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Keep Will Baker's memory alive by supporting the arts

September 12, 2005
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Several hundred people gathered in and around the Rumsey Town Hall a week ago to say goodbye to Will Baker, 70, the professor, cowboy and community activist who died on Aug. 27, 2005.

While some of his friends tended to the barbecue outside, others played music inside as still others helped themselves to food and drink and told Will stories. It was a wake, and it was the way he wanted it to be.

Will, the author of 14 books, finished his last piece shortly before he died. He called it an essay but it's nearly 200 pages long. It is "Paris Journal: A Posthumous Anti-War Polemic by a Redneck Gallophile." The title is far from accurate, in my estimation.

Someone else called it a liberal screed. It is definitely not that.

It is, in fact, a lovely and long conversation with Will with lots of asides that describe his attitudes toward popular culture, modern art, Paris, Picasso, movies, politics, 9/11 and many other items of interest that popped into his head while he was writing over the past three years.

Specifically, he was writing about a long trip he took in 1957 (Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India) and a shorter trip (Paris) with the same people in 2001.

Since I spent 10 days in Paris with wonderful old friends two years after Will was there with his old friends, I found that everything he had to say about the city and his reunion resonated with me.

How many millions of words do you suppose have been written about the Eiffel Tower?

He adds a few more, fresh and provocative: "I find myself thinking that the world especially needs right now the sort of genius who would hurl into the sky a slender ladder spun from tens of thousands of tons of steel, first for the fun of it, and then for the thrill of reviewing and maybe understanding, on a bright breezy day, just why we have done so."

I like his descriptions of the city and its people and his description of formative events that happened on the road long ago. The essay is honest, thought-provoking, and kept me up late. I wanted the conversation to continue.

But last spring doctors discovered that Will had cancer. He had to hurry to finish his essay, which he did just weeks before he died.

"(When the diagnosis came) I had been working on a long essay about a remarkable reunion with two other geezers, Stan and Paul," he wrote. "In 1957 we finished a term at the Sorbonne and undertook a four-month journey overland from Paris to India in Stan's VW Bug, encountering many scary, mysterious and wonderful scenes in the Middle East."

Forty-four years later, the three returned to Paris to meet, tour the major museums, drink lots of wine, eat great meals, and talk about all the disturbing changes in the world

When he finished the essay on art and war, he wanted to do something meaningful with it. He knew that he wouldn't be around to read the reviews, but he thought that some people might share his desire to support the arts.

"I decided it was worth a shot a self-publishing," he said. Indeed it was.

Will was hoping that people would read the essay, make copies, send copies along to friends, and that everyone who read it would send a donation to the Esparto Foundation for Public Education.

The idea, he said, was "a sort of inverted non-profit pyramid thing" designed to support the work of artists who generally make this world a happier, saner and safer place. He hoped lots of money would be raised but admitted that the essay might only appeal to a limited readership.

"So the first money will fund a scholarship to a graduating senior in arts or letters at Esparto High," he said.

I know that some people are making copies of his essay and are passing it around, but if you would like to support Will's goal a little more formally and can donate at least $25, you'll be mailed a copy of the book when it's published.

Mail checks to: Esparto Foundation for Public Education, P.O. Box 774, Esparto CA 95627.

The money might be used to help someone a lot like Will.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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