It is hoped that this site will inspire many of Al’s students who love him and have been influenced by him to share some “Montesi Vignettes.”
The first friends to visit me in Israel after my
arrival in 1971 were my former English professor
during my first two years of undergrad at St. Louis
University, Dr. Albert J. Montesi and a former
classmate, Jim Barry. Montesi waas the most remarkable
professor in all of my university career. We share the
same birthdate. I remember writing my first paper for
him on Beowulf, thinking, in my young undaunted
arrogance, that it was ready for publication. He
lacerated it, both for its grammatical lack of rigour
and disjointed content. I was crestfallen. He helped
me to write more cogently and set out the premise of
the composition and how to defend it based on my
interpretation of sources. He provoked in the
classroom, getting a blob of mostly uncritical,
largely Catholic restless youth, how to think, how to
become engaged with ideas and the ferment of the
times. Students, both male and female loved him and
they were his life. His house was filled with them. It
was in that house at 22 Benton Place that he held his
infamous parties which usually concluded with his
throwing us all out. He was also extremely helpful in
giving a sense of pride and self worth to those of us,
like him, who were gay.
So it was, that he and his former pupil and constant
companion at the time, the golden haired boy, Jim
Barry, took a cruise which winded its way through the
Medditerranean, docking at Haifa. They came up to
Jerusalem to see me during this period of my
residential transition. They stayed at a guest house
in Talpiot and I remember Al commenting on seeing
another guest, a heavyset, bearded Hassidic rabbi
sitting at table eating what must have been roasted or
boiled chicken with a dish towel spread on his lap.
During the course of the meal, he would use this
uncustomary item to wipe his mouth. Not a napkin, or
even the larger European serviette, but a dish towel.
I think back to that every time I dine solo in front
of the tv with a dish towel spread on my lap.
There were still a couple of items back at the pent
house that I had not collected. Nothing of any value
really but which i wanted with me. One was a Tunisian
carpet, a table covering really, that I had found in
Haifa during the first few weeks of my arrival in
Israel. I bought it from a laudress who had it spread
out on her table. I dared not go up to that place
unguarded so I convinced Montesi and Jim to accompany
me to confront Avi and demand or take by force if
required those few possessions I had collected. It was
night, must have been autumn 1971 or 72. Montesi was
hardly poius but faithful to the religion of his
Marsche ancestors so he was eagre to visit the shrines
in the Old City. And he was fascinated by the uniquely
Israeli social experiment-the kibbutz. He admired the
pluck and determination of the Israeli to whom I
introduced him. But he had no idea, I am sure, that he
would have to play referee between an Jewish Iraqi
queen determined to remain queen bee in the hive and
this wispy Irish Catholic convert to Judaism, not yet
a seasoned veteran of the IDF. But I was equally
determined not to leave without that carpet and if I
had to fight for it, so be it. Reason was tried first,
Avi was trying to be polite in the face of my friends.
but then, and I dont remember the how or why, it
exploded into one of those heightened states of
emotion that wash over a person after the fourth
martini. Snapping, snarling, hissing, we tumbled, went
at each other like two bitches in a grade B movie. But
I left with that Tunisian carpet. Avi soon after left
to join his sister Myrtle in Vancouver. I found a
lover, got an apartment and evenutally lost track of
that carpet. Montesi still recalls the scene with a
chuckle of the moment that Yaakov, or Seamus as he
prefered to call me, showed a side he had not seen
previously in the classroom discussing Samuel Butler.
--- Al Montesi <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Yakov: Am under chemo care at Barnes. My shots are
> regulated by the week. Next treatment is next
> tuesday. Godsil is organizing a Montesi anecdote
> flyer. Do you remember any wild moments with me as
> particpants. REmber the ruckus in pent house in
> Jerusalem. Something like that. What is your news.
> Hope you are well. Cheers, al
More Yaakov Sullivan on Montesi.
I remember Montesi shuffling into class, his arms wrapped around several books and papers, plopping all that stuff on the desk at the front of the room, sitting down, taking a breath, and just starting to talk, picking up, it seemed, from wherever he had stopped at the end of our previous class two days before.
From him I learned not just to appreciate good writing, but to love it. I learned how to love it, and why. His own respect and awe and love for great writing – for insight articulated and emotion expressed – was contagious. Even a lackadaisical student like myself became enraptured, along with Al.
Here are a few of the classroom quotes of Al’s I remember to this day, and have repeated often (giving him credit, of course):
- About Emily Dickinson’s sensitivity to her tiny world: “My God! The woman’s very nerve endings were on parade!”
- About creating art: “How can you hope to be an artist unless you SUFFER?”
- And in general: “You cannot possibly hope to attain salvation unless you suffer a realization of self.”
I had the good fortune to attend several of Al’s notorious parties in that three-story house (and in at least one other place before that, as I vaguely recall).
Al’s house or apartment was always a place where the creative, the artsy, the mis-fit, the intellectual, the beat, the hippy-to-be, the leftist, the delicate, the lost souls would gather, and I felt right at home.
We left one of those parties early one night, and as I walked down those creaky stairs with my girlfriend (and soon-to-be-wife), Al called down after me, “Ashton! Without that woman, you are worthless! Worthless!”
I believe a significant part of the artist in me, the iconoclast, and the man fortunate enough to love life comes from the times I spent with Al Montesi.
And he was kind enough to give me a B.
Paul Hendrickson remembers Al
Montesi was a profound influence on me. A couple years ago I gave a talk at SLU and asked that he came, and he did, and I paid lavish tribute to him from the podium. Afterward we went out to dinner somewhere on the Hill with the English prof (now gone from SLU) who had arranged for me to come. Al was beautifully Al, funny, alert, calling my wife “Darling,” being profane and humanistic and iconoclastic. The Al I so remember from my undergraduate days, fresh from seminary life, was the one who could rivet a class with his stories.
different story: I was once sitting in Chauteau House, in that below ground little cafe. He came in. He had taught us earlier that day. We had read Stephen Crane’s ‘Red Badge of Courage.’ I said something profoundly stupid about ‘how is it fair that a man like Crane had so much talent?’ Montesis went nuts. He
started screaming at me in front of other people. “Fair? Fair? How about the fact that he hemmorhaged from the bowels and died early? Is that fair, is that fair? Huh, Huh? Hendrickson?” I was mortified, stricken. Then he came over and grabbed my shoulders and sort of laughed and told me to forget it. But it’s that utter iconoclasm and not suffering a foolish statement lightly that I so revere and vividly recall, even from the distance of these 40 years, and even if the target of his attack was (righteously) me.
A Godsil Story About Al
Montesi gave dozens of parties at his newly purchased Benton Place house during my St. Louis U. days from 1964 through 1969. I was neither an English major nor an intellectual, so attending these gatherings was always somewhat intimidating. The neighborhood at the time was also cause for concern, one of the oldest and most desolate areas of the near South Side of St. Louis, a dramatically “decaying” city at the time.
Al was a sometimes stern sometimes indulgent “Daddy” to many of the campus geniuses, as well as some of the campus “crazies.” I can’t recall any other professor opening their homes to students like Al did. Nor can I remember any professors who inspired as much love and fear at the same time.
Al was as passionate and intense as any man I’ve ever met, to this day. He was profoundly outraged by the evils of the racist and imperialist aspect of U.S. society. But he was also tempered by a considerable appreciation for the long evolutionary journey our contradictory species had survived. And by a dogged faith in the value of the good fight.
A profound moment for me came at one of Montesi’s parties back around 1965. I was reading C.Wright Mills’ “Power Elite” and increasingly exposed to the horrors and tragedy of the Vietnam War. Montesi was sitting at his kitchen table in a rant about the racists and the war mongers. Summoning up as much courage as I possessed I made the comment, based on my reading of Mills, that the country was so dominated by the elites of the corporate, military, and state sectors, that there was little we could do.
Al turned and looked deeply into my eyes, probobably pounded his fists on the table, face twisted with anger and frustration, and bellowed…“Well you can protest, can’t you!”
And come that next Fall of 1966, we did. We protested the University awarding a Distinguished Alumni Award to a man named, methinks, J. Hamilton Thornton, key to the outrageously racist, xenophobic, and militaristic editorials of the “St. Louis Globe Democrat.” I wonder if, prior to that, there had ever been a student protest at this good Jesuit School of the Great Midwest? While the Catholic Worker influenced Jesuit seminarians, especially Jim Moore and Gary Giambi, were the direct inspiration at a SLUAC(St. Louis Unviversity Action Committee) meeting for that demo, Al was one of a handful of professors, which included James Scott, Norm Hinton, and others I’ll eventually remember, essentially supportive of our efforts.
George Wendel, Appolonian to Montesi’s Dionysian, also had a great impact on the student civil rights movement. More on that another day. Or, if you reader have Wendel stories, why not offer one. Click the “edit” key and start writing. Click the save key and presto, you’ve become a wiki writer!
Here is a place for Al’s friends and neighbors from the Lafayette Square community of St. Louis to share their stories of Al.
Marie Davies of Lehmann House Bed and Breakfast
On Line Friends