February 19. New York. Asked by a friend what he would have chosen to be if he weren’t a composer, I.S. frowns suspiciously and says, “Why, who wants to know?” (He might have chosen to be a grammarian, among many possible alternative careers, as I realize at table when he conjugates a Russian verb for my edification, a hopeless goal.) Pursuing the matter from another angle, the friend then asks him to “suppose that when you were a young man a beautiful goddess had offered you any career other than that of composer, what would you have chosen then?” “Well, if she were really beautiful,” he says, “I’d probably have chosen her.”
By all reports his mother’s style of repartee was much the same. Thus, at a performance of Les Noces, Madame Stravinsky mère is said to have reassured someone who had expressed concern lest she “siffler la musique,” that she would most certainly refrain, “parce que je ne sais pas comment siffler.”
February 23. Pompano Beach. Calling New York this noon, I talk to I.S., my first long-distance telephone conversation with him since August, 1966! And it is startlingly like old times, his voice sounding much deeper than it does in person nowadays. His breathing is clear, too, which I say because it can sound like a soda fountain. After a moment of indecision as to which ear to apply to the receiver, he comes on, gruff and laconic, as he always was on the telephone. “It arrived to me” (i.e., happened), he says, explaining his latest indisposition, but “I gathered all my forces…”—which sounds like a general recalling a campaign, but merely means “force” in the sense of physical and moral strength. I propose a program of music to listen to on the day of my return, and his reply is “I have nothing against it,” but though the negative seems to imply a residue of skepticism, the expression is actually a sign of something akin to enthusiasm, a word he dislikes and avoids.
* * *
A dependable guide to the true situation of motels and hotels vis-à-vis the beach is the degree with which they overdo their claims to be directly on it. Thus, while the “Briny Breeze” and “Vista del Mar,” modest enough in name, are only a few blocks from the shore, the “Sea Spray,” “Surf-Side,” “Sea Wash,” and “Sandy Toes” are miles inland. On the whole, too, their true proportions can be deduced simply by inverting the measure of exaggeration in their self-descriptions. Thus the “Ocean Manor” and “Castle-by-the-Sea” turn out to be glorified bungalows.
Whatever the Miami hotels intend with their names, the partiality to the Scottish and the French is hardly borne out by architectural resemblances, at any rate in “The Kenilworth,” “The Ivanhoe,” “The Balmoral,” “The Versailles,” the “Eden Roc,” “The Fontainebleau,” and the “Fleur de Lit” (sic: this may be…
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