Five Points, Vol. 7 No. 3

Spring 2003

From Robert Olen Butler, “Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream.”

Sample Content

Gerald Stern
Vow of Silence

I am one of the stubborn romantics who still honor the republic of Spain and owned–and lost– an old ’78 that contained the ancient songs of the Lincoln Brigade; and Pablo Casals I loved and honored beyond any other, so when I heard from my friends in Paris that he was going to break his vow of silence against the Franco regime in Spain and play again in Prades, a little city in the French Pyrenees, I claimed a seat in the 1949 black Citroen with the front-end transmission (traction avant) and the look of a 1946 Ford. My seat, really my space, was in the back middle. Dick Hazley, my friend from Pittsburgh, was to my left and Kurt Schneider, a medical student and effete poet from Michigan, was to my right. The car belonged to Dick Foster, also from Pittsburgh, who ended up a corporate geologist and he did the driving. Jack Gilbert was in the passenger seat. We always kept the same seats; no one thought of changing, nor did Foster ever ask any of us to share the driving, nor did we offer. I think I didn’t have a license then, certainly not a French or an international one. I don’t know about the others, except I know that Jack didn’t drive and, for that matter, doesn’t to this day.

I have been studying a map of France to see which route we took to get there. I am amazed that I not only can’t remember the route, but where we stayed overnight, either going there or coming back, or if we did. What I do remember is the dynamics of the car, the love and hate we bestowed upon each other, the stay in Prades itself, and the stop we made in Avignon on the way back. Usually, I remember such things as the temperature, the specific color of the ocean, which shoes I was wearing, what we had for breakfast and on which day. My friends hate me for my memory. But in this case my mind is mostly empty of the dear irrelevancies. We might have gone through Dijon, for all I know; we certainly went through Nimes and Montpellier. There were no auto-routes yet. Gilbert, who has a terrible memory, says the he was already in Prades and, anyhow, he wasn’t driving. Foster doesn’t remember the route but he does remember, keenly, sitting on the grass beside the Columbia Records trailer listening to them record and overhearing Casals instruct the technicians that a “sour” flute note was acceptable and it wasn’t necessary to play the piece over since it happened “naturally.” He was allowing for imperfections, like God, say, who could never have gotten a job at that company. Jean Pierre Rampal was the flautist. Hazley is dead, hélas, he would have remembered everything and Schneider, who had a sour soul, is nowhere I can reach him, even if I wanted to.