What helps

Carrington, The Mill at Tidmarsh — I watched the very great film, Carrington last night (written and directed by Christopher Hampton, featuring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, with a moving performance by Samuel West)

In the morning when I wake up and go to the computer, put it on, it reaches the Internet and I have letters from friends.

When I read my gmail and find evidence that other people are carrying on cheerfully, doing different things in their lives and finding it worth while.

When in the blogs I read I see a like spirit has read a good book and is talking about it with real interest, has deeply felt thoughts about it, cares about the book or author, and clearly has spent at minimum an hour writing this and many hours, more, in preparation (in effect).

When on face-book I see friends telling some truths about their lives (not just presenting themselves as having achieved this, or see me in this group or that, happy), involved in various political and work-related causes, sending a note to me or someone else, offering up good-natured jokes, or interesting videos, or some political view that is humane. I feel I watch other people’s lives who I know and how they get through. Over the years I’ve watched lived change and evolve, some suffering a good deal (other widows, people deserted, cut off from a job, getting sick, losing connectivity) and others going on trips

When I go to my listservs (I read three at this point and have a fourth I wish I had time for) and find email about the topics under discussion, and people communicating. Just now on Trollope19thCStudies we are having such a good time with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and many threads connected. We are trying to stay together, 3 of us reading about Virginia Woolf (Hermione Lee) on Wwtta. Earlier this summer we read and discussed a good book written by one of us, published.

My daughter who lives with me. My cats. Izzy had on a video by Simon about cats as I woke this morning. One cat was laying next to me, and the other came over to nudge me and show affecion as I woke.

Clarycat on my lap while I read Oliphant’s powerfully truthful Hester

If I have someplace pleasant to go to, either the JCC gym classes, or during the term times go to teach, or go to a movie by myself or with a friend, a play (Shakespeare), an HD opera. The good lecture at the Smithsonian. The wonderful concert. These things cannot happen every day but when they do, they help.

Later in the day the superb book that keeps me sustaining company and validates my experience or extends it; in the evening, the great movie where I am led to feel I am not alone and I’m watching an intelligent group of people acting out important issues in life, or wonderful versions of this in love and adventure tales of the type the BBC does, and PBS used to play a lot of. Images Beautiful paintings, illustrations, drawings

The very occasional visit to a friend. I’ve had one friend visit me who lives in another state: four days. Once I’m at the friend’s and spending time with them in a beautiful or interesting place. This is necessarily rare.

My house. Sine qua non.

Routine, to keep me stable, a sane kind of motion over the day through time. Listening to good books read aloud beautifully, with full tones of all the characters so I am not out there forging ahead on the road alone. I feel I’m with someone. Comfort. My mind’s eye sees the characters in a kind of inward stage of my mind.

Solvency so I feel safe. Sine qua non.

Some food and wine so I don’t feel weak.

I think watching other people go through their days enduring it, carrying on, seeming cheerful, saying hello, those who know my name and smile seems to me a reminder life’s okay, doable without Jim, a kind of relief comes over me. I don’t want to die. As Hamlet says, once you are led somehow to decide to be, so much kicks in. So when I am reminded life is a form of enjoyment for these people, of all kinds,it helps.

These are the things that help, that enable me to live on, from one day to the next. That give me strength to do the things that are so hard for me to do. To cope with the outward world when it demands practical things I must satisfy — bills, making things work.

And above all, writing itself. Just what I’m doing now. For its own sake. And then the reaching those parts of people who can respond to where they live within, the self that matters, bringing it out. When they write back. This is life itself as I do it with others.

Which is what I began with on this blog …

Instead of an alphabet,

Miss Drake

J. W. Turner, Junction of Gretna and Tess at Rokeby (1816-18)

Is this not a fine Dr Seuss T-shirt? (thanks to Glenn Shipway)

Dear friends,

Time for a little prosaic cheer. So, as we all know, people like lists. Why we can’t say, but they do. A meme has been going round, and for once I joined in:

My first 7 jobs:

(Does Unpaid library assistant in Richmond Hill high school count?)
Then paid, often not much:
1. Legal Secretary, FAA, JFK Airport (got there by bus, long ride, followed Contracting officer about taking down every word that man said in Pitman sten notebooks, then typing his great words up — I did this for 2 years, I was very young);
2. Personal Secretary/Administrative Assistant, John Waddington, Ltd, Leeds (worked for very nice chief engineer, and a sales manager; the company made toys, cards, packaged chocolate);
3. Executive Secretary, Warehousing Company. NYC (good salary! fancy office, bad people, cheating others; so quit);
4. Research Assistant to Prof Coleman Parson, Graduate School, CUNY (I loved it);
5 and 6. Adjunct lecturer twice, second time called Graduate Fellow (Brooklyn, then Queens College, CUNY);
7 Again and forever an adjunct lecturer and reader for a time of post-secondary schools applications for grants for FIPSE: 3 jobs at the same time: at Northern Regional Center for University of Va; at The American University (“professorial” – -the place had this pomposity but they were okay people), DC

This covers years from age 15 to 39, from NYC to Leeds, England, back to NYC and then Alexandria, Va, where I still reside).

Does anyone remember typing pools?

What were your first seven jobs, gentle reader?


An Alphabet: Eden Rock does it, but not driving down to the core. This is a “One cannot have too many holds on happiness”[Henry Tilney, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey] alphabet:

A is for the air when it is balmy yet dry and cool, sunny

B is for books, good ones and I own so many many.

C is for my cats, Clarycat and IanPussycat.

D is for my daughters, Laura Caroline and Isobel Alice

E is for Ellen Robillard O’Hara: the first heroine I wrote about; my earliest writing to show to others. The mother in Mitchell’s GWTW.

An exchange on face-book: “I do feel this odd frisson of identification when I read a novel where I see an important character named Ellen. Ellen is not a common name for heroines; in middle class fiction, she’s the Irish servant. But in GWTW there is Ellen Robillard O’Hara, Scarlett’s mother and I once wrote a fiction about her (I was age 14) where I characterized her with sympathy. Radcliffe’s Italian’s heroine is named Ellen. I felt peculiar because the character is so foreign from my ways of thinking — now would I have done that had she had another name? My middle name is Nancy so I used to like that the character Nancy Drew was a Nancy.

Jane Smiley: The main character of my new kids’ horse series is named Ellen. She is very determined and very outspoken.

Me: I’d better not read that one then (as Jane knows I’ve read several of hers, liked them immensely and blogged on a couple). I characrerized Ellen Robillard O’Hara as a woman cold on the outside, controlling herself, but near the edge of cracking, still in love with the man she was parted from. I rewrote the death scene. Came second in a contest but almost does not win the race. Maybe I was unconsciously attempting a woman’s historical romance in little? I worked quite on it; I no longer have it.

Glenn (who runs the Trollope face-book page where this occurred): What would it cost to have a “Glenn” in your next book; not as the hero, just as a harmless drudge?

Me: I’d worry about naming a child after a favorite character lest I burden them. So I called my cat Clarissa (from Richardson’s novel) which has become Clarycat.

Jane Smiley: I would prefer Shipway. Very memorable name, I think for a naughty boy in Ellen’s class.

F is for friends, local and Internet

G is for Winston Graham (author of Poldark novels) and the gothic (a favorite subgenre with me)

H is for my house, home, nest of comforts, where I dwell with Isobel

I is for the Internet

J is for Jim, all he has left me with, all my memories

K is for kindness which we need far more of.

L is for libraries

M is for good book film adaptation, BBC, good PBS, mini-series and good movies and museums filled with art

N is for NPR radio

O is for Opera, HD and the OLLIs (so teaching adults my favorite books and topics)

P is for plays, serious dramatic and funny plays in the theater, filmed or now on DVDs. Poetry

Q “Fair Quiet, have I found thee here … ” (a poem by Andrew Marvell)

R is for rain, when it’s soft, gentle, easy on a cool windy day

S is for Shakespeare

T is for Trollope

U is for YouTube technologies, and all video streaming which enables me to watch TV when I choose, to watch all sorts of movies, documentaries, as in my BBC iplayer and PBS online and Future Learn courses from Open University

V is for the Voting Rights Act as originally passed by Congress. We must all vote: it’s all the powerless have; you must vote to defeat the dangerous demogague bankrupt billionaire, Trump. Hillary Clinton will choose honorable decent people for judges and we can overturn Citizens United, Hobby Lobby and get rid of the gutting of the Voting Rights act.

W is for so many women writers whose books I love

X ah well. I says it’s for brilliant and good books read aloud beautifully in unabridged texts of CDs, MP3s

Y for Yahoo listservs; I will grieve deeply if they are shut down; debased as they have become, they are still a small lifeline for reading and talking about wonderful books with friends

Z is for New Zealand as a beautiful place, and New Zealand and Australian films like (just this past week, see below) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (with one of my favorite actors, Sam Neil), The Piano (ditto), The Dish (ditto, how Izzy and I loved it years ago and came home and told Jim about it) and Last Orders (which I watched the night of Jim’s funeral).



I’ve paid two honest men to improve my house in the last few days. My gardening man removed two large trees, huge amounts of ivy, unkempt bushes from my back yard. So now all is neat. In the fall he’s sow grass on where there is just dirt for now. He doesn’t overcharge. He fixed my hose too, made an extension and set it up so it’s easy for me to use.

A man who does kitchens, inside work of all kinds will soon be renovating my kitchen — modestly. I was told about him by my neighbor-friend, Sybille. This week, four of the house doors were painted so they are no longer eyesores; two removed (remarkable amount of doors in houses built in 1947); a new front and back door for the first time since 1947. Smoke detectors. Come September he’ll paint the kitchen, put down new tiles, new cabinets (a soft bright cream), re-arranged to be more appropriate for Izzy and I, some kind of lighting system, new countertop. He is not super-expensive and a man I can get along with, so I’m thinking I will at long last enclose the porch. And then have the whole house painted a soft cream color. And with that the renovation, fixing, I started when I first retired (remember when I cleaned out and ordered the attic upstairs), will be done. It will be easier on my eyes and self-esteem.

From a medieval Books of Hours

The cats do not enjoy this though. On Tuesday I first had to keep them in the back room with one of those many doors shut. They are indoor cats, and I surmise if they (especially Ian) saw the men working out of terror of them they’d run out of the house, become confused and I’d never see them again. But they were very upset. Ian really wailed for quite a time. They were separated, one in each room for a time. Clarycat didn’t like that. When my younger daughter was sent to a pre-school at age 2 and 1/2 she was so terrified (we couldn’t explain what this was to her as she was not talking at the time) that after the hours gone (bus ride there and back, 5 hours there, 1 hour at a sitter), she literally pissed all over poor Jim when he picked her up. She had held herself in all that while and was so intensely relieved. Well I did put the cat litter in the room with them, but it was the next day I came to it and found it utterly soaked. They too must’ve held themselves in and only after much time had passed in the night, relaxed. Today after the contractor and his men had gone and I opened the door again, Clarycat was desperately affectionate.

They are my holds on happiness. During the interval before the contractor arrived and I put them each day in the room, I missed them. I am so used to their presence.


And a cheering mythic fable of a movie.


I hurried out to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople written and directed by Taiki Waititi after I read a couple of reviews (Manohla Dargis from the New Yorker from Rogerebert.com; Matt Goldberg); people whose columns I respect where they said, don’t miss it, it’s hilarious and makes for ethical thought too. “Oddball” they called it, that unexplained word. “Quirky.” What it is is original with genuine feeling. I managed it with a friend probably on the very last showing in my local theater.

It is one of the many that are advertised through trailers so off-putting that they misrepresent the movie. The trailer presented two conventionally unappetizing males, one of them a very chubby boy (Julian Dennison as Ricky), being made fun of, slapstick it seemed to me. I can’t think of what I would less like to see a movie making fun of someone’s body. It included the line where we learn that Hick or Uncle (played pitch perfect as he does all his roles, by Sam Neill) as someone who can’t read. har har. so until I read said reviews I wasn’t going. In fact it was in this art-movie theater for a number of weeks and it’s superb. It reminds me of The Dish, an Australian/New Zealand unusual sort of comedy too. Unexpected. We saw it years ago and brings tears to my eyes since I saw it with Izzy before she went to college and when we finished we came home to Jim to tell him of it. She remembers The Dish better than I.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fable something in the spirit of Thelma and Louise, and it’s not the first of this type this summer. But it is also in the tradition of Rabbit Proof Fence and the grave Philomena: in the first aborigines are torn from their families and put in an institution to be turned into obedient workers for the society. Two of the girls run away and make this extraordinary trek back to their home, all the while hunted down by the whites. The bush as perspective is central to the movie: there is a long history in Australian and NZ legends and books regarding the bush as a vastly superior terrain to live in and off of than (mean, hypocritical, inhumane] society.

Well, Ricki, an unprepossessing looking boy with no people to support him, no to care for him, to provide money or status, is dumped off by Paula (Rachel House), a caricature of a fierce cold institutional guardian type who catalogues Ricki’s sins ceaselessly to others, bad-mouthing him before anyone can know him — on Bella (Rima Te Waiti), who at first seems just a very poor woman living near the bush, looking to make money as a foster parent. We quickly learn that Bella is deeply good-hearted, kind, generous in the way she behaves, and the boy begins to thrive. Her partner or husband, Hick, seems solitary, looking askance at the proceedings, but going along with her. When she dies, he cries hysterically, our first sign of his affectionate nature. A letter arrives from Paula: she must take the boy back. Well, to cut to the story, after some difficulties with one another (Hick does not want to take Ricki, Ricki sets fire to the barn to suggest he killed himself, the two men flee together. Soom they are being hunted down. The pair begin to be part of a sensationalized story (Hick a molester) that sells newspapers and is good for TV chatter. The posse grow bigger and bigger from an original group of down-beat men seekin a ransom until at last there are helicopters, tanks, armed militiamen. It’s a self-reflexive film: the landscape of steep green hills and then in winter snow is gorgeous, and there are allusions to Lord of the Rings: Ricky says this is not all that occurs in New Zealand.

Looking at Bushman

The film does not become too sentimental because it concentrates so on their improbable survival. As Bella did in the opening, so Hick kills with a knife an animal for them to eat. They are soon trapping animals, but Hick’s foot is broken (and improbably heals). Everyone seems to walk about with a rifle or some kind of weapon. One of the two dogs is attacked by a boar and has to be shot and hen buried. They both cherish Bella’s ashes in a box they carry with them, but at a beautiful waterfall Hick is induced to scatter them. There are extravagant bush people like Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) who help our heroes along the way — reminding me of characters in Dickens, like Barnaby Rudge and his raven, especially one bushman who wraps a bush around him and lives in a trailer. We are really frightened for them as an all out war ensues: these hunters are willing to kill. There is much over the top exaggeration and wild fantasy and also much reality: they meet improbably isolated up-to-date teenagers deep in the bush; but there is real heart: they come across a man who has had a heart attack and try to bring him help.

As they are gradually cornered, grab a car and go on a wild drive (chased by all in your exhilarating car chase) I feared it would end like Thelma and Louise, them going over a cliff. It does not: a gradual contented ending — after montage of court-room scenes, Hick going to prison (he has been there before, one reason he fled so stubbornly), Hick leaves his home for old people to join Ricky with the bush teenagers. Touching dialogues. If you want to have some experience of standing up to mad injustice, some creditable humanity, and a fable mirroring some aspects of our world today, it’s a fine summer movie: re-creative. The equivalent of last summer’s Mr Holmes.

It may be too late to see it in the theaters, but soon there will be Amazon Prime, Netflix, DVDs.

Miss Drake

Friends, this is an addendum to “I go into a Towering Rage: Airplane Travel today.” I have read that Small Claims Court in Virginia has a top of $5000, and Expedia has cheated Izzy and I out of $1800, but she feels and I cannot disagree (not being a lawyer) that it may be when we clicked “accept conditions,” we accepted this ruthless fleecing. You will remember that two weeks ago I discovered that suddenly I had a 10 hours layover in Iceland going to London and when I tried to change that it took me 5 hours on the phone, only to discover the charges and penalities would made a 2 hour cut in time more money than the ticket cost. Then one week ago I noticed for the first time coming back from London Izzy and I had an 1 day and 3 hour layover. What I left out in my talk with Expedia is my suspicion they changed the tickets at the last moment. But I have no proof.

Around 4:00 today I received a phone call from Expedia. I had four times filed a complaint on their site, outlining what happened to me (see my previous blog linked in above). A young man came on the line, saying he wanted to respond to my complaint (or words to this effect). What happened was this: he said that he could not refund my money as he had first to call Icelandic as their policy needed to be “clarified” (which was what I was told on Tuesday when I was led to spend 5 hours and on Saturday 3 on the phone). He claimed that Icelandic had a policy of not refunding or changing this ticket. I again said (as I did the second time on Saturday) that I had phoned Icelandic on Tuesday and their representative denied that Icelandic had any such policy. They said they had not sold these tickets and had no control over them. They said the tickets were issued by Expedia and it was Expedia setting these rules.

He appeared not to hear me and repeated his mantra of having to call them to “get permission” to refund the money. I replied that if he persisted in this lie, I could do nothing about it, but if he wanted to go off the phone and pretend to call them or do whatever he did, that was fine (as what he does is invisible to me); but if he called back refund the money or make it go for another flight I would be grateful. I got him to acknowledge he had heard what I said and taken it in. There was a pause.

He then repeated he had to call Icelandic, except now he came up with a new rule which it seems I had to obey. He could not follow my suggestion that I get off the phone; and if he wanted to call me back, he could. This was not doable. I had to be on the phone while he phoned Icelandic and wait until he finished. I told him this is absurd. Who made such a rule? He did not say, but repeated it was a rule he had to obey. This what I was told and listened to on Tuesday: I must wait; and again told on Saturday, and after 40 minutes refused to wait any longer. I said a man I had hired to renovate my house today had received a wrong door from Home Depot; he phoned Home Depot and without him staying on the line (his time is valuable), Home Depot called the place where they acquired doors, made the substitute and then called him back. I refused to play this game. He repeated the mantra. I then hung up after I repeated what I had said before (I cannot tell what he is doing during the long periods of waiting and Icelandic had denied his assertions) and that if he called again to tell me he was refunding the money I would be grateful.

About half an hour later this email came into my box from travel@customercare.expedia.com. I read it twenty minutes after that as I had gone to the supermarket around 4:30 pm (shortly after I got off the phone) in the interval:

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for contacting Expedia about your flight reservation. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience that may have occurred and would like to assure you that every reservation is important to us.

We appreciate you take the time to let us know your comments, your feedback is very valuable for us to prevent similar situations in the future.

As per our conversation, we have called Icelandair and they unfortunately informed us that all your tickets are non refundable. If you cancel your tickets unfortunately there would be no refund back to your credit card and there is no credit that this airline can provide for future travel use. It means that if you cancel, the value of these tickets will be forfeited.

We tried to call you to inform about this and to also know if you wanted to continue with the cancellation. However, we were not able to reach you. If you still need to cancel this reservation following these rules and restrictions that Icelandair advised, please call us directly at 1-866-310-5768 local, toll-free or 1 404-728-8787. This is an international collect call number, but Expedia will accept the charges for calls to this number and provide the case number M-14539157.


Customer Service Team

It’s possible he called very quickly after I left and then sent the above email.

I replied as follows:

Dear Sir,

I will not phone you again. I have spent 8 hours on the phone plus today another useless half hour. In your letter you ignore what I told you. On the first five hours on the phone I phoned Icelandic and they told me they did not say the these tickets were non-refundable nor not changeable. They said the tickets were issued by Expedia and it was Expedia setting these rules. I told you if you persisted in this lie, I could do nothing about it, but if you wanted to go off the phone and pretend to call them or do whatever you did, that was fine (as what you do is invisible to me); but if you called back refund the money or make it go for another flight I would be grateful. You then came up with a new rule. I had to be on the phone while you phoned Icelandic. This is an absurd rule. You told me it was a rule you must obey. I said my contractor today had received a wrong door; he phoned Home Depot and without him staying on the line (his time is valuable), Home Depot called the place where they acquired doors, made the substitute and then called him back. I refused to play this game. I hung up after I repeated if you called again to tell me you were refunding the money I would be grateful.

Now I get the same lies, the same game with an invite to phone again.

I will do all I can to tell everyone I can reach about how you have treated me.

As my readers will imagine, I had been upset when I got off the phone, but had remained calm this time. This letter reiterated the deceit. There is nowhere on the site that enables a customer to cancel a flight by using the website; if I go to the website, I reach a place which gives me the same phone number. As seen in the letter, I would be drawn into these phone conversations again. I realize now the purpose of making me wait is to exasperate me and to claim that I disobeyed some rule (that I must be waiting on the line while the Expedia representative is said to be contacting and talking to Icelandic in this case) and thereby am ineligible for a refund. I also realize I should never buy from one of these companies because they reserve the right to change flights and times at any time. It is improbable Izzy and I did not see the 1 day and 3 hour layover until last week, but if Expedia changed it, it’s one of the conditions that they reserve the right to do that.

I am keeping my stated intent at the close of my email reply. I am trying to tell as many people as I can by writing this blog, placing a URL on Face-book and twitter to expose these people. One of my tickets (just for myself, single) is from 8/23 and again on 8/31 (round-trip) so there is plenty of time to cancel; the other for two of us, 10/13 and again on 10/18 (round-trip.

My hope is I will discourage others from buying at Expedia and any other on-line airplane ticket buying service. At least others who read my two blogs will have been warned of what can happen. Never buy a ticket from one of these online services if you value your money, your time, your state of health, your very trip.


Stevie Smith

Dear friends and readers,

I hesitated in telling of this but I’ve been told by a close friend “I don’t know if you’ll be surprised when I say that your Towering Rage episode was nothing uncommon? Dealings with the airline industry, organizing your own itinerary, can be extremely frustrating, and almost everyone I know has had like experiences,” and that what I am about to tell has happened to her several times. Lost hundreds of dollars (and more) several times, been treated ruthlessly abominably with lies. Another close friend tells me she has had a similar experience with Orbitz. I don’t have that many friends and few people confide in this sort of thing. If it was so easy to discover other victims, there must be uncountable many. So I’ll tell my experience to make visible what is perhaps rarely said in public but ought to be SIGNED somewhere in letter twelve feet tall.

I could have called this, How I have wasted endless hours this past two weeks after we either made a mistake and purchased tickets, which had a 1 day and 3 hour layover. Is it probable we would not notice such a thing? or they were silently changed on us, twice?

I have rarely in my life felt this kind of emotion. This Saturday afternoon I had to take a walk in the supreme heat to calm down. I didn’t trust myself to drive anywhere. I found I could not settle to my work, could not read, could not cope with my cats who sensed something different. The last time I experienced this must’ve been years ago as then too I had to go for a walk to calm down. (Maybe in my younger years I did experience this kind of anger and explode — vague memories of a couple of occasions –, but I managed to stop before it got so bad I didn’t know what to do with this intensity of anger.) I probably remember this incident so well since when I returned Jim came to the door concerned and reproachfully: did I realize I had upset Isobel by suddenly departing? It was like Mr Knightley reproaching Emma for insulting Miss Bates. I felt terrible. I had slammed the door. My anger may have been started or continued by quarrel with him, but as I recall there was far more to it than that. I no longer remember the cause, only that I needed to calm down, it took time and then felt I had behaved unforgivably as a mother. She had not understood nor could I make her understand. Well I have not felt such a need again (or controlled it way earlier) until this Saturday afternoon. This time I told Izzy now well over 30 I could not calm down and needed to walk and she understood all right. She had heard it all from her room.

As I wrote about in my last entry, last week on Tuesday, I noticed the tickets for my trip to London included an 18 hour layover in Iceland, and to change it would cost me as much as the round trip ticket had done and all I would gain would be one-hour less going, nothing coming home. Now this week, Thursday (so 9 days later), I noticed that her and my round trip ticket included a day and 2 hour layover coming home. Either we didn’t notice such stretches (is it likely) or they changed our layovers to ridiculous amounts of hours in Reykjavit. ( Last September it was a sudden change made by Aer Lingus and would have meant I would not be in time to give my paper at the conference I was going to. I had printed out the previous document and was able after a couple of hours to get our tickets changed back.) This time it had taken 5 hours to discover this: at one point the person at the other end of the phone either hung up or we were disconnected, and I had had to start the process (which seemed to necessitate this person going to three different people to discover information or “get permission”) all over again. I was shaking when it was over. I decided to endure an 18 hour layover going home and a 10 hour one going there.

But I knew how intolerable these flights are. No food worthy the name on the plane, squeezed in a tight seat, no amenities at all; the airport hangar a horror of crowds, and unless I was in a European hangar cheap inedible over-sugared, sauced, salted stuff out of machines or be fleeced in a super-expensive restaurant. Airline travel in economy class is now a form of abuse. The people directly in contact with customers rely on shaming people; they stay just this side on the edge of neglect. And how people are afraid the plane will fall out of the sky so are willing to put up with a lot. The airplane companies have discovered it costs them less to have teams of people finding and delivering lost baggage than to be sure the person never loses his or her baggage. Izzy was without her case for two days during our time in Devonshire last summer.

Not Izzy; someone else; such photos are easy to find on the ‘Net

By Saturday I had decided to swallow the money the two tickets cost and buy anew. And I would go no stop. Less chance to lose baggage too. I would pay what was necessary. But what if I ended up having something similar happen. Either I not notice (or more likely) the airplane or Expedia change the layover. Business class takes a ticket into say $1800 and first class is astronomical. A friend suggested I call British Airway direct and buy from them. She went to her computer, spent more than a half hour away (in another room) (over half an hour at least) and came back relieved. She had found such a phone number.

I phoned and in no time was talking to a polite young man who was marvelously empowered to sell me decent tickets. He said different tickets from those available at Expedia or Orbitz. I was able to buy a ticket for myself going and coming with a 6-8 hour travel time, arriving in London in mid-morning so it would be comfortable and simple for me to get to Paddington and take a train to Devonshire where I was going to meet a friend. Ditto for Izzy and I going in October; I cut short our time in London, leaving us just one day to be there in order to make it easy for us to get to the plane the next morning as we had to come to London from elsewhere first. Yes I paid much more, but not out of sight (not the cost of Business or First class.) Izzy had said the time in London was inconvenient to her; she didn’t care if we left, and I knew I would find the extra effort such individual times take hard. I did buy something called Economy Premium, which meant we had bigger seats, more leg room and some promised amenities. I could change it at $275 charge; cancel before a certain date and get my money back. It took less than half an hour for me to be printing out confirmations with times and plane numbers. Sanity.


But then I made my second mistake. I tried to cancel the tickets we had had. I could have left it. After all, that would allow Expedia to take our money and then put others in these seats, but Izzy (ethical) said that would probably be wrong, worse we might be bothered about these tickets at some point. So I foolishly, gullibly went back to that fucking Expedia site. I tried to cancel the present tickets, knowing I was told they were non-refundable, and guess what? the only way to cancel a flight was to call one phone number which all FAQs led to. I found myself being subjected to the same rigmarole. I told the woman I didn’t expect my money back, and she left the phone before I could say anything else — for 40 minutes. Back she came with the same absurdity: now she had to call Icelandic air to discover their terms. I know from my 5 hour wait last time that Icelandic told me these are tickets they did not issue, have nothing to do with and as far as they are concerned should be refundable or changeable. So this is a lie. I became so angry I could scarce control my voice. Why cannot I not just cancel these tickets with you. She can’t do that. She doesn’t know numbers, doesn’t have permission. I began to scream on that phone. I demanded that she write a complaint to her supervisor about what had happened. It seems that she was permitted to do. She kept talking ever so polite and reasonable. I wonder how they train people to behave this way. I hung up. I went online and put complaints in the two places provided.

I am calm now and am not conveying the rage I felt at being so treated. I think my rage was the accumulation of several wretched plane trips, my experience of hours in an airplane hanger, and my reactions to the Expedia and other websites like it.

I thought is this what these crazed people we (US and colonialists) have so immiserated feel 100 fold because every day of their existence. then arrested, tortured, imprisoned for years by one of the tyrants our billions have put in place. Imagine such a young man coming out and how he feels. Mine was nothing to this.

I have now cancelled the extra days at the hotel in rapid time. We save some money this way, but it’s more than that as I indicated above.

I truly loathe what happens at airports. I am photographed incessantly; I was subjected to a “random [thorough body and baggage] check on the trip home from Belgium. Only because the people doing it were not Americans, was Izzy allowed to come in with me, and they behaved apologetically throughout. No humiliation. I was not the only person so singled out. I saw a long line and wait caused by this outside in that hangar. Again in most European places last September once I got past American security I was not subjected to this “security theater” as it’s called. It’s largely a pretense, supposedly wanted by Americans. Really? this paranoid atmosphere?

I seem to waive the reality that planes fall out of the sky and the death is horrible. But I don’t forget it. And that in this ever-on-going war planes are shot down.

John Tenniel, Chessboard seen through the looking glass (19th century, for Lewis Carroll)

So now I have some rules for the future for myself.

AVOID Expedia, Orbitz and all such websites. Find a phone number for the airline itself and buy direct. If you cannot phone the airline going to where you want to go, think again. Go somewhere you can buy tickets for. One can use package tours where this is done for you, but make sure you are going to get good treatment.

The above will not be so hard if I NEVER ever take a plane unless I am going across an ocean or a trip of say 1000 miles. Be sure I want that trip, that I know I’ll have a good time. Buy at least Economy Premium. Again phone the airline direct.

On shorter trips, go for a train. If there is no decent schedule and I’ve now discovered that Amtrac is so underfunded (as is most public transportation across the US) this is common, look at the buses. If the buses are similar, drive. If none of these work, stay home.

In other areas of my life I and Jim when he was alive did not compromise. We did without whatever it was in order to avoid such egregious abuse and exploitation — and here I include getting into debt which we have only gone into voluntarily for one car once and for this house. Our children did not go to undergraduate college out of state. I must get back to that principle Jim and I lived by for 45 years. It was very rare that we couldn’t do without whatever it was.

Late summer: my flowering bush holding out under intense heat assault ….

Miss Drake

Firebird at Wolf Trap


Mirable dictu is luckier than I, for she has photos of a thriving large bookstore in her area which has been going for decades, and has included as a customer Barack Obama. If you include the DC area as part of my home area, there are a couple of equally thriving, possibly larger bookstores: Poets and Busboys in central DC, and Politics and Prose in the Northwest are two I’ve gone to. They both survive by hosting lecture series, book clubs, poetry readings, and occasionally even a play or concert (on a small stage). My bookstore memories are of vanished bookstores in Virginia and New York City. Second story used to have a bookstore in Alexandria that filled a long block and was two stories high: now there is a modest exterior (unpretentious they call it) and book filled one in DC, in Maryland and on-line site.

Interior of the couple of mortar-and-cement Second Story bookstores left (DC)

I remember spending hours in such places. Then they had no cafeterias, or most didn’t; they were places occasionally to find a treasure I didn’t know existed. I can’t say that I regret being able to locate precisely the book I want from across the world on-line; I do reach much better books, ones I know I want, no comparison with the book I hadn’t expected. But I do miss the older experience, and especially with Jim in another part of the store. After we had had our finds, we’d come together again. Part of the pleasure was that he was there. In a small way Izzy and I replicate that twice a year in the increasingly smaller Northern Virginia Booksale (potlatch) that takes place in the large George Mason Library (nothing to do with the university): we go together, and we sometimes take as long as half an hour apart, and then find one another with our small stack of books and buy and bring them home.


This is the way this flowering bush looked a week and a half ago — no longer

It’s been brutally hot for days and days. Ferocious by 2 in the afternoon. Air unhealthy. 118F index (including humidity, pollution and whatever else goes into that number) this past Sunday. On the Saturday night it was 95F (not the index figure, just the plain fahrenheit number) at Wolf Trap park and most people were covered in sweat, some dripping. We had come to hear Prokofiev’s first symphony and the Maurice Ravel Mother Goose suite, as prologue to Stravinsky’s Firebird. re-allegorized as a history of apartheid in South Africa. The National Symphony played achingly beautifully, and the dance, ballet, and symbolic action for Firebird was done by stick puppets and dancers as conceived by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather. It was a cumulative experience that felt magnificent by the time they’d done. Izzy’s blog will give you a flavor of the music: she admits we both fell asleep near the very end, it was that hot and we had come to the lecture and had had a long day.

The three siblings

During such times one moves from air-conditioned house to car to building (I go to the gym for Body Strengthening 4, swim as well or long as I can — half an hour) and out to movies. The Film Club at Cinema Art Theater (Va) still goes on and this Sunday I saw the best commercial movie-house film I’ve seen since 45 Years, and before that probably last year’s Film Club’s Kilo Two Bravo: Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words. I hope it is released to the general public and turns up at Cinema Art so I can see it again. The reviews I’ve found (Leslie Felperin, TIFF) don’t do it justice.

They want kind words from him

It is sentimental at moments (it idealizes the family to some extent) but its story of a Jewish girl coerced into leaving her French-Algerian-Arab lover, into marrying an Israeli man, and for years escaping to be with him and (improbably) getting pregnant (three times) to give birth back in Israel. She dies; her husband had left her for a younger woman and discovered he is unable to produce sperm, so we are treated to a half-comic, rueful yet at time deeply felt search by her three children for their biological father. A young woman who has left a loving husband because she’s tired of miscarriages; a young man who is gay but has a child living in another country; a young man who wants meaning and has married a Brooklyn girl and is allowing her and her family into making him into a religious Jew which he is not. He is intolerant towards his gay brother. They and the sister’s husband go in a semi-comic quest for this biological father, and while they do this, they find out more about themselves, learn some humility.

When they find him in a half-abandoned quarter of Marseilles, the biological father (played by the extraordinary Maurice Benichou who has been in Michael Haneke films) is an aging man lives alone with his memories, records and a few books, seemingly poverty-stricken, he will not open his soul (or their mother’s) to them. He will not admit he is their father because (like her sister), he promised not to tell. He asks them, what do they want of him now? It’s a fable against intolerance, nationalism, defining yourself by your religion, ethnicity, status, money. Its greatest line is uttered by Benichou when his biological daughter persists in asking him what is his religion, nationality, and keeps getting a “no” to this one or that (no, he is not Jewish, no he is not an Arab, no he is not French, nor Algerian), he says “why is this so important to you?”


Izzy and I have had some terrible troubles with our plane tickets for our coming trips: it appears either we did not see or the times for lay-overs were changed, so that when this week I went to double-check our plane reservations before seeing about getting money to pay for the Cornwall cottage, I discovered one includes a 10 hour lay-over in Reykjavit going to England and the other a 17 (!) hour lay-over coming home. I would travel 18 hours to get to London and we a day and three hours to return. That’s intolerable, especially considering the wretched (abusive) conditions one has to endure. I spent 5 hours on the phone a few days ago uselessly, ending up shaking. To change them I have to pay a penalty and change fee that is higher than the round-trip tickets. So I will probably have to swallow and pay for a second set as we cannot tolerate such a long siege in an airport. What we will do is whatever the cost have no lay-over (one stop) and make sure the time is no more than 6 hours going and 8 back. Maybe we’ll splurge altogether and go during the day.

Remind me never to buy a plane ticket when I don’t have to cross an ocean

This is not the first time I have been so cheated over travel in an airplane. When I went to Pittsburgh this past spring I preferred to drive a long drive than take a plane; the only train was 10 hours. I met people there who had preferred a bus to a plane. Again no train was truly available. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words came to mind

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

And a friend sent me Rose Milligan’s

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to siwm and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go — and go you must —
You, yourself, will make more dust.

Clarycat stretched out in the sun behind my computer – she is reading about Tolstoy too

Pussycat stories help because their troubles seem so much less than ours. (It is a literal torment to think what would happen were Trump to win the presidency.) Why do cats not mew after hours of being stuck in say a closet? After many hours, both of mine will hurl their bodies against the door, and even make sounds, wails. But they will not for a mere two or so.

Earlier this week I noticed about 5 in the afternoon I hadn’t seen Clarycat in quite a while; this is not like her. She does not hide away for a long time. Then it came to me she was stuck somewhere. I finally found her in the back closet clinging to my slippers, looking very upset, and she came out slowly. She was shaking. I asked on face-book if anyone had read anything to explain why cats will not make noises within a reasonable when they are stuck somewhere? I realize at first they are usually not upset; they like to hide, but when they’ve had enough why do they stand or sit there silently waiting. Answers ranged from “Our cats are usually asleep for the first few hours. They only yowl when they wake up and decide they’re hungry,” to “Since cats are small they act like both prey and predator. When trapped, prey behavior is what they exhibit, being quiet so a large predator cannot find them. In this case, that is you.” I liked best: “I think they assume that we will eventually rescue them because they trust us.”

I read a review of a book arguing we are not smart enough to understand how smart animals are, and this made me firmer in my idea that in fact the cat is waiting as it sits there looking like it’s waiting for us, even if at length I was thinking this closet is so familiar to Clarycat and that she can hear us outside it, so she trusts all is well. But if it goes o for too long, with her at any rate, it gets too much for her. As reinforcement: once Izzy and I were out for quite a while; we come back and almost immediately hear this noise from her bedroom. Ian was literally stuck in a drawer. He waited until we came home and when he heard us, having been by himself and probably anxious, he began to make hoise and try to get out on his own. He needed help.

Cats are a great comfort. I’ve found their eyes and face lack the expressiveness of a dog’s and was told that their brains don’t have the same direct access to their face and eyes. Perhaps a myth. I do know their whole body expresses what they are feeling and am with Jane Goodall (and Darwin) in thinking the disimissal of close analogies in physical and emotional expression between people and non-people animals is there; it’s not anthropomorphic to recognize this. Maybe people want to ignore this level of the animal because then they are less convenient, more demanding to have around. But they give and mean it.

They’re funny too. When Ian was kitten like Snuffle-up-agus on the old Sesame Street he would hide the upper part of his body under things and thought because he couldn’t see us, we could see him. At some point he realized that wasn’t so and stopped hiding his head and upper body. Children have to learn this and do so very early, as well as where their ears are. But no one cheats them of thousands, no one abuses them on the edge of decency in a plane because thousands and thousands of dollars have not been extorted for a plane ticket.


And I’m not all incompetence: I returned the 2016 garmin I had paid $180 for when I discovered it had become more complicated to program. I could do all sorts of things with it, including take picture, but I do not want to do these other things, only find my way. So instead (as the old garmin does not work right all the time), Izzy and I downloaded a free app called “Waze” onto our cell phones. I take it into the car with a USB cord and have discovered it gives better directions, apprises me if a cop, car standing in the waiting lane, or wrecked car is near. It has funny cartoons too. When Izzy and I finally figured out how to stop it from talking when we’d gotten where we wanted to go by putting it in sleep mode, here’s the picture that appeared ….


Miss Drake

New Yorker cartoon: On rereading together …

Gentle readers,

I’ve had one marvelous and one worrying experience since I last wrote: I braved the disrupted Metro services last a week and a half ago to spend nearly 7 hours listening to a lecture on and the music of Beatles, and wrote more fully about it on my other blog than the remit of this one allows; I found myself surrounded by huge number of people going and coming from a mass prayer rally (frighteningly delusional and non-questioning, ultimately a political demonstration if only the mass of people would or could acknowledge this).

The last of this summer’s flowers

Summer teaching at the OLLI at Mason came to an end: Trollope’s The Small House of Allington went over very well, and I was taken out for lunch by some 14 people in the class today. I keep on teaching at two places because I enjoy and need them both for company and direction, though I don’t have time to present original material at both each term; today confirmed I’m right to do so. I finally finished Adhaf Souef’s Map of Love, whose last pages I found unbearably moving. There are at least four heroines, they blend together from at least four different periods, all indwelling in our narrator’s mind as she sits in her room reading and writing. I had to keep putting the book down as I would look away, or find myself tearing up, calm and then return. The 19th century heroine’s beloved Egyptian husband is murdered, and she returns to England with their son, and finds it in herself to retire from social life, staying at home bringing up her son, with her beloved father-in-law (from her first marriage) to whom she had written regularly across the novel. I so envied her ability to do that. I wish I could have when Jim first died, and wish I could be more like that now.


But I’ve had a new invite, which I’ve almost accepted: to give a paper on Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen’s writing. A conference on Austen and the Arts (dancing, pictures, music) at a SUNY college in October.

Mirable dictu brought up an interesting topic to which I don’t have a quick answer: which authors do we reread? we don’t reread all authors we decide are truly great. And if we decide to reread, why do we reread this author over and over, and which of his or her books do we favor? Trollope is to me endlessly rereadable. I am ever finding something new, especially if I let a few years go by. That means that far from obsolete, his books “update” themselves, naturally. Anyone who feels like me (there are some I know who find it hard going to get through one Trollope novel, even Dr Thorne)? So too Richardson’s Clarissa. And of course Jane Austen: I’ve read her books so many times they are interwoven into on my soul. I am again re-reading Margaret Oliphant, this time about her novels. I find what she writes sustains me: her strong intellect and deep disillusion, and how she holds out seeing what is all the while. I spend a lot of time rereading — to teach too. With the right author it can give deepening satisfaction. On Trollope19thCStudies we are embarked on a slow reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, giving time for people to read other texts by, about, and related to him as we go. I know of two people there who have read and re-read War and Peace.

Also re-watching good films so as to draw more from them. Just now The Hollow Crown once again: I am persuaded these marvelous Shakespeare reproductions are really the old-style BBC mini-series, brilliantly updated but keeping the sterling qualities of the old: lingering pace, inwardness, profound acting, extraordinary dramaturgical brilliance. i am almost to the end of the first season of Outlander: this is my third time through.

It’s probably what one takes from this process of re-going that makes people say they could manage on this or that book for the imagined desert island. For me Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale used to encompass all I needed. Jim used to say he’d want a manual on how to build a boat.

Hubert Robert, The Gardens around the Louvre Palace (1802-3)

I also took myself to a one of these blockbuster exhibit of great art: at the National Gallery, at least 7 rooms given over to paintings and drawings of Hubert Robert (1733-1808), long one of my favorite painters of the 18th century. It made me meditative: not many people came to this exhibit; the pictures were quietly contemplative. This too I want to write at length about and provide pictures elsewhere (Austen Reveries).

I spend long hours alone. What intimate companionship I have is with a few friends here on the Net through letters. Jim had now been dead 2 years and 10 months. I’ve had people say (write) to me, he’s been dead a few years now. That is how they see it. The phrase feels so light. I used to see the world through him; he was my all. Now I see it through so many experiences, passing, closer up (some people talking with more details); I am still puzzled by insistence on some social phrases and emphases that puzzle me (such as to me the silly reiteration on the Republican convention that “members of the party are not here” with the implication of “many,” but that seems to reduce itself to the Bush family, Romney and those Trump treated with shameful derision, so why is this repeated?), but I assume now this emphasis is understood by those who understand social life.

Three of us (it’s down to three) on Wwtta are trying for a group read and discussions again: several years ago we had a real success with a Virginia Woolf summer. I read a good deal of her criticism, some of the life-writing, and The Years (which I loved). Everyone read slightly different books, overlappings of course. The fiction seemed to be preferred. I listened to To the Lighthouse read aloud in my car. Now we are beginning with Hermione Lee’s massive literary biography, reading a bit at a time, hoping that this will re-make a community of sorts slowly. I hope to go off on tangents now and again, read this or that by Woolf.

Woolf’s working table at Monk House

A sad loss: I can’t find my Woolf files. I know I wrote and saved a large set and they have vanished. I probably by mistake placed them on a wrong stem. I’ve no idea how to search my computer efficiently (the engines I know of are crude) and cannot re-located them. I read the Death of the Moth for the first time not long ago, and made a blog of that meditation last year so do have that: Upon first reading The Death of the Moth. From that:

It is extraordinary. To me it seemed about how life is death, that every moment of living is a fierce struggle and exaltation of the particular creature to experience what he or she is capable of feeling. That in that is why animals, including people, carry on. We don’t live on for anything rational or any of the excuses we might give ourselves but simply the experience of being alive as comes deeply natural to our material selves (which includes our mind as part of our functioning brain and neurons). The moth is so fragile and its life so limited but there it is trying to get all it can. …

Moths don’t appear to have a consciousness — at least not one that is coherent and can express itself in any way we can reach. That’s what people so value and some use this to use badly other creatures who seem not to have as much mind — like cats or other mammals we come close to. Her short piece then includes a sense of all living being’s equal rights.

But I love best Woolf’s fierce uncompromising sense that life is death and in death’s wild moment we touch life’s electric essence — my words are inadequate as only poetic images can express this. Now that I’ve come as close as any in having held Jim in my arms in his last moments of being, of being alive, and felt his heart gradually stop and that moment when his being suddenly let go, I know life is death too. We are ever watchful once we awaken until we let go to sleep again, in a state of self-protection, ever keeping ourselves going, drinking, eating, sleeping, keeping warm (or cooler) …

Yet Jim gave in to death, saw it was coming soon, as of August and would not consciously engaged in the fierce struggle. His body did and he couldn’t stop it doing that. Had there been euthanasia available I thought in September that I would have helped him to reach release. The horrible doctors were horrified when I mentioned this. … I know now that I would have made the same choice as Jim did. I felt bad for him sometimes that he could not reach release but I wanted him so to be alive I couldn’t make that thought any more active than inquiring to these deeply inhuman physicians.

But not Woolf’s moth. It would not make this choice for death. Yet there’s Shakespeare’s Duke in Measure for Measure: Be absolute for death says the Duke in Measure for Measure.

I write blogs so I can return to what I wrote seriously.

I called this entry, Marcus Aurelius because one of the reviews of the Hubert Robert exhibit I came across (in the Washington Post) included these words by him:

Everything that belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and a vapor, and life is a warfare, and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion.

Most of the time when I come across phrases from Aurelius’s writing, I cling to them; they resonante with me. One of the most profound books I’ve ever read is Eleanor Clarks’ Rome and a Villa (a sort of meditative-cum travel book) where she makes his consciousness her perspective again and again. Now there’s one I should reread.


Miss Drake

By the Potomac on the Virginia shore, July 9th

Oroonoko Park, facing the other way, July 9th

Dear friends and readers,

I am not sure why I keep this diary-journal up but either I carry on, or I quit. Considering these past two weeks, I am so aware that there is a boasting, possibly show-offy element in my writing up the good times I’ve had, or seeming successes, or just what I’ve enjoyed every couple of weeks, a feeling or characteristic I find is sometimes so falsifying, egoistic, and policing (of the reality of ambiguous experience) on face-book where this sort of thing goes on all the time.

Maybe not so much this last week or so: since Brexit and its aftermath (I was for Remain) and now another two clear-cut ruthless murders of black men by US police in Louisiana and Minnesota (apparently trained to shoot to kill even before any threat or wrong-doing occurs) and a retaliation in Dallas by another of these single young men, this time black and trained by the US military, to use assault weapons accurately and efficiently to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time — face-book has had less of this kind of thing; all of these popular social media have been filled with commentary on hatred and violence towards “minority” and immigrant populations in the UK and US. They’ve driven from the news the latest Trump ugliness, the results of NATO setting up military zones upon Russian borders after Russia secured the Ukraine, to say nothing of the killing fields of the middle east and the latest suicide bombings in public places around the world where large groups of people congregate.

I was thinking of presenting the way I, Izzy, and our friend, Vivian, spent a second Alexandria Birthday Party together in Oroonoko Park, out under the stars, picnicking, listening to a band play popular movie scores and a few famous military marches and symphonies, especially Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as prelude to, at 9:45 an outburst, flowering of 20 minutes of fireworks in the sky. In a large park at the edge of the town part of the city, next to the Potomac, a couple of hundred thousand people from the city show up, most of them with picnics, sitting on blankets, or lawn chairs. There are concession stands with ice-cream and pizzas, hot dog, and for free, cupcakes with icing (the “birthday cake” of Alexandria). Speeches from mayor and people like that, music and then fireworks. We parked with greater ease this year, Vivian and I tried for ice-cream (but the line was too long), Izzy wandered along the river. It was good to see this huge bunch of people, black and white intermingling (as well as Asian and Hispanic), sitting together within groups too. All peaceful, no guns. I’m not much for anthems but remarkably when the anthem begins to play, without any one policing all stand up in a group and seem to sing along. It was mostly democratic throng; they would have most of them lit up had Bernie Sanders come. We had a good time. It felt like the city had come out when we drove home as the streets were overwhelmed by cars. It took over an hour for us to drive back to where we live off Little River Turnpike, where it is usually a 10 minute drive. People were walking every where home too. All seeming cheerful.

But on the following morning I was brought up short. Each week I make an effort to shop in the morning at Giant because on weekends, an ex-student of mine, a young black woman, aged early 30s, is a cashier, and we manage to have quick but good talk together. She remembered me first (she was in my class some 13 years ago): she has a good degree, and even a masters but has to work 6 and 1/2 days a week it seems to make ends meet: she supports her mother, her child, herself, and now her coming wedding to a long-time boyfriend by 5 days in a local prison where she has an office job, and on the weekends at Giant. I told her about the fireworks in the context of quick comments about the week’s dire events: her reply was she didn’t go to, and would not take her small daughter to such large community events, stays away from this “sort of thing.” I heard her and replied, “Better safe than sorry.” I then thought a bit and realized that the number of black people at the July 9th event was much smaller proportionally than our black population. Those there were fully integrated, but they were decidedly in the minority. Hardly any Muslims. More hispanic and Asian people.

How white people do not begin to imagine what a black person’s life is in the US on a daily basis. I just know were this young woman white she’d not be working 6 and 1/2 days a week and would have a job more commensurate with her education. It is sad to think that this young woman is shut out. She knew about “the birthday party.” This keeping away has been her policy since a young girl. This is the life of an intelligent highly educated black young woman in the US

For the fourth of July I had listened to James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglas’s “What to the slave is the fourth of July?”, listen to Howard Zinn on the “three holy wars” (showing that no war is a good war, none worth it, all started by, shaped, and in the end benefiting only the wealthy and powerful), and then the nearly 4 hour Hamlet with David Tennant as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius, and Penny Downie as Gertrude.


As with HD opera, and the Hollow Crown series (R2, H4, H5; H6 and R3), it made such a difference to have the actors close up; I saw what a great leap into subjectivity Shakespeare had made when he made Hamlet’s psyche the play itself, and from some Net talk with a friend realized the breaking down of stereotypes for men (so that they are vulnerable) and for women (individualistic, strong) in the Tudor Henry VIII and Elizabeth I plays is found in Shakespeare’s history and tragic plays too.


My proposal for a paper on “Men under Pressure in Tudor plays: Overturning Gender Stereotypes,” was accurate, and maybe next summer I’ll get back to the subject as a project. Another Net friend who spent her July 4th watching the Hollow Crown, play after play, wrote me that she came to a similar argument: Hillary withstood another humiliation; strong and individualistic women then and now are punished — in these Tudor plays and Shakespeare too.

A Bluer shade of blue; my new 2016 mini-Prius

Le pièce de résistance: what felt like and was a bold daring act (for me): I bought another car, a second one on my own. I invented its name: mini-Prius. It’s a PriusC Type 2. I have for quite a while been dissatisfied with the hatch-backed 2010 Prius I bought so hastily in January 2014 after I totaled the 2013 grey PriusC Jim and I had bought together as a car for the two of us to use in our retirement together. The 2010 HB Prius was just too large; there is no proper back window; the right side view is utterly obscured. I never got a sense of where it ended; it rattled. The last straw was I finally hit my right fender on another car in a parking lot: I didn’t realize the damage I’d done to my fender until I got home. I had thought it a light tap. That smash on the right back side came from not seeing properly and not having a good sense of where the car ended.

I had gone to have an oil change and scheduled check-up (like one does for one’s cats) this past Friday and was told I had a $500 bill to fix the body and do other things. I said, I was thinking of buying a new small Prius and could they show me one if they had a new or used one. Within a half-hour the salesman had produced a car that was just what I wanted: I wanted the same car or as close as I could to what I had in order not to have to learn a new dashboard. It’s much smaller. I could see out the back window; I had full vision from the right back; he took off those high head rests. I have room in the front which I didn’t before. My dashboard is simpler (I actually have less gadgets). I have a gear box again. A key, a real key with the computer gadget as part of it. And it’s even more efficient on gas than was the 2010. $14,600 after I traded in my 2010. This new one lacks a GPS system, but then so did the 2010, and today I bought myself a new garmin as the old one has been failing. I’m much more comfortable driving it. I’ll grow to have a sense of where it ends. Calm. It’s as close to the compact Chevy Cavalier I had for 20 years.

I did make a fool out of myself by falling for another $400 (!) sealing-in of my car’s color: I was told some malarky story about how water-based paint will fade, insects and leaves will get struck, the rain is acidic and I will just have to have it waxed once a month, and this wonderful sealing will do the trick. I know how I begin to panic when I am inside the machine car washes and waxes inside my car. I did it once and never will again. But as the salesman phoned for the mechanic to do this in another part of the store, I realized how silly this was perhaps, I’d been had, but it was too late. However I resisted all other add-ons and proposals.

There is a larger context, another final impulse. It is now difficult (time-consuming and awkward) to get into DCby train. If there is to be no Metro for however long I will have to drive into DC, and this past Saturday I was stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation in an encounter that resembled Sandra Bland’s except there was no escalation into violence. On the contrary, the police officer gradually became polite. Still it was scary (read about it here). So I need a car I feel comfortable in and can feel safe from police because I can drive it calmly. It’s not my old Chevy Cavalier but it may be the closest thing I could get in a modern car.

You might say these are successes but this time I am providing a genuine larger social context.

ClaryCat waiting inside

My last not very significant adventure has a context too. I lost the key to my house for the first time ever in 33 years of living here. The context here is I hadn’t taken measures to provide for someone having a key to let me in now that Jim is not here. I have vague memories of having to phone him for help like this; it might have been I was locked out for some other reason. As I told the two women I was having lunch with before going home that day, I remember at no time when Jim was not traveling (and he traveled very rarely as most of the time he didn’t care for it) that he was unavailable to help me. He would leave meetings: I could phone him and he’d pick up; I could drive to wherever he was and he’d come out. He’d drive to me if necessary, drop everything. I suppose my not sleeping deeply or more than 4 hours at a stretch because I didn’t feel I needed to as he was doing that sleeping for me, and if I grew tired or needed a nap, he’d be there was an analogous stance. We were utterly intertwined, our existences functioning as part of a pair.

What happened was I left my house to go to teach, and as I climbed into my car, I felt my house and car key entangled and disentangled them. I thought I put the house key onto the dashboard and then used the car key, but as I drove away and looked I saw the house key was not there. Panic and upset driving to teaching. I told myself I dropped the house key on the car park. Still I was somewhat distracted while teaching, and then the anxiety and worry grew during the lunch so driving home I found myself going faster and faster so as to get the experience over with when I arrived. I get there and no house key on the car park.

Suffice to say I broke in. I knew what window was openable and climbed in over the piano. The cats were startled. I remembered a time years ago when pregnant with Izzy, I locked myself and Laura (with me at the time) out of my car. I didn’t phone a locksmith or police. I went over to a nearby cleaner’s when I was able to push one of my driver’s side windows slightly askew. I took a hanger and made a tiny circle and after about an hour’s effort had opened the car by myself. That key was on the dashboard.

But it was upsetting. Later that day I had two more sets of keys made, and now my friend, Phyllis, has one and I can call her if I lock myself out. I put the third in my car permanently.

On the house: I finally saw my contractor and went with him to buy a new front and back door, and screen, and found him to be an honest decent man, I am now looking forward to a decently priced renovation of my kitchen, new front and back doors, a smoke detector system, two of the doors in the house removed, the other five painted (they are a mess). By August he’ll have painted the kitchen, I’ll have new cabinets I can reach, a new sink and working faucet, and a newly painted room.

I’ve a hunch I’ll be satisfied with the price and ask him to enclose the screen porch and make a modest room which is usable. The early years we used the porch for when it was super-hot and we didn’t have central air-conditioning: we ate on that porch (scandalizing the neighborhood), but since we have had central air, it’s a lost space. I feel a bit absurd as there is only me to use the room and maybe Izzy. But I have wanted to enclose it for some 20 years: it gets so filthy, the screens tear, the cement slab gritty and soaked. With a floor, walls, heat, electricity, it could be another small area for an exercise machine. A radio. More bookcases. A small TV or computer screen. Maybe I’ll put a large window facing out.

I will also at long last have the house painted a sensible color. I will remove the mortification of living in this light blue house. I’ve lived with this color (it has faded somewhat in 23 years) since 1993 when the contractor refused to do blended colors and when I saw the color, Laura made fun of it, and Jim said we’d spent the money. To try to get rid of the paint often made things worse, he said. Another $5000 thrown out. My choice will be a cream color that one of the contractors I’ve hired over the years to renew said porch painted the brick wall that separates the house from the porch. I will be sure to write into a contract, blended color.

Izzy, a photo taken on the morning before she holidayed briefly in NYC

The degradation, danger and failure of the Metro system prompted Izzy to take off the first three days we lost a major connective piece of our yellow and blue lines here in Virginia. She stayed at the Larchmont where the air-conditioning was discovered not to be adequate for the heat the city was having. But she found that the cafe on the corner that I liked so did have scrumptious breakfasts, and she enjoyed her three hectic days in NYC: Tuesday night when she arrived, all day Wednesday and Thursday.

Here are her photos of the park after she reveled for a couple of hours in the Pegamon and Hellenistic exhibit.

The Met by the side of the park as the sun begins to set

On Wednesday she waited for hours in lines to see the last live 5-10 minute show in the street. “If you have a slip and you’re not moving, you’re doing it wrong,” she said. With Lin-Manuel Miranda reading aloud a letter Hamilton wrote to Eliza Schuyler. She was exhilarated by the experience and will remember the brief skit and reading for a long time to come. She did enter the on-line lottery to see Hamilton but like most entering, was not one of those chosen by chance. See A farewell to #Ham4Ham

So that’s the news from Lake Potomac where in our house we have no men but Ian pussycat and all our women are surviving as best they can.

Miss Drake


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