Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 67, Sunday August 4th
I’ve been sleeping on a camp bed in the lounge at Barbara and John’s. Just by the bed is Barbara’s large collection of photography books. I browse through a large book about Robert Mapplethorpe who the UK press has been writing about extensively (“provocative”, “disgusting”, depending on which paper) since his death in 1989.
Rowland departed early for his Peace Corps vigil at Kennedy’s tomb (I think). When John gets up we take a ride in his 1984 Saab (bought in Sweden and with 124,o00 miles on the clock) to the local supermarket to buy blueberry muffin mix. John is a mathematician and works for the secret service.
Rowland returns in time for brunch (freshly baked blueberry muffins!) and we’re joined by Barbara’s lawyer friend Louise, who is travelling to England in the Autumn to do the Cornish Coastal path with a friend. Barbara has two children from her dissolved marriage: Jordan, who I met yesterday, and Chelsea (Rowland reckons I’ll be impressed by that choice of name, shared with daughter of a presidential nominee) who is working for CBS News over the summer before moving to Florence, Italy. She sings and so we’re urged to perform a couple of songs, me on piano, the total absence of practice abundantly clear.
Barbara is a keen gardener and Louise advises her. Their backyard is very small but the planting layout makes it look more substantial. Louise asks if Sissinghurst is anywhere near Cornwall. I tell her it isn’t but that it is very near where I now live and she’d be welcome to visit. Americans seem to know more about Sissinghurst and its extraordinary owners than we (or at least I) do.
I make use of the red-eye reducer facilitator on my camera to take a photo of this happy gathering. It beams a rapid pulse of red light at the subject, causing eye pupils to dilate. Barbara comments that ‘small doses of radiation are not harmful’. That sparks off a round of jokes.
Rowland and I depart just after midday. We’ll visit Dumbarton Oaks and the Phillips Collection on Q Street before driving back to Maplewood. I imagine Stravinsky‘s Dumbarton Oaks, a 30th wedding anniversary commission from Robert and Mildred Bliss, the estate’s then owners, jubilantly pulsing in the afternoon air above the famous sloping gardens.
At this point my camera’s tele-photo mechanism jams. With luck, it’s just the battery.
The Phillips Collection was founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921 and that makes it the first museum of modern art in America. It is notable for its collections of Bonnard, Daumier and Rothko but also has some wonderful Klee (Arab song), Bracques (Round table) and Picasso (Bullfight). Cézanne’s Mt St Victoire (with the viaduct) is there and there’s a special collection of early American modernist, Maurice Prendergast.
I made copious notes on my Casio electronic diary, which turned out to be the last I would make on it. Tech crises: first the camera breaks, then the Casio gets stolen,
We break our home journey in Baltimore for a seafood supper at Connolly’s in the trendy Inner Harbor district. I’d been driving when we parked the car and was sure all the doors had been locked and our belongings left concealed. Perhaps one of the windows was not fully closed. On our return we can see that a rear window has been forced down and our belongings ransacked. The only bag left untouched, apart from those containing recycled cans, contains my clothes and travel documents, but they have taken my MIDEM shoulder bag that contains my Casio electronic diary and umbrella. At first, I was afraid they’d snatched my journal (the one I’m now transcribing) but it’s safe among the clothes. I report the theft to the nearest Baltimore police station. They are unimpressed: “Why are you reporting this, sir?” In America’s murder capital, this minimal loss is less than a minor irritant, and I will probably get the same reaction from my insurance company.
We make good time back along the Turnpike and reach Maplewood by 12.45.