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 a way of indicating room service beyond the routine).
But while hotels frequently advertise their accommodations in acronyms—“SGL,” “DBL”—most flying ads are spelled out to a tee. One small airplane buzzes our beach at crop-dusting level, trailing what looks like a tennis net, lettered “KEEP FLORIDA GREEN: BRING MONEY.” And another low-flying machine drapes the warning: “LIFE BEGINS AT 40 BUT EVERYTHING ELSE BEGINS TO GIVE OUT, WEAR OUT, SPREAD OUT: WATCH YOUR WATE.” This is a pitch for the macrobiotic, unbleached bread, and health food markets, and for still more of the unhealthy looking types who seem to be their principal patrons, and in whom last year’s saccharine panic evidently failed to arouse any suspicion. Related appliances such as “wiglets” are widely available hereabouts, too, and related stimulants such as “Stagarama” cinemas. But to most outward appearances, the “life” that “begins at 40” centers on lawn-trimming, bridge, and the phosphor dots.
I am alone on the beach this afternoon except for a man feeding dog biscuits to gulls unable to fend for themselves. “After all,” he tells me, not quite analogously, “the mother wolf nourishes her youngest and weakest cubs first.” One-legged birds, losers of contests with rival predators of the deeps or shallows, are surprisingly common. They reduce their landing speed with a flurry of flapping, but alight off-kilter, and find their balance only by hopping about. The older birds are yellow and scruffy, the younger ones sleek and white-and-gray, like West Point Cadets, which I say for the further reason that they look so much like sentinels. Nor is there any amorous billing and cooing among them, but only the squawk of the pecking-order top sergeant.
March 1. New York. An article on euthanasia in this morning’s Times provokes several pertinent remarks from I.S., and I take notes for an interview with him on the subject.
Talking about the Mayakovsky vogue, I.S., who knew the poet in Paris, remembers him as “très arrogant,” while V. recalls that when she first saw him, in “Petrograd” in 1917, the point was that he should not see her. “I was in a cabaret in the Champs de Mars one night when Mayakovsky came in, but Soudeikine quickly put a napkin over my head and pushed me under the table. Mayakovsky was supposedly irresistible to women.”
We listen to Pli selon pli after dinner, I.S. pillow-enthroned, like a pasha. But he is in a mischievous mood, counting the remaining pages of each section of the score as I hold it for him, and muttering, “Tout ça, c’est bien égal.”
At midnight the sky is topaz where the glow of the city strikes the fog bank. But in spite of the cold and damp, or because of it, the Uranian professionals are out hustling on Central Park West, as are their brawnier female rivals on Central Park South, some of whom bask under the infrared, meat-grill marquees of the Fifty-Ninth Street hotels. A young man, long hair greatly in need of a shampoo, is picketing the Plaza, but for a remote cause, it seems to me, in view of the overloaded nags on this very block, hauling the tourist hansoms. “Stop the Brutal Canadian Sport of Clubbing Baby Seals to Death,” his placard reads on one side, and on the other, instead of letting it go at that, “KILL SEALS HUMANELY.” Why not simply leave them alone?
March 3. I.S., at a two-year peak, composes this morning, for the first time in months, as we are suddenly aware because of the greater intensity of his playing, and the complexity of the harmony—though talking about it later he says that he “had an idea beginning with a combination of tièrces.” His memory is wide open, too, and his verbal powers are quick and fluent. I ask about his working method in translating Les Noces with Ramuz and he describes how, after preparing several crude French versions for his collaborator, they would refine one of them together, always settling for the best musical solution. “Would you like to hear a recording of Noces?” I ask, but he refuses, saying, “I like to compose music, not to listen to it. All my life I have been pursued by ‘my works,’ but I don’t care about ‘my works.’ I care only about composing. And now that is finished.”
March 4. Still in marvelous form, he composes again today, this time for about an hour. Besides which he is clairvoyant, above all about himself, though he also describes everybody’s mood in the morning before seeing anybody (which, around here, may be simple prediction). He is struggling to understand himself. “Sometimes I am frightened because I can’t remember,” he says. “Tell me, when did Bertha die?”
March 12. I.S. makes the Congressional Record, his tax predicament with regard to his manuscripts and personal papers being cited by Senator Church, in connection with a proposed revision of the law. “One extremely important collection denied to the Music Division [Library of Congress] has received recent public attention,” the senator remarked. “Because of a change in the Law, Igor Stravinsky has been forced to place his manuscript collection, valued at $3.5 million, on the open market when, prior to the change, he could have donated it to the Library and not been penalized financially.” The last phrase indicates that the senator reads The New York Review, but he goes on to quote the Washington Star:
A few months ago Igor Stravinsky’s original manuscripts and personal papers were put up for sale in the open market. The price tag was $3.5 million, and considering their importance, anyone buying them would be getting a bargain.
These days it costs $25 million per mile or more to build a super-highway. Are the thousands of items offered by Stravinsky, including the manuscripts of compositions which altered the entire history of twentieth-century music, worth less than one-fifth of a mile of concrete?
March 14. I.S. is still super-swift, at times, in unmasking the villain in a film play or detective story, as he should be considering how many of them he has read and seen. Thus, during a brief, sweeping landscape shot in an animal soap opera on TV today he instantly spots and points to a hidden alligator that none of us has noticed. He is also hypersensitive to the weight, no less than to the texture, of clothes and bedding. He was always shielded by layers of coats and sweaters when I first knew him, and it was the same when he was young: that awning-stripe blazer, which he wears in so many old photographs and which dates from Ustilug, concealed several thicknesses of clothing. But now he prefers to go about in shirtsleeves, and to sleep under only one, not-tucked-in blanket (though a beret is also a part of his night garb at times). Like the princess and the pea, a fold or wrinkle at the back of his pajamas is enough to keep him awake.
March 15. Talk by a visitor this noon about the Philharmonic’s plans for a Liszt survey provokes us to listen to half a dozen of the tone poems tonight, but we do not make much headway with any of them. Several times I.S. actually giggles; at other, rare times, he follows the score for a few moments with real interest, and expectations always unfulfilled; but most of the time he is simply bored.
March 18. Tikhon Khrennikov calls from Moscow this morning, but V. will not talk to him until I have looked up his patronymic in Grove. “Tikhon Nikola’itch,” as she then greets him, invites the S.’s to spend the summer in the USSR, assuring V. that they will be treated like Tsar and Tsarina, which is exactly what she is afraid of.
But I.S. is unwell. His pulse is labile, and his coughing spells are deep and prolonged. Dr. Lax diagnoses it as pulmonary edema, and within an hour I.S. is litter-borne and on the way not only to the hospital that was the scene of last year’s crimes, but to the very same lumber room (891). “What should I do? What should I do?” he asks V. again and again in the ambulance, but V., choking back her tears, can only say, trying to calm him, “You do nothing. Other people will do.”
And do they ever! He is processed like a product on an assembly line, the chest clamped with cathodes, the trachea scoured by a kind of vacuum cleaner, the nostrils invaded with plastic oxygen tubes, the right inner elbow embrocated to expose a vein which a Draculess then punctures to draw a remarkably copious “specimen.” The left arm, meanwhile, is strangled by a sphygamonometric pump, implanted with a tube for intravenous feeding (a rivulet of diuretics to flush the fluid from the lung), and bandaged to an ironing-board splint. Last and worst, he is catheterized, the deed done by the head of the Urology Department who, apologizing for the discomfort, says afterward, “Maestro, I hope we are still friends.” But the Maestro angrily demolishes any assumption that they ever were.
The gram on the cardiac monitor slopes like a téléphérique, then sags in a deep catenary, then drops out of sight, then stabilizes briefly in what looks like Persian script, the upper loops of which, recorded by a yellow light blinking on another part of the machine, plot the contractions of the heart. But at least some of this disjunct movement is due to nervous agitation, for the patient is too clear, not sick enough to have been subjected to so suddenly shocking an experience. He refuses to eat, trapped in this maze of machinery and plastic lariats, but when R. reasons with him, he ignores the indignity, valiantly takes up his fork, and decides to go on.
Throughout the ordeal, the quality of the man most to the fore is his precision of language, and the absence of confusion in switching from one to another according to the addressee. Thus, to V., he says, “ustal, ustal” (“tired”) and “Send them to the devil!” Turning to the doctor, he then describes the characteristics of his pangs in German, and turning to R., complains about something in French. As for my language, when I joke with him to the effect that he did not have to go to this length to avoid Liszt, he smiles.
The scene in the Intensive Care Unit is only slightly more depressing than the view from I.S.’s window: standing-room-only buildings, different in size but nearly uniform in ugliness, all with the same TV antennae, same windowsill air-conditioning boxes, same chimneys, skylights, water tanks, and, in the penthouses, same bits of shrubbery; even the narrow spire of a church, shoehorned into the middle of this squeeze, is inhabited, a vase of forsythia and some books being visible beneath the half-drawn Venetian blind of a window near the base.
And the I.C.U. is at least brisk and businesslike—infectiously so, to judge by a clergyman who pops in to administer last rites and leaves soon after, as insouciant, if possible, as the doctors and nurses. In fact the gravest faces in the ward, so far as I can tell without peeking under oxygen masks, are those of three solicitors, come, I think, to witness a nuncupative will.
At one point, in reply to V.’s “Why do you call me every minute and rap on the bed railing with your rings when you know I am here?” I.S. says something marvelously, inimitably I.S.ian: “But I want to be sure that I still exist.”
March 22. He has more edema today, as well as a moment of mental confusion, asking for “Katya.” (His first wife; V. answers that “Katya is in Paris,” though afterward she says that “If he had asked where in Paris, I would have had to say, ‘in the cemetery.’ “) But this revenant has been aroused, I think, by a nurse’s question as to how many children he has. (He hears “had” for “has” and holds up four fingers.) Otherwise he refuses to talk, and we resort to pantomime.
March 29. Trying to encourage him to drink water, R. explains, as a last resort, that he is dehydrated. “Well,” he says accusingly, “no one told me,” and he promptly swallows a quarter of a litre. He receives a transfusion in the afternoon and another in the evening.
I spend the afternoon with two European musicians, the three of us judging compositions for a prize. It is not rewarding work, partly because of the impossibility of giving enough time to it, partly because of incomparables of mediums and styles—how does one choose between an electronic Mass and a string quartet?—and very largely because of the unknowns, meaning the operas one has not seen, the multimedia pieces one cannot visualize, the scores whose notation is purely verbal, the scores not meant to sound the same way twice, and the complex works one cannot digest in a simple read-through and without the aid of performance tapes.
How, furthermore, can three jurymen with radically different inclinations keep their natural prejudices in abeyance long enough to agree even on the stylistic area of the choice? Today’s midway answer—for we do not bring down the gavel yet, lacking a really obvious winner—is that we begin to introduce such criteria as a composer’s sensitivity to color, and whether or not we can outguess him; and begin to veer toward established reputations, in the sense of giving them the benefits of our doubts.
March 30. At the ages of, respectively, seventy-nine and eighty-eight, but looking forward to a new life, V. and I.S. move to their new home, he coming directly from the hospital, she coming from the hotel and, following the Russian superstition, bringing bread and salt. Weak as he is, I.S. insists on two full tours of the apartment, which seems to please him, for he kisses V. again and again. But of all the new furnishings and accouterments, his greatest interest is in the new occupant of the birdcage, the canary Iago; which is not surprising in a man who once composed music for a “real” as well as a mechanical nightingale. When Iago repeats a note several times at near A-440 pitch, I.S. says that “he must be tuning up.”
Auden comes at seven, sniffs the fresh paint, observes (without overtaxing his acumen) that the apartment “needs to be lived in,” embraces I.S. (says to me, “You never know when it’s the last time”), accompanies V. and myself to the Pavillon, where he orders a British dinner. Waiting for it, he shows his new book of clerihews, reciting a few yet to be included. Some are about composers, and when we reach the “B.’s,” he asks V., “What made Igor stop being catty about Beethoven?”
He talks about his just completed lecture tour, and expounds a bit on what is “in” on the campuses. Lévi-Strauss is, of course, “though he writes such bad prose. And Buckminster Fuller, for whom I feel very sorry: it was most unkind of the Times to publish that full-page ‘poem’ of his the other day.” The audience for his own Philadelphia Freud lecture “consisted entirely of analysts and hippies,” and he adds that “I read it from my own longhand, which made it seem even longer than it is.” In Toronto, he found himself “in a symposium with Marshall McLuhan, a confrontation that, according to the press, I won. Voznesensky was there, too, and I read for him. And speaking of Canada, I now own Dominion oil stocks, for tax purposes, of course, an arrangement that looks a little louche to me, but my lawyer seems to know what the traffic will bear.”
Recalling a symposium in Stockholm last year, he says that “the scientists were bigger prima donnas than artists ever are, and though they may know everything knowable about microbiology, they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground about human beings. Furthermore, when a speaker is asked to limit himself to twenty minutes, it is infuriating to have him take forty-five.” All of this is said in a voice whose normally quite substantial carrying-power has been appreciably increased by the effects of two double vodka martinis and several glasses of champagne; which seems to be the reason that so many people at other tables are finding us more and more deserving of their undivided attention.
Switching to the subject of old age, he confesses to sleeping longer—“From nine to nine, in fact”—and is astonished to hear that I.S. rarely retires before ten or eleven. (He is also incredulous that I.S. had two teeth extracted last month—that he had two teeth, that is—and he mentions some recent work on his own “lowers” by Dr. Kallman, the father of the poet, “who, incidentally, charged only two hundred and fifty dollars, though in the case of a genius like Igor, it would certainly be much more.”) “I could never live in a siesta culture,” he goes on. “If mama had found me resting in the afternoon, she would have said, ‘Are you ill?’ ” And the thought of his mother reminds him that he received a letter from her shortly after her death, in 1941, written just before. “I tore it up, of course. I simply could not bear to open and read it.”
His one intellectual enthusiasm is Oliver Sacks’s book on migraines, a review of which he expects to finish next week in Pisa. He confesses that he “turned down the Norton Lectures because I didn’t have anything to say. Now I think that at least one requirement for a lecturer is that he should have something to say,” which may not be one of his own immortal apothegms. He tells us that his adaptation of L.’s L.’s L. does not contain any anagrams because they would have been too patent. “Plays are for people who like that sort of thing, not operas. But this opera is more fun than the play, I think, in the sense that Kiss Me Kate is more fun than The Taming of the Shrew.”
But why Pisa? Are migraines in some way related to the architectural oddity there?
March 31. Twenty-three years ago today I met the I.S.’s. We observe the date with a short musical banquet, the First Rasumovsky Quartet. I.S. is in good spirits and much amused by a remark that he read today, in a TLS review, on Herder’s concept of Kraft: “a…hovering in status between an inanimate causal agency and a personified and intelligent agency.”
April 1. Happy as he is in the apartment, I.S. is greatly concerned whether he can afford it. “Vraiment, tout ça appartient à moi?” he asks, and it is hard to convince him that it does.
April 2. I.S. is obliged to write a short note in Russian, which he does, but signs his name in Latin letters. V. asks him to do the signature over in Russian, whereupon he takes the pen, and, aware that she is watching him, writes not his name, but “Oh, how I love you!”
April 3. Entering his room about midnight, I notice that he is sleeping too soundly on one side—he should move frequently—and have a foreboding that all is not well. Has the substitute nurse, unaccustomed to his restlessness, given him too strong a sedative? V. is deeply asleep, too, however, and I do not disturb her.
April 4. Palm Sunday. We can hardly wake I.S., and his breathing is very labored, in spite of which the nurse, another substitute, dresses him, and actually wheels him about the apartment. It is soon obvious, in fact, that he again has pulmonary edema. Mid-morning the nurse calls Lax, but apparently does not describe the condition as an emergency. Even worse, she does not call R., who would know enough to give Lassix or another diuretic immediately, along with dijoxin; which is what she does do, happening by at about two-thirty, but by this time his pulse is dangerously rapid, and his breathing is like a fish out of water.
When at last the doctor arrives (after three o’clock) we reject his recommendations in favor of the hospital—an unthinkable trauma for I.S. now, convenient as the removal would be for the medical functionaries—and insist that the intravenous apparatus be installed here, and that an intern or doctor remain in attendance during the night. The I.V. equipment is delivered surprisingly quickly, but a weak vein is chosen, the needle slips out, and a full hour is lost before it is reinjected and the clysis begins to flow. Lax, meanwhile, trying to explain I.S.’s chances to V. and myself, seems oddly drawn to anecdotes about the last days of his one-time patient Bela Bartók. ” ‘One of the most important things that I learned from Stravinsky,’ Bartók said, ‘was daring.’ ” But is Lax deliberately hinting to V., or, as I think, is he so disturbed himself that he cannot eject the memory of the other composer’s death from his mind?
Two large green torpedoes of oxygen are trundled in, but the twin-pronged nostril-clamp feeder can be kept in place only by stretching a rubber band around the head. We cushion I.S. from the pull of the elastic with large tufts of cotton on either cheek, where they look like Ibsen’s sideburns (and bring to mind Ibsen’s “to write is to judge one’s self”; but surely a simpler use of writing, calling down no judgment, if not exempt from it, is the writer’s mere desire to remember?). I.S. is frightfully anxious, squeezing and kissing our hands, crossing himself and ourselves, but still and always panting like a stranded fish. And his body is not responding. The Lassix is not mobilizing the fluid, he does not pass any urine the entire afternoon, and the lungs are no less audibly congested.
Worst of all, his pulse is wildly irregular and the signs of heart failure are alarming. About 8 PM Dr. Lax and the night-watch intern decide that morphine must be given to slow the heartbeat, even though it may perilously retard the other functions as well. Just before the injection, I talk to I.S., his big eyes studying my face as I promise him that he shall have music tomorrow; and he responds with a smile. “Do you want Beethoven?” I ask. But he does not answer. “Well, then, Stravinsky?” But at this he makes a sour face and firmly shakes his head to left and to right.
About an hour later, when he is still not reacting to the medications—would he have if he had received them five or six hours earlier?—R. disregards her nurse’s uniform for the first time in two and a half years, and says, “Robert, you must hope that he dies now—for him. And I will tell you that already this afternoon we thought he would.” But I do not want him to die—or, of course, want him to suffer; but if the choice were mine, it would be for more suffering, cruel and egoistical as that may be (or surely is); but I would take the responsibility for it on my own conscience for all future time—in so far as any future without him bears thinking of—because I know there is more life in him still, and life of the most precious kind. At this point V. enters the room, seems not to comprehend the gravity of it, yet, after gazing at him a long time, says: “He is tired and would like to sleep ‘forever,’ but his mind is still making distinctions and he is afraid that ‘forever’ and ‘death’ are the same.” We take turns moistening his open mouth and lips with lemon water—“like Christ and the vinegar,” she remarks.
Then a little later, strangely, ominously, and for no reason except that the record is on the turntable—only two days ago I had been listening to it with I.S.—I start to play the Symphonie Pathétique. Two days ago it delighted him; “Tchaikovsky’s best music,” he called it. But again I have no idea why we played it, for we have never listened to it together in all of our twenty-three years. Now, at the first sound of it, the last movement, V. runs from the room, begs me to turn it off, says that to Russians it predicts death.
April 5. No change occurs during the night, the diuretics are having no effect, and no urine is passed. His breathing, too, is still like that of a runner after a race, and the sound of it is more and more like a death rattle. The intern, on his way out, at 7 AM (after a reasonably good night’s sleep on a pile of pillows near the bed), tells me that in his opinion nothing can be done, and that it cannot last more than an hour or two. But Dr. Lax, on his rounds, finds some accumulation of water in the bladder and he summons Dr. Slaughter (sic) to catheterize him and Dr. Brown to take blood for a B.U.N. And Lax tells V. that “it is not one hundred percent hopeless. His strength is incredible and he is a man of surprises.”
The catheterizing is accomplished without complications, but by about 1 PM his life signs are failing; the pulse is weaker and even less regular, the lungs are still congested, and the catheter has drawn only 44 cc.’s of urine. The blood pressure drops below 80, at one point, while the pulse climbs to 140, and the respiration continues steadily at 40. Nor can morphine or dijoxin be given again for at least two more hours. Three times when we are very briefly out of the room, R. calls us back to his bedside for what she apparently fears may be the end.
Then suddenly a great change comes over him. His inspirations sound less labored, and his lungs begin to clear. At the same time his blood pressure rises, and his pulse falls (but only to 120). He responds to R.’s directions, too, turning from side to side when she explains how important it is for him to move—but fighting her like a wildcat when she attempts to insert a nasal suction tube. And whereas he was holding my hand loosely an hour ago, he clasps it now with a powerful grip and will not let go. Finally, in the late afternoon when the B.U.N. report comes back not too unfavorable, it is clear that the outcome rests entirely with that mighty heart, which is so much more than a muscle in I.S.’s case, but which has already endured more than forty hours of almost superhuman strain.
He seems much improved in the evening, and Dr. Lax is noticeably less tense. Yet when I sit by his bed, he kisses my hand and holds it to his cheek as if he were saying good-by; and when V. sits on the other side and he slowly strokes her cheek with the back of his left hand, which is bandaged to keep the I.V. needle in place, that is obviously what he means. His eyes are aware of some new change, moreover, and he always was and still is ahead of everybody. But V., after dabbing his face and neck with eau de cologne, goes to bed slightly relieved, or at any rate more hopeful than last night, and soon falls into an exhausted sleep. And R., with whom every few minutes I have been lifting him to change his position (with his help, too, for he has great strength in his arms), actually returns to her room at the Essex, “for some real sleep if I am to work well tomorrow,” a disastrous decision but evidence that she, who knows him best, believes in the rally and in his recovery.
April 6. While the new intern and new nurse adjourn to the living room to play a few hands of cards (before turning in themselves), I pace the floor, looking in at him every two minutes, hoping and praying for a change in that terrible breathing. But it does not come. And an elderly relief nurse who remains in the room with him confirms my fears that it is, if anything, more labored. I go to the intern, but he tries to assure me that the breathing will soon begin to ease as a result of the last morphine injection. Unallayed, I go to my room, not so much to pray as to beg, then go back to him, find him looking weaker but perhaps more peaceful (Eliot’s line, “his life is light, waiting for the death wind,” comes into my mind), hold his hand awhile, and again return to my room. This time I doze off until awakened by L., who says he is sinking. I run to him in a half-stupor and see him die—a simple cessation, without struggle.
The intern stethoscopes the chest, says he hears nothing, removes the intravenous tube (with all the feeling of a filling-station attendant removing a hose from an automobile tank), and remarks, “Gee, he went just like that.” While he leaves the room to call Lax and certify the time of death as 5:20, I wake V., but cannot directly tell her the truth: “He is very bad…. Dying…I think…. No…he is dead.” Then I go back to I.S. and hold his still warm hands and kiss his still feverish cheeks and forehead, during which I am certain that life is in his eyes for an instant, and in that instant he knows me. V. comes, kisses him, and leaves the room crying.
The brutal “Loved One” business begins immediately after the eyes have been closed and the sheet pulled over the head. First, the room is disinfected, by which time R. arrives from the Essex House and inserts his dentures, brushes his hair, replaces his rings. We are then obliged to decide questions relating to the two funerals and burial, such as whether the casket is to be sealed for the New York service—which it should be, we agree, for V.’s sake, though contrary to the barbaric Russian Orthodox rule. Fortunately R. takes over the macabre job of selecting burial clothes (it is especially painful to think of his Venetian-made shirts with “I.S.” stitched on them to distinguish them from mine in the laundry), and of choosing the casket and flowers. His gold cross and silver medal go with him, but V. gives me his wrist watch, which I can hardly bear to look at, remembering how he had to lift his sleeve halfway to the elbow to find it and tell us the time, his arm had become so thin.
In forty minutes the doctor arrives—if only he had been as quick on Sunday!—and soon after him, I.S.’s attorney, to advise V. of her financial and property rights and direct her to begin the inventory of the effects. Soon, too, attendants from the funeral home arrive for the “transferal of the decedent.” Meanwhile, telegrams have gone off to I.S.’s children by his first marriage, and minutes later the news is on the “media,” after which cables, telegrams, flowers, and hand-delivered messages arrive in overwhelming quantities, while the telephones are so busy that one of our two lines breaks down and requires emergency repair (by a young man who says, “Stravinsky is my favorite composer”). But this world-wide response, instead of helping to confirm the reality, only makes it less believable.
The regular morning mail brings two supremely ill-timed letters, one from the lawyer of I.S.’s elder son proposing that a committee of custodians be formed to supervise I.S.’s affairs; the other, a ghost from the past, from lawyers representing the estate of Vaslav Nijinsky and claiming a share of the royalties from Le Sacre du printemps on the basis of a Société des Auteurs “déclaration,” signed by I.S., Nijinsky, and Roerich, June 9, 1913.
At 6 PM, in a daze, we go to the funeral home, where the flower-decked coffin seems unreal, a grotesquerie in no way related to I.S., and where a prayer service is held for the family (i.e., V.) and a few friends (among them, Lincoln Kirstein, weeping like a child, and Balanchine, very calm, who embraces and thanks me for “everything you did for him”). All of us are shaky, including the choir, and V. is able to stand for only a few minutes. But the service is long, and the room small and stifling, while Bishop Dmitri’s extremely liberal dispensing of incense nearly asphyxiates us. Then a wondrous thing happens. An unseasonable snow has begun to fall just before the service, and the winds to howl. And now, as the bishop pronounces I.S.’s name, there are three great bursts of thunder, as if Nature herself were proclaiming the departure of a true natural force from the world.
It is terrible to read about in the late newspapers, and to see and hear it reported on television. Worst of all are old film clips of him conducting. To us they seem like an attempt to make him remote, to say that he is no longer ours.
We talk half the night, afraid of sleep, of forgetting in sleep, and remembering again.
April 7. We do sleep, but at exactly 5:20 wake like bolts to the agony of memory, which is worse today than yesterday. We don’t want him to be with Bach and Mozart, as commentators and messages of condolence are saying he is: we want him in the next room, old, frail, and weak as he was, but more wonderfully alive than anyone in the world. And I want to hear his voice calling “Hello”; or, to give egoism its due (though I feel no “ego identification,” no “guilt,” and no other application of transference theory), “Where’s Bob? Can we have some music?” (“What music, Maestro?” one of his nurses used to ask, and not wanting to say “Josquin des Près” to her, he would say “Bob’s music.”) And I want to hold his hand, in which the pulse between the right thumb and forefinger throbbed almost nakedly. And laugh with him; and provoke one of his inimitable ripostes; and raise a glass to him, for he never failed to smile and raise his in return. And I want to look into his eyes, always so full of questions, though we always felt that he knew most of the answers, and at the moment of death knew it was that. I cannot believe and cannot accept that he is not and will never again be there.
V. is worse, too, for her deeper reactions are always delayed. Yesterday she was simply numb, having gone to bed Monday partly believing he would be well in the morning, as he was so often before. But today she is suddenly aware of the monstrously cruel joke of the “new apartment.” For she has spent months in planning and preparing this new house for him, reconstructing his room after his old California studio, filling it with his music, icons, pictures, photographs, books. His piano is exactly as it was there, with the manuscript drawing board over the keys, and, on top, the portraits of Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, whose Welltempered Clavier, Book I, is still open to the Prelude in E-flat minor, which he had been playing on Saturday. No wonder V. can hardly bring herself to pass the door of the room. And no wonder she says she cannot live in the “new home” now, even though the few happy days that he lived here bless the house as much as the death darkens it. Or so I argue. But she says, “It is as if he only came to pay a visit, for my sake.”
And R. What must she feel, having washed his body almost every morning for two and a half years, and dressed him and brushed his hair, and read to him, and played cards with him, and pampered him, and wheeled him in the Park, and joked and fought with him?
Once again we sit around talking half the night, dreading to be alone, and fearing to fall asleep, to wake again, to remember.
April 8. And again we wake at 5:20, but do nothing all day except read some of the cables and letters from a thousand friends known and unknown. One of the latter says that “No other contemporary composer passes the test of a one-man concert but Stravinsky survives about twenty of them.” Another says, “He was keeping so much alive besides himself.” And still another: “This is its first time since Guillaume de Machaut that the world is without a great composer.” Claudio Arrau cables: “Now he joins the immortals where in any case he has already been for fifty years.” But perhaps the most perfect of them all, from Luciano Berio, simply says, “Adieu père Igor et merci.”
V. is now obsessed with the thought that he knew he was dying, and that, caressing her cheek Monday night, he was already consoling her.
April 9. It is Good Friday, the one day in the Church year that I.S. observed, keeping a strict fast, except for music (the Couperin and Tallis Tenebrae, the Schütz and Bach Passions—Bach’s St. John being the last music he heard before being taken to the hospital on March 18); but he would not work (i.e., compose) on that day, which is now the day of his funeral.
We fear for V. and the strain of the ceremony. She can hardly walk, and has been ordered by Lax to stay in bed and see and talk to no one. But I.S.’s children have arrived, and his elder son has asked to see her and will take her refusal in bad grace. “Why didn’t they come to see him when he was alive?” V. asks. And, in truth, while she has not been away from him for more than two hours in two years, the children, except for the same son, have not been as much as two hours with him. His death has no doubt grieved them, but they were remote from him at the time, and for a long time; and their loss, at a distance, is simply not comparable to V.’s, who, moreover, after all the anguish, still has to face decisions relating to the Venetian funeral and interment. The children, on the other hand, have little to do except “talk turkey.” Which is what, for two hours before the funeral, they do talk, with I.S.’s attorney and two of their own. All of which betrays a presence of mind reminding me of
Some natural tears they drop’d
but wip’d them soon….
Shortly before three o’clock we go to the funeral home at Eighty-first and Madison, where a crowd is gathered in front of the door and a line stretches around the block. We are ushered into a waiting room, then to the front row, right side of the chapel—the children are on the left—where we are given candles to hold throughout the service. The hardest moments, for me, are the sound of I.S.’s own Pater Noster at the beginning, and the sound of his first name, “Igor” (as if he were a little boy), in the mouth of the priest, near the end. (But how dare he mention I.S.’s “transgressions”? Has anyone left the world a richer legacy of love? For if music isn’t a form of love, what is it?) It is also painful to hear the “Gospedi pomilui” (“Kyrie eleison“), which reminds me of the Russian services I used to attend with him in Hollywood two decades ago; and the three “alleluias,” which, as he once acknowledged, were part of the inspiration for the Symphony of Psalms.
After the service, V., more restless than I have ever seen her, says she cannot return to the apartment. Accordingly, R., E., and I fly with her to Boca Raton and spend the night in the giddying glassed-in top of the Tower, a neighborless skyscraper that, even to a mild acrophobe, is like trying to sleep at the top of the Tour Eiffel.
April 10. And again, even here, we wake at 5:20 and are still unable to comprehend, but at least manage for a time to talk about something else. I rent a car, drive it a short distance to an empty beach, skid while trying to turn around, and bury it axle-deep in a dune. Walking far enough from the bogged vehicle—which looks as if it is sinking in quicksand—to rule out the suggestion of any link between it and my own circumstances, I attempt to hitchhike back to the hotel. But inspire no confidence and am obliged to walk all the way; which I blame on my Fellini-like apparel: red bedroom slippers, wet-through checkered pants, two large suitcases (from the trunk of the sand-swamped car). At the hotel, V., more restless than yesterday, is anxious to return to New York, which we arrange to do tomorrow from Miami.
April 12-13. New York, Rome, Venice. V. has the flu, but insists on being in the same airplane (a 747 flying auditorium, large enough for a memorial concert) as I.S.’s body. Also aboard is a man carrying I.S.’s passport, a Gogolian requirement of the Italian government. The landing at Rome is very late, and our connecting plane to Venice has to be recalled from the runway. A motoscafo meets us at Marco Polo Airport, and we cross the lagoon thinking of our last trip here with I.S., in 1962. (And of many others, the most memorable being to Chioggia in 1951, the day following the Rake première, when he was applauded in the streets louder than the noise of the clogs which the women there still wore.)
We pass Murano, where he admired the floor mosaic of two cockerels carrying a Reynard trussed and slung on a pole; and San Michele, where he will be buried. But Venice is fogwrapped and phantomlike today, and only the nearest and tallest towers—San Francesco della Vigna, the Zanipolo, the Madonna dell’ Orto—stand out in silhouette. We enter the great stone labyrinth beneath the Ponte Sepolcro, and on a wall immediately inside, see one of the thousand affiches:
THE CITY OF VENICE HONORS THE GREAT MUSICIAN IGOR STRAVINSKY, WHO WITH A GESTURE OF EXQUISITE FRIENDSHIP WANTED IN LIFE TO BE BURIED IN THE CITY HE LOVED MORE THAN ANY OTHER.
And he did love it, if not more than, then in part because it reminded him of, St. Petersburg.
Carmen being on the stage at La Fenice tonight, we are obliged to rehearse in the foyer, where Bizet’s most boisterous passions mingle profanely with our Requiem.
April 14. The rehearsal this morning adds the RAI Chorus from Rome, but the singers are sight-reading and we still have no soloists.
This morning, too, a water hearse moves the coffin, accompanied by two Orthodox priests, from the Campo San Tomà to Santi Giovanni e Paolo, pantheon of the doges, where it is placed in the Cappello del Rosario, and where people file around it for the rest of the day. We go to the chapel ourselves before the evening rehearsal, which seems to be more for the benefit of the television cameramen than of the musicians, but which confirms our apprehensions that the church is very reverberant (as well as very cold). The sight of the flower-decked bier disturbs V. even more than in New York, no doubt because she has had that much more time to feel the magnitude of her loss.
April 15. And so the day of burial has come. At 11:30 a motoscafo takes us to, as it is written on old maps, S. Zuan e Polo. The Campo is thronged (500, says the Gazzettino), and the Ponte Cavallo, and boats in the canal (the Rio dei Mendicanti), and windows and roofs of houses, and the great Gothic church itself (3,000, says the Gazzettino), whose front doors are kept open that the people outside may be a part of the ceremony. But the Campo is also crowded with memories, and as we cross it, I see I.S. as he used to come to the Ospedale (Scuola di San Marco) for blood tests, and see him at the Café Cavallo, where he sometimes walked or was rowed in the evening for a grappa; by some coincidence, or premonition, he referred to the Cavallo itself (the Verrochio) in an interview only two months ago.
We enter the basilica through a lateral door and proceed to the left transept, where a row has been reserved for the “Famiglia” (V. at one end, children and grandchildren at the other) facing the rose-covered bier. This rests on a black cloth ornamented with white Maltese crosses, and a huge taper burns at each corner. A young acolyte, in a black vestment patterned with silver flowers, stands at the foot of the coffin, facing the altar and holding a tall processional cross; in a ceremony of more than three hours (here and on the island) he never fidgets, and his bearing is far more commanding than that of the attendant carabinieri. (It is a standing service—kathistos—not a sitting one—kathisma—and when V. sits for a moment from fatigue, the archimandrite glances in her direction with noticeable lack of compassion.)
But the young cross-bearer cannot conceal his incredulity at the antics of the paparazzi, those nonstop camera snappers who seem almost on the verge of infiltrating the archimandrite’s beard. (But without flapping him; not so me, for one of them follows me as I go to the podium, no doubt sensing that a photo of me keeling over may be imminent, since it is 6 AM for me biologically, and since I have slept no more than minutes at a time in days, have conducted only once after I.S.’s illness two years ago, and am wholly unable to detach myself from the event; in fact, only constant thinking of what I.S. would say about every detail of the performance enables me to get through it.)
The obsequies begin with Allessandro Scarlatti’s Requiem Missa Defunctorum, added for bad measure by the chorus: it is featureless, dull, and in no way relates to I.S. The three organ pieces by Andrea Gabrieli, played during the ritual, would have pleased him, however; I remember walking with him from the Madonna dell’ Orto to San Marco, tracing the route of the Lepanto victory procession, for which Andrea Gabrieli composed music. After the Scarlatti, the mayor delivers an address, quoting encomia of Venice by I.S. and Ezra Pound; il miglior fabbro himself is present, and has been in the church since early morning, before the casket was moved from the chapel to the transept.
The Requiem Canticles follow, faltering at first, the staccato accompaniment in the Prelude suffocating in the acoustical wool. The Rex Tremendae wobbles like pasta, and the Libera me sounds more like a mob scene than the background patter (“bisbigliare“) I.S. wanted. Worst of all, the celesta player volunteers to fill in part of one of the pauses in the Postlude, nearly ruining that explicit structure: a chord of Death, followed by silence, the tolling of bells, and again silence, all thrice repeated, then the three final chords of Death alone. (No wonder everything he composed after this was meant both to preserve it as his last work and to prevent it from becoming so too soon.)
At 12:30, the archimandrite, Cheruvim Malissianos, gold cope and black hood (klobook) with veil trailing over the shoulders, parades down the center aisle to a vermilion throne at the entrance to the apse. He is followed by two acolytes, who stand on either side three steps below him, where together they hold the euchologion from which he reads one part of the service, and together or individually sing the antiphonal responses. The archimandrite is a young man with dark eyes, olive skin, black hair and beard, and the allure of a Byzantine Pantocrator. He is a dazzling performer, moreover, both to listen to and to watch. Though his gestures are simple: whether raising his hand; or touching his temples and heart (which is how I.S., too weak to trace the transverse, crossed himself the night before he died); or slowly swinging the thurible around the coffin, with extra and prolonged fumigations in the direction of the head. He is ostentatious, in fact, only in the way he closes his eyes, but this has the effect of hushing the entire congregation and may even recommend it to pray.
And what wonderful music it is, this remnant of Byzantium, bedizened by corruptions from the Syrian, Hebrew, and Arabic orient (though bastardized for want of a Rosetta Stone relating the different systems of notation). And no wonder hymnographers were accorded positions of honor in Byzantine churches. How beautiful, too, are the Greek words: “makarios” and “philanthropos” and “eleos” and “hosias,” etc. The singing is an art of agogics, of the kratema, the parakletike, the apodema; and an art of ornaments, such as the kylisma, and whatever the name for that “break” of emotion in the voice, and the name for the effect of trailing off to the last note, so that whether or not it has actually been sung is uncertain. It is an art, too, that would most have delighted and been best understood by the man who lies dead.
The service, which celebrates the joyous passage from death to eternal life, begins with alleluiatic antiphons: harmonic, syllabic, and tonal in the Russian service; here monodic, melismatic, and plagal—a falling, whole-tone cadence, exquisitely sung by the mellifluous Malissianos. Psalm 118 follows, then the Four Beatitudes of John the Damascene, the Fourth Chapter of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and the Song of Exodus. Again the most painful moment comes with the sound of I.S.’s first name, until then, art and ritual having helped to make this celebration of the mystery—not of death, of course, but of life—less personal.
At the end, the archimandrite summons V. to the coffin, to kneel before it and say good-by. Then four gondoliers—black sashes, black armbands, black shirts showing at the neck beneath white blouses—wheel it slowly down the center aisle, V. walking behind, and out into the sunlight and azure, and the Campo banked with flowers. Here it is transferred to the water hearse, a gondola with gold lions of Saint Mark on the sides, and a border of pink and white roses, like those on the bier; the gondoliers use black-tipped oars, and a black drape trails in the water. The archimandrite, seated, and his cross-bearer, standing, ride in the first gondola, V. in the one behind the bier. As the bier passes, the people on the Fondamenta, and in front of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti, and in windows and doorways, in boats and on bridges—both of them packed to the parapets—bow their heads and cross themselves.
When the cortege sails under the Ponte dei Mendicanti and into the lagoon, the archimandrite rises behind the cross-bearer, his cope and klobook blowing in the breeze. But the faster boats of the TV men and the paparazzi cut in on the procession and confound the protocol. As a result, the heavy hearse-boat is actually the last to reach the island and to be disembarked. (When it has been, the thought occurs to me that I.S., who could not swim and was always nervous in gondolas, would be relieved.) We wait for it before the gateway to the cemetery, which is guarded, in a Gothic pinnacle, by the Archangel Michael, receiver of souls (scales in one hand) and sounder of the last trump (spear in the other), “When the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
But transubstantiation is not a consoling thought at this moment, it occurs to me, as the procession resumes and we enter the old Camaldolensian cloister. The flower displays are borne ahead now, President Saragat’s first, and a large red one from the Soviet Union behind, along with those of many other countries not including the USA. The archimandrite follows, then the bier (again on wheels), and then ourselves with our own bouquets. But the gondolier pallbearers, not yet having found their terra firma legs, are stopped for an awkward minute or two by a small flight of stairs. Moving on we cross a crunchy gravel path, by a wall of kennel-like mausoleums and through a field of small white crosses, each with a photograph of the deceased. The “Rep. Greco,” as it is designated over the portal, is a garden of laurels and cypresses and expired Orthodoxists, bordering the outermost wall of the island. We halt for a moment before a small chapel, at the end of the path, but long enough for me to decipher “Michael Bakunin” from the Cyrillic of the third stone at the left.
The chapel is just large enough, lengthwise, for the coffin and some journalists—the paparazzi and the TV crews having set up on top of the vined wall above the grave—but room remains on the sides for us. The archimandrite and his acolytes disappear into the narrow, curtained-off prothesis, ostensibly to prepare for the final rites—he strips for a moment to his black cassock—but actually to stall while a telephone call is put through to the mayor for clearance to begin the service without him. It starts behind the curtain, Malissianos chanting now in a dolorous and weirdly “white” voice. One of the acolytes answers with three sepulchral “Kyries.” The other acolyte begins to wail; and precedes the coffin outside to the grave, where he stands under a tree, wailing his unearthly music throughout the burial.
Before this actually begins, and while the scaffolding is being removed, Malissianos banters, Hamlet-like, but sotto voce, with two of the grave-diggers, telling them in Venetian Vulgo to get it right since burial is a more or less permanent condition. But he does so without compromising his sacerdotal dignity, which may be inviolate, in any case. Then—the most terrible moment—ropes lower the coffin, the archimandrite accompanies V. to throw the first handful of dirt, and “IGOR STRAVINSKY” on the steel nameplate gleams for a last instant in the sun.
* * *
April 16. The clouds break suddenly, during our flight to Paris, just as we are over Evian, and we can make out the Hotel Royale.
Suvchinsky, at dinner, encourages V. to write her memoirs, “the one really valuable book and the least postponable.” And he wisely counsels her to “write it, or tell it to a tape recorder, in Russian, English, French, German, or a mixture of them all; but apart from necessary annotations, do not allow anyone to ‘edit,’ ‘polish,’ or ‘rewrite’ it.”
He also airs a theory about my role. Which, he says, differs from the examples of I.S.’s earlier associates only in degree; and in that, being a conductor, I was a more broadly serviceable aide. At the beginning of the Fifties, so the theory goes, I.S., lacking a sense of direction, supposedly found one in, or by reaction to, me. But I was not so much an “influence” as a catalyst, in the sense that I.S. reacted to me, not only “in his own ways,” which would be obvious, but in ways that often ingeniously contradicted what I may have seemed to be espousing. Thus, if my advocacy of Schoenberg appeared to be uppermost, he would devote himself exclusively to Webern; and if I seemed to think that chromatic equality was a built-in tenet of serialism, he would opt for a diatonic species. (Which may or may not be true, I say, but all that anyone else can say, for certain, is that in my role as the Stravinsky house-dog I was more Cerberus than spaniel.)
“The feelings of the children are plain enough,” he goes on. “You took their place. But never mind. It is more important to remember that a hero must be blameless. Which is the reason the USSR will blame you because he was not buried there, even though everyone knew that his visit there in 1962 was possible only because of your—in this instance the word is correct—influence.”
April 17. Paris. Anxious as she was to leave Venice, V.’s decision to come to this memory-laden city was wrong. Her face streams with tears during a drive through the Bois de Boulogne. And on the return, lighting an Easter candle for I.S. in the Rue Daru Church, she cries harder than at any time since his death. Nor is “the beauty of Paris” much balm. After the “coziness” of Venice—I.S.’s word and one of his reasons for living there—the Louvre looks merely pompous, and the “restored” Place des Vosges, where we go for lunch, seems as new as a Disneyland replica. But Suvchinsky’s conversation tonight is consoling.
April 19. We fly to Marrakech to visit Ira Belline, I.S.’s niece and V.’s closest pre-1939 friend. The two have not seen each other since then, Mademoiselle Belline having lived in Morocco since the war. Nor, for a nerve-wracking half-hour, is it at all certain that they will see each other now, our Royal Moroccan caravelle developing convulsions just as we are descending at Fez. The captain, with no respect for our imaginations, describes it as “motor trouble,” and says that our course has to be shifted toward the larger runway at Casablanca. We drift down like a glider, thereafter, and at a drastically reduced speed, and the runway, when we finally touch it, is flanked by ambulances and fire trucks with hoses-at-the-ready. Two hours after an announcement about a short delay for repairs, when no noticeable step has been taken in that direction, we hire a taxi and complete the trip by car.
The cactus and adobe landscape could be New Mexican, if not the traffic: donkeys, whose passengers sit far back as if to keep the animals from tipping forward; camels, dark-brown and shaggy except for a young, milk-white one tethered to a telephone pole; and women, in the same category as the donkeys except limited to freight, which they carry like canephoroi. Nor has Women’s Lib made any inroads in other directions. Practically all females are veiled, and not only to the eyes but over them, which in the case of white with a white garment (haik) is distinctly djinnish. Women turn away at our approach, but the turbanned and jellabahed men turn into salesmen, holding up clutches of eggs, bouquets of wild flowers, and, near the muddy Oum er Rebia, catches of fish skewered on sticks. But these are the unchosen few who lack the gift of doing absolutely nothing, the majority being asleep or sitting, legs akimbo, by the roadside. It is this inertness, in fact, which makes our driver’s feat in capturing a wasp with his hands—actually tweaking its wings—seem the more remarkable.
But no sooner do we reach the palm oasis of Marrakech, with its kilometers of medieval walls, and settle in the brass cuspidor hotel (a swimming pool, though, where Woman is displaying a lot more Lib), than we feel the emptiness at the center more acutely than ever. “I want to be near him,” V. says, and she asks for airplane schedules and makes plans to return to Venice.
Ira comes at six. Tall and sharp-featured, her family resemblance to I.S. is evident only in her quick brown eyes. She is a handsome woman, strikingly dressed in red turban, sweater, Spahi pants, gold Moorish bracelets. But both she and V. are nervous, even tremulous, and the meeting is a little stiff. I go, meanwhile, for a stroll in the gardens, but the gravel paths and the trees remind me of San Michele.
Averroës lived here, perhaps walked near these same ramparts. But all I can remember about him, and that vaguely, is his argument for the validity of alternative modes of access to truth; and defense of the right to coexistence of conflicting truths. Which seems reasonable enough now, at least to one who believes in “permanent” musical and poetic truths, highly adjustable scientific truths, and modal philosophical working hypotheses; and who thinks, in the first place, that the answer to Jesting Pilate is a circumstantial formulation of a culture and an age. In other words, not “revealed” truth. But why not? That is also a cultural mode. Why am I intellectually intolerant of “revealed” religion as fact, for I have the feeling but lack the belief? And intolerant of dogma, though nonetheless dogmatic concerning what I don’t know about it?
And for that matter, why these outpourings, why this soliloquy, why these particular questions? Because I have been more deeply shaken than ever before in my life, and because I am surprised—naïvely surprised, perhaps—to find that the arts, science, and philosophy are no succor at all, that the only help is to be found in other human beings. The change in me is that I am at least prepared to believe that other modes exist. V. has received word that Gerald Heard, who for some time has been semi-paralyzed and mute, became very agitated the night of April 5-6 and about three hours before I.S. died began talking to him.
* * *
We eat in the hotel, where the head waiter, whom I quickly recognize and greet—having an infallible memory for waiters, taxi drivers, and all “menials,” and being infinitely less well-bred than V., who was taught to take no notice of her “surroundings”—is from the Royale in Evian. At sundown the sky turns indigo, the olive trees silver, the palms dark green, and the mountains (below the snow line) pure purple. The hum of nesting swallows now fills the jasmine-sweet air and, after a signal of distant cock-crows, the night itself begins to snore, in and out, like a concertina.
April 20. We go to dinner at the Bellines. (Ira lives with her brother, Gania, a man so startlingly “Russian” in appearance—Tolstoy nose, “Russian” goatee, old-fashioned silver-rimmed “Russian” spectacles—that he might have been made up for a part in Chekhov.) It is a twenty-minute trip from the Mamounia—in our one-camel-power taxi—not including a skirmish, on arrival, with the dogs. For the house is guarded by no fewer than ten of the most vociferous canines in the world; they bark in concert throughout the evening, then suddenly fall silent when we leave, though not for that reason surely but because they are hoarse.
If the atmosphere of the house, which was once owned by a grand-daughter of Tolstoy, is “Russian,” that impression is not primarily due to the Bellines themselves, or even to the many mementos of the Diaghilev Ballet. It is, rather, in a similarity between a way of life sustained by Arab fellahin and Russian peasants, the peasants, that is, of I.S.’s creations. (The “domestiques” in the Stravinsky household during I.S.’s own youth were Tartars, i.e., Muslims.)
As if reading my thoughts, Ira tells a story remarkably similar to the world of Les Noces. It seems that when her Arab houseboy announced his forthcoming marriage, she unthinkingly asked a question about his betrothed, which obliged him to confess he had never seen her and that the wedding had been arranged by his mother. Ira gave him a brass bedstead for a wedding present, and found it, at the ceremony, in the center of the one-room shack, with about twenty veiled women seated on the floor around it. The bride sat in a corner, swaddled in white from head to toe…. Then when the marriage was consummated, the sheet, proof of hymen intactus, was held up for the inspection of the twenty women. Ira says that the bride is fifteen now, has two children, and in fact prepared tonight’s couscous which, I think, has cauterized my tongue.
Ira was in Ustilug during I.S.’s last summers there, but was too young to remember much about him. Her recollections of him in Morges, in 1919, when her family reached Switzerland after a six-month trek fleeing the Bolsheviks, are more vivid. But she remembers him better as a worried investor in the Château Basque, her family’s restaurant in Biarritz; and best of all when he first met V.: “Your Russian friends called you ‘Verinka,’ and Uncle called you ‘Verusha.’ ” But I hardly listen, being distracted by a lizard, on the wall, devouring a moth, whose rescue I fail to attempt only partly out of respect for the ecological balance. (In truth, I conduct a careful search of my room later for other lacertilians, as well as scorpions, millipedes, etc.)
Returning to the Mamounia—same one-camel-power taxi—V. is bursting to describe the evening to I.S. and missing him more than ever.
April 21. A sand-storm blows over the oasis, followed by violent rains.
We eat Moroccan-style, beginning with Harira (a soup), then a fish—succulent but viscous to touch, and everything here is eaten with the fingers—then a sugar and cinnamon pancake dunked in a bowl of orange juice and milk. The waiters wear tarbooshes and babouches, white jackets and white serwaks, which are pleated, ankle-length bloomers. Their trays are covered with conical wicker lids, to keep the food warm in transit. And to keep us from smelling fishy, in ditto, perfume is squirted in our cupped hands at the end of the meal, from what look like silver syringes.
April 22. The souks and the Jemaa el Fna are muddy from yesterday’s rain; which reminds Ira of Ustilug, and me of I.S. talking about the mud there (though with anything but “nostalgie de la boue“). Mere mud, however, does not interfere with the storytellers, the holy men reading from the Koran, the barbecuers, teeth pullers, water vendors, and snake charmers, all of whom live in the open air. Whether charmed or not, one of the snakes squirms very actively when suspended by the tail, but seems to suffer stage-fright the moment it is set down.
The souks are mazes of narrow alleys, roofed with rushes, and dense with animals and people—on bicycles and motorcycles, as well as on foot. We visit carpet stalls and caftan stalls, (silks, satins, and nylons!); wool dyers and leather tanners; metal embossers; spice and herb merchants (baskets of freshly picked mint); and fruit and vegetable charrettes. But “colorful” and “exotic” as it all is, one sight haunts me the rest of the day, that of a line of thirteen blind, ragged, barefoot, and (undoubtedly) consumptive and diseased beggars, chanting “Allah is good,” over and over, as they tap the ground with their white canes and hold out cups for alms. “Then let Allah give,” a blasphemous boy jibes at them, himself a beggar effectively shooed away by whatever Ira says to him in the demotic. Nor can I forget the sight of an old man displaying five pieces of candy on a dirty hand-kerchief. “On vend ce qu’on peut,” Ira says, truly enough, though that is hardly the point.
April 23. The Evian waiter tells us that whereas the poor can still be imprisoned for infractions of Ramadan, the King has a harem of 150, but my uppermost feeling about the latter part of this information is more one of envy than of moral righteousness.
We drive to Ourika, in an Atlas pass, seeing several Berber casbahs on the way. The Berber women dress more colorfully than the women of Marrakech, are not veiled, but apparently still do all the work, from swinging scythes to turning water wheels.
April 24. Casablanca. A dirty city; and noisy, radio music blaring in the streets from loudspeakers. The red fez is less popular here than the gray or black, and the turbans resemble bandages after skull surgery. Face-curtains are fewer, too, though we see girls on motorcycles wearing them. Are these veils exploited in the Venetian-masquerade sense, I wonder, as well as in the sense that probably many a disguise does not contain a blessing?
April 25. Casablanca to Rome. We leave for one of the two airports at 5 AM, because of uncertainty as to which one handles our flight, and the fear that it will take a long time to go to the other. As it happens, the extra time is needed because of sheep and camels on the road, and because of the rigmarole of document stamping, tax paying, customs declaring, and multiple inspecting of passports. Finally we are airborne for about ten minutes, before landing—over a muddy, meandering river—at Rabat, where everyone is obliged to leave the plane with all baggage for another infinite wait, then hurry aboard again.
April 26. Rome. We have come to ask Manzù to choose a stone, and to carve the name and dates and a cross that I.S. himself once drew for Giacometti.
Dinner at Passetto’s with Berman, who reminisces about I.S. on a trip to Naples in 1958.
April 27. The ride over the Apennines from Florence to Venice reminds us of an excursion with I.S. to Canossa, site of Ghibelline Henry’s three barefoot nights in the snow (surely with chilblains, at least?). We were driving to Milan, the day after a concert in Bologna (October 20, 1958), when I.S. expressed a desire to see the ruins, satisfied after bumping up a steep mountain road for two hours when at last we reached the remains of the grim, fairy-story castle.
In Venice V. hears herself referred to for the first time, with a small jolt, as “la vedova Stravinsky.” And the Royal Suite at the Gritti—beamed and coffered ceilings, baldachined bed, canopied bath—reminds her sadly of I.S.’s return to Paris from his first American tour. “He cabled from the boat asking me to reserve the most luxurious suite in the Grande Hotel for a few days; which I did, but without seeing it. It was decorated in a nouveau-riche style that so shocked Diaghilev, he was upset for days wondering what could have happened to Stravinsky in America.”
April 28. And so we go again to San Michele, past Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where the poster—“La Città Di Venezia…del Grande Musicista IGOR STRAVINSKY”—is still on the door; and past the Mendicanti, once renowned for its girl orchestra (admired by Goethe), but as neglected and impoverished now as the people—“blessed are the poor”—it was meant to comfort. And again into the lagoon, silent and empty today. And again to the walled isle of cypresses and of the dead. Again, too, we pass beneath Saint Michael’s pointed arch, a wind now blowing his rusty iron balances—so much for weights and measures—this way and that. And again pass through the Convento, a solarium at this hour for a lazing tribe of cats. (I.S. would have spoken to them and picked one of them up by the scruff; when the Gazzettino published a photograph of him after the funeral, it was not one of him conducting in San Marco, but one showing him feeding cats.)
And again we follow the path to the Orthodox section, where lilacs are in bloom and it is full springtime, except for the man who created a spring of his own that of all mortally begotten versions will give Nature its longest run for everlasting joy. And again we walk to the chapel, the vined wall, and the iron gate, ajar today, framing a veduta of the lagoon.
The moment has come, too, when we must raise our eyes toward the mound of newly turned earth, which is exactly where we know it will be, of course, the most cruelly certain of all places in our memories. It is covered with flowers, like Rakewell’s springtime grave; but the new earth is terrible to see, and terrible the bedlike form of the mound. V. weeps, laying her flowers on his head, and turns away. (Does she think of an afternoon long ago when, finding her fast asleep, he composed that most beautiful of all berceuses for her, Perséphone’s “sur ce lit elle repose“? And of that afternoon only a month ago when, instead of his name, he wrote, “Oh, how I love you!”) But three times as she walks slowly toward the gate, she is stopped and asked if she knows the direction—for it is already venerated ground—“to Stravinsky’s grave.”
My turn to turn away comes when I notice the word “Strasvischi” scrawled beneath the “36” on the marker; for it is exactly what I.S., in one of his ironies, might have invented himself so short a time ago. In fact it is impossible not to see and hear him saying it now, just as it is impossible to believe that the man whose immortal celebration of the resurrection of Nature, and all his other continuations of the highest humanizing art of man, lies beneath that mound of earth. Yet it is not that man we mourn, but the old, ill, frail, skin-and-bones one who was still so wonderfully alive. And it is that ill and frail old man I miss so much, miss more than I ever thought it was possible to miss anybody.
And again we leave. But will be back soon. And soon permanently, when my promise to him is fulfilled (if it should be V. first). And another promise, my own and unasked for, and I am somewhere nearby.
July 1, 1971