Do you ever feel that you can talk to your ancestors?
I do. I didn’t think I ever would when I was young. But once your life progresses and you become more aware of life’s fate of family and close friends passing, you begin to think about where they went. They can’t just have gone away when you still feel their presence.
This happens to me with several people who have been instrumental or influential in my life. You still feel their heartbeat, you hear their speech, you know they’re in your room as if listening in, wanting to continue partaking in your life. My grandmother, my mother, Fioen, the girl who gave me my first kiss and died in a dreadful accident when she was 16 years old; and my dear cousin intended co-writer, Anne van der Laan.
It happened again when I dwelled in the library and workroom of my great-uncle Joost, or Joshua van der Poorten Schwartz, alias Maarten Maartens – the once-famous Dutch writer who wrote primarily in English at the turn of the 19th and 20th century – in his splendid house in Doorn, a small town in the Netherlands. I had visited this workroom many times before, always impressed by its serenity and literary wealth, with the many old books in French, English, German and even Latin and Greek, filling the shelves along the walls.
In 2002. I sat at his writing desk and suddenly felt Uncle Joost “speaking” to me. “Pick up your pen and write. Do as I did and feel fulfilled.” To my regret, I did not follow his gentle push right away as I was still fully absorbed by my consulting demands. However, a cousin, who had also been in that room at that time, and felt the same way, agreed with me to outline our first book together, entitling it Some Women We Have Known after the title of our uncle’s first volume of published short stories. Then he passed away before we could finish it and again on my next visit to Maarten Maartens’ desk I felt his strong urge, “John, you go on. Don’t let this fail.”
I started with short stories in English about each woman I had selected for this purpose. Audrey Hepburn, whom I had known when we were kids, she 13 and I 7, was the first. Eventually, these stories became a coming-of-age and early-adult memoir, ending with my marriage, this time keeping the same title as Maarten Maartens’ first short story volume, Some Women I Have Known.
After I climbed that first hurdle – everyone who writes knows that a first book is a hurdle – I wrote my first novel, Enchanting The Swan, about a musician couple whose love goes wrong before it gets right. It’s quite a dramatic tale, starting at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and from there to Brussels, Geneva and New York. Even though it is written in the first person, it is pure fiction, except for the description of the hall of Baron Maconville’s house in Waterloo: as close a description as possible of the antiques in the hall of Uncle Joost’s house. It had to be based on memory: when I went back to the house to verify my memory, all the antiques had disappeared (harnasses, musquet rifles fixed to the ceiling in a perfect circle, little canons, and other collections from North Africa where the Maartens traveled – see the picture below in Th. M. Gorissen’s book Maarten Maartens, 1992). For some sad reason and madness, they had been removed. Nobody could tell me how that happened and where they went, but it had to have had the approval of the then managing committee (including family) responsible for the upkeep of Maartens’ library. Shame. If I had still been in Holland, that would never have occurred.
At the stage of writing Swan, I strongly believed Uncle Joost communicated with me. In 2013, my sister Mary Kranendonk and I and a small group of family members decided to celebrate Maarten Maartens’ one-hundred-year passing in 1915. I heard this voice in me to write a summarization of his 13 novels and his 4 volumes of published short stories. By reading his work, often twice, to enable me to commingle my summarizations with passages of his own writing, I bonded with this long-gone family member-writer and now feel that I’ve known him all my life. When I am in his workroom, I don’t feel like an outsider. I am part of him. Other learned people may have studied his work and life, and analyzed it, but nobody ever made his works available in a contemporary format that allows family and interested readers to enjoy Maarten Maartens’ writing without having to read his sometimes lengthy 19th century style in full, that is, if they can still find them in antique bookstores or libraries.
The One-Hundred-Year Commemoration of Maarten Maartens in September 2015 became a very successful event, thanks to the hard work of a small dedicated group of family members who spent many months preparing it (see a previous blog in November 2015, describing the festivity). It gave us a feeling we had revived his memory and done him right.
Living in the US, I wanted to go back to Uncle Joost’s house once more. My sister and I decided to celebrate our 80th birthday there in July 2017 (she a half-year ahead and I a half-year past). This scribbler went “home” to the Maarten Maartens House to pay his respect and express his gratitude while at the same time celebrating a life with many family members and friends (the subject of a next blog). For me, as a modest scribbler with no fame, it was also a day of reconnecting with an uncle who had instilled in me the joy of authoring stories.
Soon to come:
Francine – Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State: She rises to the top of a mining conglomerate, demobilizes the anti-mining lobby, but will she save the company and find love in the meantime?
To Cecil: You are my biggest regret. When you drove me in your yellow BMW to the Alps near Geneva I knew I loved you dearly. When you slapped me softly on my cheek because I said I wanted to stay with you, you hurt me badly, even though you were right: you were engaged to marry. I had an on-and-off girlfriend but when I met you – and your sweet and funny sister – I knew you were the one. Then you said your father was only a train conductor. So what? OK, my dad was a beer brewer and my mother from nobility. But who cares? You were IT, and it would have been beautiful. For me, you were just the most beautiful and most lovely girl I ever met, and you had this great stamina and presence.
That’s why I wrote Ingrid the Magnificent Viking. Of course, it’s imagination of what could have been. But you are still in my mind. When I met you again at the coffee bar down at your Norwegian Embassy in Geneva, you seemed less happy than I would have thought, after your marriage. Well, I hope you had a beautiful life with lovely children, as you were the most beautiful girl I ever saw.
You will remember that tape with the Beach Boys, Good Vibrations. You loved that tune so much that I left it in your car.
I was at a diplomatic party in Geneva and they said, “We hear you are going to marry a Norwegian girl. Who is she?” I don’t know who spread the rumor. Maybe my boss did because he was Norwegian too. He naughtily told you I was “in love” with his secretary, but I was not. We liked each other, but not for life.
I wish I could have said, ” Yes, I am going to marry Cecil.” I would have learned to speak Norwegian. It can’t be more difficult than Dutch.
But you were already taken and I had to leave you behind.
Kiss-kiss, my dear: my greatest wish is to see you again before I die.
Your loving John
INGRID THE MAGNIFICENT VIKING : http://amzn.to/2jZf6Is
8 years old? And a champion slugger?
His (Dutch) Great-Great Grand Father, Hector W.M. van Coehoorn van Sminia, was a speed skater, finished 9 in a field of 33 skaters in the first Dutch 11-city ice skating tour in 1909, and became a well-known speed skating coach, trainer and ice hockey player (his team won an international championship in Davos, Switzerland). He was a well-known horseback rider and horse breeder/trainer in Holland (the famous Dutch warmbloods and thoroughbreds!). His wife, my grandmother, was champion of the first Dutch lady field hockey teams (playing in long skirts!), a good tennis player, and an excellent horseback rider, too.
Their grandson, me? Not much of a sportsman. I played tennis and the piano, but wasn’t great at soccer, hockey or skating. I loved to ride horses and go skiing, until a back problem arose and I had to abandon all that. Major disappointment. Our son, David? He mostly grew up overseas during his first 8 1/2 years while we were on a four-year World Bank assignment in Bangladesh and missed out on all the early little league stuff in the US. But when he landed in Los Angeles on the way back and saw the 49ers for the first time on TV, somehow the latent family sports-spirit hit him front and center: from then on, it was football (Redskins!), baseball and basket (Magic!). Me trucking him to all the little league schools in the neighborhood for practice and battle. At high-school, he excelled in football and basketball and scored 22 baskets on a regular basis. I tried to teach him tennis – my favorite – but while he was good at it he always turned to team sports.
No wonder the family genes fulminated in his son Preston John, alias PJ. Last weekend two championships, one of which a baseball game in which he scored with his WhiteCaps team the one and only home run! And how: see it below (courtesy PJ’s mother, April, who, like her mother Doris, is an eager and competent photographer).
Below are the other sluggers and their coaches! PJ in blue far left, coach and Dad David far right. What an enthusiastic bunch!
PJ smiling with his trophy and proud Dad texting it around.
Go WHITECAPS! Happy Fathers’ Day!
And this one day later: champion “Flag” football! Thanks to PJ’s fabulous pass – as the quarterback – to a teammate who went straight for the goal line! PJ can surely throw balls!
What does his sister, Sadie Rose do? Playing soccer!
Well, the old family genes have been passed on! Finally!
May 4 is Audrey’s birthday. Each year we remember her. I do and so many others. This portrait stood on the grand I played on at my grandparent’s home in Holland. It is a rare picture that you won’t find very easily among the thousands of Audrey pictures floating around on the internet. It was taken by Noël Mayne in London in the early fifties when Audrey was modelling and acting in cabarets, and not yet discovered. Her mother, who I used to call Aunt Ella, had left it with my Aunt Nini (the spouse of Count John Paul van Limburg Stirum who from 1916-1921 was Governor of the Dutch Indies where Aunt Ella, her niece, married her first husband). She visited Aunt Nini from time to time, and I met her there, too. She gave it to me, and so it landed on my piano.
Not so long after that she sent me the famous picture of Audrey in Gigi on Broadway, for which she had been selected when she visited Cannes in 1952. For a long time I thought this photo was just for me, until I found out it was all over the place.
I met Audrey for the first time in 1943 when she was just thirteen and I seven. That was during World War II when she lived with her mother and two stepbrothers in her grandfather’s house in Velp, near the city of Arnhem, close to my grandparent’s place. Her mother was then divorced from her second husband Mr. Ruston, who had stayed in England. Baron van Heemstra was Mayor of Arnhem before the war. He and my grandfather were related. Audrey came to visit on a horse-driven carriage, sitting between her mother and grandfather, on an afternoon for tea. She and I ran around the estate together. Though danger of bombs and fighter planes were a constant threat, and Germans were everywhere, even on my grandparent’s estate, we were only interested in my grandmother’s great cake. Audrey was enthusiastic about becoming a ballet dancer.
Both pictures are family pictures. The first (which slipped into the internet) is Audrey at age 13. The second is Audrey dancing in Arnhem at age 16, also given to me by her mother through my Aunt Nini. I gave the portrait and the dancing originals to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund for keeps.
For some reason, I could never forget her smile. It had a brilliance I would never see again until I met my wife. Then war reached a pinnacle and we could not see each other. I lived in Amsterdam, and when everyone thought we were going to be liberated, we heard that the battle of Arnhem had failed. There were thousands of deaths. We feared Audrey and her family were dead too. We suffered a long very cold winter without food, the hunger winter of 1944/45.
Then, finally, on May 5, 1945, we were free, after five bitter years of war and suffering.
But things changed rapidly. My father died shortly after liberation when he was run over by a British truck while bicycling to his brewery in Amsterdam. My grandfather died shortly thereafter of illness. It was a horrible time for me. Then we moved in with my grandmother in the countryside. But Audrey moved in the opposite direction to Amsterdam with her mother, to continue her dancing lessons with Sonia Gaskell. I did not see them anymore before they left for London where Audrey – being British through her father Joseph Ruston – had received a scholarship at the Rambert Ballet. Audrey kept the name Hepburn her father had acquired from his grandmother’s maiden name.
I was at boarding school, about 16 or so, when my mother called me that Audrey had become a film star! It was “Roman Holiday,” with Gregory Peck. I still see myself standing at the “middle court” of the school being admired. All of a sudden I became “famous”, too, because I knew her. I think each time she made a new movie, we went to see it immediately with my family and family friends who knew her. I remember we did not like Sabrina that much, because she married Humphrey Bogart, who was much too old for her and an obvious mismatch. Gary Cooper with Audrey in Love in the Afternoon was better, although he was also too old. Couldn’t they find younger guys? It took years before she finally teamed up with George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 and with Cary Grant in Charade in 1964! Aunt Ella kept sending pictures, one with her first husband, Mel Ferrer, and their little son Sean, which was used for a Christmas card.
It was only years later in the mid-seventies that I saw Audrey again, at a surprise moment, when she visited friends for a birthday party in Geneva. It meant the world to me: finally. I had written to see her when she was filming Charade with Cary Grant in 1963 in Paris where I studied.
But, even though she wrote back she remembered, she was so busy she did not have time to put a stamp on an envelop. This time we could remember the war time and our first encounter in Holland.
I wrote a story about my fascination with Audrey. There are many books about her, including wonderful picture books issued by her sons, Sean, and Luca (from her second marriage to Count Andrea Dotti, her psychiatrist). My story is a personal one I cherish, because it is mine alone. It is for sale on Amazon and whatever proceeds I get from it I send to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund.
Audrey was an icon for UNICEF and did so much good raising money for the many deprived orphans and malnourished children of the Third World. She traveled all over the world after her movie career, and then got felled by illness herself that took her away from us in 1993 in a very short time, only 63 years old.
Audrey in Ethiopia
It was a very sad moment to learn she had left us, but at the same time so enlightening, as I had had the privilege of knowing her, albeit at the outer edge of her fabulous orbit. I still benefit and draw strength from her brilliant beam of light in the difficult moments of human life. Who could have imagined that that little girl I met during a cruel war would turn into that magnificent woman for so many millions of people, as her son Sean titled her in his wonderful picture book, “An Elegant Spirit.” And Luca’s lovely photo book “Audrey in Rome” as well.
Luca Dotti’s Audrey Cook book!
THREE THINGS INSPIRED ME WHEN WRITING ENCHANTING THE SWAN: ROMANCE, LOVE FOR MUSIC AND MUSIC IN LOVE. IN SHORT: FOREVER ROMANCE:
HERE IS THE TRAILER: https://youtu.be/8vHdGKGWQEo
(If the links do not function just cc it into your URL)
Don’t take me wrong: it is not only love that makes the world go round: pigheaded ultraconservative family rules preventing a SHINING love blossoming from the heart and conceived in music, GREED versus compassion, JEALOUS PURSUIT to snatch away someone else’s love, ABUSE IN MARRIAGE, desperate escape and FINAL REDEMTPION in music: it’s all in ENCHANTING THE SWAN, a love story as no other.
Paul Cramer, MBA graduate and Fiona Baroness de Maconville, cellist, play The Swan, a famous cello-piece by Camille St. Saëns, before their William & Mary Audience. That’s where their love bloomed: at the Department of Music in the Ewell Hall, located at the College of William & Mary, situated in rustic Williamsburg, Virginia. They play it also at the Graduation Ceremony!
Neal Cary, Professor and cellist teacher at the College of William & Mary, writes about Enchanting The Swan: “…a beautiful story — full of suspense, drama, and enduring love centered around music. John Schwartz has created a whole world, and a wonderful escape. The characters jump off the page with such personality and imagery that this book could make a great movie. Enchanting the Swan is a very enjoyable read, and I recommend it highly.”
What does VT Mom say: I loved this book! I had not read a novel in several years. After only 3 chapters I was hooked. I live in Virginia so I was very familiar with the college where Paul and Fiona met. Very impressed with the author and his attention to detail. Hope he writes many more.
And Vera: Enjoyed the book. Well written book. First book to read by the author, but sure will read more of books by him in the future. They seem to click and make beautiful music, have plans for the future when graduate, but when go by her place she has now gone. Not even a word to Paul. Seems like wishes of her Godparents are more important. A very heartbreaking love story. How can every thing seem so right, and now so wrong?
And MJOrlean: John writes beautifully – I found the book difficult to put down – an easy read, full of intrigue, love, passion, international travel and dubious banking business, and lots more – a must read.
(If the link does not function just cc it into your URL)
As you see from the back flap, the beginning of their love seems doomed in a bitter family feud of old stiff Belgian nobility with modern times. Fiona, an orphan raised by godparents after her parents died sailing into a storm at the Belgian coast, must break off because her noble godfather wants her to marry into their Belgian circle. At a heartbreaking lunch in a restaurant at the Grand Place in Brussels, The Roi d’Espagne (right on the photograph) she tells Paul she can’t marry him.
Paul joins a financial postgraduate course at the Free University of Brussels for a few weeks in the hope Fiona and her godparents change their mind, but eventually must capitulate, and when offered a promising internship at First Swiss Bank in Geneva he takes it. And off he goes, heartbroken, not knowing this step leads him into lots of trouble. Read the story in http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o
Paul skiing in Swiss Alps