The Women | Chapter 41 of 41

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 10560 Views | Add a Review

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1
Wrieto-San in the original.
2
Unidentified male; perhaps one of his acquaintances from earlier, happier days in Chicago society.
3
Call him Albert Bleutick for convenience’s sake, a man of median height, median coloring, with a medial swell of paunch and a personality that was neither dominant nor recessive, a companion of the second stripe, one who could be relied upon to pick up the tab at lunch and actively seek out tickets to the ballet, the symphony, the museum. His was the fate of all minor characters in a major life: to perform a function and exit, as colorless as the rain descending on the dreary gray streets on a day that might as well have rinsed itself down the drain for all anyone cared.
4
I knew her at Taliesin as a sour, thin, humorless woman, tubercular in that first year, busy, always busy with the work of the place, scrubbing, hanging out clothes, hoeing in the garden and splitting wood for the stove, the furnace and the seventeen fireplaces we kept going eternally for the poor heat of them in that cavernous edifice, but she was a girl once, and in love. Grant her that.
5
Wrieto-San in the original, and ff.
6
Georgei Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, 1866 (?) -1949. Philosopher, composer, shaman, hypnotist. Magnum opus: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Espoused lifelong doctrine called “The Work,” a muddled philosophy of being with its own mythos and cosmology that attracted to him a ring of disciples whom he arbitrarily embraced and cast out of the fold. He was at Taliesin in 1938, I believe it was, a shambling ancient Armenian Turk or Gypsy of some sort with an accent so impenetrable he might as well have been talking through a gag. I remember seeing him off in the distance each morning, a bundle of animated rags conferring with Mrs. Wright while Wrieto-San fumed in the studio.
7
One of those curious overheated phrases of O’Flaherty-San, which we will let stand.
8
Zona Gale, author of popular appeasements such as Miss Lulu Bett, who was then at the height of her fame, and more marginally, her beauty. But she kept cats and had claws of her own. And, of course, like all novelists, she had unrealistic expectations.
9
Officially, the Gurdjieff Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, an oxymoronic designation, it seems to me.
10
Vlademar Hinzenberg. An architect. A Russian.
11
Wrieto-San was a great one for holidays—Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas—and if there was no holiday in sight he would invent one to suit him, the Fundament of June, Midsummer’s Eve, the Pillars of March, the stronger the whiff of paganism the better. He was an inveterate arranger too, forever fussing over his furniture and objets d’art, and he threw himself into holiday decoration with all the fierceness of his unflagging energy (an energy, unfortunately, that often manifested itself in a sort of superhuman volubility that made it difficult to be around him for more than an hour or two at a time).
12
“The Elf King.” And what could be more appropriate?
13
Maude Miriam Noel, 1869-1930. Southern belle, sculptress, dilettante. Wrieto-San’s second wife. I never met her personally, but Billy Weston described her to me in some detail. “She was trouble,” he said. And then he used one of those peculiarly apposite American expressions—such a trove, the English language—“She was,” and he paused a moment to stare off into the distance, as if his brain, the actual organ, were being radically compressed by the squeezebox of the memory, “real hell on wheels.”
14
Of course, O’Flaherty-San is flexing his imagination here, trying to see things as Miriam would have seen them. I suspect the driver was what is known as a Chicano, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent—or, perhaps, as my Spanish dictionary has it, a caudillo, a member of the Latin American ruling class whose blood remains relatively undiluted, making for fairer skin, but one wonders what such a man would be doing behind the wheel of a cab. On the other hand, he may have been Italian, after all.
15
Née Caruthers, 1870- ?. A friend of Miriam’s youth in Memphis. They remembered each other’s birthdays and corresponded frequently, but never more voluminously or passionately than in the first few years of Miriam’s marriage—at fifteen—to Emil Noel, scion of a distinguished Southern family, who took her off to Chicago where he became a decidedly inartistic functionary at Marshall Field’s.
16
La Noire idole, Étude sur la Morphinomanie, by Laurent Tailhade. Paris: Leon Vanier, 1907. A defense and celebration of morphine, written to counter the sensationalism of Maurice Talmeyr’s Les Possédés de la morphine, which chose to view the use of this medicinal drug in what Tailhade considered an erroneous and negative light. In Miriam’s defense, it should be said that during her days in Paris—roughly 1904-1914—the use of morphine was widespread, particularly in fashionable and artistic circles, and was considered, on the whole, no more remarkable in a young woman than smoking, wearing trousers or imbibing cocaine-infused beverages like the wildly popular Vin Mariani.
17
Actual name. No need really to comment on these absurd juxtapositions of function and fate, but I did once consult a dentist in New Haven by the name of Dr. Hertz.
18
From 1914 to 1923. Wrieto-San took her up after the death of his previous mistress and first moved her into Taliesin in 1915, though he was still married to his first wife, Catherine, who refused to grant him a divorce. As indicated above, the people of the community—simple types, holding fast to their rustic mores and easily manipulated by tub-thumping editorial writers and backwoods preachers—were scandalized, treating Wrieto-San as a pariah. This animus may well have precipitated Wrieto-San’s decision to take on the commission for the Imperial Hotel and move—with his mistress—to Japan, a far more compliant and civilized country.
19
Metaphorically speaking, that is. At this stage of his life, in late middle age, Wrieto-San was growing stocky, devolving into the Welsh farmer he was born to be. By my reckoning, his shoulders were no wider than average.
20
To say the least. Typically his acolytes were allowed no more than four hours sleep a night and they spent the remaining twenty in the Master’s service, putting themselves through a routine of hard physical labor, dance movements and spiritual and psychological exercises designed to awaken them from the death-in-life of the closed consciousness. Some would call it slave labor, but in the end it wasn’t much different from what Wrieto-San would expect from his apprentices, though we did sleep, on average, an hour or two longer. And we didn’t dance. Not if we didn’t want to.
21
The Packard? I know Wrieto-San had one of these automobiles in 1929, a touring car he took with him to Arizona, but I’m not certain of the provenance of this one. Perhaps it was the Cadillac in which he fled to Minnesota in 1926 to escape prosecution on Mann Act charges. In any case, Wrieto-San changed cars the way most men change socks.
22
Amanatto, made from adzuki (red beans). My personal favorite are chitose, sweet-bean dumplings covered with pink and white sugar representing the glow of sunrise and snow on Mount Fuji. Each year for Setsubun my mother would make tray after tray of them, even when we were living in Washington, and allow my brothers and me to gorge on as many as we could hold. Which was fewer than you might think—bean paste is surprisingly filling, especially when it’s been sweetened to perfection.
23
La Miniatura, constructed in a ravine in Pasadena, was especially problematic. As were the flat roofs of all four of these unique, Mayan-inflected concrete-block houses, architectural treasures all. Leakage was to be expected—it was the fault of the climate, Wrieto-San would insist, nine months of desiccating sun, three months of monsoon rains—but he did personally see to the flashing for Mrs. Alice Millard, chatelaine of La Miniatura.
24
While he may have been the world’s greatest architect, Wrieto-San lacked expertise when it came to electrical devices. Half the wiring at Taliesin was jury-rigged and we were forever watching a lightbulb sizzle in the socket or plugging in a lamp or radio to the sound of an explosive pop and the odor of scorched wires.
25
No surname available. No one seemed to recall anything about him, except that he was called Mel.
26
One wonders if Wrieto-San ever stopped to think what he was doing. To create the fiction of Olgivanna as his housekeeper and almost immediately impregnate her begs the question.
27
By apprentices.
28
Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney, 1869-1914.
29
A considerably inflated figure, it seems to me. But then Wrieto-San was always over-valuing his collections—his Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) especially—in order to raise money against them as a sop to the vast armies of his creditors.
30
Three mistresses, three Taliesins. One can only imagine how Olgivanna must have felt with regard to the line of succession. Given her private education, certainly she must have been acquainted with Henry VIII.
31
I don’t know how far this homily would go in assuaging the fears of a young girl morbidly afraid of lightning, but I had it from a reliable source—Svetlana herself. And she was a perfectly well-adjusted (and quite fetching) girl in her teens when I knew her at Taliesin. Of course, she did run off at seventeen to elope with Wes Peters, incensing Wrieto-San.
32
True enough. Wrieto-San employed the same subterfuge with regard to Miriam’s role in the household when he moved her in ten years earlier, even going so far as to draw up a contract putting her wages at $60 a month, but it proved transparent. Within days, the papers were decrying the architect’s continued flaunting of convention, denouncing Taliesin as a “Sin Nest” and “Love Bungalow” and the like.
33
Jasper J. Jesperson, 3720 Figueroa, Los Angeles, California. Private Investigations of a Discreet Nature.
34
An indication that Wrieto-San was attempting to be discreet, if not deceptive. In recent years, he’d come to prefer the Congress, on Michigan Avenue (an undistinguished edifice, really, built in 1893 as an annex to Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building across the street), perhaps because it was the place to be seen, its Pompeian Ballroom attracting the smart set as well as Chicago’s social elite. I never stayed there myself, even in later years when I could easily have afforded it—the only time I spent a night in Chicago during my apprenticeship was when Daisy Hartnett and I were able to get away on the pretext of her mother’s illness. The hotel we chose was inconspicuous, to say the least. And a whole lot cheaper than the Congress.
35
Miriam was noted for the originality of her dress.
36
Magnesium oxide. Remember magnesium oxide? The famous photograph of myself and three other apprentices leaning over Wrieto-San’s shoulder as he plied the tools of his trade was taken during the flashbulb era, of course, but I still have the photograph my father insisted I pose for in commemoration of my return to the United States some four years earlier. The picture shows an earnest, slim (I wish it were so now) young man in jacket and tie and formally lubricated hair who is about to experience a coughing fit as the cloud of magnesium dust engulfs him on a wayward gust off the San Francisco Bay. I believe I spat up white phlegm for a week.
37
This was a private ceremony, in November of 1923. The reporter’s confusion may allude to Miriam’s comments to the press in 1915, shortly after it was discovered that she had moved into Taliesin as Wrieto-San’s mistress. At that time she quite forcefully expressed her contempt for the institution of marriage (“Frank Wright and I care nothing for what the world may think. We are as capable of making laws for ourselves as were the dead men who made the laws by which they hoped to rule the generations after them”).
38
As will be seen below, the yellow press of the day came to refer to Wrieto-San and his “affinities” in a kind of shorthand nomenclature, so notorious were their affairs and so public the airing of their laundry, as the saying goes.
39
Precise derivation of the nickname unknown. A Montenegrin endearment?
40
She’d allegedly been jailed for a brief period in Paris after attacking her ex-lover with a knife, and from the beginning she made it known to Wrieto-San that she was not to be trifled with. She kept a pistol. And she firmly believed that her scarab ring was invested with the power to reconcile her accounts in the supernatural sphere, almost in the way of the Voodooists of Haiti and New Orleans.
41
Vladimir Lazovich, a shipping agent living in Queens, New York. Olgivanna’s brother. Not to be confused with Vlademar, her former husband.
42
For Wrieto-San an uncharacteristic emotion.
43
Catherine “Kitty” Tobin Wright (1871-1959), Wrieto-San’s first wife. They married, against all sense and advice, when he was twenty-one and she just out of high school. The children—Lloyd, John, Catherine, David, Frances and Llewellyn—came in rapid succession, like plums dropping from a tree. By all accounts, Wrieto-San seemed bewildered by them. It is unlikely that he would have given much thought or consideration to Catherine’s pregnancies, beyond the obvious financial and architectural exigencies to which they gave rise.
44
This must have been especially trying. Wrieto-San was the world’s greatest self-promoter (with the possible exception of P.T. Barnum), and to walk down a street or step into a room without broadcasting the news was pure poison to him.
45
One can’t help wondering where Wrieto-San came up with the funds for this expedition, given that he was in debt for the rebuilding of Taliesin and Miriam’s upkeep at the Southmoor Hotel, not to mention legal fees. In all of 1926, he built only two very minor commissions.
46
Julian Carleton, 1888(?)-1914. Manservant, Barbadian, murderer. See below.
47
Of course, Wrieto-San was the apostle of home, his revolutionary Prairie houses built round a central hearth and the rooms open to one another so as to provide an integrated familial space. “A true home is the finest ideal of man,” he famously pronounced in An Autobiography (but concluded the maxim, rather schizophrenically, I’m afraid, with this: “and yet—well to gain freedom I asked for a divorce”).
48
Baron Kishichirō Ōkura, 1882-1963. Playboy, hotelier, motorcar enthusiast. As president of the Imperial Hotel and son of the head of the investment group formed to fund its construction (Baron Kishichirō Ōkura, the elder, 1837-1928), he was instrumental in awarding the commission to Wrieto-San. I met him twice, at receptions my father gave in Tokyo. He was a sleek, chillingly handsome man who favored Western dress and was interested in two subjects only, as far as I could ascertain: single-malt scotch whiskey and very fast automobiles.
49
I can’t speak for the authenticity of this usage. I have my doubts that the term was commonly employed in the 1920s, except perhaps among votaries of the game of poker—I certainly don’t remember having heard or used it in conversation myself—but O’Flaherty-San assures me of its accuracy. Of course, he wasn’t born until 1941. In a place called Tootler’s Falls, Virginia.
50
More likely it was some combination of grain spirits colored with caramel—or worse. It was possible to obtain la chose authentique from the French Canadian bootleggers who smuggled it across the Great Lakes or the gangsters who employed them, but that was only in theory. Most people—and I was among them—had to settle for the degraded product of amateur distillers, which was often laced with rubbing alcohol or antifreeze and occasionally resulted in blindness, paralysis and even fatalities. In my student days, I once obtained—for twelve dollars a quart—two bottles of what was reputed to be bonded Kentucky bourbon but which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a lethal combination of molasses and turpentine. If you knew where to look, however, sake was always available. Out of the stone jug, with the kanji lovingly inscribed on the round protuberance of its cool little belly.
51
I vividly recall hearing this batrachian vocalizing myself, during my first summer at Taliesin. It is, indeed, a dismal sound, depressing in the extreme, as if the earth were vomiting up its dead.
52
I’ve seen the newspaper clippings. What Miriam is overlooking here—or perhaps “suppressing” is a better way of putting it—is Wrieto-San’s counterattack under the headline WRIGHT HINTS AT SANITY HEARING FOR OUSTED WIFE.
53
House keys, that is. He never carried them, considered them a nuisance, and as for the keys to his various automobiles, the chauffeur of the moment could always be counted on to produce them when Wrieto-San felt like taking a spin.
54
She would have seen for the first time—and, I might add, the last—the garden room and decorative pool, for instance, off of Wrieto-San’s bedroom, as well as the new balcony and second-floor guestroom above the living room and the six-panel screen by Yasunobu (pine, birds, cherry blossoms) he’d installed on the wall beneath it.
55
Svetlana’s education was sketchy, a consequence not only of her constant uprooting, but of her mother’s artistic inclinations and Wrieto-San’s antipathy for formal instruction. Iovanna’s case was even worse. She was functionally illiterate when I met her in 1932 and she did not attend school until two years later, at the age of nine, when she had to be held back from the fourth grade in Spring Green because she hadn’t yet learned her alphabet.
56
Yes, and how much would that lamp be worth today?
57
Wrieto-San’s complaints over the chaos fomented by his six children with Catherine are legendary. For all his talk of the sanctity of family—and the conceit was central to his philosophy, along with a firm belief in independence of spirit, pioneer gumption and a don’t-tread-on-me mentality—he seems to have been the sort of man who preferred family life in the abstract to the actuality. But then what man hasn’t, at least on occasion, found himself deeply disillusioned with the distracted wife, the night alarums and the diaper pail, not to mention the expressive howls and systematic material destruction of the growing child?
58
Judge Levi H. Bancroft, who, along with Wrieto-San’s old friend Judge James Hill, was representing Wrieto-San’s interests in the divorce suit. Both he and Judge Hill were eminently capable men—as capable, some would say, as Clarence Darrow, who’d defended Wrieto-San against an earlier charge of violating the Mann Act (in transporting Miriam across state lines in 1915 for allegedly immoral purposes, if sexual congress between consenting adults on any side of any artificial boundary can be seen as immoral). But then, Wrieto-San always surrounded himself with the best of everything, including people.
59
Miriam, in a fugue of litigious ecstasy, had filed an additional suit against Wrieto-San for involuntary bankruptcy and pressed for his arrest on Mann Act charges, an irony that certainly wouldn’t have eluded her.
60
I’ve often wondered if Wrieto-San chose this pseudonym in honor of Henry Hobhouse Richardson, one of the luminaries of the Arts and Crafts movement, whose bold primitive stonework prefigures not only Taliesin but the Imperial Hotel and the Los Angeles houses as well. Unfortunately, I was never able to ask him, because, as you might imagine, it would have been awkward in the extreme even to make casual reference to this period of Wrieto-San’s life, when he was a plaything of the press, bankrupt and bereft of commissions, the “fugitive architect” fleeing the authorities in all the fullness of his white-haired glory.
61
Wrieto-San, in his ineffably charming and charismatic way, had persuaded the owner of the cottage (a Mrs. Simpson; we don’t have a given name for her) that she needed a vacation for a three-month period so that she might rent him her house, fully furnished, and rent him her housekeeper too. How he paid for this—or rather if he paid for it—remains a mystery.
62
Another of those felicitous American expressions, deriving, I presume, from the odor of suspect fish. Of course, we Japanese, as an island people, have a great respect for the utility of all the creatures of the sea, and we would never dream of preparing a fish for sashimi, sushi or even stock for ramen without either seeing it caught personally or giving it a good, long and thorough sniff. And while this isn’t the place for animadversions, I can’t help saying that what passes for “fresh fish” in America wouldn’t serve as offal for the cats in Japan—and our cats don’t really eat all that well.
63
Wrieto-San is not at his best in these photos, less master of the situation than mastered by it. He seems befuddled, as if he’s just realized that he’s put on some stranger’s coat and hat and taken up an ersatz cane. And I mean no disrespect, but in studying these pictures, I have to say that he looks woefully ordinary, like a podgy shoe salesman wandering the aisles or the owner of a delicatessen who can’t seem to remember what he’s done with the sliced bologna.
64
When I first acquired this term, I kept pronouncing it with an extra syllable, voicing the intercalary e, all but certain it must have been of Norwegian derivation. It is, in fact, a corruption of the Spanish: juzgado, sentenced, from the verb juzgar, to judge. In attempting to make light of what must have been among the most painful periods of his life, Wrieto-San had this to say of his decline and fall: he had gone “From Who’s Who to the Hoosegow.”
65
For five hours, according to the Chicago Tribune. One would like to have been privy to that meeting.
66
Carl Sandburg prominent among them. But perhaps the “kicker” with regard to public sympathy was his first wife’s unflagging defense of him—astonishingly, Kitty announced to the press that she was prepared to come up to Minneapolis and stand by him in his time of need. Now, I never met her and cannot speak either to her motives or her mental state at this juncture, but one has to marvel at Wrieto-San’s magnetism and his ability to have such a lasting effect on a woman he’d turned his back on. Twice.
67
Miss Tillie Cecille Levin. Presumably, at this juncture, Miss Levin was more attentive to her needs, both real and imagined, than Mr. Fake.
68
Wrieto-San valued the collection at $100,000, and though, as I say, he continually over-valued practically everything he owned, he was perhaps at least somewhat accurate here, as the government of my country, alarmed at the way in which foreign collectors were depleting the stock of indigenous art, had strictly limited the export of these prints, thus driving up the price of those already in private collections. Hiroshige’s masterwork, Monkey Bridge in Kai Province (Kōyō Saruhashi no zu), an exquisite double vertical ōban, was among the rare pieces up for auction, but Wrieto-San, because this was in effect a fire sale, actually received less for it than he’d paid some years earlier.
69
And how, one asks, did Wrieto-San expect to pay out this amount in cash? Ingeniously, and with the cunning that characterized his financial dealings throughout his life, he persuaded a group of friends to incorporate him—as Frank Lloyd Wright, Inc.—against future earnings, at a cost to each of $7,500. Which, needless to say, none of them ever saw again.
70
Wisconsin law at the time prescribed a one-year waiting period before remarrying.
71
Actually, at this point the bank still owned Taliesin, though Wrieto-San’s friends were negotiating for a grace period with regard to the outstanding debt. He was living with his sister Jennie in her house (Tan-y-deri) on the Taliesin grounds, however, and doing his best to repair damage from yet another fire that had occurred in his absence. (And what is it with this man and fire?)
72
This would have been at the instigation of Albert Chase McArthur, who hired Wrieto-San as consulting architect for the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix for the sum of $1,000 a month, which monies Wrieto-San must sorely have needed at this juncture. It should be said in this connection that while McArthur is officially credited for the design, which makes use of the textile-block construction Wrieto-San pioneered in the Los Angeles houses, anyone with the least sensitivity to architecture can see that this is quite clearly one of Wrieto-San’s buildings in all but name.
73
Niijima, possibly, popular these days with surfers.
74
She was fifty-nine at the time.
75
ARCHITECT WRIGHT MARRIES DANCER, the headlines read.
76
By the corporation, which was soon to go bankrupt.
77
Within three months of their arrival in the fall of 1928, they were off to Arizona (with a party of fifteen, including draftsmen, the cook and Billy Weston and the pie-in-the-sky prospect of a hotel, San Marcos in the Desert, which would, alas, never be built).
78
I wouldn’t want to indulge in amateur Freudianism, but perhaps the trials of these years were what molded her into the unsmiling and unyielding taskmaster of Taliesin, known universally among the apprentices as the Dragon Lady.
79
Woe betide the apprentice who let even one of them go dead on his shift.
80
Including Billy’s son, Marcus, who was born three months after the murder of his elder brother, Ernest, at Taliesin in 1914.
81
This adventure, of course, was to provide the seed for Taliesin West. I have concentrated memories of making the pilgrimage to Arizona each winter, Wrieto-San out front of a procession swollen to seven or eight vehicles and some twenty-seven people, his hair flowing like the fur of a pinniped in a heavy sea, going, as the expression has it, hellbent for leather. He always seemed genuinely surprised, if not shocked, by the presence of other drivers, as if the national matrix of lanes, cart-paths, thoroughfares, boulevards and interstate highways had been created for his use and pleasure alone.
82
1929, that is.
83
Welsh for father. Richard Lloyd Jones, Wrieto-San’s maternal grandfather—father, that is, of the clan—took the fortieth chapter of Isaiah as his personal testament and had Wrieto-San and his sisters memorize it. Its view of human life and endeavor is, I think, especially bleak. There is nothing like it in the Shinto tradition.
84
One of the local women had prepared the body, wrapping it head-to-toe in a pair of linen sheets in order to mask the outrages inflicted on it, the skull cloven, brains loosed, limbs and torso blackened by fire.
85
For Wrieto-San, every building at Taliesin was in a state of flux. When he accidentally set fire to the theater at Hillside one windy afternoon in the thirties (brush, kerosene, poor judgment), he took me aside with a wink and a nod and told me he’d been looking for an excuse to renovate the shoddy old thing for years.
86
Notable among them, the preliminary designs for the Imperial Hotel. Wrieto-San was then negotiating with a representative of the Emperor, using all his charm and persuasion in the hope of landing the commission.
87
Combative as ever, Wrieto-San’s statement to the Weekly Home News reads, in part: “You wives with your certificates for loving—pray that you may love as much and be loved as well as was Mamah Borthwick.”
88
Edward C. Waller Jr., initiator of the project, who’d raised $65,000 against a final reckoning of some $350,000. He was to declare bankruptcy two years later. Since he’d persuaded Wrieto-San to accept stock in the company in lieu of his fee, Wrieto-San was left holding the bag, as they say.
89
Wrieto-San, I’m afraid, was something of a mama’s boy (okāsan ko), and throughout his life, especially in times of duress, he sought the company of women.
90
Again, one wonders how Wrieto-San was able to come up with the financing to purchase materials and employ a cohort of some twenty-five masons, carpenters and laborers, many of whom had to be housed and fed on the premises. I can imagine him working his legendary charm, of course, and perhaps even trading off the sympathetic reaction to Mamah’s death as a wedge to separate friends, tradesmen and prospective clients alike from their resources, and yet still . . .
91
Having left Paris two months earlier in the expatriate exodus following the first Battle of the Marne.
92
Throughout his career, Wrieto-San made a point of arranging meetings in his studio, where he could feel both impregnable and masterful, rather like a tortoise encapsulated in a gilded shell.
93
Miriam was forty-five at the time. It may be interesting to note, for contrast, that Olgivanna was then a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl living in Tiflis with her sister, Hinzenberg and Gurdjieff not yet blips on the horizon. I imagine her fast asleep at that hour—it would have been three a.m. in the Russian province of Georgia—her hair splayed out over the pillow, girlish dreams revolving in her head.
94
See Welsh mythology, the Taliesin chapters of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed, beginning with “The Cauldron of Ceridwen.” Taliesin is often translated as “shining brow,” and Wrieto-San was fond of this designation for his Taliesin, the house on (of) the brow of the hill.
95
The book was Science and Health. Miriam was a devotee of the author’s “curative system of metaphysics” and “spiritual healing.” Wrieto-San, as I understood him, was somewhat more pragmatic.
96
Miriam’s second daughter. She also had a son, Thomas, who was a traveling man of some sort and didn’t seem to have much time for his mother. Or inclination either.
97
Miriam, as I understand her, did tend to be self-dramatizing, though perhaps O’Flaherty-San lays it on a bit thick here.
98
Wrieto-San adopted the square as his symbol because he understood it to represent probity, solidity, the virtues of the foursquare, and, of course, it is testamentary to the rectilinear patterns of his early and middle work. In contradistinction, we Japanese believe the circle to be the ideal form, as it is perfectly harmonious, sans the sharp individual edges of the square. But Wrieto-San was, if anything, a rugged individualist, a one-man, as we say, like the lone cowboy of the Wild West films. Personally, I like to think that it was the Japanese influence that inspired him to employ a circular design for his final major work, the Guggenheim Museum of New York.
99
Why Albuquerque? No one seems to know. But Miriam’s pattern, as has been seen, was to go west rather than east, when the east, one would think, would have been a more natural destination. Perhaps—and I’m only speculating—she was imbued with a residuum of that great American pioneering spirit and a personal sense of manifest destiny.
100
See page 78n.
101
It seems a mystery how two such people could ever willingly come together again. O’Flaherty-San maintains that the adhesive was as much sexual as emotional, but we didn’t discuss the matter in any depth, because as you may imagine, certain subjects are strictly off-limits between the white-haired patriarch of an unimpeachable and time-honored clan (buzoku) and his grandson-in-law, even if—or perhaps particularly if—that grandson is an American.
102
William Cary Wright (1825-1904). Said to be one of the most charming and charismatic men of his time, who unfortunately proved to be too unreliable, too footloose and casual about earning a living to suit Wrieto-San’s mother. Anna divorced him and wrapped herself instead in the enfolding arms of her family, the Lloyd Joneses of the rich farmlands of Wisconsin’s Wyoming Valley. Wrieto-San was seventeen at the time. Shortly thereafter he changed his middle name from “Lincoln” to “Lloyd.”
103
Im sorry, but no matter what O’Flaherty-San might say about sexual adhesion, this seems to me another of those suicidal leaps into oblivion Wrieto-San was repeatedly making. Certainly he must have known that the community—and the press—would universally condemn him for establishing a second mistress in the place of the first, as if he had learned little from the tragic consequences. Or worse: as if he cared less.
104
Even in old age, Anna Lloyd Jones Wright was an imposing woman, five feet eight and a half inches tall, a height to which her celebrated son could never quite rise, despite his elevated heels. It was she who decided on his profession while he was still in the cradle and she who made him her okāsan ko.
105
This was the famous Steinway, which had lost its legs when hauled through a window to spare it from the 1914 conflagration. Ever resourceful, Wrieto-San had adapted drafting stools as temporary supports.
106
Ultimately, Miriam would be tapped in this regard, contributing several thousand dollars of her own money to the reconstruction effort, a fact to which Mr. Fake would one day be intimately attuned.
107
Mildly put. As I’ve indicated, Wrieto-San’s temper was a force all its own, incendiary, savage, excoriating, and all the worse for the caustic bite of his tongue.
108
At that time a young architect by the name of Russell Williamson. I have no record of his remuneration, but I suspect he worked for his bed and supper alone, prototype of the apprentices to come.
109
Then still living in Chicago prior to her husband’s retirement from the stock exchange and their move to a more equitable climate on the West Coast. Cf. page 285.
110
The Mann Act, passed into law just five years earlier as a means of prosecuting pimps, panders, fancy men and macquereau who transported women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, would haunt Wrieto-San, as has been seen. Its intention was to combat the very real abuses of “white slavery,” in which young immigrant girls were approached with offers of employment (in many cases as they stepped off the boat from Ellis Island), only to find themselves opiated, locked away in a room and gang-raped, starved and brutalized till all sense of dignity and individuality was destroyed, after which they were sold into prostitution. Mrs. Breen must have been among the first to attempt to use the law as a tool of harassment and intimidation.
111
A strange adumbration of what lay in the future. One can only speculate as to the extent this experience may have influenced Miriam’s decision to report Olgivanna to the immigration authorities some ten years later on the same pretext.
112
Wrieto-San had been blessed with acute eyesight. However, according to his autobiography, he felt himself rapidly aging in the wake of the tragedy of August 1914 and acquired eyeglasses. I rarely saw him wear them, and never in public, a matter of personal vanity with him.
113
Despite his lifelong protestations to the contrary, I can’t imagine but that Wrieto-San for the most part welcomed publicity, as it got his name out before the public and fed his sense of self-importance. So too with Miriam. Perhaps—and this occurs to me just now—they chose each other in a flare of mutual flamboyance, each reflecting all the brighter off the other.
114
Surname and provenance unknown. Perhaps he was the lover to whom Miriam would refer darkly when speaking of her “tragic love,” perhaps even the very one she accosted with a drawn knife. See page 86n.
115
O’Flaherty-San may be thinking here of The Wild Pampas (Boston: Lippincott, 1915) by H. (Harriet) R. R. Fleck, one of Miriam’s favorite novelists.
116
We can’t know for certain, but it seems likely that he was then working on the plans for his revolutionary “American System Ready-Cut” standardized houses—what today would be called, in classic American shorthandese, pre-fab.
117
Public sympathy turned against her at this juncture, and Wrieto-San was able to take the high road in declining to prosecute her for misappropriation of the mails. Still, the damage to his reputation was done and he was once again seen as philandering and venal, if not faintly ridiculous.
118
Kosode, that is. Lightweight summer robes. Wrieto-San collected textiles as well as prints, screens, sculpture and pottery. Anything of the Far East seemed to hold a special fascination for him, most particularly, as has been seen, the art of Japan. Do I flatter myself to say that our folk art is the equal of any nation’s?
119
Aisaku Hayashi had been sent by the Ōkura investment group (and the Emperor, who was providing sixty percent of the funding) to make a close study of Wrieto-San, whose reputation of working against the grain, not to mention providing regular scandals for the tabloids, bore examination before any contract for the new Imperial Hotel could be finalized.
120
A sign of beauty in my country. O’Flaherty-San’s wife, my granddaughter Noriko, has just such a dentition and a smile of rare and melting grace.
121
An unfair characterization, needless to say. My own late wife, Setsuko (née Takata), whom, sadly, O’Flaherty-San never met, was the very soul of the perfect mate, highly accomplished as a violinist, graphic designer and homemaker, graceful, intelligent, beautiful, my partner and equal in every endeavor. I shall miss her through all my days with an ache as deep and wide as the gulf that separates this life from the next.
122
A crude gaijin notion that is beneath contempt, nothing more nor less than an attempt to belittle and dehumanize our people, a process that began with Commodore Perry and continues to this day. Would Miriam have stooped so low as to promulgate it? Sadly, in the derangement of her anger, I am afraid so. Which excuses nothing. (An editor wants to strike it, but we shall let it stand for the sake of realism. And O’Flaherty-San.)
123
1916.
124
In 1905. Wrieto-San credits this trip with awakening his lifelong love for all things Japanese.
125
Some two thousand concrete “fingers,” as he styled them.
126
It was demolished in 1968.
127
Wrieto-San was one of the foremost collectors in the world. As has been seen, he made use of his prints as a kind of currency, playing them off against his debts. He realized some $10,000 on the sale of prints just prior to leaving for Japan at the end of this year of 1917, and he was rapidly investing these monies in acquiring a far grander and more extensive collection than anyone in the United States had heretofore seen.
128
Arata Endo is, of course, the illustrious Japanese architect who went on to design the Minamisawa building of Jiyu Gakuen and the Koshien Hotel, among other prominent buildings. He became Wrieto-San’s good friend and close associate and was invaluable as a liaison between Wrieto-San—who did tend to be somewhat imperious, to say the least—and the investors’ group. Without him, I doubt very much that Wrieto-San, for all his charisma, would have survived the thousand misunderstandings and cost overruns the construction ultimately entailed.
129
That would be Aline Barnsdall. Her residence, as any architectural buff will know, would come to be called Hollyhock House, after the flowers that grew on the hillside.
130
In all, they made five trips to Japan between 1917 and 1922, staying for a total of thirty-four months. Sadly, the fifth trip marked the last time Wrieto-San would ever again set foot on our soil.
131
Again, the ironies of Wrieto-San’s life and attachments seem strangely cosmic, almost surreal, this Olga prefiguring the Olga who would become Miriam’s bête noire some five years later.
132
Literally, “Please, do you have room, sleep, bath?”
133
Wrieto-San’s mother was eighty-one when she came to Tokyo, where she was revered by everyone who came into contact with her. In Japan, unlike America, we honor the old for the passage of their years and the diachronic luxury of their thoughts. They are living artifacts and they are people, not abandoned husks to be shunted off to the purgatory of nursing home and hospice.
134
In the summer of 1922. They left Japan in July and were at Taliesin by mid-August.
135
But did she want it, truly? As for Wrieto-San’s mother, her health fell off rapidly through that autumn and she died in a nursing home in the town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, in February of the following year, when Wrieto-San and Miriam were in Los Angeles. By all accounts, he did not return for the funeral.
136
I was in school in Washington at the time, but my parents had returned to Japan, so the reverberations of the great Kantō earthquake shook the ground beneath my feet nonetheless. All communications were down. Rumors ran wild. I don’t think I slept for a week—impotent, terrified for my reverend parents and my countrymen too. Estimates of the dead ran to 150,000 as the fires reduced the city to cinders. When finally my father’s telegram arrived—their apartment had been spared; they were both uninjured—I went out in a daze to sit by the Potomac and sob into my two cupped hands, living vessel of my relief.
137
There has been a continuing controversy among scholars over the authenticity of this telegram, any number of whom question its provenance, claiming on the evidence that Wrieto-San himself composed it and contrived to have it sent to him from Spring Green rather than Tokyo, as a kind of rhetorical feather in his cap. Both O’Flaherty-San and I reject these claims. In any case, the telegram’s sentiments are incontrovertible and the proof of it was the fact that when the dust cleared the Imperial stood proud and undamaged while all of Tokyo lay in ruins at its feet. Or, rather, its foundations.
138
Pronounced Maymah, though, of course, the associations with the softer, more elemental “Mama” would be irresistible to a Freudian, given Wrieto-San’s deeper needs. And what was, inevitably, to come.
139
From An Autobiography: “The architect absorbed the father in me . . . because I never got used to the word nor the idea of being one . . . I hated the sound of the word papa.” It’s not for me to comment, but if only I could hear that sound from my own son’s lips just once more I would give everything I have.
140
Ellen Karolina Sofia Key, 1849-1926. Swedish feminist, writer, educator, radical. Author of such titles as Love and Marriage (1911) and The Woman Movement (1912). Mamah was her acolyte, and, later, her translator. A typical passage from Love and Marriage reads as follows: “Just as alchemy became chemistry and astrology led to astronomy, it is possible that such a reading of signs might prepare the way for what we may call . . . erotoplastics: the doctrine of love as a consciously formative art, instead of a blind instinct of procreation.”
141
An astonishing figure, comparable to some $6,500, adjusted for inflation, in 1979 dollars. Both O’Flaherty-San and I have verified the amount from public records, as Wrieto-San was perennially being sued for payment. He once said to me, rather grandly, I think, given the contretemps over the Bearcat, that if one saw first to the luxuries, the necessities would take care of themselves.
142
The George C. Stewart house, 1909.
143
Invented name. History does not reveal to us the actual identity of the unfortunate woman, though a trip to Boulder, Colorado, and a search of the hospital records there might have produced it. Of course, we are comfortable here in Nagoya, O’Flaherty-San and I, and we strive only for a closely invested brand of verisimilitude. Cf. Albert Bleutick, page 23n.
144
Call it Roaring Fork Mines and imagine that he got out—or at least diversified—before the collapse of 1893.
145
Wrieto-San’s behavior in this regard can hardly be viewed as anything less than irresponsible, perhaps even criminal. He seemed always to assume an adversarial relationship with his clients, for whom he felt he had to cheapen himself in some essential way simply to have the means to practice his art, and so if he were to “burn” them, as the saying goes, with cost overruns and advances upon advances, he felt it was only his due. Needless to say, he was abandoning these people and the projects he had no intention of completing except by proxy. What is the expression—take the money and run?
146
As rendered by Katsushika Hokusai, 1760-1849, from his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Wrieto-San possessed at least one premier example, Fuji from Honganji Temple in Asakusa, Edo.
147
An eerie adumbration of what Olgivanna would one day face. Cf. page 97.
148
The full panel, inscribed in three-inch-high letters beneath the motto, reads: Good Friend, Around These Hearth-Stones Speak No Evil of Any Creature. In his early years, devoted nineteenth-century aesthete that he was, Wrieto-San was enamored of such aphoristic expressions, as well as antiquated decorative touches like the classical frieze in the entry hall. He soon abandoned them for the cleaner, modern style he pioneered. Which, needless to say, required no verbal amplification.
149
This is, of course, one of Wrieto-San’s most celebrated early designs, added to his residence in 1893 to accommodate his growing brood. It is an impressive, grand space, with its high, barrel-vaulted ceiling, a fireplace surround of Roman brick and brick wainscoting that carries into the window embrasures. I imagine a hearty fire burning in the hearth as a symbolic backdrop to the first Mrs. Wright’s travail.
150
Press conferences. One wonders when they were first conceived of—and wonders too at Wrieto-San’s curious propensity to inflict them carelessly on the women he professed to love.
151
Lloyd Wright, 1890-1978, eventually became an adept and celebrated architect himself, despite having to work in the shadow of his father. He collaborated on and oversaw a number of Wrieto-San’s projects, including Hollyhock House, and designed a great many buildings independently, among the most admired of which are the Samuel-Novarro House in the Hollywood Hills and the Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes, California. If we apprentices often felt the burden of Wrieto-San’s mastery, I can only imagine how heavy that burden must have been for his firstborn son. But then, genius is never light of weight, is it?
152
W.E. Martin, brother of Darwin, who was one of Wrieto-San’s foremost patrons and patsies. Scandalized, Martin’s wife refused to ride with them, and Martin took the back streets, hoping no one would recognize him. Wrieto-San, however, with his hair down to his collar and dressed like “the man on the Quaker Oats package” in knee breeches and drover’s hat, caused a commotion on the platform, crying out in a stentorian voice for his luggage and shouting, “All aboard, all the way to Oak Park by auto!” No skulking for Wrieto-San, no shuffling or pulling a long face—he was the returning hero. Always.
153
Louis H. Sullivan, the great Chicago architect, for whom Wrieto-San worked as a draftsman from 1888 to 1893, after which he was fired for designing homes on a freelance basis (though Wrieto-San, in typical proprietary mode, claims that he quit). At any rate, he was a keen borrower, as has been seen, but at the same time seemed to have difficulty with the concept of repayment.
154
Francis W. Wrieto-San borrowed $10,000 from him to finance his trip to Germany, leaving the bulk of his ukiyo-e collection with him as collateral. He’d built a house for Little in 1902 and Little would become one of his few repeat clients, hiring him to build Northome on Lake Minnetonka, the Minnesota lake that would later provide the scene for Wrieto-San’s arrest in the company of Olgivanna. Wheels within wheels.
155
Edwin was suing for divorce on grounds of desertion. State law prescribed a two-year absence before the divorce could become final. Since Kitty refused to grant Wrieto-San a divorce on any grounds, Mamah must have felt she had no choice but to remain behind in Europe, far from the prying eyes of the American press. But far from her lover too. And her children. And her life.
156
We had a talker among the apprentices in the mid-thirties, a man just out of college by the name of Ken Milligan. He talked so compulsively—and distractingly—that Wrieto-San insisted he work alone. One morning, Wrieto-San appeared on the site with a local plasterer, who happened to be deaf, and, in his sly way, singled out Ken to work with him. Three days later Ken came into dinner, looked up from his plate and announced to the table at large, “You know, I don’t think that new guy understands a word I say—what is he, a Polack or something?”
157
Years later, Billy confided to me that he had no idea why they’d hired him, unless it was for his tools. “I think they were short,” he said, “and I had everything from my father—braces, bitstops, augers, chisels, drawknives and spokeshaves, planes, squares, bevels, every kind of saw ever made—plus what I’d been collecting over the years on one job or another. I guess I was tool-rich and they were tool-poor.”
158
This brings to mind the story of one of the many civil cases in which Wrieto-San was involved. The judge asked him his profession and he stated that he was an architect—in fact, the world’s greatest architect. “The greatest?” the judge echoed. “How can you make that claim?” “Well, Your Honor,” Wrieto-San replied, “I am under oath.”
159
This is a feminist text, a gloss on Ibsen and his female characters. Women, Ibsen felt—certain liberated women, at any rate—were less regimented by society and more a natural force than men. Of course, while we make no claims here to be feminists or sociologists or anything of the like, I can say that Daisy Hartnett was certainly a natural force, and I too much constrained by expectation—and by Wrieto-San—to fully grasp it. Oh, Daisy. Daisy, Daisy, Daisy. Where are your creamy white thighs and your butterfly mouth now?
160
Precisely the tack Miriam would take under similar circumstances. See her speech, page 252.
161
It may seem surprising just how much respect was accorded the press during Wrieto-San’s time, given its reputation today. But journalism was considered a high calling in those bygone days and the public’s right to know seemed to trump even a true American original’s right to privacy. Still, I fail to see why Wrieto-San didn’t give the reporter what is commonly known as “the bum’s rush” and jerk the telephone cable from the wall. Could anyone have blamed him if he had?
162
An unfortunate term the newspapers picked up from Wrieto-San himself, who’d made use of it the previous year in an attempt to justify his elopement to Germany. Anent the ongoing and spiraling catastrophe of Wrieto-San’s press conferences: we Japanese have an expression, Nakitsura ni hachi, very roughly, When it rains, it pours.
163
This is the very same singularly reluctant man, Sheriff W.R. Pengally, of Iowa County, whom Miriam would later seek to employ on the same pretext. Fruitlessly, as has been seen. Could it be that this public servant wanted no part of making such fine moral distinctions as to who was sleeping with whom? Or was he just averse to stirring the pot further? The newspaper article, which both O’Flaherty-San and I have examined, quotes him, rather comically, I think, as saying, “I told them I would do my best to thwart any attempt at tarring and feathering.”
164
She was no Olgivanna. From all accounts, Mamah was naturally gracious and undemanding, content to let the estate manager and housekeeper run things as they saw fit. And yet, if she perceived something amiss, she could be quite determined in rectifying it. As we shall see.
165
I will refrain from comment.
166
He was, in large part, using funds advanced him by several prominent U.S. connoisseurs of Asian art, most particularly the Spaulding brothers, William S. and John T., of Boston. We can only guess at the magnitude of his commissions on sale. And his schemes for expanding his own collection.
167
We don’t know if it was, in fact, raining that day, as all the principals are now dead and I never did ask Billy Weston about it when I had the chance. But O’Flaherty-San likes the echoes here of my own experience of fetching Daisy Hartnett and Gwendolyn Greiner from that very same station on an afternoon on which I can assure you it was raining with all the merciless ferocity rural Wisconsin could summon.
168
I rely on O’Flaherty-San here. He spent some time in the islands while ricocheting round the ports of South and Central America on a merchant ship before transecting the Pacific to grace our lives in Nagoya. Jug-jug is a mixture of guinea corn, green peas and salted meat; pepper pot, as the name implies, is a spicy stew made with a variety of meats; and conkies a blend of cornmeal, raisins, coconut and sundry vegetables, served up in a banana leaf. I’m told the Barbadians—or Bajans, as they seem to call themselves—also love to eat flying fish on a bun, much in the way Americans eat hamburger.
169
To prepare the drawings for an exhibition of his work in San Francisco, projected for the fall. It was, alas, not to be.
170
Translated by Mamah Bouton Borthwick, A.M., with an introduction by Havelock Ellis. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912.
171
“Love’s Freedom” is one of the chapter headings in Key’s Love and Marriage, also published in the United States in 1912. The chapter that precedes it is titled “The Evolution of Love,” and it is succeeded by “Love’s Selection,” an application of Darwinian terminology to manners and mores, building toward the final chapters on free divorce and a new marriage law. One can’t help seeing Mamah’s passionate embrace of the Swedish author as a means of self-justification, if not ritual cleansing.
172
Edwin Cheney was remarried in 1912, a year after his divorce, to Miss Elsie Millor. They were to have three children and a placid life, a small mercy after the conflagration into which Mamah and Wrieto-San unwittingly tossed him. He prospered in business, doted on his children and never missed a college reunion.
173
Certainly I can appreciate what the Barbadian must have been feeling, given my own experiences in the lily-white state, but O’Flaherty-San, as a gaijin in Japan, brings his own sentiments to the table as well. He can scarcely walk down the street without people whispering “long nose” and “butter stinker” and the like behind his back. Our own family embraces him, of course, without prejudice, in respect to his qualities. Even if he is a gaijin.
174
The telegram was duly delivered at two o’clock that afternoon at Midway Gardens, but Wrieto-San was not there to receive it. He was already on the train. With his son John. And Edwin Cheney. And with a heart pounding so violently I can hear it pounding still.
175
This gets very difficult for me. If Wrieto-San had four women in his life—four chances at happiness—I had but two. After Setsuko’s death, I thought of contacting Daisy, but I heard—through Wes—that she’d found an Englishman to marry in London, and though I never did discover how that turned out, I didn’t have the heart to pursue it. But she was taken from me, just as surely as Mamah was taken from Wrieto-San, and I, like my estimable Master, was able to find solace and love, true love, in another woman, my wife, Setsuko. We came to love and esteem each other more and more through each day, I think—at least until that French cabbie came along. With his vin rouge. And his pulse of doom.
176
I don’t know if this is the time or place for it, but in keeping with precedent, I think I should identify the reference here. John is, of course, John Lloyd Wright (1892-1972), Wrieto-San’s second son, who was apprenticing during the building of Midway Gardens. Like his older brother, Lloyd, he went on to become a well-known architect in his own right, but was perhaps even more celebrated (and remunerated) for another mode of construction altogether—he was the inventor of the toys known to children worldwide as Lincoln Logs. There may be a ripe irony in here somewhere, but I’m afraid I don’t feel up to plucking it. Not now, at any rate.
177
As it turned out, the Barbadian was never brought to trial. He succumbed in his jail cell some two months later, not from the effects of the acid he’d ingurgitated, but of a hunger strike. Billy Weston told me that Carleton couldn’t have been more than a hundred-forty or -fifty pounds, and that he’d lost nearly half of that weight by the time of his death. From the moment he raised that shingling hatchet, nothing passed his lips but water. Nor did he talk. Strange man, stranger fate.
178
As I reread these pages, I can’t help imagining how different the world would be if Wrieto-San had sat down to lunch on that fatal day. He’d realized some 135 buildings to that point, a prodigious output for any architect, but the world would hardly know him as the monument he is today if he’d been buried beside his mistress in that little family cemetery in the outer reaches of nowhere. Think of what we would have lost—the Imperial Hotel, Fallingwater, the Guggenheim and all the rest of his constantly evolving and magisterial mature designs. Taliesin wouldn’t exist except as a charred ruin in somebody’s cow pasture. And I’d never have apprenticed with him or known his friendship and guidance. This book wouldn’t be. O’Flaherty-San, brilliant as he is, might never have risen above the facile gratifications of fiction. One man—Wrieto-San—and what a banner he has carried for us all. A judgment indeed.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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