Johannes Brahms Arrives in the Robert Schumann Household, 30 September, 1853


’30 Sept: Herr Brahms from Hamburg

1 Oct: Finished the Violin Concerto. Visit from Brahms (a genius).

2 October: A great deal with Brahms. Sonata in F sharp minor.

4 Oct: Music at home at 5. Brahms’ Phantasie.’

Robert Schumann, housekeeping book

‘This month brought us the wonderful arrival of the twenty-year old composer Brahms from Hamburg. It is as though he has been sent by God himself! He played sonatas, scherzos, and so on that he had written, everything brimming over with imagination and emotional intensity, and consummate in form. It is really moving to watch this man,with his fascinating features, sitting at the piano with an expression of ecstasy on his face. He has very attractive hands, which master the greatest of difficulties with the greatest of ease- his works are very hard. Robert says one can only ope that Heaven will grant him health.’

Clara Schumann

‘I can still see, as though I were looking at a picture, a hall in a house in Dusseldorf, with a group of children gazing up in amazement at the banisters on the landing above. There a young man with long, fair, hair was performing the most hair-raising gymnastic exercises, hanging by his arms and swinging backwards and forwards, from one side to the other. Finally he swung himself up until he was balancing on his hands, stretched out his legs and leapt down into the hall below, landing in the midst of the admiring children. The young man was Johannes Brahms; the children were the Schumann family.’

Eugenie Schumann, memoirs

Robert Schumann, His Life and Work, Ronald Taylor, Panther Books, 1982.

Film Noir


‘Ernie was at the rehearsals. And so was Mr. de Grot, who did the sets. I recall seeing Ernie’s copy of the script and it was filled with notations and diagrams. I asked him if these were for special lights and he said, “No, they’re for special shadows.” Now that threw me. I was a little apprehensive. I was used to the look of Metro, where everything, including the war pictures, was filmed in blazing white lights. Even if a person was dying there was no darkness. But when I saw the rushes of Mildred Pierce I realized what Ernie was doing. The shadows and half-lights, the way the sets were lit, together with the unusual angles of the camera, added considerably to the psychology of my character and to the mood and psychology of the film. And that, my dear, is film noir.’

Joan Crawford Papers, Billy Rose Collection, Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.

Margaret Trudeau’s Radio Hour

There has never be a spouse of a Canadian Prime Minister quite like Margaret Trudeau. She published two autobiographies before her husband Pierre was out of office, Beyond Reason, and Consequences (cover blurb: ‘When you’ve trespassed beyond reason, there are always…’). Trudeau wrote Consequences because she didn’t earn any money from the first book, a bestseller published by a company that went into receivership. Quite a bit of Consequences is devoted to her experiences with Paddington Press. In 1976 she was so inspired by the First Lady of Venezuela’s charity work that she wrote a song in honour of Blanca María Rodríguez de Pérez, which she sang at a state dinner in Caracas. It did not go down well in Canada.

Image‘The following week I was offered a phone-in show of my own on the local Ottawa early morning show. Luckily, Pierre was away, so he wasn’t in a position to forbid it. I decided to accept the invitation simply because I had reached breaking point. I was sick to death of all the sneers and criticism that I was never allowed to answer. My sharp tongue, it seemed, got me into trouble whatever I did. I was tired of hearing people say: “How can such a lovely girl say such terrible things?” Now I was really going to give it to them.

The presenter, Michale O’Connell, opened the show by asking; “Now Margaret, is there any song that you would like us to play to start the program?”

“Yes,” I replied immediately, “A song called Garden Party by Rick Nelson.” (It was about how he went to a garden party and everyone was either rude or unpleasant to him. In the song he sings: “If you can’t please everybody, you might as well please yourself.”)’

Beyond Reason, Margaret Trudeau, Paddington Press, 1979.

Garden Party:

Martin Luther King Cornered at a Party


‘I saw King again, later that same evening, at a party given by this same friend. He came late, did not stay long. I remember him standing  in the shadows of the room, near a bookcase, drinking something nonalcoholic, and being patient with the interlocutor who had trapped him in this spot. He obviously wanted to get away and go to bed. King is somewhat below what is called average height, he is sturdily built, but is not quite as heavy or as stocky as he had seemed to me at first. I remember feeling, rather as though he were a younger, much-loved, and menaced brother, that he seemed very slight and vulnerable to be taking on such tremendous odds.’

‘The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King,’ James Baldwin, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1961.

Bread and Circuses in Centennial Park


The Toronto mayor Rob Ford has hosted an annual barbecue for his constituents since his election to city council in 2000. The festivities took place in his mother’s backyard until this year, when the mayor and his brother Councillor Doug Ford hosted two Ford Fests, one in Scarborough in July, and the other in Etobicoke’s Centennial Park.

Image               Mayor-spotting, Centennial Park, September 20, 2013

Sixty-five hundred cobs of corn and 12,000 hotdogs and hamburgers were served at Ford Fest. The lineup for food was a kilometer long. Attendees who wrote down their contact details were gifted with Ford Nation T-shirts, flags, and ‘Rob Ford Mayor’ magnets with his home phone number. People lined up for a ticket to the beer garden, where they sipped Creemore and wine while court musician Jenny James sang covers of Rhianna, Serena Ryder, and Adele. Eventually, James serenaded the mayor with his anthem Mayor Ford (The World Will Remember).  Guests rode on the Scrambler midway ride and helped themselves to free pots of mums.

ImageImage               Mayor Rob Ford engulfed by the frenzy of renown

Image                People made out like bandits with the pots of mums.

Section 68.1.1 of the Municipal Elections Act reads, ‘The election campaign period begins on the day he or she files a nomination for the office under section 33.’ The official campaign period for Toronto’s next election begins on January 2, 2014. So Ford Fest is completely apolitical. Counc. Ford told 680 News the event is a ‘community barbecue for our community.’

Image ‘We weren’t campaigning when this started,’ Counc. Ford said when Global News asked if Ford Fest was a campaign event. He wore a polo shirt with the logo of the Ford family’s label company over the breast pocket, ‘And this has just grown over the years. I guess what I have for the people that say that is, the difference is, they use tax dollars for their barbecues, we own our…we use our own money.’

Making Monogamy Work by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Image ‘If ever a marriage seemed bound for the rocks this one did. We gave them six months– a year at the outside. It was too bad, we felt, because fundamentally they loved each other, but circumstances had undoubtedly doomed them–as a matter of fact they are now in the process of living happily together forever after.

Did they decide that the best way to hold each other was the let faithfulness be entirely voluntary? They did not. Did they come to an arrangement by which neither was to pry into the other’s life? They did not. On the contrary they tortured each other into a state of wild, unreasoning jealousy– and this solved the problem neatly in less than a week.’

Syndicated in February 1923.

The Romantic Egoists, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, Joan P. Kerr, University of South Carolina Press, 1974.

Carla Bruni and Laura Bush Interview Mashup: A Tribute to Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days


LAURA, a woman about sixty

CARLA, a woman about forty

An expanse of immaculate green grass slopes down to a center mound.  Trompe-l’oeil backcloth to represent The Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa, the host of the 34th G8 Summit.

Imbedded up to their waists in the mound are LAURA and CARLA, both dressed in pastel designer suits, with a pearl necklace for LAURA and a pillbox hat for CARLA. 

Beside them on the ground to their left is a broken guitar and a collapsible collapsed parasol.

LAURA: I love to walk with a friend. You find you talk so much the whole time, before you know it you’ve walked 45 minutes.

CARLA: When I have to choose, I always choose doing things, so I make great mistakes but I don’t have regrets.

LAURA: It’s a very interesting passage of life when you get to that time in your life when your first child is getting married. And we’re gaining our first son. So it’s a thrill.

CARLA: Sex, very pleasant. It’s one of the advantages of getting older… age increases sensuality and the pleasure.

LAURA: We have to keep comforting our children, but we also have to be very vigilant as American citizens as we go about our work and our business.

CARLA: I am a tamer of men, a cat, an Italian–monogamy bores me terribly.  Am I faithful? To myself! I am monogamous from time to time but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.

LAURA: At one point in my life, I thought I would marry a professor and lead a quiet life in academia and dig in my flower garden.

CARLA: Love lasts a long time but burning desire, two to three weeks.

LAURA: George and I are complete opposites. I’m quiet, he’s talkative. I’m introverted, he’s extroverted. I can pronounce nuclear.

CARLA: I want to have a man who has nuclear power.

LAURA:  Well, the fact is I think it’s hard for any wife, or husband for that matter, to give their spouse a lot of advice. I know, I don’t really want a lot of advice from him and I know he doesn’t really want a lot of advice from me. So I make an effort to only speak out when I really feel like I can’t help but speak out.

CARLA: Everyone knows that husbands are rarely stolen; you either know how to keep them or you don’t.

LAURA: Everyone knows that women love red dresses. In fact, recently at the White House, the night of the Kennedy Center Honors, I had a red dress on–and three other people had the exact red same red dress on! It was a major fashion faux pas.

CARLA: I love Yves Saint Laurent. He was the first to mix up red and pink! It was just not done. He had a wonderful garden in Morocco, full of red and pink roses, and he said to himself, Nature does it, and so can I! And he put red dresses with pink belts. It was a fashion mistake before he tried it. People believed the colors would kill each other, but the way he used it was so beautiful, and ageless.

LAURA rummages in a black handbag and removes a mirror. She examines the handle of the mirror, then squints at her reflection.

LAURA: It’s tough. I mean, the polls, that’s, you know that’s… I mean, when we travel around the country, when we visit with people, that’s not what we hear all the time. When they’re good polls  –I think I told you this the last time I interviewed with you, you don’t see them on the front page.

CARLA: I’d rather be called a predator than an old flea-bag. Predator, it’s not that bad for a woman.

LAURA: I hate the stories –all the stories about how I dress.

CARLA: Even when I was having my hair and make-up done backstage at a fashion show, I would sneak in a copy of Dostoevsky and read it inside a copy of Elle or Vogue. But it would be pretentious of me to say I was more intelligent than the other supermodels of that era. I was always just curious about everything.

LAURA: As I grew up I found The Brothers Karamazov to be one of the deepest, most interesting of books I read–one that was the most fun to re-read. Maybe I shouldn’t say fun, given that it is about spiritual struggle, but to read it over and over again at various times in my life was always rewarding. That includes the time I read the book while sitting by a swimming pool in Houston, when I worked as a teacher in the early 1970s. Though the book was Russian, there was always a sort of Texas heat about this memory.

CARLA: Never in my life did I think I would meet the Queen of England.

LAURA: I was the librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library and yet somehow I met George.

CARLA: My guy, I roll him up and smoke him.

LAURA: I’m having a good time talking about teaching all over America.

CARLA: I miss being a girl but I would like to stay sexy and seductive.

LAURA: Some of my fondest memories as a child are of curling up in my mother’s lap and listening to her read to me.

CARLA: I am a child. Despite my forty years. Despite my thirty lovers. A child.

LAURA: I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and I identified with Laura because of her name and her brown hair.


Nathaniel Hawthorne Explores the Liverpool Zoological Gardens

The United States Consulate in Liverpool was America’s first overseas consulate. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne accepted the post of American consul in 1853. It was three years after the publication of The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne spent five years dealing with diplomats, ruined speculators, seamen, and ‘piratical-looking scoundrels,’ in his office on the quayside of the Old Dock. One year after his family’s arrival in England, he visited the Zoological Gardens with his son. 


‘Visiting the Zoological gardens, the other day, with Julian, it occurred to me what a fantastic kind of life a person connected with them might be depicted as leading, –a child, for instance. The grounds are very extensive, and include arrangements for all kinds of exhibitions, calculated to attract the idle people of a great city. In one enclosure a bear, who climbs a pole to get cake and gingerbread from the spectators. Elsewhere, a circular building, with compartments for lions, wolves, tigers, etc. In another part of the garden, a colony of monkeys; the skeleton of an elephant, birds, of all kinds. Swans, and various rare waterfowl, swimming on a piece of water–which was green, by the by; and when the fowls dived, they stirred up black mud. A stork was parading along the margin, with melancholy strides in its long legs, and came slowly towards us, as if for companionship. In one apartment, was an obstreperously noisy society of parrots, macaws, etc. most gorgeous and diversified of hue. These different colonies of birds and beasts were scattered about in various parts of the grounds; so that you came upon them unexpectedly. Also, there was an archery-ground, a shooting ground, a swing, and other such things…

… There was also a daguerreotypist, with his wife and family, carrying on his business in a little shed or shanty, and perhaps having his home in its inner-room. He seemed to be an honest, intelligent, pleasant young man, and his wife a pleasant woman; and I got Julian’s daguerreotype, for three shillings, in a little brass frame. In the description of the garden, the velvet-turf, of a charming verdure, and the shrubbery, and shadowy walks under large trees, and the slopes and inequalities of ground, must not be forgotten. In one place, there was a maze and a labyrinth, where perhaps a person might wander a long while in vain endeavour to get out; although all the time, looking at the exterior garden over the low lodges that border the walks of the maze. And this is like the inappreciable difficulties that often best us in life.’

American Travellers in Liverpool, edited by David Seed, Liverpool University Press, 2008.

Decorating with Joan Crawford

In 1955, Joan Crawford married Albert Steele, the president of Pepsi-Cola. She moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where the couple renovated an eighteen-room penthouse overlooking Central Park. Image‘I wasn’t the easiest client in the world. (My decorator) Billy wanted chintz, but I was determined not to have it in my living room. I’d learned that lesson. I think the first gay, happy things I ever bought for myself were chintz curtains. But the place got so damned busy that it made me dizzy– too many patterns have the same effect on me as those very tiny mosaic tiles you sometimes see in public places, especially airports. Judy Garland used to get so seasick looking at them that she had to be carried out of the area with her eyes shut tight.’

My Way of Life, by Joan Crawford, Simon and Schuster, 1971.

A Puritan’s Meditations of the Misery of Infancy


‘What wast thou being an infant, but a brute, having the shape of a man? Was not thy body conceived in the heat of lust, the secret of shame, and the stain of original sin? And thus wast thou cast naked upon the earth , all imbrued in the blood of filthiness (filthy indeed when the Son of God, who disdained not to take on him man’s nature and the infirmities thereof, yet thought it unbeseeming his Holiness to be conceived after the sinful manner of man’s conception): so that thy mother was ashamed to let thee know the manner thereof. What cause then hast thou to boast of thy birth, which was a cursed pain ot thy mother, and to thyself the entrance into a troublesome life? The greatness of which miseries, because thou couldest not utter in words, thous diddest express (as well as thou couldest) in weeping tears.’

Practice of Pietie, Lewes, Bayly, 1612.