The Magic of the Magic People
I am working on a new book, which will hopefully be published this spring. In Love with New England is a collection of some of the stories I’ve written in the past, about unusual and interesting people, essential Yankees, if you will. This has sent me hurtling back in time and I have been lost in their worlds, each one so distinct. At the end of each story, I am writing an update about them. What has happened to these people and to their labors and to their passions is interesting to me because so many have good endings, such as David Carroll, whom I wrote about back in 1993, a story called “The Man Who Loves Turtles.” At that time, he worked in virtual anonymity as he tried to save the habitats of turtles, turtles he had named and whose lives he followed, one year to the next, wading through a huge marshy area near his home in Warner, New Hampshire. On his sketch pads, he recorded their markings and the beauty of their shells, where he had seen them last. This diary became his first book, The Year of the Turtle. He and his wife, Laurette, also an artist, lived from one paycheck to the next, the beneficiaries of the kindness of friends, who gave them old cars they no longer needed and the mercy of an old house, never mind that it was falling down. It was their beloved home. And so it was gratifying to learn that three years ago and four books later, David Carroll was given the so-called genius grant, a MacArthur Foundation grant of $500,000. That is truly like winning the lottery except that it comes with the unmistakable benediction of those who award the grant, as close as United States comes to bestowing knighthood. In a sense, then, David Carroll became Sir David. I can’t think of anyone who deserved this more.
I’ve been writing stories like this for 32 years and counting so it’s not a surprise to find that many of these folks have passed away and yet, it’s interesting for me to learn that many of their contributions to this world have become landmarks and their treasures will remain as they always were, working farms or fabulous collections. Finding the ends of these stories has been a process of discovery. Then on Friday, as if to my bidding, the Boston Globe published a front-page story about Le Grand David Magic Company, a troupe of magicians who work out of a restored theater on the Main Street of Beverly, Massachusetts. It was my privilege to write about these amazing people back in 2002 when the Company was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since then, I have been blessed with their friendship. Cesareo, a Cuban who came to this country during the Revolution, in 1962, has been the core of this group, its founder, director, designer, choreographer and the lead magician until 2005 when he suffered a stroke. After intense physical therapy, he was able to get back on stage but the past couple of years he has been in a wheelchair and very frail, his once-booming voice reduced to a raspy whisper. When I interviewed Cesareo ten years ago, he surprised me by telling me that magic is all about relationships. When he was not on stage, sawing someone in half or making a table rise into the air, he taught psychology at Salem State College. And the person who took him under his wing when he first came here from Cuba was not a magician but the renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow, father of self-actualization. And so, when Cesareo told me then that magic is all about relationships, I had to stretch a bit to figure that out. I got it, I thought.
Cesareo’s band of magicians came together in the 1970s at a time of idealism and dreams. Many of them still perform on this stage and some of their children have spent their growing up years on that stage as well. Whenever I went to see the show, which has been often over the past ten years, my sense of what he meant about the relationships grew as I realized I was watching, among the dozens of performers on stage, a display of dense, layered relationships: brothers and old college roommates, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and, most of all, friends of many years, pulling doves out of thin air, balancing plates, and rising into the air with no apparent support.
In the Globe article, the writer asks the question: how much longer can this go on? A burst of practicality in the midst of all that magic. This is a reasonable question, a bittersweet question, a somewhat uncomfortable question, Cesareo now frail and the other members of the troupe aging (“the people leaping in and out of boxes stiffer, the clowns more stooped,” is how the Globe put it). And yet the answer is not so obvious. Since we all know the average lifespan of a friendship and/or a marriage in today’s world, the shelf life of a business and of business relationships, how they all twist and turn and often break, I realize the continued existence of this group is, quite simply, magic. Somehow, the Magic Company, thirty-three years and counting, is now rising into the air on its own with no apparent support. I see now that the resilience and elasticity and endurance of the many relationships that weave together Le Grand David, onstage and off, is a conjuring act I wasn’t aware I have been watching all this time.