Category Archives: Non-Fiction
Q.109. A dewdrop
Why does a dewdrop on a blade of grass shine so? Is it not a beautiful thing to so?
‘The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dewdrop from the Sun.’
A marvellous affair of Nature. The sunlight enters the drop – suffers many internal reflections and emerges in a bundle of light. We can even see the colours of the rainbow in it. It glitters like a diamond – but I would rather have a dewdrop. And when at break of day I see the wetness on my grass I recall the poet’s line:
‘Early, bright, transient, chaste as morning dew.’
Changes in Weather, How to Foretell
Rain invariably follows –
when cattle sniff the air and herd together in a corner of the field with their heads to leeward, or take shelter in the sheds;
when sheep leave the pasture unwillingly;
when dogs lie about the fireside more than usual and appear drowsy;
when cats turn their backs to the fire and wash their faces;
when pigs cover themselves more than usual in litter;
when cocks crow at unusual hours and flap their wings much;
when hens chant;
when ducks and geese are unusually noisy;
when pigeons wash themselves;
when peacocks squall loudly from trees;
when the guinea fowl makes a continuous grating clamour;
when sparrows chirp loudly and with much fuss congregate on the ground or elsewhere;
when swallows fly low and skim their wings on account of the flies upon which they feed having descended toward the ground;
when the carrion crow croaks solitarily;
when wild water fowl dip and wash unusually;
when moles throw up hills more industriously;
when toads creep out in numbers;
when frogs croak;
when bats squeak and enter houses;
when singing birds take shelter;
when the robin approaches nearest the house;
when tame swans fly against the wind;
when bees leave their hives with caution and fly short distances;
when ants carry their eggs busily;
when flies bite severely and become troublesome in numbers; and
when earth worms appear on the surface.
We took the two rafts out of the cave. And straight away all three of us were soaked to the skin. The wind was blowing with the particular howl of a strong gale coming right in from the offing. Sylvain and Chang helped me shove my raft to the top of the rock. At the last moment I decided to chain my left wrist to the rope binding the sacks. All at once I was afraid of losing my hold and being swept away without them. Sylvain got up on to the opposite rock, helped by Chang. The moon was high now and we could see very well.
I had rolled a towel round my head. There were six waves to be waited for. Only a few minutes left now. Chang had come back to my side. He hugged me round the neck and then kissed me. He was going to lie there wedged in an angle of the rock and grip my legs to help me withstand’ the shock of Lisette’s breaking.
‘Only one morel’ shouted Sylvain. ‘Then we’re away.’ He was standing in front of his raft so as to protect it from the mass of water that was about to sweep over it. I was in the same position and in addition I had Chang’s hands to hold me firm – in his excitement he had driven his nails into the flesh of my calf.
Lisette came for us, driving in as tall as a steeple. She broke on our two rocks with her usual enormous crash and rushed up the side of the cliff.
I flung myself in a fraction of a second before my friend: he was in immediately after, and it was with the two rafts tight against one another that Lisette swept us racing out to sea. In less than five minutes we were more than three hundred yards from the shore. Sylvain had not yet climbed up on to his raft. I’d got on to mine within two minutes. Chang had hurried up to Dreyfus’s seat, and he was waving a scrap of white cloth – his last farewell. Now it was a good five minutes that we had been beyond the dangerous zone where the waves formed to drive right in for Devil’s Island. Those that we were now riding were much longer, they had almost no foam, and they were so regular that we drifted along as though we were part of them; we were not tossed about and the rafts did not attempt to capsize. We rose and fell upon these great rollers, slowly moving out into the offing, for this was the ebb.
Once again, as I reached the top and turned my head right round, I caught a last glimpse of Chang’s white handkerchief. Sylvain was not far from me – perhaps fifty yards farther out to sea. Several times he held up his arm and waved it by way of showing triumph and delight.
During our time in Chicago, The Tribune ran a full-page ad about a boat excursion on Lake Michigan. I looked at that ad with great longing. Both my brother and my mother watched me as I stared at it.
“Dick, you’d like to go on that boat, wouldn’t you?” Lynn asked.
“I sure would,” I replied.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “We’ll put a bank on the table and all of us will put our spare cash into it. The night before the boat sails, we will open the bank. If there is enough for all of us to go, we’ll go and if there isn’t enough for all of us, then none of us will go. Is this a fair agreement?”
I agreed it was. I was willing to grasp at any hope at all.
We lived in an apartment house on Halstead Street. I ran errands for a doctor, an undertaker, and a dentist, who also lived in our apartment. We all did our part in putting what we could into the bank on the table.
As a boy, it was difficult for me to wait for the opening of the bank. The occasion is still fresh in my memory: I can see my brother trying to use a knife to slip the coins out of the acorn crockery bank, and because of the slowness of the process, finally taking a hammer and smashing it, causing the money to roll on the table. I was very excited as I watched him count it. And I was heartbroken when he announced it was $1.77 short.
It was more than I could take. I ran out of the house and went behind an old barn that was still at the back of the property and there I burst into tears. When I got control of myself, I returned to the house and my brother said, “Dick, I think we’d better stick to our agreement. We can’t go on the excursion, but tomorrow you and I will go down and watch the big boat sail.”
The next morning Lynn and I got up early. After he had done some chores, we took a streetcar to the Chicago Loop. We stood on the bridge at a good vantage point to observe all the excitement on the pier below. The flags were flying, the band was on the ship’s top-deck playing, and many, many people were waiting to board the ship.
The gangplank was lowered and the chain let down. The people poured onto the boat. In a short time the bell sounded, the whistle blew, and the chain was pulled across the gangplank.
Many of those left behind were very disappointed. Such cursing and swearing I had never heard before! As I remember, one man was permitted to crawl under the chain and go up the gangplank. The bell on the ship rang again, the whistle blew, the gangplank was pulled aboard, and the ropes to the pier were loosened.
And then, before our eyes, that giant ship, the Eastland, tipped over in the Chicago River. Something had happened on shore that had caused the ship’s passengers to rush to one side. About the only ones saved were those who had been on the top deck. Many of these crawled to shore over the bodies of those beneath them.
Soon, men were piling human bodies on the pier like one might stack boxes. The city sent dump wagons pulled by horses to carry the corpses to the funeral parlors.
God’s act of withholding $1.77 had almost certainly saved my life!
Ultra Violet (Isabelle Dufresne) visits Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1964
Piles of silk screens are stacked along the west wall of the loft. I spot a large screen, about six feet by twelve feet, that depicts in dark ink the background of two flowers side by side, each about six feet in diameter, one larger than the other, and barely touching. We unroll on the floor some virgin canvas, on top of which we lay the flower stencil.
“What color?” he asks.
“Make it violet, since that’s my name and I’m a flower myself.”
Using a can opener, he lifts the top of a gallon can of deep violet Benjamin Moore paint. He adds a dollop of white and with a roller, applies it to the screen over one of the flowers.
“What about the other flower?” he asks.
“Orange? That’s complementary to violet.”
He opens a premixed can of orange paint and rolls the color back and forth across the other flower. The whole process takes a few minutes. We remove the silk screen and see those two colourful flowers pop out at us from the canvas.
I feel my heart jump with the excitement of experiencing the creation of this large Pop Art painting. I ask him if he’ll give it to me. After all, he’s never paid me for the films we are doing together. No, he won’t give it to me, but he’ll sell it cheap, below his dealer’s price. We agree on $2,000. I write him a check on the spot for $1,000 and later give him another $1,000 that I scrounge together. I still have the two receipts, on each of which he scribbled, “Two flowers, sold to Isabel defraine, $1,000.”
In 1970 Gordon Locksley, a Minneapolis art dealer, offers me $40,000 for the Two Flowers. In 1975 I am offered $125,000 by Ivan Karp of the O.K. Harris Gallery. In 1980 Andy tells me the painting is worth $200,000. I don’t know how much the scribbled receipts are worth. The painting hangs in my living room. It costs me a fortune just to keep it insured.
My own introduction to foie gras was, in a way, my introduction to France, and to the rigor that sustained its apparent self-indulgence. On a visit to Paris in the 1970s, when Marie-Dominique was my girlfriend and not my wife, we lunched at one of the big brasseries near the Gare du Nord, where, she suggested I might enjoy foie gras as a starter.
Well, try anything once. And I didn’t want to appear gauche by admitting it was my first time.
The thin slices of liver, gleaming gold and beige with the slickness of fat, arrived, garnished with the gelée that gathers when it’s cooked. A metal dish contained slices of thin dry toast folded in a napkin.
“There’s no butter,” I said, scanning the table.
“Why do you need butter?”
“For the toast.”
“For foie gras, you don’t butter the toast.”
“Dry toast isn’t very inviting,” I protested. “Couldn’t we ask the waiter?”
Her vehemence was startling. I shut up and ate my toast dry – to find, of course, that she was perfectly right. Foie gras is as fatty as butter and to combine the two would have been absurd. Even worse, from the French point of view, it would have transgressed the spirit of comme il faut – the way things should be. In doing so, it would have also, which was worse, invited the derision of the waiting staff (“Can you believe, this plouc of a tourist wanted butter with foie gras!”) and thus made us look foolish. This had already happened on an earlier trip to Paris for the BBC. After a hard day of interviews, the producer and I returned to our hotel and, not realizing the French never drink cognac before dinner, ordered a reviving Courvoisier while we waited for Marie-Do, whom we were taking to dinner.
As she sat down, the waiter asked superciliously, “Mademoiselle also desires a digestif?”