The throw of the dice this week lands on an adventure with D.H. Lawrence.
Our affair began in the winter of 1970, when the film “Women in Love” was released.
“ Let’s go see this movie, Alan Bates is in it.” Lizzie, and I were madly in love with Alan Bates. Neither one of us had read the book, or had much knowledge of D.H. It was a film that explored sexual relations that interested us, and it was filmed in England. Back in Junior High Lizzie sang musical songs while I taped her on a recorder. Now in High School, she was singing Hey Jude, and I was reading the words from the record album.
I remember sitting in the balcony of the Beverly Wilshire Theater, leaning forward in my seat as I longed, with adolescent fixation, to be inside the story. I wanted to live in a studio like Gudren’s( the part played by Glenda Jackson) and toast my bread in front of fireplace and paint all day. Gudren was the artist terrified of being tamed. Her sister Ursula, who personified Lawrence’s wife Frieda, wished to make her life within a man’s.
“Your Gudren, and I’m Ursula,” Lizzie claimed with clairvoyant assurance.
” No, I’m not all Gudren.” I protested.
” You are– you’ll see.” Within a year, Lizzie would be in-love in London, creating a life around a man, and I would be an art student at Sonoma State College.
But on that lazy matinee afternoon, we gasped, and squeezed each other’s hands, during particular erotic scenes that shocked our sensibility. It was an awakening, of the abstraction of relationships. We’d discovered that friendships were not as they seemed, and that love did not always have a happy ending. It woke me to what possibilities lay ahead, and turned a defining fold in my growth. Would I end up like Gudren? At times the thought haunted me.
Over the last thirty years, I’ve watched the film every time it screened on television. It was the benchmark of my youth, just before I wandered off into relationships with artists and bohemian living. Several years ago I purchased a copy. I was convinced there was something I’d missed.
Summer 2006 Taos, NM
I move to Taos and Rudy gives me “Birds, Beast’s & Flowers” a collection of poems written by D.H. during his stay in Taos. I journey out to Del Monte Ranch where D.H. and Frieda lived on and off for several years. The ranch keepers took us on a private tour; oral and on foot. I yearned to learn more. Several days later I walked down the portal of Ranchos Plaza to see what new treasure books Robert had in his shop.
“What do you have by D.H. Robert?”
“Kangaroo, and Lorenzo in Search of The Sun,” it’s a biography about DH.
“I’ll take them.”
They were placed on the bookshelf in the bedroom and remained there unread. By now, I’d seen the famous stained glass window D.H. painted in Mabel Dodge’s bathroom in Taos, and the sketchings on display at the La Fonda Hotel. Still, I had not read any of his novels.
Winter 2008. Santa Fe.
The down blanket is wrapped tightly around my shoulders on a snowy night. I take “Lorenzo in Search of the Sun” off the shelf and begin to read. The book begins with his adventure in Taormina.
“I am so thankful to be back in the South, beyond the Straits of Messina, in the shadow of Etna, and with Ionian Sea in front: the lovely, lovely dawn-sea where the sun does nothing but rise toward Greece.”
This first excerpt leads me to chisel the cobwebs of memory to the summer of 1972. I left my sister in Barcelona, with a Spanish- lover, and took a solo journey to Sicily. I don’t recall what precipitated my quest; but the warnings and discouragement from my sister, and fellow travelers didn’t obstruct my vision. I had to go to Sicily. It turned out to be the bittersweet part of my European summer. An Italian hotelier rescued me, and put me up for a few weeks in his Taormina hotel; like he did with all the lost American hippie girls.
Every night this winter, I huddled inside and read a few pages of the book, savoring them as I would a chocolate souffle. These descriptions of Italy, Mexico, and Taos infiltrated that clamping cold. D.H mentions the Model T Lizzie in his chapters on the El Monte Ranch in Taos. I am reminded of my trip to the ranch.
This is an excerpt of the column I wrote about my visit to ranch in 2006.
D.H and his wife Frieda moved to the Ranch in 1924. Imagine that journey–there was no road to the Ranch, that came much later. They must have hiked up the hill or gone on horseback. The ranch includes a small barn, and two cabins; they chose the larger Homesteader’s Cabin. It is so organic, as if spun together by weeds and timber chips, but actually is a mixture of pine logs, mud, straw and water. The Homesteader was a man named John Craig. He claimed this property in the 1880’s, and built the cabins with the surrounding Ponderosa pine. The pueblo Indians helped D.H restore the cabin and he moved in during the summer of 1924.
I thought about this man sitting under the majestic beauty of the pines, and writing all day long. The plateau of silence that envelopes this ranch is every writer’s dream. Here he wrote some of his Taos poetry, “Birds, Beast’s & Flowers” he finished “St. Mawr,” a short novel, the novel “David,” and parts of “The Plumed Serpent.” D.H didn’t know how to type; he left that task to Dorothy Brett, the artist that accompanied D.H and Frieda. D.H invited Dorothy and several other friends to join him in Taos after his first visit in early 1924. He was creating a Utopian society, he named Rananim. Brett was the only artist to accept the offer.
I took a few photographs and then we trotted back to the entrance. Just as we were getting into the Van, a car pulled up. A woman got out, and called out a hello from across the way. I yelled back that we were just leaving, and she yelled even louder, “I can’t hear you – I’m almost deaf.” I got out of the car and went to meet her halfway. Immediately taken with her pioneering eyes, and up at dawn spirit, I yelled to Rudy to get out of the car.
“ I’m Mary and that’s Al over there, we’re the caretakers. Al’s been here 50 years.” I nodded to Al, standing a few feet behind her, watching us with a tinge of curiosity. I noticed his eyes, the color of faded denim, squirming with stories. I tried not to ask too many questions too quickly; Al was tired from a long journey so he took a seat on the porch.
“ Open up the cabin for them Mary.” He called out.
Mary nodded and led us up the path to the D.H. cabin.
Along the way, she talked about the ranch. There is a society named the Friend’s of D.H. Lawrence in Taos, and they want to build a big commercial visitor center on the ranch. Mary and Al think this is a bad idea, because the pines and silence are so happy, why mess up a beautiful memorial. If you saw the ranch, you’d agree that a visitor center will look like a spaceship in this territory of natural beauty. Mary opened the door to the cabin and showed us around. The first thing I noticed was the typewriter.
“ Is that where he typed? ” (She gave me printed literature that fills in the information I know now.)
“ Nope,– but that’s the typewriter Dorothy typed on.” The cabin is well maintained, simple and authentic. After we examined everything Mary led us back to Al. We gathered around the porch and Al talked about the road that he cleared to the ranch, the typewriter he dug out of the dump, and the time he drove out from Chicago in his Tin Lizzie. Rudy turned to the Model T in the parking lot.
” You drove that out here?” He asked.
” Naw, that’s my brother’s. We‘re going to get it workin’ soon. Go on in and take a look.” Rudy jogged over and got inside. I took photographs of him, and Al watched.
” That’s how D.H. and Frieda got around Taos, they’s was great cars.”
Mary took me aside and told me that she was throwing a party for Al in a few weeks, and that we’d be welcome. It would be Al’s 90th birthday. I glanced over at him, petting his dog and looking very content. I didn’t think he heard us, but he did. “ I’ll be here until I’m 100.” We exchanged good wishes, and many waves before leaving that afternoon.
Was Al’s brother Gotzsche, who D.H. writes about and who toured them around in his Lizzie? Further in my reading, I discovered that Gudren, personified the author Katherine Mansfield. I became more keenly acquainted with Katherine in Saratoga Springs, when I attended a reading of her short stories at Yaddo Arts Colony.
D.H. is a puzzle that continues to zigzag around my “adventures in livingness.” He is also the author of that slogan. I found the saying in Anais Nin writings, but in fact I think its origin is with Lawrence.
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