We made our Halloween costumes out of lighting gels, backstage
black velour curtaining, scrim, and Mylar. When we went with our father
to see the actual circus at Madison Square Garden, we spent almost
the whole show backstage where we met Mishu: The Smallest
Man in the World, and petted the long velvety trunks of the elephants
in jeweled headdresses. We met Gunther, the lion tamer, and marveled
at his blond blond hair and his deep deep tan and, giggling like the
children we were, his amazing ass - high and round and firm, like two
Easter hams - in electric blue tights.
I associate my dad almost exclusively with that lamb roast because
he could dream it up and create the scenery of it. My dad has an eye
for things. He can look at the stone rubble covered in scaffolding that
is the Acropolis, for example, and without effort, complete the picture
in its entirety, right down to what people are wearing, doing, and saying.
In his mind's eye, out of one crumbling Doric column, he can visualize
the entire city, its denizens and smells, the assembly's agenda
and the potted shrubs. Where the rest of us saw only the empty overgrown
meadow behind our house, riddled with groundhog holes,with
a shallow, muddy stream running through it and a splintering wooden
wagon that I had almost outgrown, he saw his friends: artists and
teachers and butchers, scenic painters and Russian lighting designers,
ship captains and hardware merchants all with a glass in hand, their
laughter rising high above our heads and then evaporating into the
canopy of maple leaves; the weeping willows shedding their leaf tears
down the banks of the stream; fireflies and bagpipers arriving through
the low clinging humidity of summer; a giant pit with four spring
lambs roasting over apple-wood coals; the smell of wood smoke hanging
in the moist summer nighttime air. I mean it. He sees it all romantic
He says, about all of his work, "Everybody else does the bones and
makes sure the thing doesn't fall down. I do the romance."
It must have been my mother, the cook, who was in the kitchen
with the six burners and the two-bin sink making the lima bean salad
and the asparagus vinaigrette and the all-butter shortcakes, counting
out the stacks of paper plates with the help of my older sister - the
two of them doing "the bones" as my father called it. But it was from
him - with his cool, long sideburns and aviator sunglasses, his packet
of unfiltered Camels, and box of watercolor paints (and artist's paycheck) -
from him we learned how to create beauty where none exists,
how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small
corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends.
From him we learned how to make and give luminous parties.
There was a Russian Winter Ball, I remember, for which my dad
got refrigerator-sized cartons of artificial snow shipped in from Texas
and a dry ice machine to fog up the rooms and make the setting feel
like a scene from Dr. Zhivago. And there was a Valentine's Day Lovers'
Dinner, at which my father had hundreds of choux paste éclair swans
with little pastry wings and necks and slivered almond beaks that,
when toasted, became their signature black. He set them out swimming
in pairs on a Plexiglas mirror "pond" the size of a king's matrimonial
bed with confectioner's sugar snow drifts on the banks.
"Swans," he pointed out, "mate for life."
For a kind of Moroccan-themed party that my parents threw, my
dad built low couches from sheets of plywood and covered them with
huge fur blankets and orange velour brought home from the studio.
By the time the candles were lit and the electric lights extinguished,
the whole house looked like a place where the estimable harem of a
great pasha might assemble to offer their man pomegranates, pistachios,
and maybe more carnal treasures. There were tapestries and kilims
stacked as tall as me, where adults stoned on spiced wine and
pigeon pies could lounge. By the time that party really got rolling, I
remember walking from room to dimly lit room feeling acutely the
ethos of the era - the early 1970s - as if it, too, were sprawled out on
the "scene shop" couch wearing long hair and a macramé dress, barely
noticing how late it was and that I was still up.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...