Sunday, August 3, 2008

Balzac? Dvorák?

On my way downtown this afternoon, I passed this street sign. We have a lot of these on various corners, commemorating notables who have lived or worked in a specific neighborhood. One of my favorites is "Señor Wences Way" in the theater district. (If you don't know who Señor Wences was, you can Google him.) I also like "Leonard Bernstein Way" at Lincoln Center and "Thelonious Sphere Monk Place" on the far West Side. It reminded me of a casual date I once had—and I guess it was our one and only date—in this East 17th St. neighborhood. The young man and I were walking around, and he remarked, "I think Balzac once lived around here." "Balzac?" I wondered, "I didn't know he ever came to America." "Well, it was someone like that," said my friend. Suddenly I realized, and then commented, that Antonín Dvorák had lived and worked in New York and later, famously, in Spillville, Iowa. The house where he was in residence had been on the East 17th St. block between First Avenue and Avenue A, and the building is now an AIDS hospice. There is a plaque on it, commemorating the great composer. Not wishing to sneer at my date's lack of cultural awareness, I blithely tossed off, "Well, Balzac, Dvorák—what's the difference?"

Honoré de Balzac - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antonín Dvořák - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Free-associating, as is my wont, I was reminded of my own lack of cultural awareness, though I was only a college undergraduate at the time. A revered English professor, in a class on Victorian literature, mentioned that some prominent Victorian or other had some sort of association with the House of Domecq sherry company. No one in the class had ever heard of Domecq—or probably any other brand of sherry. He sniffed and remarked, "Insufficiently worldly, all of you!"

No comments: