A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Friday, February 20, 2009

During the Easter Vacation a student trip to Washington, D.C. was planned and carried through to a more than successful student activity under the direction of Brother Vincent de Paul and with some guidance from representatives of the Greyhound Bus Line a “Capitol to Capitol” tour was arranged with stop-overs and extended stays in such places as New Orleans, Chattanooga, Ashville, Roanoke and finally a four day vacation in Washington, D.C. A personal welcome in Washington by such people as Miss Grace Tully, Representative Thornberry, Senator Yarborough, Mr. Perry, and Senator Kilday from San Antonio, made the stay in Washington Memorable. Areas of the Eastern states, hitherto unknown to Texans and other foreign students revealed natural wondrous views as seen on these pages. Conducted tours through all the important government buildings and treasure houses of art and science plus seeing historical monuments made the trip an educational as well as a vocational venture. Holy Thursday Mass at St Ignatius Church and a Good Friday morning spent at the Franciscan Monastery allowed for devotional exercises which were climaxed by Easter Sunday Mass in Nashville, Tennessee. The names of the boys who made the trip are listed below:

Douglas Williamson, Henry Altmiller, David Burratti, Lawrence Ballard, Francisco Calderoni, John Clark, Thomas Canales, Cesar Diaz, Joe Davis, Richard Ferris, Robert Franzetti, Ivan Gaiennie, Victor Giancintti, John Fischer, Mike Graham, Jorge Hayward, Richard Isaac, John King, Emile Lapeyrouse, Pat Lynch, Kenneth Manion, Fernando Martinez, Walter Miller, Otto Ramsey, Briand Rene, Dan Sherrod, Vincent Taylor, Thomas Huddleston, Clarence Olson, Ted Dugey, Ed Maurer, Jose Jimenes.
Edwardian, 1959

The mind works in unexpected ways. Yesterday I watched Pygmalion with Rosemary's cat Toby on my lap. This is the original Pygmalion (they don't sing!) directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. It stars Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller with
Wilfrid Lawson almost stealing the show as Alfred Doolittle.

Here are some irrelevant facts about the original stage production in English of Pygmalion on April 11, 1914. It seems the play was premiered in German in Vienna on October 16, 1913. The London-staged play was directed by Bernard Shaw himself and it featured Mrs Patrick Campbell as Eliza and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Henry Higgins.

1. Shaw's play shocked Edwardian audiences with Eliza's swearing in the line "Not bloody likely!". Campbell was considered to have risked her successful career by speaking the line.

2. A story goes that Shaw, as part of an ongoing feud with Winston Churchill, sent Churchill tickets to the opening night of Pygmalion, with an attached note saying that "I have included two tickets so that you may bring a friend, if you have any." Churchill sent a reply: "I regret to say that I am unable to attend that night; I would like tickets to the second performance, if there is one."

3. Thanks to Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw was the first person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize (Literature - 1925) and an Academy Award (Pygmalion - 1939).

What is the relevance of the film Pygmalion to my trip to Washington D.C. in 1958? The tenuous link (not in the least for me) is my mother. In 1958 as a more-or-less single mother sending me to an expensive boarding school while earning the probably not too generous salary of a school teacher must have been hard-pressed to find money to send me on this trip when I asked her if I could go.

It is probably one of the most frequent tragedies of our existence that we don't appreciate what we have or get until we don't have it or until the person who gave it to us is long gone. While watching Leslie Howard (my mother's favourite actor, besides Joseph Cotten) I realized how good Howard was and how absolutely terrific Wendy Hiller was, so believable in ways that Audrey Hepburn wasn't. I had seen the film many years ago with my mother but I was too young to appreciate Bernard Shaw's wit uttered by the actors of Pygmalion. I was much too young to understand my mother's skill, sacrifice, taste and how they all influenced in making me a much better person than I surely was or could have been without her influence. I was not quite picked up from the gutter - and changed into a glamorous society butterfly! But close enough. The film hammered into my head how lucky I have been in having had the mother I had. The film gave me another indication on how that school in Texas had helped to transform me into the marginally better person I am today.

That trip to Washington DC in our very own rented Greyhound Scenicruiser made me fall in love with the United States, with its South and with Washington D.C. The American Civil War, that had so fascinated me all those years, became more immediate since we toured some of the battle grounds. In Washington D.C. a visit to the Willard Hotel (read paragraph below) became a wonderful sleeper virus that led me to take Rosemary and Rebecca, so many years later to the very same hotel and many of those other places that Brother Vincent de Paul and Brother Dunstan took us. It was in Washington where I bought my first real camera (in a pawnshop) an Agfa Silette. I quicky outgrew it and my subsequent purchase of a Pentacon-F pushed me finally into what I do today.

The high point then (I wasn't that dense or stupid) and more so even now is that my mother had allerted her sister Dolly Humphrey that I was going to Washington D.C. My Aunt Dolly's husband, Bill had a sister, Helen Humphrey who was a highfalutin lawyer in DC. Aunt Helen picked me up after getting a green light after being under the critical scrutiny of Brother Vincent de Paul (below, right), and took me to a session of the US Supreme Court. After that she took me for tea to the Willard. I remember her probing intelligence and her quiet and easy charm.

There is one more interesting connection with Pygmalion. It is with a book that has been in my possession since 1977. I like to re-read it every few years. It is Computer Power and Human Reason - From Judgment To Calculation by Joseph Weizenbaum. On page 3 Weizenbaum writes:

I chose the name ELIZA (the author's bold) for the language analysis program because like the Eliza of Pygmalion fame, it could be taught to "speak" increasingly well. Because conversations must be about something, that is, because they must take place within some context, the program was constructed in a two-tier arrangement, the first tier consisting of the language analyzer and the second of a script.

This book was one of the first books to look into the possibility of artificial intelligence. I can only wonder now if Professor Henry Higgins would ever be able, not only to make a computer speak increasingly well, but also to think. Thanks to my mother and those brothers of the Holy Cross at St. Ed's I don't do such a bad job of thinking and speaking. I don't think that Professor Henry Higgins himself could possibly discern remaining traces of that Texan accent that I surely must have had at one time.


It seems that my memory of the events and my imagination led me to the idea that our Greyhound bus was a Scenicruiser. I was wrong and this picture pleasantly sets the record straight. I received a communication from John King Class of 1961 who also went to Washington DC. He wrote:

I found this picture surfing an Austin history website at NTU. Recognize anyone in there?


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