Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man (Cont.)

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky; drawing by David Levine

I

EAU D’EVIAN

When I made the first incision [in the autopsy of a man who had drunk too much mineral water] the glitter of the stalactites in the poor fellow’s gastric cavity positively blinded meI had to wear blue glasses for a month.
—George Meredith

NYR: It is a year since we heard from you, Mr. Stravinsky. You were recovering from an operation then.

I.S.: And allegedly still am. Meanwhile a crisis in another area was so portentously publicized that the sympathy mail has never ceased. The latest was a batch of letters from children in a Long Island school. “You’re a real cool guy,” one of the young correspondents said. “And if you feel like it you can write me back.” Another, foreseeing the boredom of the hospital but not that I would be watched to the point of harassment, advised me “to look at the nurses.” Still another, whose logical approach to morality was evidently suffering the first collision between what is and what ought to be, said he was “sorry a good composer like you is sick. P.S.: My father is a doctor.” And another, an incipient music critic probably, expressed the wish that I would “get better and compose another operetta.”

I am better, thank you. European friends said I seemed younger than when I was there two years ago—even if they were appraising the likelihood of events in the other direction. But at my age the compliment in “younger” depends on how much. A rejuvenation of eight decades, for example, would definitely be overdoing it.

NYR: Were you in Evian-les-Bains all summer?

I.S.: Evian-dans-la-pluie would be more like it. Except that “pluie” is too gentle. It is an elemental place, with storms dervishing down the lake almost every afternoon. Evian the town is another matter, a choice between a fast death in the casino and a slow one by mineral water. It is definitely not “where it’s at,” or ever likely to be, having kept pace with the times, in fact, only in that the lake is now polluted and the trout served mercury-poisoned à la carte. But perhaps even that is not so new. As early as 1400 the lakeside Château de Ripaille was renowned for distilling essences “contre les miasmes.”

NYR: Did you live near the lake?

I.S.: Just above it, in a hotel mainly for octogenarians. But in contrast to Auden’s friend in his “Old People’s Home,” none of the elderly guests was praying for a “speedy dormition,” I think, though possibly for a painless one. (Auden dislikes abeyances and as Director of the Voluntary Death Program would quickly clear out all God’s Waiting Room establishments.) In fact the only disease these venerables wanted to die of was more life. And, being French, more meals. Moribund as they might appear betweentimes, they would positively scamper into the restaurant, or be trundled…


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