Pages from a Chronicle

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky; drawing by David Levine


November 18. Pompano Beach. The state of culture as advertised along the mental five-and-ten of Route USIA: invitations to bowl, roller-skate, have your fortune told; play shuffleboard, miniature golf, jai alai; buy plastic driftwood, electronic fish-finders (isn’t that “unsporting”?), “Spanish Colonial Furniture Custom Made”; patronize “U-$ave Shopping Centers,” “Drive-in Funeral Homes,” “Happy Hour Cocktail Lounges,” a “Jungle Garden Safari” (“See 100 Lions in the Wild”), the “Wigwam Village of Tuckabuck-away and Tribe” (those thrifty Seminoles?); try a garage selling “Personalized Waxing” (how personal can waxing get?), and a First Church of Christ Scientist selling a sermon: “Where Will You Spend Eternity?”

I go to the beach, despite wilting heat, a lowering sky, too many people, and paralyzing blue-bladder hydrozoans (Portuguese men-of-war which, when punctured by sharp sticks or stones, as small boys delight in doing, explode like party balloons). The people are a breed (retired necktie salesmen? exshillelagh manufacturers?) peculiar to, though not bred on, the peninsula, whose interests, to judge from my involuntary eavesdropping, are confined to Dow Jones Averages, logging the weather, and “back home.” Their daughters—some of them in decolleté-of-the-derrière bathing suits, all of them desirable but all intolerably young—are throwing frisbies, plastic discs the size of gramophone records but launched backhand, like quoits. Those Route 1A type advertisements pursue the customer even here, however, trailed from small airplanes at strafing height. “Minnie Pearl’s Chicken: All U Care to Eat,” one of them reads, somewhat ambiguously, it seems to me, in the verb.


May 2. New York. Following a consultation with his doctors, we take I.S. to the New York Hospital at noon; he has complained since yesterday of sharp pains above the left knee, which may indicate that the clot, discovered January 18, has grown.

In fact the femoral artery is found to be entirely blocked, and circulation in the by-pass veins so dangerously reduced that surgery is necessary as soon as the patient can be prepared. The preparations, incidentally, require that I.S. autograph a release, which, he says, “is like signing your own death warrant.” The operation begins under halothane and sodium pentothal,1 with simultaneous oxygen feeding to ventilate the heart, lungs, and blood; and it lasts from 7 to 10 P.M. A catheter, inserted into the artery, removes the (eleven-inch!) embolus by air pressure from below.

May 3. We learn this morning that another clot was found in the other arterial branch, and that a second embolectomy will have to be performed today, as well as a left lumbar sympathectomy, to open all of the pipe lines as widely as possible; the alternative is amputation, which he cannot survive. But can a man of eighty-seven, already weakened by long illness, survive major surgery for the second time in twenty-four hours?

We wait outside the operating theater all evening. At about 11:20 I am taken to an Intensive Care Unit occupied by a patient…

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