Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 13, Tuesday, June 11

(Day 13 — ominous?)

I spent the morning scheduling further visits and following up leads in the Dana Library, but only managed to arrange one visit: to the Butler Library, CUNY, the home of oral history.

Lunch with Paul Machlin and Vincent — chicken in lemon that took forty minutes to arrive. We spot a book on the shelf in the bar: 100 ways to cook chicken and enquire as to whether they’re trying all the numbers before the lemon recipe. They give us free iced tea for waiting.

I make more progress with the IJS oral history documentation and follow up an enquiry made by Val Wilmer about Benny Carter’s contacts with Ken Snakehips Johnson. Ed Berger is the expert on Benny Carter but we come up with nothing. I switch to researching Reginald Foresythe. Jayne (as director of Quadrivium) has just started representing the Willem Breuker Kollektief and they have been asking about his compositions. They have already recorded Serenade to a wealthy widow, one of his most popular pieces since the 1930s. As I listen to Dodging a divorcee, Dan pokes his head around the door -”Is that a bass-oo-oo-n?”. I’ve quickly assembled plenty of fragments to make something of a whole article or report but according to Dan (who already knows so much about Foresythe that’s not been written down!) Max Harrison is doing a major job on him.

It’s been a humid day and it has just stopped raining when I leave work to attend Immigrant voices, an International Festival of the Arts event. I was the sole traveller on the ferry from Hoboken to Battery Park, the West Shore of which is the departure point for Immigrant voices that is taking place, appropriately, on Ellis Island. Heading south through Battery Park City I encounter a building site and fencing. I double back, assuming West Shore to be where I’ve just landed on the ferry. Already late for the publicised departure time I ask for directions but nobody knows where West Shore is. More worryingly, nobody connected with the Festival knows anything about Immigrant voices! In desperation I headed south again along West Street hoping to hail a taxi, but none stop. I start to run (it’s 88 degrees F again) and finally I encounter the end of the queue. I was the last to board the ferry but managed to get a good position to take photos on the new Olympus of a motor-cycle posse, Manhattan from the water, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Ellis Island, arrival point for transatlantic immigrants (Wikipedia)

The event, held in the Ellis Island hall where more than 12 million immigrants were inspected after disembarkation, between 1892 and 1954, is a but of a disappointment. The music by Ellen Taffe Zwilich was richly scored and well sung by the New York International Festival of the Arts choir, but I found it bombastic. Geoffrey Ward’s text — impressions of immigrants’ hopes, realities, despair and relief - was read by well-known actors from various countries but poor PA blurred intelligibility. It didn’t help that the performance’s later moments were overwhelmed by the arrival of an immense thunderstorm.

Immigrants queuing in the hall at Ellis Island (saveellisIsland.org)

All was calm again when I came out of the hall but back on the top deck of the ferry the sluices re-opened. It poured and thundered for about 45 minutes. I was drenched from the knees down and managed only a couple of photos of Manhattan’s nocturnal illumination.

Thunderstorm over Manhattan, 2012 (photo by Clarence Holmes, permission request pending)

There were no taxis at the Manhattan quayside, so I had to walk back up to the World Trade Center, discovering just how inadequate street drainage is in New York for coping with such heavy downpours. My thin-soled Church shoes were ruined. I also believe I came close to getting mugged. As I entered a covered walkway to escape from the rain, three young men got to their feet and walked menacingly towards me. Without a second thought, I headed back out into the rain.

The rain had eased by the time I returned to Maplewood. The warm night air hissed with saturation scented by tree blossom but I was not singing.