WE ARE SAILING : Page 15
These songs were in our international musical repertoire which we launched into whenever the opportunity arose, and on that interminable sea voyage the opportunity arose constantly. Reg brought out his guitar and we entertained ourselves and the crew on nights when the sea was relatively calm. A couple of the sailors sometimes joined us with pop, rock and folk renditions on their own guitars.
Engineer and sailor on Dutch freighter. NdA, felt pen.
When I first met Reg in Mexico he was singing a flamenco lament at a party and I think that's what drew us together. He had lived in Spain many years before and picked up the words, the chords and the mood of flamenco, which suited his husky voice. He was also well versed in the standard American and English folk ballads and a whole range of lefty protest songs. To his repertory I added some of my French and Paraguayan favourites so, while entirely amateur, we were always ready to entertain anytime, anywhere. To this day all you have to do is ask and I will burst into French, Spanish or English numbers without further ado. Showing off is second nature to me - no, it's actually first nature.
In spite of wide-open endless sea views the atmosphere aboard was claustrophobic and our small ship lurched drunkenly between the rising and falling of rough waves. At first we felt seasick but then this settled down, only to make way for further discomfort. Reg took to bed with a painful throat infection while I inexplicably acquired an infected finger which just grew and grew. At the first port of call on the Brazilian coast we were treated by a local doctor. Reg was given medication and my finger was injected with an enormous syringe of anesthetic, then cut open. With nothing to do but rest while we sailed on, our bodies gradually healed.
The seafaring monotony was blessedly broken whenever the freighter docked, sometimes for several days, and we could go ashore and feel solid ground beneath our feet. We even went to the movies, twice, with the Captain. I did the sketch below of shoeshine boys (polishing a shoe on nobody's foot) in Itajai, a small Brazilian fishing town. The kids tried to sell us everything from oranges to orchids and sang sambas to us.
The enforced and prolonged shipboard inactivity triggered off with a vengeance my introspective tendency, largely kept on a leash during the years in Paraguay, when the profusion of detail and activity in our day-to-day life simply left no room for it. Between leaving Asunciòn and arriving in Rotterdam, I filled pages and pages of notebooks with self-analysis, questions, projects, ideas, reflections, portents of what was to come. Here's an extract - I didn't know when I wrote it that it would prove to be prophetic.
...It seems that relationships come as temporary interruptions to the monologue that one carries on all one's life. We dialogue for a while, lose our self-interest to become interested in someone else but after a while we grow tired of this, and bored, and long to be free to get back to our monologue. Perhaps we begin to resent this other person who has placed himself between us and our Self. This person who goes on and on talking to us while we just want to be left alone, in peace, left to look at ourselves if we feel like it, or at nothing, or at someone new. But no, the "relationship" is there, demanding recognition. We created it and now are duty-bound to continue it. So maybe that's where enmity comes in. We hate ourselves and the other person for obliging us to be "related". I suppose there are these conflicting instincts in most of us - the desire to be alone and whole - and the desire to be together, shared. How can you conciliate the two?
...Another trap: at times the struggle to "be one's self" seems to be the major issue of existence. The more you think about it the more convinced you become that you should really be devoting your time to "finding yourself" etc. But this is another case of myopia, another instance of looking at the part and not the whole. The real issue is not so much "being one's self" as using one's self: what do you use yourself for? This is the question. Focus on the what, which is outside yourself.
Finally, in August, the first signs that we were back in "civilization" came into view: the cranes of Rotterdam harbour. We put on our civilized clothes, locked our suitcases, and stepped back into the world we thought we had left behind forever.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO....... PAGE 16
For some reason there are wide gaps in my memories of this period. The gaps are also visual: few photos, very little artwork. Even my diary entries were reduced to minimal notations. My self-portrait in Rome must reveal the way I felt. Out of place. Uneasy. Crowded. Angry, maybe. Uncertain, certainly.
Rotterdam was eminently forgettable and we passed through it quickly. (Apologies to any Rotterdamians/Rotterdamerungs who may read this). In any case our destination was Rome and there was no reason to linger at the landing. My sister and her husband lived there and we had been persuaded to come and work for them, at least until we decided where we wanted to settle.
My volcanic older sister Anne - sometimes called "Thunderbolt" - was married to Gerardo Guerrieri, brilliant Italian writer, critic, director, polymath (worked with Visconti, Fellini, Zavattini; wrote the script and was assistant director of "Bicycle Thieves" etc.). His talents and accomplishments were so wide-ranging that to do justice to him, to my sister (and to every other member of my family) would require a far more comprehensive history than I am able to undertake. I'll just roughly sketch the background that Reg and I landed in, straight from our Paraguayan isolation.
Soon after her marriage and move to Rome from New York, Anne (never the stay-at-home type) created an extraordinary cultural organisation called the Teatro Club. Fearlessly sweeping aside innumerable bureaucratic, social, cultural and financial obstacles, she persuaded the Romans to become members of the Club (clebb, if you say it with an Italian accent) which would entitle them to see the most exciting theatre from around the world. How could she do that when she hadn't, at the time, met all those theatrical luminaries? Simple: she would go and ask them to perform in Rome. They would agree. She would book whatever venues were required. The audience (members of the Teatro Club) would turn up in droves, guaranteeing bums on seats. Of course it wasn't so easy but that's exactly what happened. Anne and Gerardo were, in truth, responsible for broadening the cultural experience of the Italian public. The list of dazzling talent which the Teatro Club brought to them is far too long to mention but I'll name-drop a few:
Peter Brook. The Ballet Rambert. Laurence Olivier. The Living Theatre (Judith Malina and Julian Beck). Roland Petit and Zizi Jeanmaire. Eli Wallach. Ellen Stuart. Joseph Chaikin. Ionesco. Arthur Miller.The Actors Studio. Tadeuz Kantor. Bread and Puppets. Vittorio Gassman. Odetta. Miriam Makeba. Jacques Brel. Gilbert Becaud. Leo Ferré. Georges Brassens. Gospel singers. Companies and individual actors, dancers, musicians from Japan, India, Africa, Russia, Israel, Eastern Europe, South America, Australia.
You might think it was an incredibly glamorous ambiance to be in, especially after our unsophisticated life in the wild, but it didn't feel like that. Annie was having a difficult first pregnancy and was very ill for most of it. Reg and I weren't in the best of health or spirits either and our relationship was at a low point. The atmosphere alternated between sullen silences and constant noise from the chaotic Roman traffic and endless arguments. My parents and brother were also in Rome at the time and it was impossible to be detached from their concerns and problems. One of the bones of contention between Reg and me was that my involvement with my family (and theirs with me) was excessive and detrimental. In hindsight, I think he was probably right but I didn't see it that way then.
At first Reg and I rented a studio apartment on the arty Via Margutta, just above the Piazza di Spagna. It was nice and artists did live in the area but they were of the posh variety and rents were far too high so, later, we moved to a fantastic attic flat in the more proletarian neighbourhood of Trastevere with a rooftop view of the whole of Rome. Did I take even one photo or do one drawing of this fabulous setting? Curses, no.
The delightful Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife and a friend of Gerardo since their university days, came and cooked her special spaghetti recipe for us up there on the rooftops - I think it was my birthday - and we danced and sang with her.
By day Reg and I were employed by the Teatro Club (he did a bit of everything, I designed posters, publicity etc.) but on many evenings we would be performing or listening at the Folkstudio on Via Garibaldi, a popular club right near us, created and run by handsome Harold Bradley, African-American painter/actor/singer with a fabulous voice ressembling Paul Robeson. We became good friends with Harold and his German wife Hannelore. Our musical repertoire expanded, boosted by an indulgent audience of fellow amateurs. But sometimes, the performers had arrived at, or were definitely on their way to world-class stardom.
One night a skinny kid in a baseball cap sat at the back and listened attentively and eventually, like almost everyone else who came to the Folkstudio, sloped up to the front andsang a couple of songs. To my eternal shame I cannot remember what he sang or whether I liked it. What I do know is that he (accompanied by his manager, Al Grossman) came out with us to a corner bar and was hilariously, articulately drunk, probably stoned too, and that I haven't laughed so much in all my life. Unfortunately I can't recall a single word of what Bob Dylan said that made me laugh.