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Monday, May 23, 2011

Unusual Encounters – CREDO CXLI

Recent cyber communications have mentioned Thomas Mann, Freud, and Adler, and I suppose I should mention my surprising brief connecting with all three in meaningful ways.

In the summer of 1939, my parents and I – then 16 – spent the summer at the seaside Huis ter Duin hotel in Noordwijk, Holland. I was living one of the most exciting times of my life: tennis, riding, dancing, swimming, falling in love, being a naïve teenager, yet at the same time, writing poems that were being published in the Paris Herald Tribune that contradicted my outward persona. Thomas Mann and his wife and daughter Erika (who later married W. H. Auden) were also guests. Apparently Mann was intrigued by the contrast of my persona and my poetry, and he asked my father permission to talk to me. That given, he invited me to sit with him in one of those hooded basket chairs on the terrace overlooking the sea. Mind you, I had no idea of who he was. I saw a slight middle-aged gentleman with a grey moustache.

He began by telling me he had read my poetry and was curious to know if I wanted to be a writer? When I answered yes, he said that he was one himself and saw true potential in my gifts. Then he proceeded with some serious advice: Get up an hour earlier, start writing anything – just write at least 600 words – and make this a habit. This was something he did himself daily and with positive results. Discipline was the key! He said that if I followed this rule, I would have a career and contribute something to the world. I followed his advice until I went back to boarding school in Switzerland. In the meantime WWII broke out! My career was interrupted, but the Muse hovered for some time until I married in 1945 and she then fled 20 years!

Previous to this, in 1937, I had been utterly miserable in a boarding school in Providence, RI. A total misfit now again in uniform, I had traveled in Europe and North Africa with my parents, never ever more than three months in one place, and those were spent in European boarding schools. I was in the care of my wealthy “proper Bostonian” Uncle George Foote and Aunt Doris living on Beacon Hill. My parents continued traveling as my father’s job selling Mergenthaler Linotypes to print newspapers required this. He was now their Vice-president for Overseas. I was headed for “coming out” as a debutante. My reaction was troubling to say the least, and my Aunt Doris decided I needed therapy. The answer was Dr. Ruth Adler, daughter of the famous psychiatrist Kurt Adler. She was then a plump friendly woman with a short man’s haircut.

I liked her immediately because she understood the dichotomy I felt. I decided that the study of the psyche was right up my alley! One afternoon, we interrupted analysis and turned on the radio to hear King Edward the Seventh of England abdicate his throne in order to marry the divorced commoner Wallis!

The time I spent with Dr, Adler was validating and comforting. I will always be grateful to her!

I met Sigmund Freud’s granddaughter, many years later in Bath, England, when she attended a seminar I was giving in the 1970s in the actual building of the Baths. She regaled us with wonderful descriptions of Onkel Ziggy who secretly supplied her with lemon drops he kept hidden in his jacket pocket. She adored him.

My weekend workshop was given in the magnificent Regency building surrounding the mineral baths prized and built by the ancient Romans during their occupation. Their structure of the large rectangular pool is still surrounded by Roman artifacts. Above it stands the magnificent Regency building, which houses drinking fountains, comfortable rooms, and historic displays. My group met in a downstairs room, and close by was the W.C. used by Her Majesty the Queen. I was informed that Her Majesty travels with her own toilet seat that is installed for her when she visits the small mahogany-lined cubicle we were now free to use, as I remember. At teatime, we were treated to the delicious Bath buns that melt in your mouth.

I discovered the meaning of “to toast” at that time. Apparently Beau Brummell celebrated a yearly event when the Baths were reserved for the exclusive use of a number of naked “ladies” who swam in the nude to the delight of a select group of gentlemen. Beau thought their heads bobbing in the water reminded him of the toast cubes decorating a syllabub bowl filled with that custardy alcoholic beverage served at Christmas. So he raised his glass to the “Toast of the Town!” See what etymology can reveal!

Another association with Freud occurred during WWII when we were escaping in a caravan of two buses, as a group of Americans, from Switzerland to Portugal. The long hot trip through France was hindered by hundreds of refugees on foot or in cars loaded with mattresses escaping the Germans that summer of 1940. We were delayed at the customs at the Spanish border because when we were all strip-searched, a fat lady had placed a German Swiss newspaper between her bottom and the hot leather seat in the bus. The German typescript had offset on her behind! The officials thought it might be code, so we had to spend the night. Fortunately, a kind peasant couple invited us to sleep in their home. The three of us slept on their double bed surrounded by hanging garlands of onions.

Finally, we were able to board a train, but when we arrived in Madrid, we were in every sense looking like tramps. My father was tieless and his face covered by black stubble, as we entered the Ritz Hotel! Fortunately, our American Ambassador Weddell recognized my father and vouched for us. He was the one who had just engineered the escape of Sigmund Freud from Vienna to England. I remember the first thing my mother and I did was taking turns in a bathtub of cold water. The temperature was 110 degrees. We also stopped in bullet-damaged Barcelona, still recovering from civil war. We attended a bullfight. When we reached the border to Portugal, we encountered a Jewish refugee family: grandfather, father, son, all rabbis, two wives, and a small pale four-year old little boy. We gave them the last bits of chocolate and powdered coffee we had. The last we saw of them was at the dock in Lisbon, headed for North Africa.

We sailed home on the S.S. Excambion. We had a cabin, but the lounge had people sleeping side by side like sardines, among them the publisher of Time, and Salvador Dali and wife, who were very low-key and became friends, as did the governess and baby girl who ended up at the Ritz and inspired the character in the book about her: Eloise. I met them by chance later in Central Park. They were still there!



Victoria said...

Your "600 words" just took me away like a majic carpet. Thank you ao.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful memories. Thank you, Alice!
Love from

ruth hollis said...

what a wonderous life journey you have been privileged to travel! ... i am, again, in awe ... thank you for sharing the treks