UC Berkeley, was fascinated to hear that. He said that it showed you couldn’t depend on polling data then. Of course, 2000 demonstrated that even if Humphrey had received 43 % and Nixon 40 %, that alone would not necessarily have guaranteed election victory for either one.
(Check out my 10/02/08 posting : October Surprise 1980 (1968) for more comments on the ’68 election.)

By the way, the Spizzwink(?) dinner was great fun! I went to our Ninety-Fifth Anniversary Reunion in New Haven two years last April with my friend Mary Ellen.


In 1993 I met former President Nixon at a rehearsal for the Low Jinks during the summer encampment at the Grove. I introduced myself as Rob Bell, Robert F. Rich Bell, grandson of Congressman Robert F. Rich, who had served in the Congress with Nixon in the late forty’s and early fifty’s. Nixon said “I remember Bob Rich. He always asked: ‘Where are we going to get the money?’”* To his friends nearby Nixon exclaimed: “I knew this man’s grandfather!!” (This was Nixon’s first and last visit to the Grove after his resignation. For years he had been persona non grata in the Club, and not welcomed to the summer encampment.)

I was impressed – that he would remember after all these years. A few months later I learned from my nephew Sheridan, that Nixon had been at the embassy in Beijing about six months before, and when asked by my nephew –visiting his Dad at the embassy—if he remembered Congressmen Rich, Nixon admitted that he did not. So either Nixon’s memory was jogged by my nephew’s question, or he went back and researched his files. (The internet wouldn’t have been so friendly in 1993. There was no Google.) Either way, it’s still impressive.


* One thing about my grandfather: he may have been very stingy with the people’s money, but he was extraordinarily generous with his own.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SHERIDAN WATSON BELL, JR. 12/21/08~10/30/82 *

After lunch with his great friend Helen Heisey at the Dodge City steak house, a few blocks from the Harrisburg Arts Council building— where they both served on the council— my Dad, Sherry Bell had a stroke in early June 1982.

I think they took him immediately to the Harrisburg Hospital. By the time I got home from California, he was moved to the Polyclinic. I believe we parked our car in one of the lots that used to be part of the McFarland Rose Gardens.

My sister Julie consulted and researched to find the best surgeon for Dad. We were told it would be preferable to have the surgery done at Temple Hospital in Philadelphia (where Ken Heisey had gone to Dental School). He was given anti-coagulants and told to rest all summer in preparation for surgery on his carotid artery in the fall.

The whole family: Mother, Julie, Sherry, Cynthia and I came to spend several weeks with Dad. We visited him every day. We stayed with Mother’s cousins, George and Bonnie Whiting, in Ambler, a pastoral suburb north of Philadelphia.

I also visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and the wonderful Rodin Gallery. One Sunday I walked from the museum up Broad Street to Temple Hospital. I hadn’t realized the hospital was considerably further north of the university. I was startled by the devastation – block after block of boarded up row houses!

I spent a whole morning with Mother buying fabric to make flags for a show she was putting on at Camp Hill Methodist Church. Why she had to make flags, I’ll never know. Dennis and I have dozens of flags, which we’ve purchased – and some quite reasonably. But we all know how frugal Mother was.

I was with Dad when the news broke about Grace Kelly’s auto accident and tragic death.

Then I returned to San Francisco, since Dad seemed to be doing better, and was going to be released to recuperate at home before undergoing a second operation on his carotid artery on the opposite side.

The night before Dad was to be released from the hospital, Helen gave him the porcelain Lladro Don Quixote she had been saving for a special occasion.

That same night, Friday the 29th of October 1982, Ross and I went to a double feature at the Castro Theatre to see “Victor, Victoria” and “Some Like it Hot.” Ross was in a grumpy mood for some reason, but I had a terrific time, and laughed and laughed …. guffawed out loud.

Very early the next morning, Saturday, October 30th, I got a call from Sherry in Paris. Just before his release from Temple Hospital, Dad’s heart stopped.

I immediately telephoned Helen at Misty Point. She had left him only a few hours before.

I was able to get a red-eye flight into Baltimore. Mother and Julie picked me up at the airport Sunday morning for the drive to Harrisburg. Cynthia asked if I wanted to see Dad before he was cremated. I declined, preferring to remember him as he had been. (Though, years later I took photographs of Mother right after she died.)

I learned that the plan was to have the funeral the next day, Monday, November 1st (All Saints Day) in Woolrich –for just the immediate family.

Halfway to Woolrich, Cynthia suddenly cried out: “Stop the car!” The urn with Dad’s ashes was in the trunk. Lovingly, she carried him in her arms for the remainder of the journey.

I was surprised to see that Mother’s headstone was already in place beside Dad’s. I had seen it before, but had forgotten. It needed only the final date.

After the noon hillside gravesite service, Aunt Katie and Uncle Roz hosted a luncheon for us at their home in Sagamore Hills. Then we drove back to Harrisburg.

Helen turned to plans for a memorial service for Dad at Grace Church set for Wednesday November 3rd. Dad had made Mother promise that the funeral would not be at Grace Church – because of his awkward leaving a few years before. By a technicality, it wasn’t. But as Mother told us children: “Funerals are for the living, not for the dead. And I have to live in this town.”

So we had a memorial service on November 3rd at Grace with Father Bill, Bishop William Keeler (now retired Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore) as the principal eulogist. Almost a thousand people attended. At least, it was a very full church.

Mother asked me if I would like to sing at Dad’s service. I said: “No, I couldn’t possibly.” She reminded me of my promise to sing at hers.

The night before, I had several phone conversations with Helen. Bishop Keeler had wanted the lyrics to “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. That had been one of Dad’s greatest roles at the Harrisburg Community Theater. Since this was before the internet, I called my old octet director, Paul Suerken at the Mercersburg Academy. I recalled that the glee club had sung “The Impossible Dream” back in 1966 or ’67.

A few days later I assisted Mother with her flag show at Camp Hill Methodist. I wore Dad’s Gunn plaid kilt. He had worn it only once – to show Connie Leightner, our next door neighbor— just a few days before his stroke.

It was a good thing I went with Mother. She was a mess. The movie projector didn’t work, or somebody had forgotten to do something. There was no sound. But Mother had slides of various European Cathedrals. I winged it. At times I guess I have a little of Dad’s stage presence. I took the microphone and made extemporaneous comments on slides, when I didn’t even know which one was coming next. I think I performed fairly well. Mother was very appreciative. People, of course, were extremely supportive. The flag parade, however, was a disaster. Nobody knew what Mother wanted. I guess it was a little like the “precision” routines of the Yale Football Band. They just ran helter-skelter into formations.
I spent a few good weeks with Mother before returning to San Francisco.

Sherry Bell was a loving man of conviction, warmth, generosity, passion, impulse, flamboyance, gusto, humor, spontaneity, balance, dedication, support, vocal gifts, drama, wise counsel, compassion and faith: a pastor of people, rather than a great preacher, though occasionally a speaker of profound ideas and natural eloquence. I’m lucky and very proud that he was my Dad.

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Death is no enemy--
Only fear betrays,
Death is sweet release
From life’s enigma
It is escape from pain
And God’s solicitude
For man who stands alone
And wonders at his place
So small -- so insecure
So fractional
For death reveals the whole
Of life -- not its terror.

Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr.
To his favorite sister, Alice
Before her death 30 August 1957

* The Rev. Dr. Sheridan W. Bell, Jr. welcoming members of the board from Temple Ohev Sholom to Grace Methodist Church after the synagogue was flooded in Hurricaine Agnes in 1972

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BLACK TUESDAY ~ October 29, 1929

The Wall Street Crash of 1929,also known as the Great Crash or the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout.

Four phrases—
Black Thursday,
Black Friday, then Black Monday, and Black Tuesday—are commonly used to describe this collapse of stock values. All four are appropriate, for the crash was not a one-day affair. The initial crash occurred on Thursday, October 24, 1929, but the catastrophic downturn of Monday, October 28 and Tuesday, October 29 precipitated widespread alarm and the onset of an unprecedented and long-lasting economic depression for the United States and the world. This stock market collapse continued for a month.

"Anyone who bought stocks in mid-1929 and held onto them saw most of his or her adult life pass by before getting back to even."

Richard M. Salsman

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My Dad, Sherry Bell, was a senior in college when the stock market crashed in 1929.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Etching by Piranesi

Thirteen years ago today I stood in the middle of the Milvian Bridge in Rome and listened to a tape of my song of the same name, from a music drama about Constantine, I had written originally for a private club as a submission for an outdoor play. The lyrics had been written a few years before, but I didn’t write the music or record it until after the play had been rejected by the final committee, following previous acceptance by the reading committee. When I retire in a few years, I intend to complete this and another play now on the back burner. But these won’t be resubmitted to the club. Instead, I’ll see where else there might be a place for them. More importantly, I plan to complete multi-media presentations on DVD.

By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~ I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer ~~ merely One of Four,
But Ruler of the Western World.
With flags unfurled & standards raised,
My legions march to victory:
~~ (O’er the grave?
~~ Who knows?)
With power supreme~~
which grows far greater
than any peasant
e’re foretold~~
The world is weary,
and bodies ... cold;
But Roman might
By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer merely One of Four ~~
Soon ruler ~~
Augustus of the World.

Dennis and I had been in Venice and were in Rome before starting a ten day Mediterranean cruise ending up in Istanbul on Election Day 2000. (That was the only time I have voted by absentee ballot. I’ve never missed an election; but I like to vote in person.)

This was my second time on the Ponte Milvio. The first was in 1997 after dinner on a Sunday night with the choir from St. Dominic’s in San Francisco on a concert tour in Italy. We had just spent a frustrating day in Rome with little opportunity to go sight seeing on our own; so after dinner near the Vatican, I walked to the Victor Emmanuel monument at the Piazza Venezia and from there strode a power-walk about five kilometers up the Via del Corso in a straight line through Via le Tiziano, Via Flaminia to the Milvian Bridge and arrived just before midnight. (I returned to our hotel in the outer hills by taxi.)

(Ninety years ago today Benito Mussolini entered Rome with his Black Shirts to seize power for the Fascist regime.)

One-thousand-seven-hundred-one years ago today in the year 312 C.E., Constantine defeated the Emperor Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (then at the northern most boundary of the city) and became sole ruler in the western half of the Roman Empire.

What initially interested me in the story of Constantine was the sheer scope of the geography. Even today it would be staggering for a single individual to affect events in places diverse as York, Rome, and Istanbul, let alone found one of them (now the largest city in Europe). Constantine —the Great— born in Dalmatia, accomplished all that. CONSTANTINE, the play, is based on actual history, legend, and a good bit of fiction. The major character is the hero Constantine. He is the real figure who changed the course of history. In the beginning we hear about his exploits second hand from other people when he became one of four tetrarchs after his father’s death in York, England. But at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he demonstrates his valor, his stubbornness, his ingenuity, and his ability to exploit the situation.

After seeing angled rays of the sun through clouds the day before the battle, followed by a vision of the cross in a dream later that night, and then adopting the symbol of the Chi-Rho (the first two Greek letters of the word for Christ) to be painted on his soldiers’ shields, Constantine was able to win a victory against great odds. This victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge was the significant event in his life. It led to Constantine’s later conversion and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire – an event which has had continuous impact on Western culture ever since.

Constantine becomes a Christian, yes, but primarily as the means to win the battle in order to gain absolute power. Later he insists on unity at the Council of Nicaea, again not so much from a religious standpoint as from a concern for conformity. His principal goal is to maintain order and hierarchy with himself at the top. He also wants family unity. This is the major source of conflict in the play. The single idea unifying the plot is the oftentimes difficult relationship between fathers and sons. The central irony is that Ossius saves Constantine’s life only – mistakenly – to recommend the execution of Crispus, Constantine’s son.

So the secondary major character is Lucius Marcellus Ossius, essentially my invention. He evolves from being a naive idealist to become a politically astute prelate. Ossius uses Constantine to gain acceptance of the Christian faith. He succeeds, but at the very moment of victory, he compromises the essence of that faith. Ossius becomes my metaphor of the Church as an institution and how it was changed by official recognition after the conversion of Constantine. This was a crucial intersection in history. Before that time it took great courage to declare oneself a Christian. Ever since, it has often been the reverse. In becoming an established institution, the Church lost sight of its original mission. This is not to imply that there is no truth in the Church, only to suggest that the great truths are hidden beneath the fabric of ritual and organization, and need to be rediscovered by seekers in each generation.

Ossius is basically a composite. There was a Bishop Ossius from Spain who advised Constantine on Church matters, may have interpreted the dream at the Milvian Bridge, probably presided at the Council of Nicaea and presumably counseled Constantine about the fate of Crispus. One fact I changed is having Ossius baptize Constantine. This act rounds out their relationship. (It’s unclear who really did baptize Constantine. Rome insists that it was Pope Sylvester, but he had already been in his tomb for at least two years.) It is fully documented, however, that Constantine was baptized just before his death. (More about CONSTANTINE later.)
Color photo of Rob Bell in front of colossal head of Constantine 1997

Sunday, October 27, 2013

THEODORE ROOSEVELT ~ October 27, 1858 ~ January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was the 26th President of the United States. He is well remembered for his energetic persona, his range of interests and achievements, his model of masculinity, and his "cowboy" image. He was a leader of the Republican Party and founder of the short-lived Bull Moose Party. Before becoming the 26th President (1901–1909) he held offices at the municipal, state, and federal level of government. Roosevelt's achievements as a naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier are as much a part of his fame as any office he held as a politician.

Born to a wealthy family, Roosevelt was a sickly child who stayed at home studying natural history. In response to his physical weakness, he embraced a strenuous life. He attended Harvard, where he boxed and developed an interest in naval affairs. A year out of Harvard, in 1881 he ran for a seat in the state legislature. His first historical book, The Naval War of 1812, published in 1882, established his reputation as a serious historian. After a few years of living in the Badlands, Roosevelt returned to New York City, where he gained fame for fighting police corruption. He was effectively running the US Department of the Navy when the Spanish American War broke out; he resigned and led a small regiment in Cuba known as the Rough Riders, earning himself the Medal of Honor. After the war, he returned to New York and was elected Governor; two years later he was nominated for and elected Vice President of the United States.

In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated, and Roosevelt became president at the age of 42, the youngest age of taking office of any U.S. President in history. Roosevelt attempted to move the Republican Party in the direction of Progressivism, including trust busting and increased regulation of businesses. Roosevelt coined the phrase "Square Deal" to describe his domestic agenda, emphasizing that the average citizen would get a fair shake under his policies. As an outdoorsman, he promoted the conservation movement. On the world stage, Roosevelt's policies were characterized by his comment, "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Roosevelt was the force behind the completion of the Panama Canal; he sent out the Great White Fleet to display American power, and he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Roosevelt declined to run for re-election in 1908. After leaving office, he embarked on a safari to Africa and a trip to Europe. On his return to the US, a rift developed between Roosevelt and his anointed successor as President, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt attempted in 1912 to wrest the Republican nomination from Taft, and when he failed, he launched the Bull Moose Party. In the election, Roosevelt became the only third party candidate to come in second place, beating Taft but losing to Woodrow Wilson. After the election, Roosevelt embarked on a major expedition to South America; the river on which he traveled now bears his name. He contracted malaria on the trip, which damaged his health, and he died a few years later, at the age of 60. Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

MAHALIA JACKSON ~~~October 26, 1911 ~~~January 27, 1972 ~~~102nd Birthday

Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972) was an African-American gospel singer. With her powerful, distinct voice, Mahalia Jackson became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and is the first Queen of Gospel Music. She recorded about 35 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen "golds"—million-sellers. She had a contralto voice range.

Mahalia Jackson is widely regarded as the greatest gospel singer in history and one of the great voices of the twentieth century. Her music was never played widely on any but traditional gospel and traditional Christian radio stations. Her music was heard for decades on Family Radio. Her good friend Martin Luther King Jr said, "A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium."

She was a close friend of Doris Akers, one of the most prolific gospel composers of the 20th century. In 1958, they co-wrote the hit, "Lord, Don't Move The Mountain". Mahalia also sang many of Akers' own compositions such as, "God Is So Good To Me", "God Spoke To Me One Day", "Trouble", "Lead On, Lord Jesus", and "He's A Light Unto My Pathway", helping Doris to secure her position as the leading female Gospel composer of that time.

She was also good friends with present day "Queen of Gospel" Dr. Albertina Walker. She would take young Albertina on the road with her and spent lots of time with her mentoring and molding her into what she has become today. She'd often tell Albertina that she should be out on her own. Albertina did just that in 1952, when she founded her very own gospel group The Caravans. Albertina is heir to Mahalia's thrown as Queen of Gospel.

In addition to sharing her singing talent with the world, she mentored the extraordinarily gifted Aretha Franklin. Mahalia was also good friends with Dorothy Norwood and fellow Chicago-based gospel singers. She also discovered a young Della Reese. Jackson was present at the opening night of Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music in December 1957.

On the twentieth anniversary of her passing, Smithsonian Folkways Recording commemorated Jackson with the album, I Sing Because I'm Happy, which includes interviews about her childhood conducted by Jules Scherwin.

The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences created the Gospel Music or Other Religious Recording category for Mahalia making her the first Gospel Music Artist to win the prestigious Grammy Award.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

BATTLE of AGINCOURT ~ October 25, 1415 CE

The Battle of Agincourt was an English victory against a much larger French army in the Hundred Years' War. The battle occurred on Friday 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day), in northern France. Henry V's victory started a new period in the war, in which Henry married the French King's daughter and his son was made heir to the throne of France, but his achievement was squandered by his heirs.

While Henry led his troops into battle and actually participated in hand to hand fighting, the French king of the time, Charles VI, did not command the French army himself as he was incapacitated. Instead the French were commanded by Constable Charles d'Albret and various prominent French noblemen of the Armagnac party.

The battle is notable for the use of the English longbow, which Henry used in very large numbers, with English and Welsh longbowmen forming the vast majority of his army. The battle is the centrepiece of the play Henry V, by William Shakespeare.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

CHARTRES CATHEDRAL Dedicated ~ October 24, 1260 CE

The Cathedral Notre-Dame of Chartres was dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX of France on October 24, 1260 CE.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, (French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres), a Roman Catholic cathedral located in Chartres, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) southwest of Paris, is considered one of the finest examples in all France of the Gothic style of architecture.

From a distance it seems to hover in mid-air above waving fields of wheat, and it is only when the visitor draws closer that the city comes into view, clustering around the hill on which the cathedral stands. Its two contrasting spires — one, a 105 metre (349 ft) plain pyramid dating from the 1140s, and the other a 113 metre (377 ft) tall early 16th century Flamboyant spire on top of an older tower — soar upwards over the pale green roof, while all around the outside are complex flying buttresses.

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For my 31st birthday, Mother and Dad gave me a week in gay Paris. Ah, April in Paris…..but ………….with... Dad and Mother! We stayed with Sherry and Sallie at their wonderful apartment (rented from Georges Clemenceau’s grand-daughter) at Nombre 1, Place du Pantheon. My birthday dinner was at café Le Procope, the oldest coffeehouse in Paris (possibly in Europe) and a favorite hangout of Jefferson and Franklin’s.

Sherry drove me to Fontainebleau so I could see the famous horseshoe staircase, from which Napoleon delivered his farewell to the troops at the time of his first abdication. I took the metro and walked to La Malmaison— an extraordinary house and furniture collection. Unfortunately the rose gardens have not been maintained.

[Did you know that Josephine's given name was Rose? And that her first cousin, Aimee du Buc de Rivery was captured by Barbary pirates, sent to Constantinople, put in the harem, and was either the actual mother, or guardian of Mahmud II, Turkish Sultan at the time of Napoleon's invasion of Russia? There's a recent novel, "Seraglio," by Janet Wallach, who doesn't explore the possibility— but I've read an earlier book "The Veiled Empress" by Morton, who suggests that Mahmud II secretly broke his treaty with Napoleon soon after the Josephine divorce – the old blood is thicker routine – and that this may have been the critical difference in Napoleon's defeat in 1812. Counterfactual history is fascinating speculation, but, of course, guarantees absolutely nothing.]

I had spent my first day in Paris, as part of a fortnight holiday in Britain, a year and a half before. So I figured I could do the reverse, and spend a weekend in London to see my friend Jeffrey, as part of my week in Paris.Remember that this was a gift from Mother and Dad – and it came with strings. Mother had wanted me to go along with them to Mont-Saint-Michel that weekend. So I telephoned Jeffrey to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it.

As a result, I was available to have dinner with an ex-girl friend of Boyd Jarrell’s, then baritone soloist and cantor at Grace Cathedral. He had given me Lynn Davis’ phone number. When I called to take her to lunch, she invited me to dinner instead.

Sallie said it was a very good address, and recommended I take a potted plant, rather than cut flowers, since a hostess preparing dinner wouldn’t want to have to deal with them. The florist shop insisted otherwise. And when I got to the door, and was met by a liveried servant, I realized that it was not an issue.

Lynne had invited me to dinner at the home of her friend—whom I later learned was her fiance— Pierre Firmin-Didot, a publisher, and chairman of the Chartres Cathedral Organ Competition. Lynn was a church and concert organist, originally from Michigan, and had met Pierre the year she won the organ competition.

At dinner were several other guests, including an Australian photographer. That turned out to be a very fortunate coincidence. As I related to Dennis many times, this dinner was one of the few occasions in my life that my table manners matched my surroundings. I must have thought of Mother. I think I was actually the last one done. But partly that was due to conversation.

Learning that M. Firmin-Didot was chairman of the Chartres organ competition, I talked about my first day in the Cathedral the previous year. As a preface, I related a story I had read about the Persian Room nightclub at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Evidently the policy had been to overheat the room, and then suddenly drop the temperature several degrees immediately before a performance. That had a tendency to wake up the audience. And the chill down one's spine wasn't entirely a result of the music.

At this point, the conversation came to an abrupt halt. What was this foolish young American talking about? But I managed to pull it out of the fire. I said that when I entered the front door of Chartres Cathedral on a glorious, warm May afternoon, the temperature inside was immediately cooler; but the chill down my spine was due entirely…to the splendor of the stained glass and the magnificence of the architecture within. There was an audible sigh……. then conversation resumed.

M. Firmin-Didot had a wing in the Hotel (townhouse with a courtyard in front) originally built for Louis XV's finance minister. His family owned the building, and he shared it with several relatives. Hearing that a professional photographer was among his guests— and had his camera in the car— M. Firmin-Didot offered to show us his entire section of the house. He had needed to have some photographs taken for insurance purposes.

So I saw Voltaire’s death mask in the library, and an extraordinary marquetry commode given to Madame de Pompadour by Louis XV. I counted at least twenty bergeres and fauteuils in the main salon—with its beautiful boiserie. And with the groupings, the room didn’t look crowded. I think I also recognized several paintings…..which did not appear to be copies.

All in all, it was an extraordinary evening – thanks to Mother’s insistence that I go to Mont-Saint-Michel with them, instead of London to visit Jeffrey.

I regret I thought I couldn’t afford the airfare a few years later, when I was invited to Lynn and Pierre’s wedding in Michigan. I’ve seen her only a few times since.

The weekend in Normandy at Mont-Saint-Michel was indeed glorious. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to go. I had just wanted to wait to go with Gary someday. But it’s a good thing I did then, because I have not yet returned.

I remember Sallie’s eating mussels at every possible occasion at Mont-Saint-Michel. Sheridan says she still has a passion for them. I also have fond memories of playing with Sheridan and Morgan around the cloister, in the turrets, and on the walls.

Lynn and Pierre were married for nearly a quarter century. I understand that Lynn is now a widow. But Pierre was considerably older.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION ~ October 23 ~ November 10, 1956

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom) was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Stalinist government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

The revolt began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe, reinforcing perceptions that communism was both irreversible and monolithic.

Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over 30 years, but since the thaw of the 1980s it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, October 23 was declared a national holiday.

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I actually remember some Hungarian refugees in November 1956. We shared Thanksgiving dinner with them at a friend's house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, my hometown. That was barely more than two weeks after the end of the uprising.

I visited Budapest three and a half years ago and saw the crown of St. Stephan under the dome of the Parliament building. President Carter returned this national treasure to Hungary on January 6, 1978. I heard a marvelous performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony in Budapest two years ago last February. It wasn't surprising to me that the choral performances were so excellent when I recalled that Zoltan Kodaly was Hungarian and had had a profound influence on musical education in Hungary and beyond.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)