Saturday, November 27, 2010

Degrees of Separation

I met a man once in Manhattan who had known Auden. Not as remarkable, perhaps, as meeting someone who had known the secretive Greta Garbo, but I'm a West-coast girl and have only been twice to New York. Over tea, he gave me a new simile for the poet's face: "like a waffle iron," he said, which I found vivid. And Auden met Yeats once, and thought he was "pure evil." And it is a little known fact that Yeats once met Hopkins in Dublin, though it was a dull evening and they didn't have much to say to each other.

I don't like the idea of talking to famous people - it makes me dizzy. I'm afraid I would talk gibberish; or worse, fall completely silent. Though Seamus Heaney visited Lexington just before I began studying here, and I do kick myself for missing him. Oh well. I can continue folding my paper snowflake.

Hopkins' grandfather, as it so happens, studied medicine with Keats. Whew. After that I can't go on. Everything goes misty. What other poets can I wiki-walk over to? Hmmm... my mother and Dana Gioia were in a class together in the seventies. I met Erik Keilholtz in San Francisco once; he had given a lecture on Fra Angelico. Erik was friends with surrealist poet Philip Lamantia, who was friends with all the Beats.

I wonder dreamily if I can connect myself to Virgil somehow. I did meet Cardinal Arinze once. He is hilarious. He also knows Pope Benedict, who knew John Paul II, who knew... and etc., etc. Every pope either knows the old pontiff or knows other cardinals who knew him. This is the easy part. Virgil, on the other hand, knew the Emperor Augustus. Is Constantine the first link between popes and emperors? I assume they weren't talking before the whole "In Hoc Signo Vinces" incident.

But what I'd rather imagine is that Virgil used to get his breakfast sometimes in a thermopolium near the Palatine Hill, and he had a bit of a crush on the cute guy who worked there, one Quintus Fabius, who later opened a new shop trans tiberim, or as they now say, in Trastevere, where he made friends with a Jewish scribe, whose grandson briefly worked for the poet Statius... and so on for centuries... and the farmer from Bracciano, just north of Rome, met a girl from Gubbio, and they got married, and their son, who was studious, became a professor at the Sapienza University of Rome, and one of his students fought in the Second World War, survived, and took charge of Zubboli's Books in Assisi, and when I dropped in in 2007 and asked if he had any Vergilio, he said no, but we do have some Ovidio. And he smiled wryly through his white beard and sold me the Metamorfosi di Publio Ovidio Nasone.

Who are you connected to?


dylan said...

I met Mr Heaney in April 1985. I was fifteen, and we spoke long enough for him to sign my copies of Field Work and Station Island. Being fifteen, I wasn't diffident! I mentioned the fact that my mother traces her ancestry to Northern Ireland, but apparently left him with the impression that my mother herself was from the "wee six" (counties). He asked me, "Is she still alive?" (She was. And is.) And then I mentioned that "I try to write." He said, "It is difficult sometimes." Or words to that effect.

I know a man whose brother played baseball in the major leagues in the 1950s. He, the brother, was briefly a teammate of Hank Aaron's.

And I came within elbow-rubbing range of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) this past August at a concert at which his daughter, Ayla, was the headliner. I was diffident, and didn't even manage a smile and a nod.

And although to some, this might not seem like something to boast of, I did meet Cardinal Bernard Law on at least two occasions. And he's met the two most recent Popes!

some guy on the street said...

I've sung "back-up" for Daniel Taylor (Handel's favourite oratorio). The accoustics in that place were horrible... and it's not the same as meeting, to be sure. I have met Marcel St. Cyr, on a couple of occasions, for actual chamber music coaching. That was fun! The second time he got one of the violin and the viola experts and they played a concert of most of the Goldberg Variations... ah... good times.

I could list a bunch of mathematicians, but Math is a much smaller world than music, I think. Of course, musicians like to trace their "teacher" ancestry, usually back to Mozart --- for instance, my second violin teacher studied with Suzuki, who etc.

But now I must be running!

Enbrethiliel said...


Six degrees of Meredith!

Well, aren't you classy? =P

I'm afraid the only big celebrity I could connect you to is Jennifer Lopez. Sigh!

Bob the Ape said...

I have a daughter;
Who was kissed by former President George H. W. Bush;
Who was Vice President under Ronald Reagan;
Who married Nancy Davis;
Who co-starred in the movie Donovan's Brain.

So, 4 or 5 (not sure how they're defined) degrees of separation between me and Donovan's Brain!

BettyDuffy said...

I crashed at John le Carre's house for the weekend. I'm sorry to say that at the time, I didn't know who he was--and he wasn't there anyway--just his son and a bunch of kids, drinking his good whiskey.

Dr. Thursday said...

I've heard this topic referred to before, and wondered if this was a typical media distortion (or "urban legend") from one of the two following truths:

1. In any group of six people, there must be either three mutual friends or three mutual strangers. (This is a result of the branch of mathematics called "graph theory".)

2. Every single Catholic is linked to every other single Catholic by no more than five others, for each knows a priest who knows his bishop who knows the Pope.

Quite amazing.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I used to cut an old guy's lawn, and that old guy claimed to have met... Greta Garbo. No joke. (Also Ted Williams, apparently.)

I also had a school friend who used to jump on Michael Stipe's trampoline.