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Other “truthing” might be some details in describing his first day in kindergarten; his being forced from a natural left-handedness to society’s rule of right; his first encounter with a library and with the writings of Thomas Wolfe; some parts of his ham radio tales and his musical adventures; and some of his background working in a steel mill.
Sometimes Shepherd’s truth is in giving us a life-lesson in a parable. Fellow-broadcaster Barry Farber says that Shepherd enjoyed when he, Farber, recognized these parables for what they were. They were truth, but what kinds of truth? Where else do some truths intrude on Shep’s multifaceted fictions? Could Shepherd’s April Fool’s Day story be symbolic of something important—maybe some agonizing truth—beyond his life as a kid?
For coming-of-age, the escargot story, opening up the “Jean Shepherd” persona to a wider world of endless possibilities, in its specifics, is very probably a fabrication. The craftsmanship, the artistry he put into it! It’s so perfect and the moral so pat that it’s too good to be true. Building up the image of himself as the unsophisticated bumbler—never having been to such an affair, and then the “Oh, my God!” repeated so that one is tricked into assuming the worst until the revelation: “It is so good I can’t believe it!” Long after that moment of recognition while he’s just lying in the dormitory room he will remember this epiphany—“there’s an aftertaste.”
The Bugatti tale might be one of the few Jean Shepherd stories in this book that with justification could be considered, in the main, autobiographically true to his life. Ironically, his long-term memory seems to have failed him regarding some specifics (there are two similar but distinct Bugattis with nearly the same designations), but the incident leading to the epiphany is corroborated by accurate details regarding the where and when of the particular car he saw. The 57SC as retained in his memory as being so widely celebrated, subsequently owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, was the centerpiece of a recent major exhibit of Lauren’s cars at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As the Museum’s director commented about the car, “It speaks a little of evil, I think it’s so wickedly designed. This black beauty, though, is extraordinary.” As Shepherd predicted, cars exhibited and esteemed in an art museum!
AFTERWORDS—WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT 
Bugatti and Other Little Realities
Among the thousands of audios of Jean Shepherd’s broadcasts, we sometimes encounter several variations describing incidents from his real or fictional life. For this book, but for exceptions such as the inclusion of several divergent descriptions of how he began work at the steel mill, I’ve chosen one version of each story idea.
So Jean Shepherd can remember—or create—more than one version of an incident. Shepherd wants people to understand that he does not remember all his tales from actual occurrence, but that he is a creator—an artist. In his later years he especially emphasizes that, as he puts it, “I want my stuff to sound real. And so when I tell a story, I tell it in the first person so…that it sounds like it actually happened to me. It didn’t….I’m a fiction writer. I’m not sitting there doing a biography or an autobiography.”
His style of telling and the details are what entertain us, and it’s Shepherd’s underlying take on life as a kid, and his view of human life as a whole, that gives his stories their substance and their truth to life. Often crucial are the lessons Shepherd learned. Important truths reside in how he sees the world and how he expresses in these stories a kid’s growing maturation: his education.
What then, is true and what’s fiction in all these stories? We don’t know for sure other than to suspect that, although Shepherd understood a lot about what it was like to be a kid, most of the story details are the product of his imagination. True? “Bolivia exports tin,” is one of the almost totally inconsequential truths Shepherd said he learned in school. But what else can we suppose might be true to fact?
I wish some really serious biographer, instead of an automobile cuckoo—would do the life and times of Ettore Bugatti, because he is such a symbolic figure. Such a fantastic figure and it would take somebody who is a really top biographer who would deal with Bugatti the way you would deal with, say, a Picasso—and incidentally, he is very much in the same league. He is in the same league. Don’t you forget it. So I would say that a thousand years from now Bugattis will be in museums the way Picasso paintings are. And for the same reason. For their artistic values.
[END OF PART 11]
And so, Ettore Bugatti, this great artist, would create a car specifically for the man involved. And, by the way, money wasn’t the criteria. So, if you were a big bootlegger from Chicago, you couldn’t just go over to France and talk to Ettore Bugatti and say you would like a car. Not like you know, today, it’s money. You buy a car and that’s it. It doesn’t make any difference who you are. If you want to buy a Rolls, you can buy a Rolls Royce. Not a Bugatti. Many people were turned down by the maestro. And all cars were ordered personally. You didn’t go to your Bugatti dealer and order a car. Any more than you went to your Rembrandt dealer and ordered a Rembrandt painted up. And so if you came to the enclave there and he didn’t like the way you were, he didn’t feel that you were fit to be driving a Bugatti, you simply did not get a Bugatti. That was simply all there was to it. He would suggest perhaps an Isotta Franschini would be more suitable to you. Possibly a Maserati. But certainly not a Bugatti.
Now, you want to hear a little more about Bugatti? You know, we’re not used to thinking of the car as an art form. We’re used to thinking—beautiful cars—there’s a great–looking, maybe a classic car, and so on. But we’re not used to thinking of the car as an art form. But for a long time, considerably longer than we have, the Europeans have recognized it as such. It is an art form. And unfortunately, it is an art form that is in decline. And this is not anything to do with nostalgia, it has to do with the changing world, that the car has become a utilitarian object, pure and simple. It wasn’t always that way.
When Bugatti created his cars it was the day when dukes, duchesses, kings, rajahs, maharajahs, viscounts, field marshals, Ali Khans, people of that kind—when they wanted an automobile, when they wanted a car, they treated the car like the rest of their life. If they wanted a fine home they didn’t just go out and buy something off the plain pipe racks. There would be a fine house, a chateau that would be created for them. Their suits were done that way. If you were a maharajah you would travel to Savoy Row in London. Seven or eight thousand miles by boat and finally you’d arrive at your tailor—Bond Street possibly, and he would create a wardrobe for you. And it would take months. You wouldn’t just go there and get fitted. He would create a wardrobe. And so it would take months of fitting a client, who would stay in a magnificent suite at a hotel in London while he was being fitted. Well, his car was really a carriage—when he was out, his automobile was not a car, really, it was not a means of transportation (it was that of course), it was an extension of his personality, like everything else.
But it was a car the way you would never conceive of cars being. The difference between Ettore Bugatti’s 57SC and what we would consider a beautiful car today is the difference between one of those dollar coffee mugs that you buy with a picture of Donald Duck on the side, and a silver chalice turned out by Botticelli—to add style to the life of a Venetian grand duke, to the great world, a whole cultural world. In fact it sort of spanned time. Ettore Bugatti was a Renaissance artist who somehow had been reincarnated in the twentieth century, and he lived a baronial style. As a great artist should.
And he had helpers and devoted assistants who worshipped the ground he walked on. His factory was in France, not in Italy, but in France, and the Bugatti enclave is legend today among people who know anything about twentieth century art. And every car was turned out with a kind of care, love, and total artistry that, say, a Rembrandt would turn out his work. And incidentally, a Rembrandt also had his apprentices who would fill in the background and deal with the little details—or did you know that? Oh, yes. And so Bugatti—Ettore Bugatti–created this fantastic method, and I’d never heard of him! I just knew there was this thing called “foreign cars.” I didn’t realize that there was one man to whom a car was not a car, and he spoke in a universal language. It was an art—pure and simple. Ettore Bugatti.
Amazing how varied the simple wedding ceremony can be from couple to couple.
I married my Spanish wife in her church of the patron saint of Granada,
Spain, Nuestra Senora de las Angustias.
I translate that as “our lady of the anguishes.” Very sadly ironic as, for four years, starting on our honeymoon, I experienced anguish and cried nearly every day. I felt obligated to be tolerant of her traditional Spanish belief that people and cultures with different customs were inherently evil, and that some day she would recognize that I was not the Devil. (Note the fierce violence of the Spanish Civil War.) That ended on the Sunday morning as I was contentedly working on the construction of my Spanish classical guitar in our finished basement when she descended the stairs and threatened me with a carving knife. I defended myself with the rolled-up Arts Section of the Sunday Times. Did this really happen to meek, mild, innocent little Eugene B. Bergmann? Yes.
The next act of our anguish-filled, real-life Garcia Lorca tragedy, was narrated to me by the Queens County Sheriff:
He arrived at the house my parents had paid for and found my then-former wife at a second floor window threatening him with a pistol. He retreated and returned with a squad of the local police in bullet-proof vests. They broke in the front door, rushed up the stairs, and disarmed her—it was a toy plastic pistol. As she did not go gently, they had to remove her in a strait jacket.
I restrain myself from describing further scenes, but did gain from my Spanish experience: some little insight into the interior life of Andalucía; and inspiration for one of my unpublished novels.
Allison and I connected through a personal ad.
As one might note, folks, I robbed the cradle.
Encountering Allison and falling in love at first phone call, we wed on the first anniversary of our first date in a delightful, traditional church in Rutherford, NJ. We had the reception at a Jersey Ramada Inn’s elegant atrium complete with tropical plantings and a pool. A string quartet provided classical music.
We’ve been married for over 31 years.
Our younger son, Drew, met Linda in college. They’ve been significant others for 10 years. They were wed in June, 2018 in an outdoor ceremony and reception, complete with large backyard plantings, enormous tent for protection, and an inviting pool.
Brian, our close family friend since he was born, officiated. Years ago he’d told his family that he felt the calling and he began services with a few attendees in their family room. Soon he had a wife, two sons, and a crowded church. His congregation, CenterPoint, moved to a former synagogue on Jerusalem Avenue where he has about a thousand members. (They now have two other Long Island locations.) On the large front stage they have a Christian rock group in attendance, and are backed by three enormous video screens. Brian is forceful, entertaining, informative, and very personal in his talks to his congregation. I much admire his natural persuasiveness.
Brian performed a traditional, yet personal and loving ceremony. Linda and Drew read their own loving decorations to each other, the content of both bringing a surprising, wonderful, and emotional jolt to all.
Part of their declarations:
Linda, I love you because of your tenacious attitude, beautiful smile, and unique sense of humor. You are the only thing I need when the silk is rough, when the open road looks closed, or when I’m unemployed, broke, and wearing a linen suit. And most of all I can’t live without you because of how you make me whole every single day I am with you.
Linda, I vow to: Continue to dedicate myself to you first because without a strong US our family cannot survive
I vow to: Be a good father; Keep our family safe; Listen to your every need and desire; And become rich together, not just in monetary wealth, but family and emotional riches as well.
Drew, Out of all the many great loves stories out there, ours is my favorite Out of the 10 years we’ve been together there have been two of my favorite days. 1. The day u told me you loved me and 2.Today.
And it wasn’t because anything crazy happened, it was because of the way I felt.
So when things aren’t always so easy, like when u pretend to be awake and have a conversation with me, or when u take all the blankets. I promise to hold on to this feeling
I vow to always root for you, support you, bring out the best in you, I vow to grow old with u I vow to share my crazy dreams with you, I vow to make more favorite days with you.
You’re my best friend, lover, father to our daughter. I vow to continue to make our story the best love story.
I danced with the bride, I danced with the groom.
For all his success, Pastor Brian has remained (to my delight) a child at heart. As evening fell, Brian and Drew agreed to a little wrestling match to see who could throw the other in the pool. The moist result shows that they both won.
An important participant in the festivities was Linda and Drew’s
six-month-old daughter, the most beautiful baby in the world.
CHARLI GRACE BERGMANN
An acquaintance of mine was a teacher at the University. One Friday afternoon he asked a couple of us if we were really curious to see something.
I said, “Yeah.”
“You be at this address tomorrow at eleven in the morning.”
I woke up that morning and said to myself, “Oh well, what the heck,” I got in my battered old Ford, and drove over to the address. It turned out to be a garage. A plain, ordinary, crummy-looking garage. Nothing except a couple of swinging doors and a couple of shade-covered windows.
Outside, the teacher was waiting with three other students, and he said, “Okay, you really want to see something? I want to prepare you for this.”
We didn’t know what to expect. He said, “First of all, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.” He played it very well, theatrically. He said, “Alright, are you ready?” He took his key and opened the lock on these big garage doors and he swung them open and the four of us walked into the gloom of this garage on a gray Saturday morning in Cincinnati.
I’ll never forget the day that I had the great awakening regarding an art form. Even today, in this country, there are very few people who recognize this as an art form.
I suspect that quite possibly in maybe five-hundred years they may look back on our country, and there will be preserved examples of this great form which we created. I suspect also that we have created a form which is now rapidly in decline. Around the early quarter of the twentieth century a new form was created and it existed briefly for about ten or twelve years in its really flowering way, and then it began to decline as all art forms do.
Up to the point when I’d discovered this form, I’d been a walking-around-ignorant. And in large part I still am today. I was going to the University of Cincinnati and I had a job and I was doing other things and I was just beginning to see that there was more to the world than Flash Gordon and more to drawing than Prince Valiant. I was beginning to suspect things. We go through this period when we begin to see things that we never really realized. That the world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top. We begin to see how fantastically varied and infinitely complex it is. I suppose that’s called “maturation.”
NETSUKE HARE WITH AMBER EYES
I recently encountered a book that refers to netsuke ownership, only this one concentrates on the rich Jewish family that had 264 fine netsuke, bought together by their forebears as a collection. When they were persecuted by the Nazis, the pieces were hidden by their maid and, after World War II, were returned by her to the family. I got the book from the library and found that the biographer, a member of the family, is a highly regarded English ceramicist who decided to use their netsuke collection, which he now owns, as symbolic of his family history and their love of the arts. Up front, I must admit that, though I consider the Holocaust to have been the most horrific tragedy in human history, and I’m in sympathy with this family’s art-filled and tragic story, my focus regarding this book is its relationship to netsuke and how the author elegantly and metaphorically shaped his story by using those netsuke.
Among the multitude of important reviews: “A winning hybrid, a rueful family memoir, a shining meditation on loss and the reverberating significance of cherished objects….” —The Atlantic
Throughout the book de Waal describes his family and netsuke collecting. He comments that netsuke represent all aspects of traditional Japanese culture and life—and his netsukes will come to represent aspects of his family’s life. Each time he writes of netsuke and picks one up to hold, fondle, and examine, he connects the art to his family history, always metaphorically:
They are always asymmetric, I think with pleasure. As with my favorite Japanese tea-bowls, you cannot understand the whole from a part.
When I am back in London I put one of these netsuke in my pocket for a day and carry it around. Carry is not the right word for having a netsuke in a pocket. It sounds too purposeful. A netsuke is so light and so small that it migrates and almost disappears amongst your keys and change.
I realize how much I care about how this hard-and-soft, losable object has survived. I need to find a way of unravelling its story. Owning this netsuke—inheriting them all—means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them. I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie.
What they [the Japanese] could do was everyday life. And emotion. It was these emotions that entranced Kipling when he first saw netsuke in Japan on his travels in 1889.
Did he [the author’s ancestor] fall in love with the startlingly pale hare with amber eyes, and buy the rest for company?
It is not just things that carry stories with them. Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way this netsuke….
The author, opening the protective glass door of his netsuke vitrine, uses that vitrine itself as a metaphor–a kind of opening up this personal memory-gatherer for his stories/netsuke. He includes a photo of a vitrine in the book, but it’s distant and fuzzy, so one cannot see any of the contents. And he comments :
Netsukes cannot knock around your salon or your study unprotected….The vitrines exist so that you can see objects, but not touch them: they frame things, suspend them, tantalize through distance….But the vitrine—as opposed to the museum case—is for opening. And that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric.
The night I returned the library book, I woke at four A. M., wrote a dozen notes to myself in the dark, and knew that I was possessed. Obsessed with the how, what, why of this book. Photocopies I’d made of some of the library book’s pages were not enough—I had to possess, tangibly, the entire volume in my hands. I bought a paperback and deposited it in my own netsuke vitrine. (Its cover has nine tiny photos of netsuke, including, below the title, a small one of the hare.) Now I hope I possess enough of the story. As de Waal’s netsuke evoke his family’s life, my small netsuke collection might represent an example of my artsy life. Here is my mixed-bag vitrine:
* * * * * * *
Eduard de Waal’s evocations of his family uses strong, forceful words about the idea of their netsuke as metaphor, but I believe he recognized that photos of the little sculptures amid the text would make them too visually tangible and thus distracting focal points–among the book’s interior illustrations, there is not one of a netsuke—not even of the one that gives title to the book. I searched the Internet and found images and short videos of de Waal discussing the book—they include a photo of his hare:
Nancy takes one of the snails and says, “Oh, these are so wonderful.” She takes one out of its shell and I see how she does it. She takes this little fork and she fishes one of these things out, and it looks strange, you know—like a little black snake or something. She pulls it out and puts it in her mouth—“Oh!”
Here is this beautiful girl. What am I going to do? I can’t chicken out.
So I say, “Oh, they look very good, hee hee.” I’m feeling sick inside. With the little fork I fish the little thing out. I put it in my mouth. I go, “uuushup!” I taste it. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is so good I can’t believe it!
Then I go the other way—I make a total pig of myself. I eat all the snails up so quick—kiwkiwkiwkiwghkiw! I mean, they’re gone!
And then the lesson hit me. I looked around. I saw all these other people—they’ve been doing this all of their lives! They weren’t surprised at snails. And it began to sneak up on me—what other terrible stuff did I learn at home? What other things do I think are awful? Just because it was back in the kitchen that way, you know? I ate the snails.
Late that night, lying in the dormitory room, I felt those snails—you could taste them. There’s an aftertaste. And I began to suspect that night that there was a fantastic, unbelievable world out there. And I was just be-gin-ning to taste it! Just beginning! God knows where it would lead!
ARTSY, WHAT ARTISTS SEE, ANTHONY BOURDAIN
From pure abstraction to almost pure representation.
A representative sampling.
* * * * * *
My Artsy Fartsy is an illustration of the variety of peripatetic experiences
I’ve had in the world of art.
* * * * * *
WHAT ARTISTS SEE
I recently encountered What Artists See When They Look At Art, a book illustrating short, illustrated essays by artists discussing art they especially respond to at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Peripatetic experiences. The comments are often unexpected, yet perceptive. Maybe artsy. The book’s introduction comments: “[The artists] know how to unpack a work not only analytically but also emotionally. They have a way of making it personal. Some of them speak about an epiphany,…”
* * * * * *
In the early morning of June 8, 2018 I was shocked to tears
when I learned that Anthony Bourdain had died.
I’d not known anything about him when, a couple of years ago, I encountered his CNN television series, PARTS UNKNOWN. I became fascinated by this former chef traveling to “unknown” places to indulge in the local cooking while casually conversing about the customs, social issues, and distinctiveness of matters particular to those with whom he was sharing a meal. The meditative cooking-and-travel combo intrigued me with its unusual form and content. It was as though the food ingredients themselves, and how they were prepared into the mix, represented a concoction of that particular culture that was special to it. He seemed a kind of perceptive—not a casual—flaneur, but I didn’t realize the special connection I had to his way of encountering the world, until that morning when I heard the eulogies and commentaries.
The New York Times essayist James Poniewozik wrote (6/8/18, appearing in the 6/10/18 paper edition) in the first and last parts of his elegant tribute:
Anthony Bourdain understood that eating was simply a way of taking the world inside you.
Mr. Bourdain, whose death was announced on Friday, took a lot of the world inside him in his 61 years on Earth, as a chef and a culinary enthusiast. As a TV host, he shared it with his audience. His globe-trotting, globe-eating series were full of wonder, humor and lusty eating pleasure. But above all, they were about people, for whom food is the most intimate form of expression.
…. He presented learning about the world as an obligation and an unbelievable adventure, something we’re ridiculously lucky to be able to do.
More than a travel guide, more than a food host, Mr. Bourdain was an evangelist of the senses. We’re each given a vehicle, the body, to explore the world, and a set of instruments — touch, smell and especially taste — with which to take in information.
It’s painful to know that Anthony Bourdain’s trip has ended. But he left behind one hell of a travelogue.
In PARTS UNKNOWN, the introductory visual of Bourdain’s television series, sets the mind to the strangely cubistic, yet realistic collage of audio and visual assonance to come. The introduction’s vivid red, jagged lines and unexpected effects alert us that we are about to see a travel adventure infused by a quirky and artsy sensibility. Unexpectedly, we’re being taken to parts unknown, to parts we thought we knew, and we’re in for an occasionally wacky but intelligent and informative exploration that is, in its essence, an artistic representation. An artsy form I hadn’t known existed. Such a deep humanity, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, so that “art” might seem for it a slightly lesser descriptive term.
Through Anthony Bourdain I’ve come to realize that I may
never again be able to receive, process, and write about
the world of art in the same, simple, prosaic way again.
Bourdain and President Obama
discussing food and the world
over beer and noodles in Hanoi.
A recent Internet exchange:
Eugene B Bergmann Bud, thank you for your comment. Bourdain’s death has affected me more than have those of other heroes of mine such as Hemingway, Picasso, Mailer, etc.
Bud Painton You’re welcome, Gene. The fact that this is the way you feel in comparison to the mentioned immortals for whom you held great regard speaks volumes.
Eugene B Bergmann With his extraordinary projection of his humanity, his sensibility, I feel such communion with him–and, with this, in his death, I am reminded so forcefully of my own mortality.