Ya Think Ya So Smaht?
The results of our Yankee Quiz, plus local choreographer Rebecca Rice
by Sally Cragin Warner
Illustration by Lennie Peterson
Not surprisingly, the winning entries to "Ya Think Ya So Smaht, The Great and
Trivial Yankee Blowhard Quiz" emanated from New England. Geez, aren't there any
expats wandering around Llubjlana or Vanatu haunted by visions of Mathers?
Perhaps musing on Mr. Nabokov's lepidopteral sojourns away from the Lolitaland
of Wellesley College? If so, their colorful stamps failed to arrive at the
Tritown PO Box. No matter, we have a winnah. In fact, two: Lela Male of
Leominster and Eleanor S. Boursy of Lunenburg have triumphed in Yankee lore (in
a dignified, knowledgeable kinda way). Each will receive a gift certificate and
a lifetime subscription to Button, New England's tiniest magazine of poetry,
fiction and gracious living. And now, the answers:
Part one: match the personality to the activity. (We probably should have
included poet Wallace Stevens' career as an insurance underwriter, but figured
that would be too much of a gimme.) Believe it or not, Ho Chi Minh once
bussed tables at the Parker House, which is less out of character than Jack
Kerouac's turn as a star running back for Lowell High School. Sylvia Plath was
indeed a student at BU (with George Starbuck and Anne Sexton in Robert Lowell's
notorious poetry workshop). Somehow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow found time
between syncopated stanzas to teach Modern Languages at Harvard, just steps
from his house. Robert Frost, that independent cuss, was briefly a President of
New England Poetry Society (so were Amy Lowell, Conrad Aiken, and, currently,
Diana Der Hovanessian). Sigmund Freud received an honorary degree from Clark,
after psychoanalyzing Worcester (whoops, just kidding). And, in later life,
Louisa May Alcott registered women to vote in Concord, where suffrage came
early. How surprising is that? Probably no less than the fact that rigid church
father Cotton Mather supported inoculation against small pox (yes, it goes back
that far). Finally, the great novelist Vladimir Nabokov volunteered at
Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, filling trays with his beloved
Part two: match the institution of higher learning with its (at least) initial
religious affiliation. Harvard Divinity School (Unitarian); Boston University
School of Theology (Methodist); Trinity College (Episcopalian); Brandeis
(Jewish); Holy Cross University (Greek Orthodox); Boston College (Roman
Catholic); Yale (Congregational). Yes, we realize these are all Western-based
spiritual doctrines, and sure, we could have included the Kripala Institute,
but we didn't. So sue us, okay?
Part three: match the town to the product. Waltham, where assembly methods of
production debuted in the New World, is of course Watch City, while Gardner is
Chair City (there's a big chair in the center of town, in case you forgot).
Fitchburg made paper, while Leominster made combs, and later plastic. Braintree
was famous for fans. The kind you wave, not the chronically disappointed
partisans of our various sporting teams.
Part four: seven of our US presidents have been born in New England. What
states of our six have not yet birthed a president? A surprising 50
percent: Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maine. Well, so what, Hawaii and Alaska
have yet to produce a president as well. Then again, those first three have
been around a lo-o-ot longer...
Part five: what is it? If you live in New England, this kind of lore sticks
like burrs on a wool sock. "Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn," isn't a
gingham-flavored television serial, it's the classic New England domicile. The
big and little house is where you live and sleep, the back house is the
outhouse, and the barn is where you work. Lord knows what clever mnemonic will
accompany the modern McMansions lumbering skyward this century. Big Garage,
Bigger House, Biggest TV, perhaps. The "Parson's Nose" is the hindermost part
of a turkey. Tough and inedible, it's also called the "pope's nose," depending
on your religious preferences. "Poor Man's Fertilizer" is snow that comes late
in the spring, adding nitrogen to the soil. You'd use a "warming pan" to heat
your bed. This is a ventilated metal box with a long handle you fill with
fireplace coals and then swish over the mattress. You employ a warming pan so
you don't have to turn up the heat in the bedroom - that is, if you've got heat
in the bedroom. I'm old enough to remember some tough little old ladies who
used one (Myrtle Huntley of Fitchburg had a relatively modern innovation, a
"Wigs on the Green" is a public skirmish, and dates back to the 18th century,
when gentle men and other guys wore periwigs, which obviously made them
irritable enough to fight pretty frequently. The "Atlantis of Massachusetts"
is, of course, the subaquatic dreamland of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and
Prescott, towns in the western part of the state that were obliterated earlier
in the century for the massive Quabbin Reservoir. Can you imagine pulling off
an engineering project like that today? (Then again, the Big Dig is doing its
best to annoy and confound, isn't it...) Finally, we got some amusing answers
to "what didn't the Pilgrims have during that first Thanksgiving." Yes,
they had turkey, and cranberries, and squash. No, they didn't have football,
homecoming parades, weird dirigibles of pop culture icons, or wee candles
shaped like turkeys and pilgrims. What they also didn't have were breadstuffs,
having consumed all the flour.
In the extra credit department, both Robert Frost and Julia Child, those icons
of New England culture, were born and bred in California. Mrs. Boursy adds that
both studied in Europe and are "closely associated with Pioneer Valley -- Frost
taught at Amherst College and Child graduated from Smith." In the extra-extra
credit department, we seem to have lots of towns named after governors - they
include: Carver, Bradford, Winthrop, Shirley, Hancock, Adams, and North Adams.
One jokester insisted Marblehead and Athol were both named after Ed King, but
we have no comment to that. Congratulations to our winners, and thanks to Pete
Greelish and Brian Gosling for technical assistance.
Once upon a time, all businesses were family businesses. Farms and orchards
still pretty much run that way, but what about occupations that require
individual skill and expression, like the arts? Here in New England, if you
think of dance and north Worcester county, the name Marion Rice still lives,
though the great Denishawn disciple and instructor passed on five years ago.
She was the mother of acclaimed dancer Carolyn Rice Brown, and grandmother of
choreographer Rebecca Rice. This youngest terpsichorean Rice recently presented
a splendid evening of dance pieces at the Boston Ballet complex, performed by a
dozen remarkably skilled students. Rice also teaches choreography to the BB
students, instructs at Dana Hall and MIT and knows that conversation about her
family is inevitable. She explains, "I don't think about carrying a torch. I
rebelled at 14, and did horseback riding instead." (Her mother's side of the
family also has plenty of dancers.) Only at the University of Utah, did she
return to tradition and studied modern dance. "I had to keep moving, but I
decided I would choreograph, rather than focus on being a dancer. Focus on art,
rather than making myself art," she says.
The Boston Ballet students were lithe and expressive, ideal vessels for Rice's
Denishawn-inflected style which featured elongated leg and lower back
movements, paired with insouciant upper-body work. Faces peeped through raised
arms, and shoulders shimmied. But legs were locked in traditional positions and
feet were firmly planted. "Students are incredibly professional at the ballet,"
says Rice, "in terms of how quickly they think and pick up movement, and how
quickly they're expected to pick up movement, so what I've been able to do is
go in and create on the spot and that's an incredible luxury."
Rice's work, which included solos and ensemble pieces showed cohesion and
reverence for classical forms (even the costumes trended toward diaphanous
Greek tunics in pastels), and half were accompanied by baroque music. The
combination of modern movement with the severely disciplined cadences of Bach
and Handel ensured that the dancers had clean stops and starts, with plenty of
flow between big gestures. "I've been working hard to create pretty
sophisticated works, and I've been working a lot with classical music. As a
modern choreographer, I've been trained to stay away from that, to experiment
with new music, so I've gotten back to the classical music I'd done with
Denishawn with my grandmother."
Rice will be presenting another collection of dance in early June in Norwell,
and this summer will collaborate with her sister Robin, who's also a dance
educator. See what I mean about dance and Rices? Write
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and a schedule.
Unlike Emma Goldman, Sally
Cragin Warner doesn't need a revolution to