A Memoir

Preface to The New Edition
            When I wrote this memoir a dozen years ago, I did not know I would live another dozen years. Now that I have, I need to live another dozen years plus.
            The reason? In addition to having more time for music-making with friends, other joyous pursuits opened up to me after I retired from teaching. The first was the email/ Facebook/Skype phenomenon that allowed me to follow the doings of two generations of extraordinary students and to mentor younger colleagues. The second was a search for natural beauty that took me to sites ranging from Alaska to Antarctica. And the third was a merry new profession: writing art history murder mystery novels. As the ads for book signing events say: “Retired Professor Turns To Crime (Writing).” Where do I find the material for these books? In sixty consecutive years of daily diary entries.
            Pursuing the peculiar characters my pseudonymous heroine, eighty-year-old Megan Crespi, must hunt down across America and Europe has allowed me to mix fact with fiction in a delicious new brew. Music, art, literature, and languages are stirred up in sometimes startling or hilarious combinations. Fifty years after my first visits there, Megan Crespi hunts down stolen Edvard Munch paintings, travels throughout Scandinavia, and copes with the challenges of the Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish languages.
            Austria, land of my scholarly expertise on artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and both Mahlers—Gustav and Alma—flexes my Germanic muscles. My Italian heritage lands me in Italy time and again, while my years at Barnard and Columbia lure me back to New York.
            The best part of all this travel is that it costs nothing, makes virtually no physical demands, and can be conducted at any time, day or night. It is Internet travel. Gone are the days of going to the library with a handwritten list of urgently needed volumes. Gone are the piles of books on my floor for consultation. The Internet is here! And I am in love with it.
            Actual travel since retiring has taken three forms: lectures in Britain and Europe, where I revisited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul that I sketched over half a century ago (see Fig. 18, page 86). Travel in search of natural beauty has taken me to Antarctica, as I followed, one century later, in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton. This was the most extraordinary trip of my life. The only colors there were blue, white, and one hundred shades of gray. No green. It was enthralling to photograph the fearless, determined penguins on their way to and from the water, and to encounter baby seals on the icy beaches with their enormous, trusting eyes. Three trips to Alaska helped to revive the pristine impressions of Antarctica. I want to go back!
            Not all the stars in my galaxy have been bright. I have lost cherished friends and colleagues, all younger than I. One of my brightest students committed suicide. I myself was suddenly struck by a major depression disorder which left me longing to end my existence. During this time of disarray not even my beloved little Maltese doggies meant anything to me. But I found the right physician, and after many trials the correct mix was discovered. Now regal Button and brave, blind Mickey are in Maltese Heaven. Just as Mickey was being put to sleep, he heard the word “squirrel” uttered by his other mother, Charlotte, and his ears perked up just before he passed.
            My earlier scholarly pursuits have produced some unexpected late blossoms. An international symposium in my honor was held in Neulengbach, Austria, where over half a century ago I discovered something no Austrian researcher had thought of locating: the basement cell where Schiele was incarcerated in 1912 and which he recorded in moving drawings and diary notations. Now that cell is the nucleus of a new Schiele museum and Neulengbach has become a tourist site. And in New York my love affair with Schiele came full circle when the Neue Galerie Museum, wanting my “gravitas,” invited me to guest curate what turned out to be a 2014-15 blockbuster exhibition, Egon Schiele: Portraits.
            Pursuing art over the decades has resulted in the collection of art as well and now, as an apprentice octogenarian, I engage in a new activity: giving art away. Early Schiele drawings bestowed on me by his sister Melanie have now made the transatlantic journey back to Austria to a new Schiele museum. More items, including taped recordings I made with Schiele’s sisters in the 1960s, are at the Neue Galerie Museum in New York. And the Dallas Museum of Art has received a compelling Schiele self-portrait of 1913 as well as the 1840 life-size marble statue of Lady Godiva by Anne Whitney. Persistent feminists Eleanor Tufts and Alessandra Comini found her neglected in a Massachusetts backyard.
            What have I learned in all these decades of exploration and discovery? In the words of Nature Boy: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.” As for the final mystery, I cannot help but be comforted by the deathbed words of Steve Jobs: “Wow, wow, wow!”
            A lifetime of passionate pursuit has brought me an ebullient serenity and precious new friendships. And so I need a dozen more years at least to savor that tranquility and enrich those relationships. My life continues to be what this book declares: I have that which I have given away.
      Alessandra Comini
      Dallas 2016