My introduction to the greatest soprano who ever lived and a major force in my life ……….came in an unusual way.
I remember it being early 1978, after Maria Callas had died some time before.
I knew who she was…….. (kinda) ………..and what she did ……….(kinda) but other than that, very little.
One of the benefits of my father separating from my mother that year, (in a divorce that would make the Goseelins look like pikers), was that my Dad was forced to spend time with us, do things with us, hang out with us.
Other wise, it looks shitty in court.
So, a great place to dump off a kid was the library. In this case, “The North Plainfield Public Library”, an edifice born from the late 60’s modernist approach to architecture.
It looked like part Lincoln Center and part German sewage facility.
I can still see myself browsing the shelves of biographies (my usual haunt – still is) when the light from the hideous windows filtered through and picked up the name “Callas” on a set of books,
I picked one up.
It was a large picture book written by John Ardoin.
The book fell open to a series of photos taken during the infamous Visconti/La Scala “La Traviata”. They were from the “Garden Scene”.
The image of a beautiful woman, dressed gorgeous belle Époque fashion, having her heart ripped out by some dude, in a garden, caught my attention.
Before I could even finish looking at these photos, my hand was reaching for the other Callas book on the shelf.
You see, I had become a fan of Maria Callas almost at once …………..and I had yet to hear her sing and would not hear her sing till some time later.
(Did you expect Callas LP’s in abundance in Central New Jersey? I’m still amazed we had running water!)
My father dropped us back home with the announcement he would be in “Hawaii” ….. for a “month” ………on “business”!
(The author’s eyes roll. The only thing he was “on” was a 24-year-old!)
I lugged all the Callas books (and god knows how many others – remember – the first thing the son of a shut-in and distant father learns to do is read) and dumped everything on the bed.
I crawled into the covers and began to devour the Callas books….
A funny thing occurred.
As I was reading. I knew what I was reading.
It was as if I had read the book before but deeper than that. Something inside me “knew” what all this opera stuff was about. It was chilling ……………….but fun, too.
After a month, my father returned and off the Callas books went back to the library. It hardly mattered. They had been read and savored every day for weeks.
They were locked in my brain.
Probably where algebra should have gone but didn’t.
As a sidebar: A few weeks ago, I watched this awful film about autistic cattle lady, Temple Grandin. Claire Danes gives the kind of performance people today will call “stunning”………………….. and ten years from now will come to realize how jaw-droppin’ bad it really was..
All that aside.
Temple Grandin wrote a book about her autism and her success. It was called “Thinking in Pictures!”.
I Think in Callas!
* This post is dedicated to Olivia Giovetti.