体育投注平台I didn’t go there with Tim and Wendy. We drove from France straight to northern Portugal through Castilla la Vieja—Valladolid and Salamanca—and back the same way a few weeks later. Extremadura, though—just the name of it and its remoteness in the Spanish context—had some sort of romantic appeal to me from the first time I ever heard of it, which was probably when I went to Madrid and spent a couple of weeks in Jane del Amo’s apartment, in 1954. I was so beguiled by Extremadura that I started writing a short story called “The Girl from Badajoz.” With respect to publication, she stayed in Badajoz. But try saying “Badajoz” in castellano. It’s beautiful. When you were five years old, in midsummer, we went south to north across Extremadura in our new VW microbus. It was the first time any of us had ever been there, and those were two of the hottest days of all our lives. Fahrenheit, the temperatures were in three digits. Only the oaks were cool in their insulating cork. Rubber flanges surrounded each of the many windows in the VW bus, and the cement that held the rubber flanges melted in the heat, causing the flanges to hang down from all the windows like fettuccine. We stayed in a parador in Mérida that had been a convent in the eighteenth century. Next day, the heat was just as intense, and we developed huge thirst but soon had nothing in the car to drink. Parched in Extremadura—with people like Sarah and Martha howling, panting, and mewling—we saw across the plain a hilltop town, a mile or two from the highway, and we turned to go there and quench the thirst. The roads were not much wider than the car; the national dual highways, the autovías, were still off in the future. The prospect seemed as modest as it was isolated—just another Spanish townscape distorted by heat shimmers. A sign by the portal gate said “Trujillo.” We drove to it, and into it, and up through its helical streets, and finally into its central plaza. There—suddenly and surprisingly towering over us—was a much larger than life equestrian statue of Francisco Pizarro, conquistador of Peru, this remote community his home town.
Thornton Wilder at the Century
At Time: The Weekly Newsmagazine, my editor’s name was Alfred Thornton Baker, and he was related in some way to the playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder. Spontaneously, one morning at the office, Baker appeared at the edge of my cubicle, and said, “You need a little glamour in your life—come have lunch with Thornton Wilder.” We walked seven blocks south and one over to the Century Association, where Wilder had arrived before us. Baker may have been counting on me to be some sort of buffer. I was about thirty but I felt thirteen, and I was moon-, star-, and awestruck in the presence of the author of “,” “The Skin of Our Teeth,” and “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” I had read and seen those and more, and had watched my older brother as Doc Gibbs in a Princeton High School production of “Our Town.” I knew stories of Wilder as a young teacher at the Lawrenceville School, five miles from Princeton, pacing in the dead of night on the third floor of Davis House above students quartered below.
体育投注平台“What is that?”
体育投注平台“Mr. Wilder. He’s writing something.”
体育投注平台About halfway through the Century lunch, Baker asked Wilder the question writers hear four million times in a life span if they die young: “What are you working on?”
Wilder said he was not actually writing a new play or novel but was fully engaged in a related project. He was cataloguing the plays of Lope de Vega.
Lope de Vega wrote some eighteen hundred full-length plays. Four hundred and thirty-one survive. How long would it take to read four hundred and thirty-one plays? How long would it take to summarize each in descriptive detail and fulfill the additional requirements of cataloguing? So far having said nothing, I was thinking these things. How long would it take the Jet Propulsion Lab to get something crawling on a moon of Neptune? Wilder was sixty-six, but to me he appeared and sounded geriatric. He was an old man with a cataloguing project that would take him at least a dozen years. Callowly, I asked him, “Why would anyone want to do that?”
Wilder’s eyes seemed to condense. Burn. His face turned furious. He said, “Young man, do not ever question the purpose of scholarship.”
I went catatonic for the duration. To the end, Wilder remained cold. My blunder was as naïve as it was irreparable. Nonetheless, at that time in my life I thought the question deserved an answer. And I couldn’t imagine what it might be.
I can now. I am eighty-eight years old at this writing, and I know that those four hundred and thirty-one plays were serving to extend Thornton Wilder’s life. Reading them and cataloguing them was something to do, and do, and do. It beat dying. It was a project meant not to end.
I could use one of my own. And why not? With the same ulterior motive, I could undertake to describe in capsule form the many writing projects that I have conceived and seriously planned across the years but have never written.
体育投注平台By the way, did you ever write about Extremadura?
体育投注平台No, but I’m thinking about it.
At current velocities, it takes twelve years to get to the moons of Neptune. On that day at the Century Association, Thornton Wilder had twelve years to live.
The Moons of Methuselah
体育投注平台George H. W. Bush jumped out of airplanes on his octo birthdays. Some people develop their own Presidential libraries without experiencing a prior need to be President. For offspring and extended families, old people write books about their horses, their houses, their dogs, and their cats, published at the kitchen table. Old-people projects keep old people old. You’re no longer old when you’re dead.
Mark Twain’s old-person project was his autobiography, which he dictated with regularity when he was in his seventies. He had a motive that puts it in a category by itself. For the benefit of his daughters, he meant to publish it in parts, as appendices to his existing books, in order to extend the copyrights beyond their original expiration dates and his. The bits about Hannibal and his grammar-school teacher Mrs. Horr, for example, could be tacked onto “,” while untold items from his river-pilot years could be appended to “Life on the Mississippi.” Repeatedly, he tells his reader how a project such as this one should be done—randomly, without structure, in total disregard of consistent theme or chronology. Just jump in anywhere, tell whatever comes to mind from any era. If something distracts your memory and seems more interesting at the moment, interrupt the first story and launch into the new one. The interrupted tale can be finished later. That is what he did, and the result is about as delicious a piece of writing as you are ever going to come upon, and come upon, and keep on coming upon, as it draws you in for the rest of your life. If ever there was an old-man project, this one was the greatest. It is only seven hundred and thirty-five thousand words long. If Mark Twain had stayed with it, he would be alive today.