Dearest Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper,
I feel I did not do your lovely long letter justice so am penning you a few more Bon Mots while Dimitri practices his entrechats.
You do seem to have had a very busy year. I am sure there is much more to the Conference on the Seas in Geneva than you are at liberty to tell, but I am glad that Winnie and Mr Chan are still alive and were not done to death with a poisoned crochet hook. At least this means that the future of novelty knitting is safe.
I must say I was never very keen on Hilda even before it became obvious that she worked for the comrades. She once made me beetroot soup for lunch and when I refused to eat it told me I was decadent. Talking of soup, has here been any resolution to the whole question of non Scottish soups at the Church soup and pudding lunch? In a previous letter you mentioned something about the Minister being taken away in the face of a plate of mulligatawny.
They have interesting churches here not so much based on soup and pudding but on Gospel singing, particularly in the Harlem District of the city. This can be fun and very moving, although I am not sure how Mrs Macaulay would cope, fun not exactly being a feature of the Church of Scotland, except for that week when the Sunday School Children sang and did actions to We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, while pretending to paper and paint the pulpit .
Dimitri and I have been to see the new Alvin Ailey Dance Company. They are a group of seven young dancers led by and including Alvin Ailey. We saw their Blues Suite. Dimitri was most taken with them and it seems they do sometimes take guest performers although they have now embarked on what are called “Station Wagon Tours” here in the States.
Theirs is a message of hope born out of the experience of Americans who have their origins in Africa.
We have also been to see the new Seagram Building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It is as you can imagine a skyscraper of 38 storeys designed in the functionalist style. The money comes from the Seagram’s Canadian whiskey (they have an ‘e’ in their drink here – everything is over the top) heiress Phyllis Lambert.
With an unlimited budget the architect has created a lavish interior of bronze travertine and marble. So that it looks smart, you can only have the blinds open half open or closed. There is a very fancy restaurant called The Four Seasons, (way above our budget, but we hope Lulubelle might take us) which has specially designed tableware by Ada Louise and Garth Huxtable and a seasonable menu featuring wild mushrooms.
I am sure Aunt Muriel you could do something similar for the City Bakeries although I would avoid Mrs Travers collecting wild mushrooms as this often leads to trouble.
There is no trouble with wild mushrooms here, but there is trouble over the decoration of the interior of the restaurant. The artist Mark Rothko was engaged to paint a series of pictures and being the character he is, he is said to have decided to produce and please forgive the language, “something that will ruin the appetite of every son – of – a – b…h who ever eats in that room.”
In the end, he decided that the project was so pretentious that he has withdrawn from it. I am not sure if he is a socialist Aunt, but he certainly likes red. Again I am sure it is something that you could do for the business, however, I doubt if Macvities’ is quite ready for abstract expressionism.
I am sure you could use one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s pictures, she is an abstract expressionist by nature; at least if her contribution to the annual art show a few years back – Parish Council Meeting – is anything to go by. I don’t think anyone has ever captured the fury and vitriol of a bonfire night planning meeting as much as Lady P-F. Those blackened sausages on sticks and the twisted features of the guy said it all.
I think you are quite right when you say Scottish Furniture is lagging behind. I suppose much of that is to do with the last Unpleasantness and the failure to invest in new machinery. American interior design is so open and bright. Their ‘diner’ furniture is so comfortable and easy to clean, but I am not sure that it would be quite right in Kelvinside especially when teamed with a jukebox.
I do think though in business terms you should be looking at moulded plywood and plastics – they are the future. Despite a new satellite being launched from Cape Canaveral and the first nuclear submarine sailing under the Pole not everything is futuristic and space age here. Although what we call petrol, and they call gas, is only 25 cents a gallon, there is a recession with unemployment at about 7%. Inflation is fairly low so those in work are managing all right, but being without work is not a happy situation here or anywhere else for that matter.
There are growing concerns about the number of Datsun and Toyota cars coming in from Japan. It is amazing how that country has recovered since the last Unpleasantness which was very unpleasant for them.
The thing about America is that it is such a land of extremes, there is great poverty still in some areas like the South and great wealth in others. Some like Harry Winston, the jeweller, can afford great philanthropic gestures like giving the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute. Yet, still at the beginning of this decade one fifth of the people of his country lived in poverty.
It is sad that there has been no rapprochement between Mrs Travers and her husband. In some ways who can blame her? I know Mr Travers tried to make amends after his trip to China on a slow boat, however, a table lamp made out of a stuffed lizard from Jakarta hardly makes up for afternoons of passion in an old lockkeeper’s cottage, even if the price did include a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. I suppose a Komodo Dragon might have brought her round, but it would have needed a h..l of a big shade.
As you say she has her work cut out with her Billy and his weans. Which reminds me – I am sending Mrs Travers a tartan jacket from Fifth Avenue for her Billy’s Dean. These are a favourite with Americans and he will cut a dash in Maryhill Road. I am also sending Gayle a couple of Madame Alexander dolls.
These are very collectable and I hope she will enjoy them and might someday feel she has a connection with me.
It is so good of you both to take care of her. I have no doubt that she is flourishing in the capable hands of the fey nurse Hairy Mary from Inveraray. Did you manage to get her to the opticians after the incident with the nephew of Mrs Macaulay? She can be a very difficult woman, can Mrs Macaulay. I hope the episode with her nephew Hector in the bath does not make life difficult for Mary. At least Hector has gone to Divinity College with a smile on his face.
Nowhere is perfect and despite the lack of oatcakes and tablet I am happy and very happy to have DImitri here. I think I have grown up a little since coming here.
I do of course miss you both very much and hope that one day soon you will come over and visit me. Perhaps, little Gayle can come too.
Much love to you both
New York, September 1958
P.S. Happy Birthday, Aunt Muriel