Lawrence Ferlinghetti seated on the bench at the DH Lawrence Memorial in Taos
I Adopted Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
or a Moment with Ferlinghetti in Taos,
by Robert Cafazzo
or a Moment with Ferlinghetti in Taos,
by Robert Cafazzo
September 9-12, 2013 Lawrence Ferlinghetti (at the time he was 93) visited Taos with his friend Erik Baursfeld (aka the voice of Admiral Akbar and Bib Fortuna, 1922-2016), and Jim McGee recording the entire trip for NPR.
To Ferlinghetti's office at City Lights Bookstore
Days beforehand I received this message from Bill Haller, President of the Friends of DH Lawrence: “Erik claims Lawrence can be fickle at times and may change his mind.” There was also this PS: “Eric asks that we not ask for autographs from Lawrence.” My first reaction was of disappointment, “No Autographs?”
Cafazzo and Baursfeld at the DH Lawrence Ranch
Once they arrived, Bill Haller met the three visitors on Monday. On Tuesday he relayed this update in an email to board members, “I have spent the past two days with Lawrence, Erik, and Jim and I can honestly say they are very down to earth people, they look forward to meeting everyone. Be prepared to talk about the relevance of D.H. Lawrence presently.”
Lawrence being recorded for NPR radio
Bill & I were to meet the group on Tuesday morning to take them up to the D.H. Lawrence Ranch in the mountains above Taos just outside of San Cristobal. There McGee would record Ferlinghetti reciting his poem “The Man Who Rode Away (to D.H. Lawrence)”. Seated on the bench outside the Lawrence Memorial on the ranch hillside Ferlinghetti began to read. His reading was clear and concise, color was provided by the birds chirping in the background and the wind in the trees. The white noise of nature had sound man McGee in a bit of a tizzy, asking Ferlinghetti to read it over again. I looked at them about to plead to leave it as it was when the poet spoke saying it was perfect as it was.
Lawrence and Eric at the DHL Ranch
As we walked around the ranch we spoke about painting, it turned out that Ferlinghetti was quite fond of painting. He showed me photos of his large scale expressionistic portraits, of course I showed him my paintings of animals in motion. He spoke about the last time he was at the ranch on a pilgrimage to Taos at the heyday of the hippie era, when he was inspired to write his tribute poem to D.H. Lawrence.
D.H. Lawrence pondering the world, finding inspiration in nature
Before their arrival I had suggested that the DH Lawrence group have a luncheon on Wednesday, the 11th of September for the visitors from San Francisco and a few people from Taos. Our luncheon plans were for 1PM at Lambert’s Restaurant that Wednesday, with about twelve of us. Among the lunch guests were Kate O’Neill (then President of UNM Taos, currently director of the NM Higher Education Department), local author John Nichols and Helen McCloud a historian from Santa Fe. Once everyone had finished with their meals Lawrence asked the question for each of us around the table to answer, “What is the relevance of D.H. Lawrence in the world today?” My nerves were getting the better of me, I wanted to flee the room. I was two seats away from local historian Nita Murphy, I prayed she would rescue me with her thoughts before it ever became my turn. Listening intently, John Nichols said something as did all the others. Was I really the last person to speak at this round table of dignitaries! Quickly it came to be my turn to speak, I realized what it is that I loved about being a docent at the ranch, that it’s about the inspiration there. I said this: “DH Lawrence for me is about inspiration, the inspiration one feels of being in a mountain forest, that feeling that I want to get back to my studio as quickly as possible and paint or write. Lawrence inspires me to create.” Ferlinghetti stopped everyone from chattering and asked them all to listen. He stated that what Robert just expressed here today is exactly it, then repeated my words. He blew me away and I was in awe.
Cafazzo pondering the world outside a cave (photo by Seamus Mills)
Once lunch was finished and guests began to leave, in the lobby and waiting outside of the restaurant were an assemblage of Taosenos waiting to meet Ferlinghetti. Word had spread across the Taos ‘mocassin wire’ that he was having lunch at Lambert’s and Taos locals were anxious to meet him.
(Front from left to right) Eric, Kate O'Neil, Lawrence
(Back from left to right) Cafazzo, Helen, Nita, Bill & John Nichols
At this point I called my wife and told her I wanted to adopt Ferlinghetti and Baursfeld. Even more boldly, that I’d just invited them for dinner at our home. My wife may have dropped the phone, the line seemed to go dead. What I hadn’t understood beforehand was what I was feeling about this now, that this poet was a hero to many. The group wasn’t able to have dinner with us after all, lunch was more than enough and they had an early flight back to San Francisco. I told them that I adored them as I left them at the lobby of the Taos La Fonda Hotel saying my farewell.
Eric, Helen & Lawrence outside the La Fonda Hotel, Taos Plaza
In 2017, Holly and I made a pilgrimage visit to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco where it all began for Ferlinghetti. We walked around the rooms, went upstairs and looked at his books on the shelves as if they were the Holy Grail.
Inside City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is 100 years old today, long may he live in my heart. Happy Birthday Mr. Lawrence.