MAY 17, 1637: KEEP YOUR ELBOWS OFF THE TABLE

KEEP YOUR ELBOWS OFF THE TABLE

As first minister to France’s Louis XIII, Cardinal Richileu was a major player in the politics of the early 17th century, transforming France into a powerful centralized state. On a lesser scale, he was a noted patron of the arts. On an even lesser scale (arguably), he made a singular contribution to the etiquette of French dining, which was at the time anything but refined.

Diners used their hands to move food directly to their mouths or speared pieces of meat with the sharp point of their knives. They even used those same knives to pick their teeth. Having grown weary of these displays of gastronomical unpleasantness, Richileu had an inspiration. On May 17, 1637, he ordered the blades of all the palace dinner knives to be rounded off, thus creating what has become the modern dinner knife.

Talk about a trendsetter. The Richileu dinner knife became le dernier cri, the last word in dining. The craze spread throughout continental Europe, even to England of all places. And the American colonies!

AND Don’t Use Your Saxophone as a Spoon

Adolphe Sax was born in Belgium in 1814. His father was a designer of musical instruments who dabbled in the design of horns. Little Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of fifteen. He subsequently studied those two instruments at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

Upon leaving school, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs. Adolphe’s first saximportant invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of twenty-four.

In 1841, Sax moved to Paris, and began working on a new set of instruments, valved bugles, improving their design enough that they became known as saxhorns (fortunately for Sax, the name French horn was already taken by Cardinal Richileu who had whittled a harpsichord into the shape of a horn). These instruments led to the creation of the flugelhorn (sometimes mistakenly credited to Max Flugel). The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium (a forerunner of the smart phonium).

Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bores than the saxhorns. (Notice the names he gave to all these instruments, the mark of a very humble man.  We can only be relieved he didn’t call them Adolphes.) On May 17, 1846, he  patented the instrument for which he is now best known, the you-know-who-ophone, intended for use in both orchestras and concert bands. By this time, Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Saxophones made his reputation, and secured him a job teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1867.

Sax continued to make instruments until his death in 1894. And his saxophones have found their special place in the world of music, often as comic relief.

What is the difference between a saxophone and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump on a trampoline.

Why did Adolphe Sax invent the saxophone? He hated mankind but couldn’t build an atom bomb.

What’s the difference between a saxophone and a vacuum cleaner? You have to plug in the vacuum cleaner before it sucks.

Advertisements

MAY 11, 1888: THE LEADER OF THE BAND

THE LEADER OF THE BAND

Israel Beilin was born on this day in 1888 in a small village in Belarus.  His father, a cantor in a synagogue, with the intimidating name of Moses, uprooted his family in the face of the anti-Jewish pogroms of the late 19th century, emigrating to the United States, where theyalex settled into a cold-water basement flat with no windows in New York City.  At the age of fourteen, Izzy, as he was called, realized that he contributed less to the family than his siblings and decided to leave home. With few survival skills and little education, he found no real employment. His only ability was acquired from his father’s vocation: singing. He joined with a few other youngsters, singing in Bowery saloons popular ballads for whatever customers would give them. Beilin began to recognize the kind of songs that appealed to audiences. In his free time he taught himself to play the piano, picking out tunes when the bar had closed for the night.

 

His first attempt at songwriting was a song called “Marie From Sunny Italy,” written in collaboration with the bar’s pianist. The sheet music to this song is important primarily because of a printer’s error.  The name printed on the cover was misspelled as: ‘I. Berlin.’

 

His meteoric rise as a songwriter came soon after with a song that would become world-famous. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” firmly established Irving Berlin as an instant celebrity and one of America’s foremost musical wonders. He went on to write an estimated 1,500 songs, many becoming major hits, during his 60-year career, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films.  His songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. A list of noted songs might begin with “A Couple of Swells” and end with “You’re Just in Love,” with a whole lot in between.  Here’s a more complete list.

 

George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived” and composer Jerome Kern concluded that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.”

Meanwhile in Romania

On this same date a few years earlier, in 1884, another musical talent was born in Romania.  Like Irving Berlin she emigrated to America at a young age.  Alma Gluck did not have his lasting fame, but she became a successful performer at  the Metropolitan Opera as well as in concerts throughout the country.  She was an early recording pioneer, and her recording of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” sold over a million copies, earning her a gold record, only the seventh to be awarded.

 

 

MAY 4, 1959: VINYL AND GOLD

VINYL AND GOLD

The first Grammy Awards (or Gramophone Awards as they were originally called) honoring achievement in the recording industry were held in 1959. And it was a banner year to start passing out those little gold gramophones.

In contention for Record of the Year was Perry Como with one of his three Top 10 singles for the previous year, “Catch a Falling Star,” Peggy Lee with her biggest hit of the rock era, “Fever,” Frank Sinatra crooning “Witchcraft,” and the are-you-kidding entry, “The Chipmunk Song” by David Seville. Taking home the statuette (to Italy) was Domenico Mondugno and the only foreign language recording to ever win the top prize, “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu.” The recording also won Song of the Year against pretty much the same competition.

For Album of the Year, Sinatra put both his 1958 releases in the running (possibly canceling each other out) – the upbeat Come Fly With Me, his first with arranger Billy May, and Only The Lonely, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Ella Fitzgerald placed one of her several songbook albums in the ring, this one dedicated to Irving Berlin. And Van Cliburn, having won the April 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, scored with Tchaikovksy: Concerto No. 1 In B-Flat Minor, Op. 23. Stiff competition but Henry Mancini was up to it, nailing the first of his 20 Grammy Awards with The Music from Peter Gunn.

Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Como and Cliburn all won in other categories, as did Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Count Basie, Andre Previn, and the Champs (Tequila). The head-scratcher Grammy of the year was in the category Best Country and Western Performance, won by the Kingston Trio for  “Tom Dooley.” Well, it’s not jazz or classical.

APRIL 29, 1946: GOD’LL GET YOU FOR THAT

GOD’LL GET YOU FOR THAT

God was married on this day in 1946. For the second time. He was 70 at the time; she was 21 and, he claimed, a reincarnation of his first wife.

Unlike many other religious leaders who claimed to have God’s ear, Reverend Major Jealous Divine, (1876 – 1965) claimed to be God. Some contemporaries – jealous’ themselves perhaps – claimed he was more charlatan than god. Earlier in his life, before he became God, he was simply the Messenger. He founded what some have called a cult and oversaw its growth into a multiracial and international church.

Father Divine preached extensively in the south where, in 1913, he ran afoul of local ministers and was sentenced to 60 days jail time. While he was serving his sentence, several prison inspectors were injured in an auto accident, which, Father Divine pointed out, was the direct result of their disbelief.

Upon his release, he attracted a following of mostly women in Georgia. In 1914, several of his followers’ husbands and local preachers had Divine arrested for lunacy. This did not have the desired effect; it actually expanded his ministry. Father Divine was found mentally sound in spite of “maniacal” beliefs. When arrested, he had refused to give his name and was tried as John Doe (aka God).

After moving north and attracting a New York following — just as you were saying with a smirk, it could only happen in Georgia — Father Divine was arrested again, this time for disturbing the peace. At his 1932 trial, the jury found him guilty but asked for leniency. Ignoring this request, the judge called him a menace to society and sentenced him to one year in prison and a $500 fine. The 55-year-old judge died of a heart attack a few days later. Father Divine told-you-soed thusly: “I hated to do it. I did not desire Judge Smith to die . . . I did desire that my spirit would touch his heart and change his mind that he might repent and believe and be saved from the grave.”

In 1944, singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer attended one of his sermons – the subject, “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” Mercer was impressed. He returned to Hollywood and, with songwriter Harold Arlen, wrote “Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive”, which was recorded by Mercer himself and the Pied Pipers in 1945. It was also recorded by Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters.  And probably sung a year later at God’s wedding.

 

 

APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

Sick in de Stomach, Part 4: Happy Birthday, Dear Albert

TURTA full hour passed before Christian shouted to Basil. “Is it done yet?”

“This pesky turtle won’t stick his head out so’s I can bop it.”

Basil remained seated next to the tortoise for the rest of the afternoon, leaving only to refill his glass of rum every fifteen minutes or so. Christian and Mutton finally rejoined him.

“Y’know,” Basil confessed, “I sort of forgot which end this turtle’s head is suppose to come outten. Another thing. I got sort of hungry here smellin’ that soup cookin’ so I been having a few tastes now and then and y’know, it tastes sorta good. I think this here turtle’s been sitting next to it so long that it kinda got some turtle taste. I’ll bet if we just add a little sissy sherry, even ol’ Albert’ll like it.”

“Turtle, you say,” said Albert, taking another sip from the bowl that sat on the table in front of him. The others ringed the table, watching in anticipation.

“Caught ‘im myself,” said Basil, grinning.

“It tastes more like sherry with a lot of pepper in it,” said Albert, forcing another sip. By the time they had added the sherry, all that remained of the soup, thanks to the prolonged boiling and Basil’s frequent tasting, were a few charred leaves. Peaches had tried to perk up the bowl of hot sherry and leaves with a healthy dose of pepper. “Interesting leaves,” Albert mused. “My good sherry, I suspect.”

“Only the best for ol’ Albert.”

“I always preferred sherry in a glass, accompanied by a good cigar,” said Albert. “But it’s so much more delicate served hot with leaves floating in it. Perhaps you’ll let me savor it in solitude. I’m afraid I might spill a precious droplet or two with everyone watching. If you’d be so good as to bring a cigar when you return.”

They marched out, and when they returned five minutes later, all that remained of Albert’s birthday soup was a little dampness on the lips of his satisfied smile. Only Peaches noticed the curious puddle underneath the table.

“Thank you, my friends,” said Albert, lighting a cigar. “I only wish there were another bowlful, such is my appetite for turtle soup. Perhaps I’ll go to Guadeloupe tomorrow.”

“Here’s to ol’ Albert bein’ seventy,” said Basil, downing a glass of rum. “Happy birthday, Albert,” chorused the others. Albert smiled, and Peaches was compelled to recite: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .”

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

April 20, 1935: Splish Splash, Snooky Was Taking a Bath

A music staple of the 40s and 50s, Your Hit Parade, made its radio debut on April 20, 1935. It lasted for nearly 25 years before being done in by rock and roll music – and perhaps Snooky Lanson. It began as a 60-minute program with 15 songs played in a random format, and eventually moved to television where the seven top-rated songs of the week were presented each week in elaborate production numbers requiring constant set and costume changes.  The list of top songs was compiled through a closely guarded top secret algorithm that involved record sales, quarters plunked into jukeboxes, shoplifted sheet music and the divination of an unidentified mystic in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dorothy Collins , Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson and Gisèle MacKenzie were top-billed during the show’s peak years. And Lucky Strike cigarettes starred throughout its run.

As the rock and roll era took over, the program’s chief fascination became seeing a singer like Snooky Lanson struggle with songs like Splish Splash and Hound Dog.

Tiny Tomato Killer Strikes Again

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, or so says some annoying pundit.  Likewise, I suppose, it is better to do something positive than curse the mounds of snow still encircling us.  I’ve always been of the curse the darkness ilk, but occasionally I do try and rise above the winter of my discontent and light a candle in the snow.  One of the better remedies for my malaise is the old seed catalog – tiptoeing through the tulips, tomatoes and zinnias almost brings warmth to my icy heart.

If you ever order anything from a seed catalog, you will never have to worry about being without one again.  They will arrive every January just as reliably as your income tax packets.  There’s Seed City, Happy Seeds, Seeds R Us and many more.  Funny thing is they all come from the same little town in the Midwest.  One could develop a dandy conspiracy theory about this: a single little old lady – Granny Burpee – taking seeds out of great big jars and putting them in little envelopes with all those different names so that every spring every one of us plants the same seeds in every garden everywhere.  Are we really planting radishes and marigolds?

Nevertheless I jump in full seed ahead.  Seven tomato varieties, a couple of cucumbers, greens, beans, okra.  Snapdragons, sweet peas, exotic species I’ve never heard of.  “And there’s no such thing as too many sunflowers,” I’m reminded.

There is such a thing as too many seeds, however.  Granny Burpee doesn’t hold back – a hundred seeds here, two hundred there, a thousand.  I’d like to order six tomato seeds, please.  I really only need two cucumber seeds.  The theory seems to be that you must overplant, just in case some of them don’t sprout.

But they all sprout.

I wanted a couple of tomatoes.  I planted a plastic seed-starting tray, two or three seeds in each of its six cubicles.  Twenty tomato plants emerge.  Just thin out the extra plants, the catalogs advise, leaving one healthy tomato plant in each cubicle.  That’s theory again.  From over my shoulder, as I carefully pull out the runts of the seedlings:  “You’re not going to murder those little plants, are you?”

Come June, I have twenty tomato plants, a dozen cucumbers, a dozen nasturtium, I don’t know how many dozen sunflowers, a sea of seedlings that I forgot to label, and six zucchini.   With six zucchini plants, I’ll be able to place a giant zucchini on the back seat of every unlocked car in Vermont.

Maybe I’ll curse the darkness for a while.

APRIL 11, 1938: GIVE ME AN ALTO OR GIVE ME DEATH

GIVE ME AN ALTO OR GIVE ME DEATH

Call it destiny. Two men stranded in Kansas City when a storm closed the airport met in a hotel lobby, engaged in conversation, and – go figure – discovered they each had profound worries about the future of the barbershop quartet. This was not just empty lamenting on the part of Owen C. Cash and Rupert I. Hall; these founding fathers acted, and the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America was born. They wrote a letter that became a mission statement:

“In this age of dictators and government control of everything, about the only privilege guaranteed by the Bill of Rights not in some way supervised or directed is the art of barbershop quartet singing. Without a doubt, we still have the right of peaceable assembly which, we are advised by competent legal authority, includes quartet singing.

“The writers have, for a long time, thought that something should be done to encourage the enjoyment of this last remaining vestige of human liberty. Therefore, we have decided to hold a songfest on the roof garden of the Tulsa Club on Monday, April 11, 1938, at 6:30 pm.”

Twenty-six men attended that first rooftop meeting. Attendance at subsequent meetings multiplied rapidly, and at the third meeting, 150 harmonizers stopped traffic on the street below. A reporter for the Tulsa Daily World put the story on the national news wires and the rest is history.

Today the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA, as it’s more familiarly known) has 25,000 members,. That acronym SPEBSQSA was the founders’ way of demonstrating that one could  be a barbershop quartet enthusiast and still have a sense of humor; it was a parody of the New Deal’s “alphabet soup” of acronyms, and the society has said “attempts to pronounce it are discouraged.”

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons — No. 7

Imagery

img·ery \ˈi-mij-rē, -mi-jə-\

A literary device in which the author uses words and phrases to create “mental images” that help the reader better imagine the world the author has created.

With Huey at the wheel, South Miami, Key Largo and Marathon had been blurs in a landscape littered with condominiums and palm trees and then longer and longer stretches looking out to sea. Squadrons of pelicans flying in Blue Angel formation patrolled the waters offshore. Occasionally one would break ranks and swoop down to make an arrest. The perp quickly disappeared into the pelican’s private holding tank, demanding perhaps a phone call to his lawyer. But he was quickly swallowed without benefit of counsel like so much seafood. A large billboard urged them to “go all the way” to Key West, and Huey announced that they would make it in time for the sunset.

 

Put yourself in the picture: Voodoo Love Song

 

APRIL 1, 1903: THE TENOR NOSE

The Tenor Nose

Fabrio Abruzzi was born in a village near Milan in 1883. The Abruzzi family was quite poor with Fabrio’s father cobbling together their existence as a shoemaker. Almost from the time Fabrio could walk, he was put to work pounding leather for his father. He was a nice boy (the villagers lovingly called him bambino brutto) and he was hard-working although his mind would wander and he frequently distracted himself by singing popular Italian folk songs.

As a child, he always had a pleasant singing voice and when, as a teenager, his voice changed, it became a magnificent tenor voice. Fate smiled on Fabrio. A LaScala impresario happened through the village and heard the young man sing as he pounded leather. He took Fabrio under his wings, coached him extensively and on April 1, 1903, scheduled his debut as the principal tenor in Puccini’s Euripedes et Copernica.

On the day of his performance, he prepared himself (as many leading singers of the day did) by forcing lumps of pancetta up each nostril of his nose to lubricate the nasal passages (he had a magnificent Roman nose). Unfortunately, the pancetta became wedged there and he was forced to go on stage with it still in place. Things looked bad. Fabrio did not sound like a magnificent tenor; his voice was stuffy and nasal. The audience was growing restless with the need to toss tomatoes (which Italians always brought with them to the opera). Fortunately, the famous aria ti amo mortadella comes early in the first act. It’s a robust piece and Fabrio gave it his all, thereby dislodging the pancetta and hurtling meaty projectiles through the air. One put a crack in the second violinist’s Stradavarius; the other slammed into the conductor’s forehead, causing him to lead the orchestra off into an unrestrained allegro punctuated by several tomatoes to the back of his head.

But Fabrio was a success. He went on to have a short but illustrious career and was known throughout Italy as voce bellissima brutte facce.

Pancetta Projectiles in 3-D Perhaps

In a letter dated April 1, 1954, Edwin Eugene Mayer explained how he progressed from his early career as a pharmacist in Portland, Oregon, to head of the nation’s largest producer of photographic postcards. Somewhere along the way, Mayer had a eureka moment: updating the old-fashioned 3-D stereoscope. The result, introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair, was the View-Master (although Mayer disliked the name; he thought it sounded like some kind of kitchen appliance).

It must have been cumbersome at first, loading all those tiny people and objects into the viewer, sending the viewer back to the factory to be reloaded with new little people and objects once you got tired of the first bunch. But clever Mayer came up with a fix. Instead of loading actual little people and objects into the viewer, he developed a reel with pictures using the fancy new Kodachrome 16 mm film that had become available. The reel had seven pairs of transparencies, fooling the person looking into the viewer that he or she is seeing 3-D. The original reels were mainly scenic, but through the years, content expanded into adaptations of cartoons, movies and television. Since View-Masters introduction, there have been 25 different viewer models. The reels and the internal mechanisms have remain unchanged so that any of the more than a billion reels that have been produced will work in any viewer.

View-Master has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Still More 3-D

Somewhere between the stereoscope and the View-Master, another inventor was beguiled by the wonders of 3-D.  Mervin Ipod spent several years in an attempt to develop a working 3-D radio.  Unfortunately those years were spent in vain, although Mervin Ipod did go on to a bit more success with the invention that bears his name — the Mervinator.

MARCH 30, 1858: PENCIL ME IN

PENCIL ME IN

Our story begins in Philadelphia where Hymen J. Lipman in the mid-19th century became one of the city’s leading stationers and founded the first ever envelope company in the United States. Lipman didn’t just content himself with envelopes. His vision took him to pencils as well. And on March 30, 1858, the forward-looking Lipman earned himself a patent for a pencil with an eraser built right into one end of it. This was a giant step for the pencil industry.

Enter Joseph Reckendorfer. Reckendorfer looked at Lipman’s pencil and saw dollar signs. He also saw himself as a titan of the pencil industry. He would be to pencils what Rockefeller was to oil, what Vanderbilt was to railroads. He bought the pencil patent from Lipman for $100,000 (the equivalent of a couple million today).

But alas it wasn’t to be. Pencil manufacturer A. W. Faber began producing eraser-tipped pencils without paying a penny in royalties to Reckendorfer. Reckendorfer sued Faber.  In 1875, the lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court which declared the patent invalid, reasoning that Lipman’s design combined a known technology, the pencil, with another known technology, the eraser, not creating a new use which was bad news for Reckendorfer.

Only on the Internet

In 2008, the 150th anniversary of Lipman’s invention, word went round the web that this was the 150th anniversary of the invention of the pencil. As a result, someone declared March 30 National Pencil Day. And possibly that same someone paraded a photograph of Hymen Lipman that was actually a young Edgar Allen Poe.

On the corner of Sodom and Gomorrah

The town of Zion, Illinois, banned all jazz performances on this musicless day, labeling them sinful, right up there with tobacco and alcohol and sexting as things its citizens could well do jazzwithout. The very name was thought (correctly) to have a sexual connotation. The decadent rhythms and wild dancing it elicited were feared (correctly) to be leading young people down the road to sexual abandon, degeneracy, and bad manners. “Oh, you got trouble right here in Zion city.”

Zion is far removed from New Orleans and its bordellos, a place synonymous with jazz and sin. The city was founded in 1901 by John Alexander Dowie as a place where people of faith could come together and live in a moral environment. The population was 24,413 as of the 2010 census. Zion is one of only a few cities in the world to have been completely planned out before building. And Dowie thought of just about everything. The north-south roads in the original plan are all named from the Bible –Ezekiel Place; Gabriel, Galilee, and Gideon Avenues; Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but no John. And no Duke Ellington Circle or Thelonious Monk Boulevard.

MARCH 21, 1867: ON A SHOW BOAT TO BROADWAY

ON A SHOW BOAT TO BROADWAY

“Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!”

American Broadway impresario, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. was born March 21, 1867 (died July 22, ZigfeldFollies19121932). The theater bug came to Ziegfeld early; while still in his teens, he was already running variety shows. In 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Flo returned with the Von Bulow Military Band — and Eugene Sandow, “the world’s strongest man.”

Ziegfeld was particularly noted for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris – spectacular extravaganzas, full of beautiful women, talented performers, and the best popular songs of the time – and was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”.

“Let us grant that a girl qualifies for one of my productions. It is interesting to note what follows. First, it is clearly outlined to her what she is expected to do. She may be impressed at the outset that the impossible is required, but honest application and heroic perseverance on her part plus skillful and encouraging direction by experts very seldom fail to achieve the desired results. But it is only through constant, faithful endeavor by the girl herself that the goal eventually is reached.”

He also produced musicals in his own newly built Ziegfeld Theatre – Rio Rita, which ran for nearly 500 performances, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Whoopee! and Show Boat. Several of his musicals hit the movie screens, including three different versions of Show Boat. William Powell played Flo in the 1932 biopic, The Great Ziegfeld, and a 1946 film recreated the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies.

Yellow Bird, Part III: Parrot Lust

The English ornithologist did not wear tweed; he wore casual island attire and was tan, not pasty. Rachel, Antoine noted, was doing her level best toYELLOW hide her beauty. Prim shirt and slacks hid beaux nichons; dowdy glasses framed dark eyes; and her hair was pulled up into one of those buns that so titillate the English. She was attired for her fellow ornithologist, not Antoine. They sat at a table near the edge of the patio looking out at the tamarind tree.

Antoine brought a bottle of wine to the table and placed it between them. “Compliments of the house.”

“Please,” said Rachel with a disarming smile that softened the severity of the glasses and bun, “sit with us.”

“Thank you,” said Antoine. “But only for a moment. The lunch patrons will be arriving shortly and I must prepare.”

“Antoine,” said Rachel, “this is Arnold Covington. Arnold, this is my friend Antoine.” The two men nodded at each other, as Antoine sat and poured wine for his guests. He filled Rachel’s glass, then turned to Covington, but Covington stretched his hand over the top of the glass and said: “None for me, thank you. I don’t drink.”

Antoine clucked as he pulled Covington’s glass back and filled it for himself. “You are from Martinique, I am told. A lovely place.”

“Do you think so?” said Covington. “I’m afraid I find it wanting.”

“There’s the parrot,” said Rachel. She pointed toward the top of the tamarind tree. “See? Up there.”

Covington looked up at the tree and hummed. On those rare occasions when the English mind works, thought Antoine, it’s noisy. Antoine stared at the staring Covington without attempting to hide his disgust, but then he felt Rachel’s hand resting on his knee. He turned to her and her smile at once melted his anger, and it said to him: “I know this man’s a complete ass. He’s a bore and I’m sorry I brought him. He’s a colleague and nothing more. He’s not half the man you are. But that’s to be expected isn’t it.” And Antoine felt better.

Covington continued to stare at the tree.

“Do you think he’ll fly down here, Antoine?” asked Rachel. “He did yesterday.”

Antoine shrugged. “Who’s to say? The bird has a mind of its own.” But he was now satisfied that the bird had no intention of cooperating with the English ornithologist. Undaunted, Covington pulled a small pair of binoculars from his pocket, put them to his eyes, and continued to study the bird.

“Psittacus antilles vulgaria,” said Covington after a few minutes. “The pronounced yellowness of the head, the squareness of the tail – no question about it, it’s an Antilles Parrot.”

“Voila!” said Antoine, raising hands and eyes skyward. “I always thought it was a parrot.” Rachel giggled, but Covington just glowered at him. “I told the silly bird he was a parrot. He thought he was an eagle; but he’s merely a sittingwhatsis with delusions of grandeur.”

“He’s not merely anything,” Covington said with a sniff. “That’s a very rare bird. Very rare. They’re virtually extinct. We have four females in captivity on Martinique. But no males. Of course, I must take him to Martinique.” Rachel and Covington both stared at Antoine who looked out between them at the tamarind tree.

“I doubt that the bird would want to go to Martinique,” said Antoine, emphasizing each word. “I think he likes it here. I think he finds Martinique wanting.” Antoine’s remarks were lost on Covington who once again stared at the parrot through his binoculars. Rachel shook her head, and Antoine shrugged in return. Then, spotting a young couple sitting down at a table behind them, he jumped up and excused himself.

During the next two hours, diners came, diners dined and diners departed, singing the praises of Antoine and Bistro Francaise. The proprietor himself bustled here and there, keeping himself far busier than normal, never admitting to himself that he was avoiding the odious Covington and his parrot lust. Finally, only one table remained occupied, and Antoine was delighted to see that it was occupied by only one person – Rachel. They didn’t discuss Covington or the parrot again until later that afternoon when they had departed the cafe in favor of a pretty, black-sand beach – a secluded stretch of paradise where, Antoine pointed out, one could take the sun in the French manner if one chose to. Rachel took freely to the French manner, and now Antoine sat admiring the subtle movements of her body as she talked.

“He’s not that bad,” she said. “A little short on manners, perhaps, but so are some others.” Her dark eyes flashed at Antoine who just grinned. “And he is very intelligent. He’s right about the parrot. If they aren’t bred, they’ll disappear forever.” She leaned back to let the sun and Antoine’s steady gaze caress her.

“Do you have a relationship?” asked Antoine.

“Do you care?”

“I asked, did I not?”

“Professional.”

“You have rebuffed him?”

“There hasn’t been any need to. He’s never attempted to move the relationship beyond professional.”

“He is a fool.”

Rachel leaned toward him and let the deep dark eyes do their thing. “Thank you,” she said. “At least I think that was a compliment.”

“A statement of fact. The man must be nearly dead to ignore such a companion to study a wretched bird in a tree.”

“A Frenchman, however, would ignore the bird, lure her to a romantic beach, coax her out of her clothes . . .”

“But of course,” said Antoine, clapping his hands.

“And?” said Rachel, letting her dark eyes drop downward in mock innocence.

“Beaches are for lovemaking,” said Antoine.

“Are they now?” said Rachel, looking at him again. “You’re a forward fellow, aren’t you?”

“Life is short. So is your holiday. It leaves little time for a cat-and-mouse courtship.”

“So we skip right to the seduction?”

“Seduction is such a harsh word. I find you amazingly attractive. I think that you perhaps do not find me distasteful. Given those circumstances, I believe a liaison is appropriate. Do you disagree?”

“What about your bird?” asked Rachel, pulling back.

“I do not find my bird that attractive.”

Rachel laughed and said: “No, I mean what about your bird going to Martinique?”

“Am I to assume that our liaison depends on it?”

“Of course not,” said Rachel, riveting her dark eyes on him.

“I must think about it,” said Antoine. “It is a difficult decision.”

“That’s all I ask,” said Rachel, leaning into him until their warm skin touched and their liaison on the black-sand beach enveloped them.

Antoine was working at his papers when the bird made its usual showy entrance, once more sending a flurry of papers into the air.

“Damn you,” said Antoine.

“Damn you,” said the bird.

Antoine looked up at the bird and smiled an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid I have betrayed you, mon ami.”

The bird cocked its head and looked back at Antoine. “You’re a frog.”

“Hurl your insults, little feathered friend. I deserve them. I am a beast. Base sexual desire has led me to cruel infidelity. Like a drug addict that will do anything to satisfy his craving. Willing to pay any price for a moment’s pleasure.”

Beaux nichons,” said the parrot.

“I’m afraid so,” said Antoine. “I’m afraid so.” He stared at the parrot, then broke into a grin. “But why do I say such things. It is not so. I have done you a great favor.” He clapped his hands, and the parrot lifted its wings and stepped backward as though about to retreat to the tamarind tree. “My selfless liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons has created for you a grand opportunity. You, lucky bird, are going to Martinique – a beautiful place – for a liaison with, not one, but four yellow birds with deep dark eyes and beaux nichons. “What do you say to that, ungrateful bird?”

“God save the Queen.”

This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.