Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wise, Witty and Worldly

Last evening I enjoyed a cocktail with my friend Chris on the balcony of a beautiful Bow Street Condo ovelrooking the Piscataqua River. Our host - Hugh A. Harter. Hugh is an internationally known scholar of Spanish and French Literature. He has translated seven novels from French as well as authoring and co-authoring various other books; and worked as a professor of Spanish and French at some of America’s finest universities.

Hugh shared with us his recent book, "The Countess", a collection of poems and his own watercolor illustrations. He selected a few poems which he read aloud. (His voice, though soft spoken, prevailed that of Jon Bon Jovi's 'It's My Life' playing loudly on the Thomas Leighton Party Boat as it cruised past.) The verses, inspired by memories of life in New York and Paris post WWII, he read...

Another Portrait Of The Countess

She eyes the world

Well knowing her position,
Waiting, it would seem,
For age to dare to touch
And leave some telltale
Marking somewhere on that face,
But forever youthful, tranquil, yes, mature,
--mature, her friends would say--
She poses looking out upon
The broad estate of her apartment.
Beneath her gaze, resplendent silks
And velvet sheens reflect her luminosity.
She likes what she observes there,
Van Dongen's oil-on-paper sketch of her,
Matisse, Rouault, Bonnard, and
Orientals door to door.
Her enigmatic smile reveals
No hint of those passions
People say that once she felt,
And, some assert, indulged in
She sits there, jeweled hand on hip,
In sphinx-like sovereignty
Above the crowded drawing room,
Almost the double of her bustling self,
Instructing maids and butler how
To hustle their champagne.
And ruffling up her copper locks
Of slightly thinning hair,
This is coctails a New York.
In Paris and in Rome
Still other portraits cast their spell.

I asked Hugh if the Countess was inspired by one woman in particular, he explained that she has counterparts among a few women he has known. The most notable one who came to mind is the composer, playwright, and pianist Dana Suesse. "Dana did fall upstairs one night on the Riviera, but that is only one episode in her life. She was extravagant in her living. Never a dull moment in Dana's presence."

It was truly an honor to be in the presence of this great soul, wise and witty, I look forward to additional antecdotes.