Park. The word has a number of meanings besides that of an outdoor space
for spending leisure time. A park could be a baseball stadium, or an amusement
area. Civil War military types would gather their large guns and their wagons
at an artillery park. Our British friends still gather their vehicles in
a car park. The grounds of their stately homes are surrounded by parks.
And then there are those little television cartoon kids with round heads
that are definitely NOT Charlie Brown, that live in South Park. Parks may
not exist physically. How many times have you been in a large supermarket
and heard a voice out of the rafters announcing, "Joe, you have a call
parked on line 3."
Sitting here at the Lilac Festival this morning, other parks come to mind.
Well, to certain meandering minds anyway. The world's first park was quite
user-friendly. The dress code was minimal; dress-down Fridays were unnecessary
- if not impossible. The only rule seems to have been - don't eat the fruit
from one particular tree, no matter how good the marketing department makes
it sound. And the park rangers were really tough, armed with flaming swords.
People come to the park quite early. Sometimes before it even is
a park. Those of you who grew up in the 1940s and 50s, as I did, might
recall a Disney film called Westward Ho, the Wagons . In it, wagon
master Fess Parker sang about John Colter who, "...was a trapper, and
he knew the ways of game." Colter certainly should have. He had been
a member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. The following year he
set off on his own to explore the Far West, crossing the Continental Divide
and trapping throughout the Tetons. Colter's eventual reputation was based
on two exploits. He and a partner were ambushed by 500 Blackfeet warriors
along the upper Missouri. After having the partner killed and Colter tortured,
the chief of the band made him an offer. Stripped naked, Colter was to run
for his life. He would be given a 30-second head start, and then the natives
would set out after him, and kill him. He lit out for the Jefferson River,
about six miles away. Halfway there he turned and killed the leading pursuer,
then sprinted off again, eventually outrunning all of his tormentors. "Colter's
courage was in his heart; and his speed was in his feet."
But we're considering Colter for his other exploit. It was on a trapping
journey near today's Wyoming-Montana border that Colter entered an area
where boiling water permeated the ground; where basins would steam with
sulphurous springs and underground vents would send plumes of hissing water
rocketing into the western sky. When Colter returned East with his tales
of brimstone pools, listeners branded this fantastic-seeming landscape Colter's
Hell. We know it today as Yellowstone National Park.
Parks can be dangerous, even if they aren't Central Park. On May 6th, 1882,
Chief Secretary for Ireland Lord Frederick Cavendish and his deputy Thomas
Burke were crossing Dublin's Phoenix Park. Political extremists knifed the
two men to death in broad daylight, before those nearby even realized what
Paris has many notable parks, one of the best-known being the Bois de Boulonge.
It may have been a visit to this park that sparked the imagination of a
French playwright-farceur named Eugene Marin Labiche, for he set one of
his most lasting works here. It seems that a certain young man sat down
with a certain young lady for a picnic on the grass, on the day before his
wedding. However, the young lady was not his fiancé. (This is
Paris). In the middle of their repast the young man's horse stretched out
his neck, plucked a hat made of a particularly rare kind of Italian straw
off the young lady's head, and dined in his own fashion. No great tragedy.
Unless of course the hat had been given to her by her lover, a fierce and
intensely jealous Zouave. Who was sure to wonder, with murder in his eyes,
what had happened to his gift. The rest of the farce is concerned with a
large number of characters, including the wedding party, traipsing all over
Paris, trailing after the young man as he attempts to find a replica of
the hat. This play, The Italian Straw Hat is still performed today.
Orson Welles chose to update it for the WPA Federal Theater Project in the
late thirties, under the snappier title Horse Eats Hat!
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor, inviting you to come
to the festival and park ya carcass.