Aug. 13, 2011

A Glass of Water

by May Sarton

Here is a glass of water from my well.
It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;
It is the best I have, my only spell,
And it is cold, and better than champagne.
Perhaps someone will pass this house one day
To drink, and be restored, and go his way,
Someone in dark confusion as I was
When I drank down cold water in a glass,
Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,
After the bitter mood had gone again.

"A Glass of Water" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems: 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of director Alfred Hitchcock, born in London (1899). His father was a greengrocer, and a strict man. Once, when the five-year-old Alfred misbehaved, his father sent him to the police station and they locked him in a cell for a few minutes to teach him a lesson. Hitchcock was so terrified that he was afraid of the police for the rest of his life, and he rarely drove a car so that he could not be pulled over.

Hitchcock directed great suspense and horror films, including Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963). He was a notoriously difficult director — he knew exactly how he wanted the entire film to look as soon as he and the writers had finished going through the script, and he was known to refer to his actors as "cattle." Critics have interpreted Hitchcock's behavior as a director in countless ways, writing long treatises on how he channeled his own repression, passions, and other psychological issues into his films and his treatment of his actors. But his life off the set seems to have been relatively quiet and uneventful. In 1926, he married Alma Reville, his assistant. They had a close working relationship — Alma went through every detail of each of her husband's films, pointing out whenever the dialogue sounded slightly wrong, or there was a slight flaw in the filming. Hitchcock was rumored to fall for many of his blond leading ladies, despite a lack of affection in return; and he often remarked to interviewers and friends that he was celibate, or impotent, or both. Whatever his married life was like, he and Alma were devoted enough to each other that they remained married until Hitchcock's death more than 50 years later. They enjoyed going to art galleries and dining out.

Hitchcock had a legendary appetite. He liked to say, "I'm not a heavy eater. I'm just heavy, and I eat." Apparently, shortly after Hitchcock came to America from England, he went out to New York City's 21 Club. Hitchcock ordered a steak dinner, followed by an ice cream parfait; then he ordered another steak dinner, and another ice cream; and then the entire thing one more time. At the end of his three meals and three desserts, he drank a cup of strong tea and a glass of brandy, and told his companions: "There is as much anticipation in confronting good food as there is in going on a holiday or seeing a good show. There are two kinds of eating — eating to sustain and eating for pleasure. I eat for pleasure." He had a full wine cellar in his home in Bel Air, and he had a soft spot for Burgundy wines, which is why he featured one so prominently in Notorious. Alma was a great cook, and her husband liked to help in the kitchen himself, and the couple often hosted large dinner parties. When Hitchcock received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1979, he said: "I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville."

He said, "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."

It's the birthday of novelist Tom Perrotta (books by this author), born in Garwood, New Jersey (1961). He grew up in blue-collar Newark, idolizing Bruce Springsteen. One of his high school teachers saw some promise in Perrotta and encouraged him to go to Yale, something he never would have considered. While he was attending Yale, during vacations he worked on garbage trucks. After he went on to study creative writing and started publishing his own novels, he didn't want to distance himself from his New Jersey life. He said: "I like to write simply and clearly. I never wanted to write for the guys I met in college; I wanted to write for the guys I grew up with who weren't literary sophisticates. I have an allergy to fancy writing."

His books include Election (1998), Little Children (2004), and The Abstinence Teacher (2007).

It's the birthday of humorist George William Bagby (books by this author), born in Buckingham County, Virginia (1828). He often wrote in dialect as a character he called "Mozis Addums." In his essay "Meekins's Twinses," he wrote: "Babis in ginrul is bald-heded, bo-leged disturbers uv the peece. They cums into this worl' frownin horrid, fists doubled up, red as peper, hot as jinjer, and hongry as hogs. You got to 'ten to um — got to drap all biznis and 'ten to um then and thar, or elts you'll heer from um erly and ofting. The nuss lanches um into life with a dram uv sum kind, and then wunders they luvs whiskey when they has growd up."

It's the birthday of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey in Woodland, Ohio (1860). She was born in a log cabin and grew up in poverty; after her father froze to death in a blizzard, her mother was unable to provide for her and sent her to the county poor farm. From there, Annie was sent to the home of a cruel family who abused her and made her work in terrible conditions — she called them "the wolves." She ended up back with her mother, and supported the family by hunting.

She was such a good shot that in 1875, at the age of 15, she entered a shooting contest and won, beating a well-known marksman named Frank Butler. Butler ended up marrying Annie and making her part of his touring act. When Buffalo Bill Cody's famous Wild West Show needed a new performer, Oakley volunteered to audition, and she became the star of the show.

Annie Oakley could shoot the wick off a burning candle or the ashes off the tip of her husband's cigarette. At 90 feet away, she could hit the thin side of a playing card that someone tossed in the air and then hit it six more times before it fell to the floor. One of her fans was Sitting Bull, the chief who had defeated General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. After seeing one of her performances, he was so impressed that he offered to pay for a photograph of the two of them together.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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