Civis Americanus Sum

“I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American.”

—Daniel Webster

In the spring of 1963, my sister and I were invited, along with my parents, to a dinner party given by White Russian friends at their penthouse apartment in Manhattan, whose tall mahogany-framed windows overlooked lower Central Park.  During the cocktail hour, the Kluge daughters played Beethoven duets at two Steinway pianos set opposite each other at either end of the living room.  Following the concert, a sumptuous Russian meal was served.  Then, after dinner, we all went round the corner to a nondescript sort of place on West 64th Street that looked like a small, shabby apartment but was really a puppet theater.  The puppets performed on a little stage set up in a room with a seating capacity of perhaps 20 people, where the audience sat on folding chairs arranged in careful rows.  They performed scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and other of Shakespeare’s works and concluded the evening with duets from La traviata.  As Traviata was (and remains) one of my favorite operas, I was especially delighted by what the puppets managed to do with Verdi’s score.

So enthralled was I, in fact, that I barely noticed the dumpy little man, dressed in a brown suit and with...

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