• In the corner of our Winter Park guest bedroom is a small writing desk called an “Escritoire.”
One day long ago in Hannover, Germany, I sang a matinee performance, of Hoffman in the Offenbach opera “The Tales of Hoffman.” In my little Porsche I was on my way back to my homestead in Heidelberg, a trip that I could usually make at about 100 miles an hour on the Autobahn. I stopped in the small town of Göttingen to visit some old friends. In their home, I met the very elderly Princessen von Seyn-Wittgenstein, who had heard my “Hoffman” in the Kassel Opera, and asked me to come to her “place” the next time I passed that way. Some weeks later I did so, and was charmed to see the comfortable small, make-piece “castle” in which she now lived, since the Russians, following World War II, had taken from her her life-long real family castle-estate some 100 miles to the east.
I particularly admired a small Escritoire made of ancient lightly lacquered dark German oak. Its lines were reminiscent of the Queen Anne style, but the desk did not have the finesse of a true piece of Queen Anne. It was quite patently an old-time German cabinetmakers idea of “Louis XV rustique” filtered through the strong no-nonsense mind of a centuries long-dead Teuton. I expressed my admiration of the desk to the Princessen and she returned a smile of appreciation. She told me that she had learned to write while sitting at that little desk in some now far-off captured German town.
About two weeks later, I was in my Heidelberg digs when there was a sharp rap on my front door. A man in working clothes made sure that he was in the right place, and then returned to his truck from which he and a companion brought a big package wrapped in brown paper. In the middle of my living room they removed the paper, and there stood the Princessen’s Escritoire. A small note was scotch-taped to the desk and said in German something to this effect: “May this little Escritoire bring you the kind of thanks you deserve for your beautiful singing in Germany, where great arts and artists are adored.”
These days I find it quaintly amusing that a very old German copy of a French writing desk is now in the bedroom of our house on a Central Florida lakeside.
As an artist, I, of course, muse upon this tale when I glance at that small desk bathed in a ray of Florida sunshine, as proof of the universality of the love of beauty and of art among all of us appreciative humankind.
• In Göttingen, Germany, I had two very dear old lady friends — sisters — who had walked 600 miles when in their 60s, to escape from their East Prussian homestead that was now in Russian hands. Paula and Beate were as good as any people I have ever known, and put me to shame when I compared their sweetness of character to my own slightly jaundiced view of the human race. My thinking has been highly influenced not only by experienced observation, but by the words of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and even Will Rogers, as well as my being exposed to the palaver of countless big-talkers, liars, and/or politicians.
As a token of affection, I had become accustomed to calling each of my Göttingen ladies, i.e. Paula and Beate, “Tante,” meaning “aunt.” They, of course, knew that I had worn the uniform of a U.S. Naval officer in the then-not-so-late WWII. They, like the majority of the Germans I came to know, despised Hitler and all he stood for. They were devout Evangelische-Cristians, and certainly no true Christian could ever believe in Nazism. They had served without pay as Evangelische operation-room nurses, saving many lives until the Americans took over in Germany. Then they served as American military nurses for many years.
Good people create goodness wherever they are, and their goodness is demonstrably contagious throughout the wide world. You only need to be a good person yourself, to recognize this fact.