Kage Baker was not an especially social person.
She didn’t like crowds. She didn’t like noise. She didn’t like competing for space, or attention, or a waiter’s notice. I don’t think there was a single activity that she liked better when it had 20 participants than when it had 2.
But she loved summer concerts in the Hollywood Bowl. Classics, mind you – symphonies. Marches. Etudes and concerti and variations upon themes of beauty. Opera.
We went to hundreds of summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl; most of our lives, we lived literally up or down the block from the place and wandered in whenever we felt like it to stay the evening. We were habitues of the nose-bleed sections, where the time-silvered cedar benches stood under the looming oak and eucalyptus trees lining the top edge of the amphitheatre. (They were replaced in 2014, with new cedar benches, which will eventually age to the same glowing silver of our girlhood. The old ones will be re-milled, and used in parks all over Los Angeles.)
Several sets of our initials went with those old benches. Some, those done by Kage, were carved in Celtic uncials or glyphs of her own devising; usually with my pocket knife, but also with corkscrews, keys and at least one brass pen nib. Mind you, they were the same initials – KB – but linked with different partners … Even in that iconic activity, she preferred a small group. It’s why, to my certain knowledge, there were only 2 other sets of initials carved with hers.
Kage preferred the nights when the audience there was small, anyway. Some nights, there was just no hope – the 4th of July and the Tchaikovsky Spectacular were always veritable termite mounds of people – but much of the time we enjoyed lofty isolation and a unimpeded view, like a pair of Ladies of Shallot in their tower. It was marvellous. And though we were occasionally joined by racoons or deer or music-lovers even poorer than us sneaking in over the back fence … it was usually a private pleasaunce up there.
The best one was in 1973. A performance of La Boheme was scheduled – only semi-staged, which meant basically 4 singers in evening dress gesticulating in an imaginary Paris; but that was fine with us. Kage was 21 and I was 20 – regardless of which, we were well-supplied with what is usually politely called “rough red table wine” …. which was nice, as the night grew chill when the evening fog cleared away. The full moon shown down into a Bowl that was 3/4 empty, and all the wooden benches glowed like polished pewter. And into that nearly-empty amphitheatre, a rising young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti sang a divine Rudolpho. It was his Los Angeles debut, and only a few people were there, and we were among them.
Che gelida manina, sang the voice of a god. Our hands were indeed like ice, but our hearts were on fire.
It wouldn’t have been as miraculous if we had not been sitting in vestal isolation in the moonlight.
I need to go back to the Bowl this summer. Believe it or not, Dear Readers, I’ve been back in Los Angeles for 5 years and have yet to return to that temple of delight. It seemed too empty – but tonight I began to think of it, and how we loved it when there was almost no one there, and I realized the best memories had a small, small cast.
I can’t run up the stairs like the trespassing deer, as I used to – with a hot pizza box under one arm and a young man’s arm in the other, the wine stowed in Kage’s enormous woven twine purse as she towed her own inamorato up the cracked, slanting stairs. But I understand there are people movers most of the way up now, which is a grand thing.
There will be moonlight. The benches will look the same in the dark. And I think I may need to carve a few initials fresh again.