I thought that I was just going to do some painting of scenery when I volunteered to help the West Bay Opera produce I Pagliacci and The Face on the Bar Room Floor last spring, but suddenly I found myself in a cast. No, it’s not that they were that hard up for singers, and it wasn’t all of me that was in a cast, just my left arm, which had broken when I tripped over a prop and landed on the concrete floor of the paint shop. Bones don’t heal as fast when I’m sixty-thirteen as they did in my original teens, but by now it’s fully recovered, thank you.
Working on the sets has added a new dimension to my enjoyment of opera. Our local opera company performs at a community center theater with a modest stage, so that it’s nothing like the Met or even Des Moines, but I still find it very exciting to work on the pieces and then see it all put together, playing before a full house, and realizing that I have been a part of it. So far I’ve also participated in La Traviata and La Cenerentola, with Lucia di Lammermoor and La Boheme still to come this year.
Painting opera sets is very different than painting living room furniture. With furniture, you want it to look good from every angle and from any distance, you want it to last, and it pays to take your time. With sets, it only has to look good from one side and from ten feet or more away, it only has to last for about a dozen rehearsals and performances, and everything has to be done in two weeks. Also, it doesn’t matter if you get paint on the floor or the walls. This is my style of painting! During the war, when we painted the side of our Liberty Ship, the other crew members would refuse to paint down wind of me.
Otters and Operas
Last year we mentioned the wonderful naturalists who were on our cruise ship in the Sea of Cortez. Most of them have regular jobs ashore and do cruise ships on their time off. Well, one of our naturalists, Ree Brennin, works in the aquarium in Seattle. So, when USNC/TAM met there last June, we got in touch with her and she gave us a backstage tour. After showing us some of the usual stuff, Ree picked up a pail of squid and led us through various passages and stairways and through a door, and there we were on a little concrete platform beside the otter pool. The two otters had heard the door opening and were there waiting. As each otter was tossed a piece of squid, it would grasp it in its forepaws and swim off on its back, then pop the squid in its mouth. Big pieces would get torn apart by paw, but they wasted no time coming back for more. We didn’t actually handle any squid or pet the otters, but we were close enough to get splashed when one of the otters got a little impatient. When the squid was all gone, Ree let each otter stick its head in the pail to see for itself that there wasn’t any more.
Later, over a seafood dinner (we opted for swordfish rather than squid!), Ree told us what a tough field this was to get into. She had only just been promoted to full-time day work, even though she has a Master’s degree. Before that, she had worked two years on the night shift, which was mostly cleaning tanks and being there in the unlikely event of an emergency. The pay is low, but she loves the work and was happy and excited telling us about it. It made us both feel good just talking to a young person who is so enthusiastic about what she is doing.
Coming home from Seattle we took a slight detour and flew by way of Minnesota and Iowa. It was great to visit my department at the University and renew old friendships, I heard about all their problems with money, with space, with students. Such a pleasure to listen sympathetically, but realize that they were no longer my problems. Then on to Indianola and the Des Moines Metro Opera for great performances of Carmen, Regina, and Rigoletto, not to mention partying until the wee hours with the Minnesota Mafia, our opera group from Minneapolis.
Every two years I get re-elected as Secretary of the U. S. National Committee / Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, and this year at Seattle was no exception. Our Committee is going through a difficult time, both organizationally and financially, but I still enjoy the challenge. If I have to meet some of the Secretary’s expenses out of my pocket, I regard this as a small contribution to a profession that treated me so well during all of my working years.
As Secretary, I am automatically elected a delegate to IUTAM, the International Union of which our committee is the U. S. representative. Thus the last weekend of August found me in Amsterdam at their biennial meeting. It is very interesting seeing how IUTAM operates. The President can run things with an almost iron hand, and most issues don’t come to a vote. The exception is choosing officers and selecting technical symposia to support. And there the first vote is final and absolute, even if the winner is less than a majority. They don’t seem to have any idea of compromise or consensus. Also, personalities play a large part and principle a very small one. I have to be careful not to open my mouth too much, or I could lose a lot of friends over this trait. Apparently I succeeded, since at the IUTAM meeting in August I found myself appointed a member of the small electoral committee which will pretty much choose our next set of officers.
During the meeting days we sampled some of Amsterdam’s good restaurants for a couple of Rijstafel dinners and another for great buckets of mussels. After the meeting we got 3-day rail passes and saw most of Holland by train. Visited den Bosch where a family of ancestors came from (descent through Gramp’s father’s mother, Jane Storm) but were disappointed to find that the church where they were married was totally gone, commemerated only by a street name. Another day we went to the Enkhuisen Zuider Zee Museum and wandered through the historical village which showed what Holland was like in “the olden days – the 1930’s”. Hey, I was already in high school then!
The last day we spent visiting Henk and Coby van Rij. He was my last (and one of my best) PhD students at Minnesota, and is now a very successful engineer in Holland. We had enjoyed knowing both of them in Minneapolis, and we seemed to pick up right where we had left off. They are excellent hosts, and I hope to see them again when I have to go back to Holland in 1996 for a meeting of the IUTAM nominating committee.
I have been commanded to address you by Ares, the great god of war.
Last night as I lay in my bunk I awoke with a start and found that Hermes was standing by my side. I attempted to speak, but Hermes touched my lips and no sound issued forth. He took my hand, twinkled his winged shoes, and we were speeding through the air, faster than the wind.
In no time at all, we had reached the top of Mt. Olympus and were standing in the great hall of the gods. I looked towards the mighty throne of Zeus, but it was empty. Hermes whispered to me that Zeus had gone to a ship named after him in search of a virgin.
Poseidon was in charge, and he spoke to me: “We are pleased, oh Lover of Horses, that you found fit to honor Kriton in your ballad last night, for truly, Kriton is beloved by the gods.”
But then Apollo said, “But truly, you have much to learn before you can become a bard.”
Whereupon Ares broke in with, “Who are these paltry Marines, and why did you chose their dissonant hymn as the tune for your ballad? Truly, Kriton deserves a tune sung by true soldiers, such as this:”
And Apollo took down his golden lyre and proceeded to play the Caisson Song.
Then Ares turned stern. “Go, Lover of Horses, and sing a ballad of Kriton set to this stirring tune. Unless thou doest this ere Rosy-fingered Dawn has twice brightened the eastern sky, I shall pin thy throat to the wall with my spear.” And he raised his mighty bronze-tipped spear and made a threatening move towards me.
Suddenly the gods all vanished, and I was lying in my bunk, and it was morning.
Of course, this must have been a dream. But that spear seemed very real and very big. If you don’t mind, I’d rather not take any chances:
To a temple, to a ruin,
Kriton knows what he is doin’.
Elder Hostelers keep rolling along.
Here a museum, there a church,
He won’t leave us in the lurch,
Elder Hostelers keep rolling along.
Then it’s hi, hi, hee,
For the I S T.
Sing out the chorus loud and strong (ONE, TWO)
With Kriton as our guide,
We’ll travel far and wide.
Elder Hostelers keep rolling along.
(KEEP ‘EM ROLLING)
Elder Hostelers keep rolling along.
It was all very logical. Due to the financial exigencies of USNC/TAM, I would get my expenses paid in Amsterdam, but not my airfare to get there. I could use my Northwest Frequent Flyer miles. For only 50% more miles Thea could come with me. For no additional miles, we could both proceed to any point in Europe served by KLM (Northwest’s partner) after the meeting in Amsterdam. But where? Early last spring as we were poring over maps, timetables, and brochures, the International ElderHostel catalog arrived with the answer. A two-week ElderHostel in Greece at exactly the right time. First week living in a hotel in Athens, hearing lectures on Greek art and history at the University, visiting museums and sites in the afternoon, and going to tavernas in the evenings. Second week aboard the Zeus II, a 32-passenger Motor Ship, cruising the Cyclades with more lectures, sites, and gastronomic experiences. And all for roughly half the cost of a standard commercial tour.
This was our first ElderHostel, but it won’t be our last. In fact, we have just sent in our application for a week at a summer theater in Kentucky next June. In addition to the obvious advantages of a wonderful program at a moderate cost, we were part of a group of 29 persons of varied background but great commonality of interests and all of “chronologically gifted.” We had several lecturers, most of them good-to-excellent, and a truly wonderful over-all guide, Kriton. He was tremendously knowledgable, literate, and with a great sense of humor. He was always available, and was invaluable to Thea when she suffered a sort of heat-stroke from climbing the Acropolis at 100º.
We kept a journal of sorts on our trip, but rather than fill a dozen or more pages with a detailed account of what we did and saw, I’ll just mention a few highlights. Before the ElderHostel started we signed up for a half-day tour to the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion, about 2 hours from Athens. When Theseus went to Crete to slay the Miniotour, his father, Aegeus came to this temple to watch for Theseus’ ship and pray for his safe return. When Theseus forgot (?) to replace the black sails Aegeus thought he was dead and cast himself off the cliff into the sea that bears his name. And I was here at that temple and standing on that cliff. My imagination had only to blot out the hundred or so tourists and change the solitary ship on the horizon into a bireme to transport me back several millenia. Later, on our way back from the Cyclades, our ship anchored near Cape Sunion and I was swimming in the Aegean Sea and looking up at the temple.
One afternoon our group was bussed to the foot of the Acropolis and we climbed to the top. It was hot, the tourists numbered in the thousands, we could still see today’s Athens with his myriad TV antennas and its noisy traffic jams, but it was still a thrill actually stand in front of the Parthenon and see the “grandeur that was Greece.”
From the top of the Acropolis we could look down and see the Odeon where Sophocles, Eurypides, and that gang had had their plays produced. In our hotel guide we read that the next night the Lyons Ballet would be presenting Prokofieff’s Romeo and Juliet there. Kriton told us how to get tickets. Came evening, we were sitting under the stars on marble seats that were built over 2000 years ago (but covered with modern cushions!). The stage has been restored to good working condition, but the ruins tower behind it and form the wings, balconies, etc. Here we were, Americans in Greece seeing a French production of a Russian Ballet based on an English play set in Italy! Truly a memorable evening.
The one disappointment of the first week was that the food in the hotel was mostly American-bland with chicken almost every night. But that was more than made up for by a couple of real Greek meals in (or rather outdoors at) tavernas and a marvellous outdoor spread at a farmhouse in the country (Kriton was a personal friend of the owners).
The cruise week was even better. The crew not only served us wonderful Greek food all week, but did Greek dances for us after dinner one evening, and barbecued fresh-caught calamari on shore to go with our ouzo before dinner another evening. On a typical day we had a lecture aboard ship in the morning and stopped at one or two islands in the afternoon to visit ruins and/or museums. Weather was hot, but seas were calm. And every day our enjoyment was heightened as we got to know each other better.
Near the end of the cruise, one 80-year youngster proposed that we each write a poem or limerick in honor of our guide Kriton, and read them at the captain’s dinner Friday night. Almost everyone participated with contributions ranging from serious poetry to doggerel to limericks to (in my case):
From the walls of the Acropolis
To the scattered Cyclades
He leads the Elder Hosterers
As we sail the wine-dark seas.
If we ever gain Olympus
Where Zeus his throne doth sit on
We hope we will be guided
By the Admirable Kriton
We all had such a good time doing this that I couldn’t resist going a step further with the result which started this whole section.
May you, too, keep rolling through the coming year,
Re-reading our journal, looking at George’s sketches, and seeing all your poetry, has brought it all back to us. What a wonderful two weeks that was, both for what we did and who we did it with.
Years ago we decided that since we never got our “Christmas” letter mailed in time, we would make a virtue of necessity and call it instead, our “Groundhog” letter. It has no fixed format, and one year may be very different from another. Next year, we might even brag about our grandchildren! We hope some of you enjoy this sort of yearly rambling. We suspect that others are wondering, “will they never stop.” Cheer up! If you don’t want to be on our list for next year, do nothing. On the other hand, if you’d like to hear the thrilling things we’ll do and think about in 1995, let us know via any of the media listed on the letterhead, or add a note to your card or letter next Christmas.