The classical music station was playing “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” by Ravel.
It was beautiful, and I didn't know it, and I wondered why WQXR-FM was playing it on the second day of September while I was driving home from the US Open.
Then I remembered: the Open of 1997, and another princess who died on Aug. 31, and how I saw her once at Wimbledon.
Journalists see public figures, even on the sports beat: Jimmy Carter under the stands at Turner Field. Lyndon Baines Johnson on opening day in Washington, D.C. Hillary Clinton visiting the press box in Wrigley Field. And John F. Kennedy, Jr., right in front of me in Madison Square Garden. Coolest guy in the world.
And Princess Diana at Wimbledon. I’ll never forget the eyes.
The old press tribune was directly alongside the Royal Box. Princess Diana was on the guest list one day in the late ‘80s. We all checked her out early, and went back to our business.
Later, I turned my head and caught those piercing eyes, looking back at us. Perhaps she wondered who that raffish lot was, as we chattered and gestured our way through the afternoon – a fitting Shakespearean upstairs/downstairs balance to the swells in the Royal Box.
She should have heard some of the Brits with lurid commentary, imitating plummy royal accents. I’d like to think she would have laughed.
Her two little boys were scuttling around the box, watched by helpers. Their mom was checking things out, with the curiosity we read about, her concern for the underclass, that is to say, us. I don’t know that she cared much about the tennis. She certainly seemed to be a seeker.
* * *
One evening in the mid ‘90’s, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was sitting in front of me at the Garden, a couple of rows up, behind where Spike Lee sits, facing the Knicks bench.
He arrived late, wearing a nice suit, probably just came from work. He was by himself, and he appeared to be starving, keeping one eye on the game as he devoured a hot dog. Then he went to work on a large sack of fries.
Just to Kennedy’s left, a boy around ten years old was staring at him. Either the boy knew who was sitting next to him, or he was salivating from the proximity of the fries.
Kennedy popped in a few more fries. Did not turn his head. Did not smile or try to ingratiate himself with the boy. But like a point guard making a blind pass, Kennedy held out the bag of fries and shook it.
The boy knew a good thing, took a handful. I don’t think he said a word but then again, JFK, Jr., was not looking for thanks. That was not necessary between a couple of guys who understood each other perfectly. The pass. The dunk. Kennedy understood hunger; the boy understood generosity.
* * *
After hearing Ravel’s “Pavane” on the car radio, I came home and googled up the music, written in tribute to a patron from the Singer sewing machine family, Winnaretta Singer, who was in a lavender marriage with the Prince de Polignac.
Our age has few princesses, few princes, worth noting. I remember Diana’s piercing eyes, and how JFK, Jr., could see out of the corner of his eye.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.