One of the reasons I'm so tickled when Mr. CR actually condescends to read nonfiction is that, for a while after he does, we share a common vocabulary. Last week, when he was done with this own Helene Hanff bender, I did the only sensible thing you can do when there's a Hanff book just laying around the house, and re-read her London travelogue, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
This time when I went through it I was particularly curious about a couple Helene met while there, named Leo Marks (the son of the owner of Marks & Co, the bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road) and his wife, Elena Gaussen Marks. If you've read the book, you know that Helene agreed to let Elena, a portrait painter, paint her. So I found myself wondering, what has happened to that portrait of Helene Hanff? (I would really, really like to see it.)
If I was a good reference librarian I would have an answer for you about where that portrait is and who owns it. Because I never was a particularly strong reference librarian, however, I did what every other person in the world does: Googled stuff for a while, and then gave up. But...I did find a few other paintings by Elena Gaussen (interesting), and I learned that Leo Marks wrote ciphers and did codebreaking during World War II. It is him, in fact, who we have to thank for this poem, which was actually a cipher poem used in World War II espionage circles:
"The life that I have is all that I have, and the life that I have is yours.
The love that I have of the life that I have is yours, and yours, and yours."
So when Mr. CR came home yesterday, I said, "Hey, you know that great poem I told you about? That was written by the husband of the guy who painted Helene's portrait in Bloomsbury Street. Remember?"
And he said, "Really? That's cool. It's a good poem." I still wonder where that portrait of Helene is today but I'll take the small victory of a shared reading experience with Mr. CR.
And now, for an extra special treat (don't say I never give you anything): enjoy Mr. Richard Armitage (of North and South BBC program fame) reciting that very same poem.*
*Scroll to the bottom of the page.