Information, Answers & Reviews

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel

Can’t say when the last time I read a book written by a seventeen-year old, but this memoir by a high school student was touching and well-written despite Nicolaia Rips' youth. Growing up in New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel gives one a head start, at least when it comes to knowing interesting characters.

The Chelsea’s fame reached its ascendency in the 60s and 70s with noteworthy residents:  Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Patsy Smith, who wrote her own memoir about it, Just Kids.

First Nicolaia describes how she came into being. Her mom was a globe-trotting artist, and her dad had zero interest in raising a child, but somehow the artist got pregnant, and the couple began a new way of life. Though not immediately.

While pregnant, her Mom traveled through Europe and along the Silk Road in Asia. Her dad, a non-practicing lawyer and writer, stayed in New York and added a psychiatrist’s office to his daily rounds of coffee shops. He also denied that he was the father, accusing a gay friend for parenting the child. However, once Nicolaia was born, he came around and warmly embraced being a dad, but still the family remained footloose, decamping for several years in Italy, and then roaming North Africa and India, before returning to NYC and the Chelsea Hotel.

All at Sea

This beautiful memoir had me weeping several times. The opening chapter describes in vivid detail the death of the author’s partner by drowning on a winter vacation to Jamaica. He died in the usual tranquil bay outside their cottage after he entered the wild surf to rescue their small son, Jake.

Decca, a Guardian journalist and author, noticed both her partner Tony and son flailing in the water. She ran to the beach, dove in and swam out to them, whereupon her partner passed their son to her and she swam back pulling her son by the chin. She assumed all was well, and that the morning would just provide an embarrassing story that they would later share about this vacation.

But when she turned to look over the bay, she noticed that Tony was much further out then he had been, and he was fighting both the waves and the current. She almost swam out to him, but a friend stopped her and pointed to three men who were already assisting Tony.

Decca felt reassured, but Tony kept flailing. The men pulled him in, and on the beach, white foam poured from his mouth. A local doctor bent over him, and felt his pulse, but Tony had died. It seemed unbelievable to Decca because most of the time he had not been underwater. This made her recall a conversation that they had shared at a party about how you could drown in a teaspoon full of water.

Gene Wilder (1933 – 2016)

Gene WilderI can still remember the first time I saw Gene Wilder in a film.  He was playing a mousey accountant by the name of Leo Bloom who, while going over the books of once-famous Broadway Producer Max Bialystock makes the casual observation that it would be possible, though dishonest, to make more money with a Broadway flop than a successful production.  The film was “The Producers,” and the rest they say is history and Gene Wilder screamed his way into being one of my favorite comedic actors as Zero Mostel stood over him while he lay on the floor in a panic screaming, “Don’t Jump on me. Don’t Jump on me.”

Gene went on to star in many well-known comedies: Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Stir Crazy, Silver Streak and many others.  His role as candy maker Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will likely never be forgotten. The library owns a number of Gene Wilder’s Films and books. You did know he was also a writer, didn't you?  The link below will create a list of items to choose from.   He will be missed.

 

The Films and Book of Gene Wilder

The Invisible Man (1933)

Claude Rains was perhaps one of the most recognizable character actors from the classic era of film.  He was able to play almost any part. Among his best known roles were Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca and Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The Invisible Man was his first major film role.  Prior to this film he had only appeared on screen in one silent film short.  The rest of his early acting life had been spent on the hardwood stages.  In The Invisible Man, Mr. Rains stars as Dr. Jack Griffin, who disappears one day while working in the lab of his friend and mentor Dr. Cranley   His mysterious disappearance from the lab has Flora, Dr. Cranley’s daughter and Jack’s girlfriend, worried regarding his whereabouts.  Unbeknownst to the two of them Jack Griffin has done more than simply walked away from the lab and them.  He has literally disappeared, becoming completely invisible.  Wrapped in bandages to hide his invisibility he sets up a lab in a local Inn to work on a way to bring himself back to normalcy.  Sadly the formula which made him invisible is also affecting his mind and he is becoming more unbalanced and violent as time passes.

The Past

This novel is a dense, rich celebration of an English family, first in the present time, then in the past--the late 60s and early 70s.

In the first half, four siblings: Harriet, Alice, Roland, and Jane meet at the old family homestead near the sea for a family reunion.  The house is being sold, and it will be their last time together at their childhood home.

Accompanying them, are children (Jane’s), a new South American wife (Roland’s--his third), a young friend, and son of a former lover (Alice’s), and all alone, (Harriet).

In the siblings’ idiosyncratic fashion, Harriet arrives first; she leaves the house locked and goes wandering in the forest.  Alice arrives with Kasim, and then realizes, what she has done, brought an eighteen-year old to a place with nothing going on. Roland calls and says there will be delay, and that he and Pilar will arrive on Sunday.

Alice runs through the house, throwing open windows, picking and placing beautiful bouquets in each of the adults’ room, while Jane, the mom, practically begins cooking the evening meal as her two children, Ivy and Arthur explore.

Privately, Jane and Harriet discuss whether Kazim is more than a friend to wild, actress Alice. Kazim reads on the porch terribly bored. But on Sunday when Roland, Pilar and Molly, Roland’s sixteen year old daughter, arrive. Kazim immediately perks up at Molly’s appearance.

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane tells the fictional story of rich newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane, his rise to power and eventual decline as he shifts from an idealistic publisher/editor into egotist whose power has gone to his head.  It was based loosely on the life of William Randolph Hurst, but not loosely enough to suit Hurst.  The film pulled few punches and Hurst was not amused at being the subject, even if indirectly of such a movie. Citizen Kane almost completely failed at the box office when it was released and even before the production was finished the film was wrapped in controversy. Director and writer Orson Wells was accused by Hurst of the being a communist, and a homosexual, both of which were considered major issues in 1941.  Interestingly he also accused Wells of being a womanizer and Socialist as well. As you can see the accusations leveled at Wells were often contradictory and usually untrue.  The major newspapers, owned by Hurst refused to review the film or allow it to be advertised in their pages.  In fact, no review of Citizen Kane appeared in any paper owned by Hurst until the mid- seventies over 30 years after its release. 

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