Wednesday, August 12, 2020

A Note on the Anniversary of Ruth’s Passing

Portrait from Play It As It Lays, 1972

Eleven years ago today Ruth Ford passed away in her bedroom at the Dakota. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and about how lucky she really was. She was lucky in almost every way, and she was lucky in the period of time she got to live in. But the time she died, most of her good friends had already gone on ahead. In March of this year, one of Ruth’s good friends who was still here, and still writing plays, succumbed to the Covid-19 virus. That was Terrence McNally. He had been one of her most regular guests at the Dakota, and was someone she liked and respected very much. 

I remember going to a book signing he gave years ago in Montauk. He was surrounded by his friends and admirers, and I like to think that he found himself surrounded that way again after he died.  In the summers of the 1990s we would often be out there, Charles, me, and sometimes Ruth. Charles would always rent a house not far from the beach. We used to visit Peter Beard at his big house out there, from where we could see the Montauk lighthouse. He was another very interesting person who died within the last year, and has gone on to wherever they all went. 

I like to think that Ruth and her colorful group of friends are re-united in some other place to continue all that they loved doing. They were the people who made beautiful things, the entertainers, the poets. I wonder if she’s gotten to see William Faulkner again, and the youngest of his three brothers, Dean, who she dated for a while. Dean Falkner (he spelled it without the added letter ‘u’ that William put there) died a very long time ago, very young, in a small plane crash. He was a pilot, and the plane had been a gift from William, who felt very guilty for having given it to him.

I like to think of Ruth getting to see her mother, Gertrude Cato, as much as she might like, and of course, I love to think of Ruth and Charles the way I saw them so often here in this life. Charles never liked to carry luggage. He was the lightest traveler I ever knew. Whenever we’d go to Paris, or to Crete, from New York, he would carry the tiniest little bag, and I only had a carry-on bag as well. He would pester Ruth to travel lightly, too. Once when she came to visit in Crete, she came out of the taxi with a very small bag in her hand. Charles was delighted and exclaimed that she’d done it, she’d finally managed to travel with almost nothing, and made it just fine. But Ruth laughed and said, “This is just my makeup bag, Honey,” and the rest of course, was still in the taxi. 

When she left the last time, on this day in 2009, Ruth didn’t take a single thing with her. I know, because I was there beside her, and I know that she left everything behind. I can imagine Charles greeting her on the other side, saying, “See? You made it just fine, without a single bag!” All she had with her was 98 years’ worth of experiences, and it’s lucky that those can all fit so neatly into our spirits. 

Still thinking of you, Ruth. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

112th Birthday of Charles Henri Ford

112th Birthday of Charles Henri Ford

Portrait of Charles Henri Ford in Poppy Field by Pavel Tchelitchew (1933).

Among the curious happenings sharing the date of February 10th was the opening of the collaborative opera by Charles’s good friend Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson in New York. Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in New York City on February 10th, 1934. The opera starred an entirely black cast and was directed by the notable black choral conductor Eva Jessye. 

A book was written about all that went into bringing that production to the New York stage called Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism, by Steven Watson. In the index, you’ll find Charles Henri Ford along with many other famous names. Charles lives in the indexes of many books because he was someone who always knew everyone who was busy doing anything interesting and new, and he was usually somehow part of all of those things. 

I think that anyone who is too young to remember, but curious about some of Charles's achievements, will find this video (made by Steve Zehentner) interesting. This was a talk given by Steven Watson about Charles and his life on the occasion of Charles’s memorial, after he passed away in 2002. Charles’s life was spoken of in a lot of details on that day, and every year since, Charles has only been missed more and the interest in him has only increased.

Charles, I’m still getting letters from writers and scholars asking for permission to quote you, and to reproduce your poetry and artworks in books and articles. Since you’ve left, I have not met anyone who I can say is more interesting than you. Happy birthday to you, Charles. I hope there’s a daring new opera being produced just for you, wherever you are. 

- Indra Tamang
  February 10th, 2020

copyright © Indra Tamang 2018, all rights reserved.