Summer reflections: pretend parachutes and the life of the mind

The Baltimore Sun

From the craggy promontories of Block Island, R.I., to the "American utopia" of Chautauqua, N.Y., the creative genius of humankind asserts itself. And there is time to marvel.

Herewith, a paean in five parts to the elixir of time off.

1. Change agent. Violinist Aaron Dworkin is a walking billboard for diversity.

Born to an Irish Catholic mother and a black Jehovah's Witness father, and the adopted son of a Jewish couple in New York, Mr. Dworkin learned music at the foot of an immigrant teacher, a man whose daily command to him was: "You no talk. You play."

A man who trained for a time at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, he speaks plaintively of how black and Latino young people seldom see or hear about minority musicians, conductors or composers, and so - surprise! - few aspire to careers in classical music.

Mr. Dworkin's doing something about it.

His Sphinx Organization, based in Detroit, nurtures black and Latino musicians and starts them on the way toward performance careers or teaching careers. Some of the program's laureates have performed to rave reviews in New York - and many more might enter the ranks of classical artists if they had the opportunity.

He invites the nation to join him in an enterprise with the potential to enrich the entire society, not just its minority-group members.

In his presentation to a Chautauqua audience last week, he read a poem about the man who taught him violin as a 5-year-old. Its title, predictably: "You no talk. You play."

Mr. Dworkin has developed his own version of focused urging. He wants to close one of the wider and more lamentable gaps in the nation's move toward diversity. Already, graduates of his program have played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall.

2. Making your own fun ride. A red-, yellow- and blue-squared pretend parachute lands just to the left of the blackberry bushes. The rolling lawn reclaimed from the thick Block Island undergrowth slants down toward the blue water more than a mile away. The younger, smaller grandchildren position themselves on the parachute squares (actually a multicolored tent) while their older brother and sister pull them - as fast as possible - down a short, steep hill to squeals of delight.

It's a five-second ride but goes on and on to fill a morning or an afternoon. Some of the adults wander out and ask if they can ride. There's no Ferris wheel or Whack-A-Mole on the island, and none is needed. Children can make their own amusement park. It's a TV-free vacation revelation.

3. Stars of different galaxies. One reads of two notables passing. The socialite, Brooke Astor, and the ballplayer, Phil Rizzuto. Guess who gets a big share of the newspaper ink. Holy Cow! It's the Yankee Scooter. You remember seeing him in the last years of his playing career, still gliding around the shortstop terrain, fielding and throwing in one amazingly fluid motion. In retirement from baseball, as an announcer, his handling of the microphone was as wacky as his fielding had been balletic. He was beloved by New Yorkers in both jobs, even inventing some new terminology for scoring: To notations such as "K" for strikeout, he added "W.W." for "wasn't watching," a hilarious illustration of honest reporting.

4. Gyrations. There's too much time for contemplating the not-so-fun ride called Wall Street and the credit squeeze that seems to be erasing everyone's retirement fund. It's a little like reading reports of America's Cup racing, filled with the argot of sailing - colorful and exciting on the whole but totally inscrutable word-by-word if you're not a sailor. Reading about both - markets and yachts - is bracing and slightly mysterious. The lines on the graphs lately, of course, are all too clear.

5. Eternal Chautauqua. Reading quietly here, you imagine yourself in a real-life version of Fahrenheit 451, the movie about book burning. Characters in the film have names like "War And Peace" or "The Shipping News." They walk silently about, reciting volumes no longer available except in their minds. This summer, I would have auditioned for a travel book called Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. It's all about writing, raising twins and the Eternal City.

Looking out from straw-backed rockers, I hear bells in the carillon near Chautauqua Lake. They toll for me and for thee, but surely not for books.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Sunday in The Sun. His e-mail is

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