Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bonaparte's Victrola

Call me Boney if you want to......Bonaparte is my middle name, Boney I am; and I'm the one who retrieved Bonaparte's victrola.

When I was what passed for a human child, but before it seemed to the family that I would comprehend historical explanations, I understood the Lake Bonapate name to mean "bones-apart", and imagined the lake bottom littered with the bones of long-ago drowning victims. Actually, this wasn't far from the truth, in view of the soapified corpses discovered by Davey's grandfather Failing, and which Davey so eloquently wrote about, substituting my experience for his.

Never mind that for now; the lake was named after Bonaparte the man - not Napoleaon, but his older brother Joseph, a restless romantic who came and built a series of residences, but didn't stay around long enough to litter the lake bottom with his bones.
Stay with me now as I go back in time, across the sea, and through the net of truth and illusions to the wonderful land of Wiki. We will be back soon and get down to the victrola....

Installed by Napolean as King of Spain, Joseph had kindly put an end to the Spanish Inquisition, but being a foreigner in Spain, he was poorly appreciated for that, and when he and the rest of his family were routed , he left his castle in Spain, but took a good many of the crown jewels, buried half of them in Switzerland, and, traveling as the Commte de Suvilliers, took the rest of the jewels with him to Philadelphia, where he had a friend in Ben Franklin.

He lived there for a short time, but Ben Franklin was mostly in Paris and probably wasn't that close a friend anyway, besides which Philadelphia was all taken up, and practically old world already: too international and dangerous for a Bonaparte at the time. So Joseph went to Point Breeze, New Jersey where there was a little more room yet and the wind presumably blew free.
There he developed an estate with an artificial lake, a cottage for his daughter, an underground escape route to the river, and everything else that might make him comfortable........ except that it was, after all, just a suburban estate, not his own nation state, or even a castle in Spain.
The French emigerees around him owned a lot of land in North Western New York State, which was quite wild yet because the Adirondack mountains blocked the westward movement of settlers, so Joseph sent his assistant back to Switzerland for the other half of the crown jewels, with which he bought a Luxombourg sized chunk of the Adirondack foothills, sight unseen, most of the present day town of Diana, in Lewis County
He built a house in the village of Natural Bridge, just about in what would later be the back yard of the house where I myself first appeared to the world of Warrens.
Joseph stayed at Natural Bridge long enough to lay out the streets, and build a rail way to the center of his the head of the lake he called Diana and which we of course call Bonaparte,.
There he built a courtly hunting lodge he called "The Hermitage", where it is unlikely that he was ever alone.
The hunting was fine, the music and the company was good,.....he had brought in a gondala or two and plenty of friends, but man does not live on meat and music and embezled jewlery alone. There has to be some kind of enterprise, with an agricultural base. The long term plan for nation building, was to find a fertile tableland, which would serve as his bread basket.
He proceeded to the outlet of the lake to the site still called by his vlllage name Alpina, though there is nothing Alpine about it. He sawed lumber and got a good start on yet another house......but he never occupied the house, of which not a board remains, and the thirty acres he cleared there have been taken over by pine and oak .... because when he finally got around to scoiuting about for a suitable table land to plow and crop, it very quickly became clear that in this land of swamps, bare-back ridges, and thin, acid soil, there was no such thing as tillable tableland.
Oh, easy to say, he should have looked first before he built thrice. But anyway, the mosquitoes, the black flies, and the no-see-ums were god awful, so he he retreated to New Jersey, and eventually to Naples where he had some claim on being king.

I believe he is buried there, all in one piece, though I never heard how the king thing worked out, but by the time I was maybe twelve or fourteen I was aware of the colorful elemets of the Bonaparte legend, which are probably the purely mythical ones : the sheet metal bullet proofing of the house in Natural Bridge and the escape tunnel to the caverns (why not....he had one at Point Breeze) , the lost lovers and hidden remnants of the Spanish treasure in Bonaperate Cave, the musical gondola expeditions.

Or maybe they were real gondala expeditions, floating music across the still waters, in which case there were no doubt real musicians.
But I imagined the gondolas, not with poles but with oars, because the poles would have needed to be twenty to sixty feet long in most of the lake, and not with two or three or four fiddling and fluting musicians at the bow, but with a big horned, anachronistic victrola, and the reason for that was that I found it.

It was one of those cold wet summers we get, or used to get, when somebody complains about the weather and then people say, yeah well, this is the Adirondacks, that is what it is supposed to be like in the Adirondacks,
When it wasn't raining, the mists and fog were so thick the lake just seemed to be rolling into the air, so water and air were becoming one. Anything you said, any noise you made, went swimming through the air, and sometimes got lost before it made it to the other end of the boat.
But the mists were no problem for the mosquitoes and black flies which could fly between the drops and through your button holes or up your nose, or for the naturally fly- repellant type like myself, or for obsessed fishermen like brother Davey and his friend Wally Harrington who was up at the island for a week that summer.

They were determined , no matter what the weather, to go out at dawn down the flooded outlet halfway to the dam at Alpina, to fish in Mud Lake, a shallow-water, deep-mud wide place in the flow where large mouth bass fed near the shore line at dawn and dusk.
The boys could have gone out at any time between six a.m. and noon that day and it would have seemed like dawn for all one could tell by the light. I would say it was about eight oclock already when they left. I was in the boat house when they were getting it together.

I very seldom slept indoors at the lake. There was an old wall tent set up in front of the camp where I had some comic books and a sleeping bag, but more often I stayed in the little wave cave down by the pump house, or in the prow of the plywood runabout where I kept a few blankets and my swim fins. I liked to sleep there with my face half an inch from the water.
I didn't show myself when the boys were rigging up, and loading into the fishing boat, but I could hear them debating the pros and cons of borrowing the new- fangled spinning rod up on pegs there, with the spider- like reel and gossimer line . It belonged to Davey's new brother in law, who had brought it back from his G.I. service in Germany. The pro's one..... Wally's uncle had a similiar rig and Wally said he had learned how to handle it.

They went off into the mists.
And were back in about an hour.... looking for me.
They had anchored in the deepest part of Mud Lake, not very deep in water, but deep in mud, from the false bottom on down.
In his entusiasm and the fog of fishing, Wally had overlooked a loose reel- to- rod connection and had cast the reel right off the rod into the lake......

They had tried to pull it up by the line, .but the line had not been tied to the spool. So now they wanted me to dive for it, being as I am, like they say, a regular fish. This is what I was good for, and there I was sitting in the runabout when they returned, so I agreed to it.
I had the fins right there. Davey went to camp and got some cookies, and then we went right back out.

We anchored where the reel was cast off and I dove.
I poked around but I found no sign or feel of the reel. It was a pretty dense object and was obviously deep in the mud. It still is.
I widened my search circle and felt around some more.
Every once in a while a bullhead would shoot out of the mud in front of my face.
Then I found....felt a handle.... a crank handle. If it were the handle of a spinning reel, the reel would be large enough to rig on a flag pole.
I couldn't do more than just budge it by myself, but I went up and got the other end of the anchor rope....there being plenty rope, since we were in only ten feet of water there. I dove, tied it to the crank, and the boys hauled, trailing clouds of mud, to the already know what.
Davey knew what it was, and said it as the thing lay on the bottom of the boat, mud slowly flowing from the horn: Bonaparte's Victrola.
It was a portable with a case about the size of a bread box, but the sound horn was big enough to cover a watermellon.

With that, Davey and Wally forgot all about the spinning reel. If you want to go looking, it is probably still there, right at the outlet of Mud lake.

Back at the island, the boys took the gramaphone to the pump house work shop. I tagged along uninvited and watched as they struggled to get the crank working, but it had been under for a good long time, if not since the time of Joseph and the gondolas, and it would not turn.
So then they took the whole thing apart. They got the horn seperated from the box and took turns blowing on it, which Walley could not do with anything but a windy effect, but Davey could, because he had taken a month of trumpet lessons before one day hiding in a closet and refusing to go.
After passing it back and forth a few times, the boys went up to get more cookies and a proper breakrfast, leaving me with the horn.

I took it to the wave cave there in front of the pump house, and blew my heart out.
At first it was just wind, then rain....... then thunder, and very soon I was as proficient with it as I would ever be, blasting out notes which dropped to the lake surface and, despite fog and mists, bowled across the lake and bounced back off the granite hills, rebounded all over the lake and back to me over and over again...... until I dropped the horn, exhausted, and the essential me seemed to peal through the air with the sound. And maybe I did, but when I returned to my body my shorts, which had already been wet anyway, were wet and warm.

And that was the beginning and the high point of my barbaric musical career, rolling over the water and reverberating in the Rhinoceros hills. I returned to the cave and blew it often the rest of the summer. Always removing my shorts first.
My cave music created some amusement and curiosity on the island and around the bay, so I had to bring the horn out and show it off, but I would not let it out of my hands. Little Boy Blue, Moma Dot called me then. Then I returned the horn to the cave.

I kept it there in the cave until the end of summer when it was time to return to Ithaca and I tried to bring it with me, but there just wasn't room with the kids and dog and Davey's budgie , so Father Warren brought it back to the island and put it in the pump house.
It was not there when we returned the next summer .
All I have now is this harmonica which can easily be replaced if lost or clogged, and, in fact it has been replaced many times, but hardly ever does it get me more than a few feet off the ground and the sound of it has never made anybody wet their pants.

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