Monday, November 13, 2023

Something about the word nova - as in November

 Looking behind and also ahead: Could the word November have a direct connection to the Latin word 'nova,' meaning new? 

That certainly applies to  current days when we  say goodbye to summer and prepare for  new seasons ahead. And what a dramatic time it's likely to be- in all senses of the word. (Yes to  El Nino snowfalls and to a blizzard of top notch theater productions on local stages.)

Bears know for sure, as they prepare  to hibernate in winter by collecting a food supply that will last through to spring. The bear image is  pertinent in many ways: a portent of hope as well as danger. (After all, bears must count on a fresh supply of fruit and other favorites goodies to be available in spring.)  Which is why a quick silhouette of the animal on a cloudy backdrop  during the latest production at Folger Shakespeare Library's theater  of 'The Winter's Tale' is so effective and meaningful. It's just a quick look, an omen of sorts. Good and bad intertwined. Human folly and humanity's ability to change - to prevail. Art and nature in an uneasy balance -  a constantly evolving relationship.

Which may be something of a stretch when it comes to discussing characters and their actions in one of Shakespeare's seldom seen comedies. Though Folger last put on the show in 2018 when the Library's executive director Michael Witmore declared - surprisingly  - that the play was  his favorite among all of Shakespeare's works. A surprise because to amateur eyes, the script seems a bit uneven and difficult to comprehend overall. The first half is a tragedy (a guy declares his wife an adulterer with almost no evidence, sends her to be killed and, as a consequence, loses his son as well), the second a resolution of sorts (guy repents -  how and why? -  and wins back her favor as well as gaining a daughter). The second part is played out in a sort of comedic celebration, oddly enough.

(Witmore said then 'as an artist you are changing things all the time' - that is the thrust of both art and nature, and the relationship between the two.  He takes this play's theme to be the author's most direct conversation with an audience, but the interpretation is pretty high-minded and might not mean much to anyone not much of Shakespeare scholar, as Witmore is.)

So kudos to the brave cast tackling the work in Washington DC through December 17, a tease to what  is promised  come the new year, 2024. Aha, there is that symbolism again: a sheltered fabled building - home to more of the  first folios (printings)  of Shakespeare's canon than anywhere else - will blossom anew. Make way for a rock star renewal.... it is also the time when Dr. Witmore is scheduled to leave his post and hand it over to the next person to head one of the city's (country's?) most beloved scholarly  institutions. 


An image of a bear stays with me long after seeing the play. I take it to be a sign of strength and perseverance - in whatever seems most valuable: truth, kindness, curiosity. I'm reminded, too of a necessary look-back, through several 'winters of our discontent' during what is now simply labeled the pandemic. What is the paramount memory from those years?   

I tried to capture the feeling of the days in monthly (usually) notes on this blog. It spoke to the pleasure of reading - and my inaccurate count of titles reaching upward to 300 books. What had I gained but the necessary ingredients (see 'bear'!) for a long mostly inward isolating hibernation. Are we now 'free' or is it merely another short period to roam about planning for whatever is the next siege?

Meanwhile, much visiting about and collective memories are possible, more than ever, in Washington DC and environs. Attending a play with a live audience has satisfactions of its own. Even time out in a theater watching a film with strangers. And the rewarding search for public events that affirm companionship and strengthen the imagination.  A notice about a college alumnae book club that will take place in a public space - yes, a downtown city park - for an exchange of actual books. In those surroundings it would seem any strangers could join.

At the perennially misunderstood National Building Museum (no connection to the Smithsonian, sorry), a homage to brick buildings as well as a lecture on the connection between music and architecture. Stay tuned, indeed.


    And a few more words about the magic generated occasionally in a windowless ground floor 'salon inside an equally unusual Washington DC  residential enclave called the Westchester. (The site consists of several apartment buildings near the high-and-mighty Washington Cathedral not far from Georgetown.)

The salon typically caters to men and women (of all ages) who are primarily local - that is, to say, inhabitants of the enclave since no advertising of its services can be found elsewhere. It happened that I made the acquaintance of the salons' primary caretaker and leaseholder through one such impressive person,now deceased, the former owner of two good-size upstairs properties upstairs.   RUmor or fact would have it that many such people never leave or have to leave the coop for years - except, perhaps, to check in at a doctor's office or hospital.

So you don't necessarily expect the wholesome welcome spirit of a place that really has no norms: all ages, cultures, backgrounds are represented in this hideaway. YOu don't expect to sit down while a slim energetic 70-year-old snips away at  the top of your head and quite suddenly, improvises his vision of what life must be after death. "There has got to be something, I've got to believe," and all he knows for sure that he would like to be buried under a tree - or become a tree in some fashion. Earlier W. has been busily trimming - more like harvesting a field  - the busy white locks of a gentleman friend seated in the stylist's chair. They talk about the possibility of going to Cuba, to hiring someone who knows where all the good music is played and touring the country while W. learns a specific instrument either only found or was born there.

W, however, has no US passport. He is Peruvian by birth and never bothered once he married an American woman. He is afraid the US may not want to let him back into the country where he has a good life as a grandfather, a professional guitar player, whose hair grooming methods he learned from, at first, his sister ("because you have to have a job to fall back on," is how I understood her reasoning to be) then later from celebrity stylist London-born Vidal Sassoon. Sassoon had shaken up the industry before he died - at 84, of leukemia,a multimillionaire - with dramatic geometric cuts that undercut the stuffy balloon looks preceding his era.  W. is also worried that, as a cancer survivor, he might not want to be far from his home turf should a relapse occur or anything might happen that would keep him away for a long time. Besides, as he often says, he loves his wife (a semi-retired accountant)  and laughs when he says it - often - as well as loving her resistance to having any artificial color in her hair

All this when I finally - a half hour later- sit down with the  long plastic protective bib and subject myself to the wicked chemicals that will give my unkempt tresses a soft blonde look. W is always full of chat (and always reminds he his wife objects to coloring but he still insists I should have hair color to match my eyebrows and skin, which seems an impossible task since my eyebrows are dyed daily with brush and my skin is objectively white..)  My chat is about the new stove I just had installed and how bewildering digital  dials (not really dials or buttons at all but something akin to finger pressure on a mysterious black surface) can be to a neophyte who is also a Luddite.

"Why did you have to get a new stove?" I hear from a tall think man listening in. He comes from Wheaton, a suburb of DC, and knows the personnel here well, it seems. His hair doesn't look at all neglected but he obviously is the next client. So goes the give and take. Letitia, the Philippine born license holder, and her sister Elizabeth run the place. Tall Man teases her about not taking any time off, asking about her son (a physician in training in Norfolk  - four years to go minimum). She demures, taking a rare minute to sit down before going  moving over to another set of mirrors where she will put a client in tiny rollers and significantly - I've no doubt - brighten the woman's day with a combed out hairstyle.

Letitia is a workhorse, up to to her job at 7 until closing, everyday but Sunday, W only does a turn on Friday so his time  n W insists on a photo before the next nearly hair-bald man moves over to the chair. "He is a famous pianist," W says. No names are exchanged though it's a rigorous challenge trying. Piano man teaches a the Levine school nearby. We never really hear how anyone else came to cherish W's ministrations  we are so engaged in the moment. I learn in the course of a minute how Piano Man learned from a Japanese man (profession?) that to strike your hand on the opposite arm several times daily will alleviate creeping arthritis. Truly I think it works. I say how my Pilates trainer always spends time exercising arms and fingers  in my weekly workout, and how the fabled Taylor Swift is a master of manipulation with her left hand in her recent concert appearances around the globe. I've recently seen the film version, fixated on the way she cajoles, entices, connects with vast audiences this way.

W. questions with a sly laugh about what else such a talent might do...breaking a potentially serious conversation and sending me on my way. A pity, because it turns out that piano man had his childhood debut on the stage of a theater in a town in Montana where y son currently lives - and that I taught once upon a time at the Uof M in Missoula during the same years where he was 'matriculating.' I never learn his name but a solid connection is made. How peculiar such bonds in so few moments. What happened to him after graduation I may never know.

But first: photos, always, each client in turn.