By now, anyone who has been reading La Vita e Troppo Breve per Dottore Gianni knows that the good doctor is fond of doubles, doppelgangers, alter egos, and the like. This particular post, which could be rather brief – please don’t snort or chortle! It IS possible that it could be brief…though perhaps you’re right to chortle and snort…we’ll see – this post has to do with doubling. In fact those of you savvy about great plays, particularly great comedies of manners, will recognize doubling from the title of the post. “Ernest in town and Jack in the country” is part of an important, plot-revealing line in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
The play, briefly (hmmmm…), deals with a debonair young Londoner,
|Perhaps the great production in the world|
of The Importance - yes, that's Dottore Gianni
as Jack/Ernest on the right, and
the excellent Bruce Ward as
Algy on the left
John Worthing, nick-named Jack, who is in love with and wants to marry the fair Gwendolyn Fairfax. She is enamored of him as well, but she happens to have a mother, Lady Bracknell, who, to say the very least, does not approve. In the first scene Mr Worthing’s friend Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff, who knows John/Jack not by that name but by the name of Ernest, and who happens to be Lady Bracknell’s nephew and thus Gwendolyn’s cousin, produces Ernest’s (Jack’s) cigarette case and grills his friend on it, as it seems a present from a “little Cecily, with her fondest love, to her dear Uncle Jack.” Algy forces Ernest/Jack to admit that:
I am called Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette case was given me in the country.
He further confesses that Cecily Cardew is his ward, and that as her guardian
one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’s one’s duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.
By now you’d be right to think that there is nothing “pure and simple” going on in this play! Deceptions and complications (the stuff of any fine comedy of manners) abound, and ensue almost instantly, as who should enter but Gwendolyn and Lady Bracknell! When Algy manages to get Lady Bracknell into another room, Ernest/Jack, on bended knee, proposes to Gwendolyn, and she accepts him. But complication number one rears its ugly head when Gwendolyn tells Jack that:
my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.
He protests, arguing that
there are lots of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming name.
Gwendolyn responds with one of my favorite speeches in the play, perhaps because my own name is Jack (well…one of my names, along with John, Dottore Gianni, and soon, for a time at least, Ernest – deception!):
Jack?... No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations... I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.
In response to which he blurts out:
Gwendolyn, I must be christened at once – I mean we must get married at once.
Almost immediately complication number two rears its even uglier head
|Doctor Jack as Jack being grilled by|
(that of Lady Bracknell) for while Ernest/Jack is still on his knee to Gwendolyn, Lady Bracknell returns, sees him kneeling and commands:
Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture. It is most indecorous.
Gwendolyn announces that she and her “Ernest” are engaged. Lady Bracknell replies:
Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to some one, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be.
Lady Bracknell then dismisses Gwendolyn and begins to grill John/Jack/Ernest on his roots…but! If I continue with this tale I’ll reveal the entire plot of play, which was not my purpose – it is filled with more and more ludicrous complications, as any fine comedy must be, for example you’ve not even got out to the country yet to meet Cecily, Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism…as Gwendolyn says late in the play:
“The suspense is terrible! I hope it will last…”
|Jack again, with the|
terrific Amy Hohn as
Miss Prism, who for a moment
Jack believes to be
If I’ve sparked your interest I insist that you read it, or see the wonderful film version with Michael Redgrave (Vanessa’s and Lynne’s father) as Jack and Dame Edith Evans as a brilliant Lady Bracknell.
If ONLY you could have seen the production in which yours truly (but who IS yours truly? Is it Jack? John? Gianni? Deception! Me in any case…) played Jack/Ernest. I was extremely good.
I hope this helps to explain part of why I titled the post “Ernest in Town, Jack in the Country.” Now to explain the other part, which is really the crux of the post, though it may not be as interesting as what you’ve already read. After all, what’s coming is hardly a great comedy of manners, at most a farce to make you sad, then possibly, happy.
For alas, after a mere ten months in residence I am forced to leave my digs at McBee Station in downtown Greenville, SC for a place outside of the city called The Vinings at Duncan Chapel. Furthermore, in order to take possession of the apartment I want at the latter, I will for a time be the lessee of two different abodes…one (McBee) in town, the other (the Vinings) in the country.
|my building at McBee Station|
AAAH! You sigh! Paragraph after paragraph of print to make that one feeble point? Tsk, tsk Dottore Gianni!
But that’s my way, so on I go about it. I only wish I had the ability to be wicked in town, moral in the country. The latter I can handle, and once upon a time I might have been wicked in town (admit it man you WERE), but no longer. However, even if it’s only for one month, I shall possess two residences.
What’s interesting about all of this is the reason for which I am making this move. I decided on retirement in Greenville at the gentle coaxing of my brother Phil and his wife Kara, but was convinced that if I were to settle here it would have to be in town. The “country” around downtown Greenville is of course not really country, it is miles and miles of strip malls and gas stations, apartment complexes and condos, chain restaurants & fast food places – middle America at its worst, in my opinion.
So with the help of brother Phil and brother Tom (who was visiting Phil from Florida just as I was visiting from Ithaca NY) on a day just after Christmas 2010, I found the perfect place. McBee (how would you think that would be pronounced? I’m betting “mick-BEE” right? But you and I would be wrong, as in the South they say “MAC-bee” – yup!) Station.
|Tree-lined Main St, Greenville|
aas a bicycle race is beginning
A five to six minute walk from Main Street, a charming street filled with restaurants and bars, several shops as well, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly; about the same distance from Falls Park, complete with a great pedestrian bridge over, you guessed it, scenic waterfalls, a beautiful expanse of green right downtown, and leading to other parks as well, via the colorfully titled Swamp Rabbit Trail;
|Falls Park and Liberty Bridge|
and the same distance from the Peace Center, where Broadway musicals are shown, concert artists such as Joshua Bell and the Boston Pops perform, and where the Greenville Symphony is the resident orchestra.
|The Peace Center|
Not to repeat myself, but perfect! Add to this that within three minutes’ walk of me is a Publix supermarket, the place I get my hair cut, my dentist and my bank!
So why leave? Rent! Not the famous musical, more like a nineteenth century melodrama, many of which exploited the theme of a nasty, Snively-Whiplash style owner who threatens the innocent couple unfortunate enough to be his tenants with a monthly fee they could not possibly afford. Happily for me the repercussions would not be what they were as the melodrama played out, for the lovely young wife would be propositioned by Snively the landlord, and/or the good-looking but somewhat inept husband would be driven to drink (particularly in the peculiar brand of theatre known as temperance melodrama). In fact it would seem that all is lost…until the very last moment, when all, almost miraculously, ends well.
|The skyline of downtown Greenville|
the buildings you see are on Main St,
just a few minutes from where I snapped
this photo, in a parking lot next to McBee Station
For me it was simply a matter of money. When I looked at McBee in 2010 the rent of the smallest studio on the lowest level (flatteringly called the Terrace instead of the basement) of the complex (the unit is named the Picasso – they’re very artsy here at McBee) was about what I was paying in Ithaca, just under $900 a month. The shocking difference was that instead of the $20-40 rise in rent per year that I, a lifelong renter, was used to and anticipated, the price of the Picasso jumped a bit more than $200 per month in less than two year’s time (from the time I first priced it until I made my application). I live now on a fixed salary that hasn’t left me all that well…fixed! So, dear readers, this rise in rent put the modest Picasso at the very, very top of my affordability scale. But I took it, thinking naively that once IN the apartment more modest rate rises would occur, similar to those I’d been used to in 40 years of renting apartments. Imagine then my surprise and disappointment and continued shock when I found that my rent would be raised beginning in March 2013 by a whopping $105, bringing it to $1200 per month. Now, location is everything, but Greenville is, no offense, Greenville, not New York City or Washington DC.
For a time I despaired. First, I didn’t want to make another move. It’s not even been 12 months since my most recent move from Upstate NY to South Carolina, preceded by a move a mere ten months before that from Ithaca to London. Second, I didn’t want to consign myself to the land of strip malls outside the city proper. Should I head off, away from the buckle of the bible belt? Should I seek as I had in the past, to retire abroad? Should I head in the direction of my brothers Tom and Rob (Florida) or my sister (California)? All options seemed daunting, but as I crunched the numbers I knew that I could not afford to stay another year in a place where most of my income would go to paying rent. All seemed lost (as in the rent melodramas described above) BUT! I then came upon a solution that just maybe I COULD live with.
|The Vinings at Duncan Chapel, office and at left|
the building I will live in - my porch is visible,
on the top floor
The Vinings at Duncan Chapel, rather pretentiously named but quite nice really, is the spot I landed on. A very easy 6 ½ mile drive from the center, this apartment complex is not located in the crush of other apartment complexes, strip malls etc; instead it’s out on its own, off the short Duncan Chapel Rd for which it is named in part (as for the other part, what a “vining” is I know not). It is located less than a half mile (and therefore an easy walk) from a Publix Supermarket. It is .8 mile away from the Swamp Rabbit Trail, making it, if not quite as easy a journey to my favored place for health walks as I now have, certainly able to be reached on foot.
What is even better is that closer than the Trail is the beautiful campus of Furman University. The nearest entrance is a mere 1/3 mile from the Vinings,
|Fountains at Furman, and behind them|
the university library
in fact the complex is owned by Furman. I must admit that, while I have not much missed teaching, I do somewhat miss the energy and youthfulness of a college campus. I have often worried that it was my students that kept me “young” and that without them I should instantly shrivel up into an old prune. While I will not have students per se, I will be in a collegiate atmosphere, able to attend the many free or nearly free lectures, concerts and other events that are part of life on this campus. And unless it is raining violently I will be able to walk to them.
Another reason to be near the university is due to an organization with the slightly odd appellation OLLI. It stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (the Osher family having contributed generously to it), and by golly, OLLI is located in the first building you see when you enter the campus from the entrance nearest the Vinings. OLLI offers courses all year long, it also features reading groups, outings and a host of activities, all aimed primarily at seniors.
Now, I am a notorious loner. I once called myself the Hermit of Cayuga Heights, then the Hermit of Northwood, now the Hermit of McBee (also the Pauper of McBee, you can glean that from reading just above) and in one month, I will dub myself (for who one else will?) the Hermit of the Vinings.
as the Hermit of Cayuga Heights
I am very dubious about how active I will be in OLLI, but for $35 dollars a year I will have access to the university library, discounted lunches in the faculty dining room, and for $50 a course a wide range of classes that I might take. The spring term (each term is about 8 weeks long, classes meet once a week for an hour and a half) begins on 18 March, the day I move into the Vinings. So, we’ll see…
I plan to take anywhere from one to three classes during the spring term. There is a T’ai Chi class that is of some interest (I studied this in Ithaca during the 1990s, but alas have forgetten even the first, most basic moves), a class on astronomy, a subject about which I am clueless, another on Frank Lloyd Wright, one on early railroads in Upcountry South Carolina, one on three jazz icons, and finally a class on Russia: pre- and post-Glasnost. A wide, nearly weird variety, right? But why not? I’ll hope to learn a little more about subjects with which I am already familiar and/or branch out into areas about which I know almost nothing. If I don’t like the classes I can still access the library, and if I like, the faculty dining room.
The campus is set in a lovely location, complete with its own man-made lake
|The lake at Furman, and the bell tower behind it|
featuring a rather incongruous Italian Renaissance-style campanile or bell tower (with no church next to it, hmmm) on its banks, a replica of Thoreau's cottage at Walden, a Chinese Pavilion (?), lengthy walking trails and other amenities along with a few oddities that I think I might enjoy.
|Replica of Thoreau's cottage at Walden Pond|
Finally, the entire setting is located north of the city of Greenville, closer than I am now to the mountains of North and South Carolina, so trips to beautiful areas will be even more available to me than they are now.
Happy ending? After suspense, disappointment, panic even – all is theatre, right? I think my new life at the Vinings will be happy, that I will be happy, at least I hope so…a report to follow soon after I’ve actually moved in. And for the next month I will be Dottore Gianni in town, and Jack in the country.
Coda: In the summer of 1990, thanks to friends in nearby Cortland, NY, I got the deal of a lifetime in Ithaca. I lived on the top floor of a lovely house in the classy neighborhood of Cayuga Heights. The place belonged to Irv Lewis, who ran his own upscale men’s clothing store on The Commons. He made it all mine for $400 a month, and said that, “As long as I live, I will never raise your rent.” Then of course he died…but several years later, and after him his son ran the place. The son DID raise the rent, but only to $500, so that for a bit more than ten years I was paying very little rent in a high-rent district. Rest in peace, Irv Lewis! Then the place was sold, and while the new landlord, who also lived in the lower level of the place (while Dottore Gianni had the room at the top, thank you very much), liked me, he needed to make room for his mother-in-law, and had to let me go.
So! I was cast down and fell heavily, precipitously from the Heights!
It was a long, hard fall, into a tiny basement apartment in a complex called Northwood, near the Ithaca airport. It was cramped, dark and expensive. I lived there for the rest of my time, a good ten more years, in Ithaca. Then, after a blissful rent-free year in London, living atop the London Center, I moved back to the U.S. and into another small studio on the “Terrace” level of McBee, in other words back down in the basement. The high price of that fall made it even harder to bear than the first.
However, I am rising again, moving back to the top floor! No footfalls
|the front of my building at The Vinings - |
you can see the entrance to the right of the
lamppost, in brick - a reminder that Dottore
Gianni will be on the UPPERMOST level!
from overhead, no large dogs galumping happily but noisily (as one is now, even as I write this) from one unit up. In the Vinings I shall have a view of the pool in the center of the complex, and I’ll be high enough up that I can see the woods and a even a wee bit of the mountains beyond. I’m back! I have arisen! All for $450 a month less than I’m paying now. Hallelujah!
That Resurrection/Ascension might alone make this move a happy one in…