Associated Experiences (The Joys of Aspen)

By Sydney Meshkov



Starting in Aspen

Going to the ACP over the years has played a major part in my personal and scientific life. I first came to ACP in 1968. It was the year when Hilbert Hall was built – now the space where it once was is called the Hilbert space. In that era there were no workshops. The main question that was asked when considering coming was, "When will Murray [Gell-Mann] be there?" I found the atmosphere inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable. In the spirit of the ACP, where we pursue new and exciting ideas on a daily basis, so, too, I was able to explore the joys and wonders of life in and around Aspen. Much of this was new to me, and also to my friends and colleagues. In this reminiscence, I would like to describe some of them.

Fishing

After my first year, Pete Carruthers, whom I had known quite well for a number of years, came up to me and said, "Syd. You are an experienced ocean fisherman – which I was – but you have to learn to fly fish for trout." He marched me down to Chuck Fothergill's, the true fishing store in Aspen – we don't have anything like it today – and outfitted me with boots, pole, reel, line, and fishing bag to hold my catch. The total cost was $234. He tried to teach me to cast and fish. One day, he took me to the rushing waters at the sewage plant on the Roaring Fork, opposite to the airport. Big trout lurk there, but it was not a winner for me. I didn't have a clue of what to do. In that era there were some outstanding trout fishing fizzies. Among them were Rubby Sherr, Martin Block, Bill Frazer, Mike Simmons, Fred Zachariasen and Steve Berry. Rubby gave me two pieces of advice: 1) Glue indoor-outdoor carpeting onto my fishing boots to avoid slipping, and 2) buy polaroid sunglasses to let me see the fish, and most importantly, to see where I was stepping so as to not break my neck. Armed with this advice I equipped myself and set forth with Bill Frazer, who took me to the "Fish Market," way up the Roaring Fork, just below where the 15-mile an hour zone started. After a steep descent through the aspen trees, we came to the place where the Roaring Fork splits into 2 parts. At the junction, Bill patiently taught me how to cast and there I caught 7 trout. Years later I emulated Bill, and taught Jon Rosner and Dick Norton how to catch dumb brook trout, way up Hunter Creek. Up there, if you laid out your line properly you were instantaneously rewarded with a fish. Catching 50 fish an hour was within the realm of possibility in Hunter. In the early 70s, Dennis Silverman taught me how to fish with a spinning reel, a water bubble, and a nymph (wet fly) at Lost Man reservoir. This led to many trips to reservoirs and lakes. When my son, George, was little, he would only use this mode of fishing. Now, he is a superb fly fisherman and out fishes me, 10/1. We mainly went to Lost Man reservoir and Grizzly reservoir. Sometimes Itzhak Perlman could be found fishing at Lost Man.

As the years went on I got better and fished all over the Roaring Fork Valley and its tributaries, both by myself or accompanied by my buddies. We had adventures, a few of which I recount. One year Fred Zachariasen, Mike Simmons and I went fishing way up Hunter Creek. At some point in the fishing Fred's line caught in a tree. In trying to whip the line out of the tree, he succeeded, but the recoil flung the hook deep into Fred's thumb. We tried to work it out, but to no avail. Then Fred asked me to cut it out with my Swiss army knife. I refused and said that we should go to the hospital and let them do it, since they would have the skill and proper instruments. Fred asked Mike to do the same and Mike refused, too. We hiked back to town – a long walk, with Fred quite unhappy and in pain. When we got to the hospital, the MD on duty clumsily yanked, pulled, cut and finally got the hook out, but the procedure was so clumsy and painful, that we couldn’t watch. We each felt that it would have been better to cut it out ourselves back when Fred had asked us to do it.

On another venture, Simmons, Berry, Zachariasen and I went to the Frying Pan River. Mike went off by himself, while Steve, Fred and I went further upstream. It was a disastrous day. We went up and down the river – caught nothing. Walking down river, mightily discouraged, we met Mike, cheery as can be, with a string of 8 beautiful rainbows. We asked what happened. He had found a spot from which he had not moved, and pulled out fish after fish. That is the luck of the draw.

Once, I was fishing in Lincoln Gulch. As I fished my way up from the starting place, a curve in the river, 1.8 miles from Hwy. 82, I had the good fortune of coming across a lovely bikini clad lady sunning herself on a big rock in the middle of the stream. As I approached she said, "Oh, I see one" and pointed to a fish. My aim was good enough that I hooked and landed the fish. Then she pointed to another and then another. What a fishing guide!

For a special dinner at Maurice's restaurant at the Aspen Alps – more about Maurice later – truite bleu was on the menu. Truite bleu is a specialty that involves starting with a live trout, then ripping its innards out while the fish is alive and plunging it into a boiling solution of vinegar, white wine, water, and other goodies. The trout turns blue – as we might under similar conditions – and is delicious. Someone had to supply the trout. Pete Carruthers and Fred Zachariasen undertook this assignment. Pete, the master fisherman, was picked because we couldn’t take a chance of not getting any trout. Fortunately, they caught some trout, kept them alive in a bucket and carefully and laboriously transported them to the restaurant. Their efforts led to a great meal for all of us.

Mushrooming

One of the other things that I learned in my early Aspen years was to pick mushrooms. In a good year – namely one in which mushrooms are abundant – one can find steinpilz, (also called cepes, boletus edulis, porcini, king boletes), as well as chantarelles, hydnum, agaricus and puffballs (calvatia). Morels may also be found, especially after a fire. In 1982, after the 1981 Weller lake fire, Paul Fishbane and I went up and found ash colored morels in indentations in the ground, almost impossible to distinguish from all of the ash covered terrain.

In Europe, cepes and chantarelles are readily found in many stores and are relatively inexpensive. Fortunately, in the US, people have been so thoroughly indoctrinated to beware of mushrooms because there are some poisonous varieties, that the pressure to pick them is not too large. In Europe, people are very secretive about their mushroom haunts. This trait has carried over to the US.

When I first started going on mushroom ventures, we would go in groups, but there was the same secretiveness as in Europe. If some one came upon a trove, they would secretly harvest it and not tell their companions. (There was a skit about this in the 1975 Cabaret show). I thought that this was ridiculous, so I got people to agree to a policy of sharing, which persists to this day, and of which I am super proud. Now when we go, if some lucky person finds some, they will yell out, "Hey, look what's here" and others will come to help harvest and clean. At the end of the day, we gather at someone's house and clean, sort, and divvy up the spoils. This may be followed by a dinner with our haul as the feature.

Some of the long-standing mushroom mavens are Steve and Carla Berry, Paul Fishbane, Steve and Alene Pinsky, Mike and Margaret Simmons, Bill and Jane Frazer, David and Suzy Pines, George Stranahan, and I.

Many years ago, Bill Frazer and I were looking for steinpilz. We came across a field of amanita muscaria, the storied red mushroom with white dots. We had picked a few and were looking at them, when a very pretty young lady appeared with arms loaded with steinpilz. She was there with her boyfriend who was busy cutting firewood about 1/4 mile away. She wanted to trade her steinpilz for our amanitas. We were happy to do so and asked her why she wanted them. She replied, cheerily, that they were going to dry them and sell them to people who wanted to get high.

While Pete Carruthers was still alive, we had a party at his house – it was then called the Card house – for a combined trout and mushroom feast. We stuffed trout, which various of us had caught – Mike and Pete come to mind – with a mushroom mixture made from freshly caught steinpilz, and then sauteed the trout. Outstanding.

I invented a particular way of cooking hydnum that is now used by the local mushroom cognescenti. Hydnum is a strong flavored mushroom that grows in spirals on the ground, just inside the borders of spruce forests. We had tried the usual sautéing with butter, olive oil, garlic, shallots, whipping cream, but it wasn't right. I asked Maurice for a good recipe, but that didn't work either. Then I realized that with such a strong flavor hydnum needs something strong to stand up to it. I tried adding Pace Picante sauce. It worked like a charm! Some years later, I met the Pace scion, a hand surgeon, sitting next to me at the sushi bar at Takah Sushi.

T–shirts

In the summer of 1981, Eric Berry, Steve Berry's son was working in a t-shirt factory in Aspen, called T-man, and located in back of Concept 600. Believe it or not, in those days, people actually made things in Aspen. This inspired Steve and me to come up with the idea that we should produce an ACP t-shirt and sell it to raise money for the Center. We broached this idea to the ACP management and it was promptly dismissed. Unfazed, we persisted and produced the first ACP t-shirt. It had a photo of the Maroon Bells (taken by Steve), imprinted on a light blue shirt. We ordered them from T-man in a variety of sizes and sold them out of my office, which was filled with large boxes of assorted shirts. After repaying Berry, we donated the rest of the proceeds to ACP. The next year we had a photo of Mt. Daly on a yellow shirt, and I paid for the t-shirts. An evident success, by the third year, ACP paid Murphy, the T-man owner, for the shirts, relieving us of that burden. In that era all of the shirts were the same color for a given year. We added long sleeve t-shirts, sweat shirts, golf shirts and other products as their appeal expanded. We continued picturing a different mountain on a specific color shirt through 1985. In 1986, to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Mike Simmons, then the ACP president, hired a local artist, Tammy Lane, to produce a design for us. That design has been with us ever since and has graced the vast array of items that are available. We have many colors now. The deviation from monocolor took place in 1988. I had picked a lime green color sweatshirt that I thought looked nice, but Mike Simmons was not happy with it. To make Mike happy, I had T-man produce a white sweatshirt just for him, and then we were off to the races.

Winter conference

In the 60s, 70s and early 80s a number of us had talked about the virtues of having an Aspen Winter conference, but nobody came up with a real plan until Martin Block did, in 1985. After many years spent working at CERN, Marty returned to Aspen and became the driving force pushing for an Aspen Winter Physics conference. With the invaluable help of Beate Block, Marty produced the first winter conference, a roaring success. For me, 1985 was my introduction to Aspen skiing. After several abortive attempts at La Plagne, Park City and Taos, I took 12 days of ski lessons on Highlands. In the midst of these lessons we had the first Winter Conference. I was staying at the old Aspen Meadows, sharing a room with Gary Steigman. One day, leaving Highlands, Dave Schramm stopped me, told me that Gary had fallen out of his ski lift chair, and that Marty and Bea had taken him to the hospital. Fearing a concussion, it was to be my task to not let Gary sleep when they brought him back. I dutifully kept him up, until some late hour when it looked like he would be OK and I let him doze off.

Marty organized a ski race down a slalom course and insisted that I participate. I wound up dead last, tied with Alvin Tollestrup for these honors.

We wanted the conferences to continue and to expand into areas other than particle physics. The following year, a committee of Block, Pines, Schramm, Zachariasen and Meshkov met at Northwestern to write a proposal to funding agencies for support. It worked and we were on our way.

I was chair of the winter conference committee for a number of years, at the request of various presidents, and worked to put the conferences, now covering all major fields of physics, on a sound physics and financial basis. We were helped, greatly, by the generous support of Nick and Maggie DeWolf. One year, Maggie had worked hard to round up a Wheeler Opera House full of students from all over the Roaring Fork valley to hear a public lecture by Leon Lederman. There was a problem. Aspen and Denver were in a ferocious winter snowstorm. Leon had set out from Chicago, even though suffering from a strained back. We had a Wheeler full of kids, but no Leon. I finally got a call from Leon saying that he was in Denver, but would have to return to Chicago, because nothing was leaving for Aspen. He apologized profusely for not being able to make it. What to do? Naturally, we formed a panel from the assembled group and the evening went on without a hitch.

Maurice's cooking class

Memories of the joyous participation by fizzies in Maurice's cooking classes are indelibly imprinted on those of us who were lucky enough to be there. Maurice was the best chef in Aspen for a little more than 20 years, starting in 1969. He ran a quality French (naturally) restaurant in the basement of the Aspen Alps. He was a delightfully cheery man who was also a natural performer. On the proper occasion he would close the restaurant and gather a small group, usually 10-12 people, in the kitchen for a cooking class. We started at 7 PM and finished around 11PM. He made each course, discussing, in humorous detail, what he was doing, and then served it to the assemblage. We had a different wine with each course. With that much wine, it was a very happy group by 11 PM. In fact, it was hard to take notes as the evening wore on, so I imported my daughters to do so. Maurice was a seasoned performer. Everything had a quarter cup of butter, which he announced proudly, and we all cheered. When we first started the price was $10 plus tip. By the time we did the last ones it was $75 plus tip – a bargain by any standard. Maurice was quite generous. He let my son, George, as a little kid, come to the class and would feed him small bites of each dish, without charge. Later, I paid full fee for him. Maurice produced a cookbook with many pictures of his smiling persona. Helene Slansky took copious notes and still has many of Maurice’s recipes. Maurice’s years of stirring, mixing and beating eggs made his arms superstrong, leading to a most formidable forehand in tennis.

We once took a visitor, an outstanding cook himself, to the class. Maurice started to show us how to make an omelet using one of his skillets. He was interrupted by our guest who said, "Don't you need a special omelet pan?" Maurice replied, impishly, "Not if you know what you are doing."

Patio parties

One of the bonding enterprises, in addition to picnics at varied sites, was to hold patio parties a few times each summer. Every attendee was supposed to bring some dish that they had made. Since fizzies are quite competitive, there developed an effort to outdo the next person. Wonderful dishes appeared, but as quickly as they arrived, sometimes while en route from car to table, they were devoured. My oldest daughter, Sasha, noticed this behavior and, unbeknown to me at the time, proceeded to play a prank. At that time there was a Physics Center cat. The cat food was kept in the pantry in the back of Stranahan – in that era we weren't worried about bears. Sasha opened a can of cat food, placed it in a dish and delicately arranged crackers around it. She took it out to the patio table and, voila, the fake pate disappeared in a flash. Now it can be told. By the way, the term "fizzies" was introduced by Sasha.

Volleyball

I don’t remember exactly when the volleyball court was built –it was not in place when I first came. It soon became an active area. I used to go around Stranahan and Hilbert, and later, Bethe, late in the afternoon, trying to raise enough participation so that we could play. Not everyone was pleased with the idea, and I got some dirty looks for this effort – it was deemed unseemly. Nevertheless, I persisted, and we usually were able to round up enough to play. My proselyting efforts slowed down after two incidents. Once, I persuaded a slightly built physicist from the University of Cincinnati, Peter Suranyi, to play. Within five minutes his elbow was sticking out of the middle of his arm. I rushed him to the hospital, where they restored it to its natural locale. Some time later, John Schwarz, an athletic fellow, was induced to play. He soon turned his ankle. Fortunately, we had a big feed bucket that we filled with ice and water, and immediately plunged John’s ankle into it. These two injuries ended my recruiting efforts.

Cabaret

In 1975, Mildred Goldberger, wife of Marvin (Murph) Goldberger, had successfully organized a physics show, full of skits, on the East Coast. She came to Aspen and started to organize an Aspen reprise. A number of us didn’t like the format and took unto ourselves the organization and direction of the show. We decided that the emphasis should be, strictly, on Aspen events. Steve Gasiorowicz and I were sharing an office, so we did a lot of planning for various skits.

We took over the nightclub on S. Galena St., which was then called Cabaret. It was later dubbed Double Diamond, and is now called Belly Up. The show had a number of skits, a few of which are described below. One of them involved Ed Witten trying to pick up a girl in an Aspen Bar. Since this was not Ed’s natural forte, he required some coaching. Steve Ellis had an exceptionally attractive wife, who played the target. Steve Ellis, Steve Gasiorowicz and I did the instructing and the scene went off smoothly. In the skit Ed snuffed out her joint and, naively, promised to replace it with one from the cigarette machine. In the end, he was successful and left with the young lady.

Another skit had Dan Freedman and Heinz Pagels, all in white face to show their old age, discussing what had happened to the Physics Center in their dotage. They described how to reach Aspen via the Roaring Fork Expressway, and marveled at the state of the 20 buildings on the campus. Some of the fizzie kids got into the act, as well. Nick Gell-Man and my son, George, did a take-off on the Monty Python skit about the dead parrot.

The final skit had Murray Gell-Mann taking the stage to give an inspiring dissertation on the present state of physics. He began to rave and rant about the host of invisible particles, the quarks and gluons, of which everything was composed. As he became more and more excited, his speech quickened and rose in excitement. At this point, Gasiorowicz and I, dressed in white meat market garb which we had borrowed from City Market, entered and dragged Murray off stage, with Murray gesticulating wildly while continuing his harangue. In 1984, another show took place, with John Schwarz playing the role analogous to Murray’s, only this time raving about strings and extra dimensions.

Tennis

From the 1970s through the 1990s, tennis was a big activity for many fizzies. That was before the golf craze. The tennis activities were centered about the "slums," the old Aspen courts on Maroon Creek Road, run by DeeDee McCabe. DeeDee was and is a true character, who influenced many fizzies, their off-spring, and their assorted others. She ran classes and tournaments, as well as giving private lessons. She had a full vocabulary, to which some parents objected, but the mutual love and affection with her protégés prevailed. Her students included Peter Townshend (ne Norton), Jennifer Ramond, and Anastasia Truran. DeeDee was aided by the beautiful Lorna Pedersen, the daughter of Tage Pedersen, a legendary physical therapist who started the Physical Therapy clinic at the Aspen Meadows and later moved to the Aspen Club. DeeDee was adept at making up names. We were all at her mercy. Steve Pinsky was dubbed "Fiddler" and I was called "Professor."

There were many expert fizzie tennis players. Elihu Abrahams, David Pines, Pierre Ramond, John Schwarz, Rick Field and his wife, Steve Pinsky, Tom Appelquist, Mike Simmons and Sally Mencimer come to mind. Then there were the rest of us. We had various Physics tournaments, which were dominated by the aforementioned experts. Tennis was also played at the Gant, at the Meadows and at Sally’s house in Meadowood. In that era, if you worked out at the Aspen Club, you often could watch Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert either practicing with each other or with their coaches.

One year, Mike Simmons and I played a doubles match with DeeDee and another student of hers, Sue Eldert. Mike and I knew that it would be tough beating them, so we brought a bottle of champagne to the match. We all sampled the champagne throughout and, with its effect on our opponents, won.

One result of taking lessons from DeeDee was that she named me a linesman for a Pro-Am tournament at the Aspen Club in 1987. Martina Navratilova was playing in the tournament against the Aspen Club pro. On one ball I ruled against the pro, despite his objections. The umpire, a noted Australian, questioned my call, but the crowd vocally supported me. Years later I met Martina and asked her whether she recalled the incident. She replied, "No, but if you had been wrong, I would certainly have remembered."

Rafting

Originally, rafting was not my cup of tea. My introduction to it was fairly fierce. I was invited by Jim Ball, Steve Pinsky and Fred Zachariasen to participate in a raft trip in Westwater, Utah. It turns out that the rapids there are Class 4, not for amateurs. Of course, I didn’t know that. We started with 2 other rafts. Naturally, Jim got into a water fight with the other rafts, the net result of which was that our raft was boarded and I was thrown out of the raft. Climbing back in, we proceeded to the infamous Skull rapids, which were scary to behold, especially for a novice. We sort of navigated them, finally going over facing backwards. At the bottom, I fell out into furiously swirling waters, with my leg caught in ropes that encircled the raft. Jim, Steve, and Fred grabbed me and tossed me into the raft like a fish. Fortunately, the rest of the trip was more benign.

Despite this awful introduction, I went on to become an avid rafter, going on many raft trips with the fizzies and even leading some ventures, mainly on the Colorado and the Roaring Fork, but also ping-ponging through Brown’s Canyon below Buena Vista, on the Arkansas. On trips with Steve and Hilde Gasiorowicz, we were treated to gourmet packed lunches, replete with Brie and pates of various varieties when we pulled over for lunch. One of my last memories of Dave Schramm was when he and I led two rafts down the Roaring Fork from Carbondale. We always rented rafts from the Larsens of Whitewater Rafting. Their kids used to help when they were little and I am pleased to see, now operate the business with their parents as helpers.

Raft trips almost always included someone getting dumped out of the raft. My daughter, Anne, once flew out near the Dinosaur Hole on the Colorado and was under the raft for a scary few minutes before emerging. Once, I was the victim of inattention by a rowdy set of fizzie teenage offspring that included Chris Durand, Eric Berry and my son, George. We were rafting down the Roaring Fork near the Cemetery rapids. I yelled out something like, "Paddle to the right." No one paid attention, and we hit something and I was dumped out. Fortunately, I floated to a spot where George, standing on some rocks, was able to pull me out of the water. Our trip continued to Glenwood, where we all went to the hot springs pool to warm up and relax. After that we rode home in Randy Durand’s open jeep. It began to rain, so the boys huddled under some tarps, while I drove back to Aspen in the downpour, thoroughly soaked.