Stapleton Park, Leeds, November [4] Afternoon by John Atkinson Grimshaw (Leeds, 1880s)

I can’t even get close to what they call faith, though I quite see Pascal had a point; and so did Wittgenstein (though quite wrong globally) when he said: ‘Go on, believe! It does no harm.’ I don’t and won’t and there it is — Diski, “Who’ll be last?”

Dear friends and readers,

The third November without Jim is passing by and by the calendar we are almost up to Thanksgiving once again. Lately I’ve been remembering Leeds, the excellent bus service when I lived there (1968-70), how once I needed to get somewhere and took 6 buses, but the service was so frequent and stops so many that I got where I needed to go and back again in what felt like record time: and how beautiful Yorkshire was, I went all around the West Riding. I remember Headingley, Horsforth and then round in a circle to Wakefield, and home again to Leeds.

I find it more and more difficult to write on this blog. I don’t know what to say that is truthful. I mostly talk about my outer life, and I go on about how I’m doing this, attended that, was active with new acquaintances locally (after all I’m not sure I should say friends except that a couple nearly fit the definition as I’m coming to understand it), seeming cheerful and fulfilled enough. This is quite different from how I would talk about my inner life, where inside me, I’m very still, in a stasis. I can’t say I’m in a struggle to be or find myself as my experience is when I try to go outside this self, which I’ve come to see is now an independent scholar (yes that phrase captures this), I cannot because I can’t misrepresent my tastes, inwardly compelling ideas about what is worth spending time on or why I spend it this or that way. If I try, I’m found out, or a reaction to me grates on me and I (as it were, using the modern slang) push back, if only to protect my past, memories, self-esteem, present. So the 3 local friends I made attenuate.

My entries read this way mostly so here’s another: This past week I went to two lectures, one at the Smithsonian on Castles, Country Houses, and Cottage (by Bill Keene, introduced as an independent scholar) was not disappointing in the sense I was given huge amounts of information and saw many slides of wealthy and powerful people in the UK and US since the middle ages. I was not sure there was a perspective beyond evolution of structural elements and lifestyles. The auditorium was full, lots of “mature” women (as usual), and the occasional extra comment, wry, usually about the blindness of the rich to their privilege, elicited laughter. Keene did provide a long bibliography which I can avail myself of. Another at the Folger (members only sort of thing, the first time I’ve gone since I joined about a year and one half ago), about the life of someone studying law, what they studied, what courts they argued in, some central content of their arguments as they affected life in Elizabethan England significantly. Not quite dryasdust in comparison: I learned who Edward Coke was, why his legal views important (he argued the king was subject to the law) and also (very bad) he was a violent man, jealous, and beat his wife, what was the life of a law student at the time, where did they get the books they studied (private libraries mostl). Movies at night, including the remarkable 1979 The Long Good Friday (which maybe I’ll write a blog about), Shoulder to Shoulder into Suffragette.

I’ve been glad of less teaching (at the same time very glad of reading and reading about Tom Jones) and more time to follow my own bends again: I finished Linda Porter’s felicitously written and perceptive Katherine the Queen [Katherine Parr the subject] where Porter explained more lucidly and memorably to me some political movements at the time which shaped Parr’s life (Pilgrimage of Grace, the evangelical turn of forward-thinking religious writers and readers). I wrote more about this sort of thing for me in my Victorian to Edwardian. I’ve begun Ford Madox Ford’s The Fifth Queen (first of a trilogy on Katharine Howard’s life): who knew that Katharine Howard was a component in Thomas Cromwell’s downfall? No wonder it’s taking Hilary Mantel so long to write the 3rd book of her trilogy. I do things that interest me because what else can I do?

But only fractionally does any of this touch me where I live. Do my cats? I’ve grown very fond of them indeed, and IanPussycat comes out of his former shell more and more. When I came home last Sunday, he was in some hidey-hole (seeking refuge in a closed tight space to feel secure is certainly his way):

From a study on the Net which informed readers that cats are calmed by placing themselves in snug places — Yvette (Izzy) said to that, it’s true of large cats too.

He came out and sat like a top in the way cats do (tail wrapped around their close-together feet), and swayed slightly, he was tremble-shaking ever so perceptively. He had missed me. Clarycat thinks she is a dog and comes right up, tail not wagging, but miaowing at me, standing on chairs and whatever is near by, reaching out to stay my progress or movement with her paws. This is heart-rending and comforting (such self-centered creatures that we are) and I reciprocated in all physical and word ways I could, assuring them (though they have so little English) at the same time that I won’t be away again until next March.

Yvette’s great joke: this is wrong, we ought to see the cat inside heaven, looking at the barred way, glaring at St Peter to be let out …

The best way to communicate with cats directly through playing is string. My two never tire of playing with string with me.

Rack up my achievements? I have learned getting, using , accessing, spending money while traveling as far away as Europe, and to more than one country, is no problem for a lady like me. I can drive long distances by myself — with within reason for a 69 year old woman. (Note the different formulation.) I could tell of my daughters and me, and their lives but that is trespassing.

I admire Jenny Diski (her latest, “Who’ll be last”) but cannot myself imitate her nuanced detail of misery — any more. Hers she still thinks is soon coming to end. I’ve been led to think not so for me, nor do I want the end as I know it will, must go hard. So to take a metaphor from Samuel Johnson on Henry Fielding’s art, I’m telling my readers and friends what time it is on the clock, not how the clock is working or why, not how it feels as it ticks away. I fear to dismay those few and valued real friends and family who might read what I write by putting into words the full effect of his absence on me. But (like Diski in this) do not want to give a false impression for the sake of my fellow widowed.

From another perspective I sometimes say to myself I have two selves; in literature it’s so common to come across the doppelganger figure, either in parallel characters or within one character. I probably parroted this theory without crediting it. Now I wonder if I have two selves.

A poem I found:


Living with grief is like having to eat what is put in front
of you.
You look for the napkin,
    or the dog
but they are nowhere in sight. So you have to swallow the
whole thing.

The friends who are willing to sit at the table with you
are the water that helps to wash it down.
— Seren Fargo

Just make that napkin a glass of wine; that dog, two cats; and friends, Net-friends.

Miss Drake

Accepting my award as I read aloud my thank you

Dear friends and readers,

My accomplishment in getting myself to West Chester, Pennsylvania, from Alexandria, Va, by car by myself (well, with printed out Mapquest routes, and with my trusty simple GPS device, a garmin, by my side), and now home again (about 3 and 1/2 hours each way) has been vastly superseded by my having been honored by the Leland D. Peterson award of the East Central division of ASECS. For once I am hard put to find words to articulate precisely the grateful emotions I feel upon being so recognized. It was unexpected, wonderful to me, and yet (dare I say this) felt so good to be appreciated.

The words on the plaque: it was in “recognition of her years of participation and service to our society. She is to us a most cherished friend and colleague, one who epitomizes such valued eighteenth-century virtues as friendship, study, and congeniality.” As an 18th century kind of person I loved the quoted passages:

But the mind never unbends itself so agreeably as in the conversation of a well chosen friend. There is indeed no blessing of life that is any way comparable to the enjoyment of a discreet and virtuous friend. It eases and unloads the mind. clears and improves the understanding, engenders thoughts and knowledge, animates virtue and resolutions, soothes and allays the passions, and finds employment for most of the vacant hours of life.” (Addison)

L’amitié est le seul movement de l’âme où l’excès soit permis (Voltaire)

I was told ahead of time by this year’s president, Sandro Just, who understood Mr Knightley’s objection to surprises (Emma Ch 26, II:8) and I was able to scribble down and say a few coherent  words:

I am honored. Brevity is usually best. So let me say how much I have learned over the years. Coming these last 3 times has been difficult so I would like particularly to thank everyone for their support and real friendship without which I couldn’t have kept up. I’m so glad I do, and hope to be here next year again.

A beautiful moment in my life.                                                                                                                                          
A couple of people mentioned my blog-reports of our conferences. “It’s service.” So now I will be sure to do what I can to convey accurately the gist and salient details of those papers I heard.

[Added the next morning]: I’ve been asked what my award was for — a more precise explanation: my guess is I have been asked what the award was for: my years of activities in the EC/ASECS. Since 2000 I’ve gone to every society meeting: twice I came only for a day because I had a conflict, but I was there. I’ve given many papers, recently I’ve begun to write CFP for panels and organize these. My panel this time went very well and my paper was well-received. I’ve a number of published articles in peer-edited journals (though not that many of this type in the 18th century, more Trollope, film adaptation, some Renaissance, women poets), growing list of reviews (these are predominantly 18th century), and maybe most of all my blogs, my conference reports (especially on the 18th century), my presence on online.

And I what I said in my brief speech: I enjoy going and being with these people enormously, and learn a lot. This morning I was thinking about one of the presentations: it was about an attempt to computerize the correspondences of the enlightenment and count features of these letters (alas what was used were only letters edited by universities in recent ‘respectable’ editions — partly because otherwise the task would be overwhelming): I first fell in love with 18th century texts in my late teens when I came across (in used bookstores) translations into English of the letters, journals, diaries of French women of the later 18th century. I just loved these and still do. My paper this time was based on two women: one, Anne Macvicar Grant left us 5 volumes of letters (available in a good facsimile edition originally compiled by her one surviving son): I just love these still. Among other things in these books of letters we find a world of friendship, companions, intelligent and passionate thought, comedy too, and of course rivalry, melancholy, people doing mean bad things, being people. So there’s that, strongly in what is learned from studying the 18th century.

West Chester University has a spread-out (over a few blocks) construction model, it has some beautiful new buildings; its library has a splendid central reading room (with remarkable carved ceiling), signed editions of the finest authors. The look of the university fits into the surrounding small city. Driving by myself I found myself so aware of how Pennsylvania in parts I drove through it is not an alternation of middling and/or luxury elite in houses with cars which they drive into towns dead except for the boutiques (what I’ve seen so often in the venues of conferences). Instead West Chester is another of many small cities and towns, all strung out with many sorts of people intermingled, much greenery. I had two meals out (a dinner on Friday evening with a friend, and lunch on Saturday with two more), in comfortable and dinner-like restaurants, better meals than I had in most of the places I went to while in Europe and England too.

Next year the theme is the familiar and strange, and I’ve already thought of a panel proposal: Henry Fielding and Tom Jones (or Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones): what could be more familiar? and yet rereading it again after 25 years (when there’s been this revolution in thinking superseding Battestin, the great Fielding scholar) what more strange?

Miss Drake (keeping my pseudonym up too)

Daniel Garber (1880-1958), Old Church, Carversville — note that lady in blue deep in the wood

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not written because I’ve been busy by way of keeping depression and Jim’s absence at bay.

Teaching takes up three half days and more a week. I’ve finished another paper for an up-coming conference of the Eastern Region group of ASECS (18th century society), “Anne Home Hunter and Anne Grant: Reading them Fully,” and once again fell in love with Grant’s letters to her friends. I’ve worried myself about the accompanying latest travel ordeal: going brings on my first drive alone for over 2 and 1/2 hours for nearly 30 years, so I’ve gotten at least a couple of sets of as specific instructions as I can before setting forth to avoid getting lost. A generous friend helped by doing an itinerary. (I find most difficult having to turn at the right point and hard to retrieve my position when I’ve misturned; I can’t picture the places I have to drive through as I’ve never been on precisely these roads before or never on 95 so far away from home alone.) I still expend a lot of energy emailing to and reading postings from listservs on all sorts of topics that come up in literary periodicals. I’ve kept up listening to (Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend) and reading a few good books I outline slowly as I go along (e.g. Martha Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction, about the treatment of disability in 19th and 20th century fiction). I’ve had some troubles in teaching: in the Tom Jones class a few of the older men do not like having a woman in charge of the class who impugns the masculinist notions of the book, and are inclined to let her know it by laughing at her (mortifying to me when the memory returns hours later). But the people who stayed with me in the Poldark world are loving the books and the talk we have in class.

Woman reading — sent me by an Internet friend

I’m building up notes and stills on some great mini-series of the 1970s (Shoulder to Shoulder, the Suffragette mini-series, still on Danger UXB, which seems to me more important than ever as bombs destroying one another become the mode of warfare) for future blogs. I blog on books, movies, plays, operas, women artists, Austen, the 18th century, woman’s art. Beyond that finding a bit of time to have lunch with one friend, see a movie with another, I get to bed at around 1 am. A friend actually made home-made soup for me and her on one Saturday: vegetable, all sorts of vegetables in it, including potatoes, yummy and nourishing. After which we drank Shiraz wine. I still have one bowl’s worth left, for one more lunch.

Lest I run out when teaching stops until next March, I joined the Smithsonian Associates which means I can go to lectures, concerts at the Ripley Center (an underground place near the Smithsonian castle on the mall) at a cut-rate price, from a monthly catalogue. So I signed up, paid for two evenings, one on Castles, Country Houses and Cottages (later November), the other 3 hours of talk, music, clips from Edith Piaf’s career, with wine served as refreshment (early December); one day of lectures on Vermeer (a January Saturday), and one day “at the Louvre” (a February Saturday).


I’ve had a couple of disappointments, one again from the JASNA world. When will I stop ramming my head against that wall? Austen turned into graphic novels, with Emma as pictorial post-text certainly not wanted from me.

The deep blue spot is an Ania Martin figure (1972 Constanduros’ Emma mini-series) for Jane Fairfax forced to play the piano before all

A Jeremy Northam figure (1996 McGrath Emma film) for Mr Knightley deeply upset at Emma’s humiliation of Miss Bates, Emma combines dress and attitudes of Romola Garai (2009 Sandy Welch Emma mini-series)

And I write to, read letters from, and read and comment on texts with a few friends on two listservs; I can’t count the hours over the years, even now I continue. Which gets me to tonight’s topic:

I look at the Net and see so much written much more important, of wider interest, coming out of skills and knowledge and travels than I can say from my widow’s life, mostly at home, which is my terrain here. There is though a topic and point of view expressed that I’ve came across expressed strikingly in the last couple of weeks where I might do something to lessen the strains of daily existing for a few people, especially why we are on-line.

It’s nothing new to read people deprecating as worthless and useless, “indeed what they do not miss”, precisely what it hurts them most to miss (out on). So, two weeks ago I read an attack on letter-writing where someone wrote about how rarely she ever has a deeply friendly conversation with anyone and how little the writer misses it, how it’s over-rated and how few need such things. This blogger dismissed conversation or letters where people try to confide in one another experiences they’ve had over the years in all sorts of areas they rarely get to speak to, or deep hurts, real complicated feelings socially unspeakable (or just not seen as valuable usually). Who wants expressions of emotions and thoughts from an inner spirit? I was not surprised. Even less so when this blog prompted others to chime in on how useless, silly, counterproductive, grating, intrusive, and generally speaking obtuse (because the people aren’t listening to or hearing one another for real) such correspondences are. No one went on to decry the Internet as a place where friendship and experience is unreal and ever so much more shallow than face-to-face or physical social local experience but this thread was part of the same sort of discourse.

This blog discourse stayed with me as I knew some of the writers involved and the ways this dialogue indirectly came out of their lonely or relatively isolated circumstances or (in the case of some) because they are guarded people who keep up a carapace and in public, even with friends live within performative resolved upbeat talk. No such a person doesn’t need or want true closeness, real vulnerable feelings; confidences are threatening. Someone could tell. It stayed with me also because my experience and those of many people I’ve known has taught me how important and satisfying, sustaining, helpful, deeply engaged conversation with trusted and long-time friends is. Where one person castigates or abuses another, no; where it’s used to triumph, no; or for attacks, no. I don’t like phony flattering talk any more than anyone else, when the person pretends as an exercise in keeping up a connection, a contact or says what he or she assumes is expected. And I recognize it when I see/experience it.

But letters may be a form of truly friendly conversation, talk where one writing self can find room to reflect and consider with another things of shared vital interest, causing anxiety, part of some desire as yet unfulfilled, worked for. My favorite books which I read and reread provide me with versions of such conversations attached to stories, characters, themes, places. The panel I invented for the coming conference is “Forging Connections Among Women” connections are forged through published writing from and meant for women.

Mitzi, my daughter Caroline’s Yoga Workout Buddy

It’s what animal companions cannot provide across wordlessness: we can share emotions and reassure one another of mutual affection, care, concern by our shared mutually acknowledging gestures of presence together. I so intensely wish Jim could see what my relationship with Ian and Clarycat has become. They and I together sustain our will to live.

Clarycat near while I eat

But hear Stevie Smith:


He told his life story to Mrs Courtly
Who was a widow. ‘Let us get married shortly’,
He said. ‘I am no longer passionate,
But we can have some conversation before it is too late.’


Writing on,

Miss Drake

A Pottery Pumpkin

Photographed morning November 1st

Dear friends and readers,

As each imposed yearly or seasonal holiday comes round, I find myself having to decide how to get through. My first impulse is, ignore it; but then I think to myself, maybe that’s over-doing, since I can’t ignore what all around conspire to insist upon — worse yet, cheerfully. So we are all “celebrating” Halloween. (I think the word “celebrate” ought to be expunged from the English language for the next hundred years as it’s so overused, trite, so much cant.) To use this formulation forgets that this is a ritual about fear of the dead: the belief that the dead can come out of their graves and, envious, resentful, remembering irretrievable hurts, want to get back so we had better put out weird lights, and go through strange rituals to keep them at bay. Enact, imitate. It’s related to beliefs in vampires. Reading Fielding’s Tom Jones this season I am morally certain Tom would disapprove; he would not regard it as a joke because he was too close to when people reacted seriously to such beliefs.

It’s a harvest holiday too, the year is dying and we put out lights against the darkness that envelops us for many more hours.

An autumn scene from Wind in the Willows (one of Jim’s favorite idyllic books from childhood)

Then I think the sensible thing is to do what Jim and I did when he was alive, do the drill as little as possible. join in minimally. The strange thing about my grief at these ritual times is when Jim was alive he and I made so little of them, he especially. I know what the core is for me: the marking of time makes me remember he’s not here again and the social customs of pretending to cheer make one feel left out — no matter how I know much of this is superficial.

So I got down from the attic the pottery pumpkin we bought one year and used for for several as it takes no carving, doesn’t rot, can be stored up in an attic, and if you put a candle in in the dark makes a pleasant face.

But of course then I was faced with my usual petty problems, the result of his absence – he is present as an absence. Since age 6-7 I’m afraid of fire (you don’t want to hear about this one) so can’t light a candle easily at all, and it would be fire hazard. Then of course the “sign” for “you can come and I will give you candy,” the light in the porch also defeats me as the May after Jim died, my light bulb blew and several attempts with two different ladders not only failed to extract the dead bulb but ended up loosening the fixture. Still I bought one bag of a kind of mild chocolate wafer (I eat them) and put them in an orange bowl and before darkness fell three groups of children had come to my door and look gay and expectant in their costumes, parents visible in the near distance. My neighbor across the street (also a widow, husband also died in his mid-60s from the cancer epidemic, in his case pancreatic) bought an expensive lantern and many candles and strung electric lights across her threshold. Well, I can’t begin to compete — nor did I want to.

I thought about Halloween as I usually do each year — since it’s a holiday where no one gets off work, whose essential meanings are overlooked, it changes a lot from era to era. When I was around 8-9 and lived in the Southeast Bronx, Halloween was observed by adolescent boys and girls in costumes who were prepared to, wanted to perform tricks on people who didn’t give out candy. Nowadays the dark porch, signals I’m not participating and no one dreams of marking the door with paint, hitting it with chalk socks or any lingering later tricks to humiliate, annoy, make difficulties. That was middle 1950s. It seemed to me in the 1960s Halloween began to be a totally dying holiday, left to little ones and older people glad to hand out candy, with cheap stores selling box costumes, but it was picked up by adults in the 1970s (especially GLBT people at first); they began to party on such evenings and one began to see older children as well as little ones in much better home-made costumes. Jim and I went to the local Torpedo Factory cum-museum where a public Halloween party was held for two years. The first there was the problem of keeping street people (the homeless) out; the second it was solved but somehow the enthusiasm of the first was lost. The band cost more, more regulations to control the event. So Halloween fell away again as people chickened out, didn’t want to masquerade and just wore witches’ outfits and masks. Yes in some neighborhoods people put fancy lights on their houses. Local restaurants hold parties still and people in their homes, adults too. Maybe there are parties for middle and high school and college kids as well as adults but you’d have to know about it — I get the feeling not that many. Just costumes on the streets. And parts of costumes in single bars.

More children came this year altogether than had come in the last three years of Jim’s life when I could have light. Years ago (say the 1980s) we had down the hill from my house what we used to call a “welfare” project as part of the neighborhood: mostly black people. Their children used to come out to the high part of the hills and trick-or-treat — young children in big groups and I remember running out of candy. That place has of course been razed now (most of those people gone) in favor of a development of mostly expensive townhouses and apartments with a few super-expensive private houses. There are children there but they stay within the purview of their parents’ associations within the buildings.

This change reflects a loss of social life across the community. It mirrors social and economic conditions and also inward feelings of people towards these conditions. So that in a neighborhood like mine that say 25 years ago people locally (white, middle class) were happy to have their children wander about and intermingle with one another. I remember in the early 1990s going twice with Caroline and Yvette trick-or-treating. We walked throughout the neighborhood and there were other people doing this too. Caroline had made her costume, all in blue, she called herself a pencil; I bought Yvette a Snow-white outfit – not a box costume but one sold in a Halloween store (!). It was a pleasant evening, with one man I remember making jokes he was dressed as a ghost to keep up with the neighbor across the street who had fake graves on his lawn. (The absurdity of this trivia.)

But this and the last few years nothing like this in this neighborhood. Very early a few groups of young children; around 9 a couple of troops of well-behaved adolescents or teenagers (my neighbor said were allured by her lantern) but that’s it. Most people are not willing to do this at all, and stay in exclusive or pre-constructed circles indoors, in a garden behind a house inside a fence. One (there are others) source is fear, irrational fear as there’s nothing to be afraid of in my neighborhood — except maybe that (I’m told) people in the houses all around me really do keep guns. Desperation makes people bus children to another neighborhood (another new “habit” — people from very poor places being bussed far to very rich ones) to get candy — and it means that this other neighborhood is admired.

More, the activity is not a neighborhood one: it’s not all the people living together sort of solidifying their relationship. Bussed in people have no relationship with those they are asking things of – it becomes a sort of allowed tasteful begging; everyone in masquerade allows it.

The disappearance of “tricking” is also important but another topic altogether: what might be called the tolerance of relatively innocent mischief.

One useful result was this morning I phoned Michael and Sons, and tomorrow an electrician will come to my house and install a new fixture on my porch. It will be lower down so I can reach it. I don’t do it so next year I can hand out more candy, but because this would be another year of darkness in the porch and difficulty in opening the door with a key. While he’s at it, for the price of getting him to come here, I’ll replace two other fixtures on the ceilings in the house which neither Yvette or I can reach with ease, and one very old one (from 1947, surely a fire-hazard and anyway it emits very little light as it can take only 40 watt bulbs). I have small lamps at strategic points on tables about the house nowadays but I will keep them there as they are pleasant for reading at night. I like soft light here and there in the evening rather than the whole room lit up anyway.

I may even break down and pay for an outlet outside the house to put a string of lights on a small maple tree that stubbornly grows in the middle of my front lawn. A survivor.


When I awake in the morning or come into the house, the sounds of my Clarycat’s tinkling bells as she trots near by or comes over to me, or when she murmurs at me over the day glide into my soul — are music to my ears.

A reproduction of a painting that reminds me of myself late at night — except I have my two pussycats snuggled up with me, sometimes trying to get between my eyes and the book.

I try to wake and say how delicious my bed, how wonderful my books, the weather, how loving my cats, how good to be alive, but it doesn’t quite work. I used to dislike holidays, preferred the routine of life where there were no particular expectations — I have gotten through life by low expectations — but I expected Him to be here with me. I had not expected that he would die so soon, so young. I feel for him not being here. Mine like many widows is an impoverished existence forevermore.



On this beautiful autumn day, with its cool chilled air warmed by the sun, the beautifully colored leaves, just falling, the autumn flowers, I remembered how Jim said to me one day in September “I’m sorry to leave you.” He meant he was sorry to have to leave me alone in the world in the sense that he and looked at, saw the world from the same perspective, and our reaction to us, had been just the same.

And so this morning I share YouTube (unadulterated) of Lyle Lovett singing Closing Time which Jim liked too:


I learned on Anibundel’s blog that this is National Cat day, and I’ve picked out the exquisitely satiric “Henry 2, Paw de Deux,” which also helps us to remember and miss the film critic, Ebert

For film and cat lovers.  A few questions.

Miss Drake

CatsOct25year15 (Mobile)
Ian and Clarycat waiting around Izzy’s door

Dear friends and readers,

I was feeling that guilty about writing frivolous and personal blogs about my life, cats, flower bulbs and all I do — after I saw two extraordinary stories, one in the form of Sophocles’s tragic play, Antigone, at the Kennedy Center yesterday, and today, in the form of a remarkably candid film about what the experience of war is in these past two decades, Kilo Two Bravo — that I first wrote a blog (Barking up the Right Trees this past week), bringing together a group of stories revealing underlying semi-criminal behaviors (or criminal ones) in people like Kreon, in positions of tremendous power, who are responsible for present wars in Aghanistan, Iraq, Syvia … They are significant must-sees, both.

These experiences were part of another two weeks’ passing with memories of Jim: in August I had bought for myself alone and with Izzy, tickets for plays and operas (the first was Verdi’s Otello last week), across this fall and next spring. Kilo Two Bravo was the last of the summer’s film club and at long last Gary Arnold proved that he can offer a film worth getting up early to see, as well as his usual insightful information. Cinema Art is also going to have a season’s worth of operas and ballets from London (Covent Garden), only you have to phone that day (not buy ahead), lest it be cancelled. Not convenient, but they are on at good times for me: 4:30 and 7:00 (replays of HD productions or the HD production itself). I’ll try for them. Of Antigone, Izzy remarked we were sitting in around the same row in the second balcony in the Eisenhower theater the last time we came with Jim.

I did the usual things: teach, go out to lunch with friends, walk, Dance Fusion Workshop (I wish I had time to go there twice a week), almost finished my most recent paper for a coming conference (on Anne Home Hunter and Anne Macvicar Grant, two 18th century Scottish poets — I’ve told about this too often), read, posted to listservs, exchanged letters with friends (heard of yet more hideous deaths from cancer, of suicides driven by a medical establishment not telling the person of other choices), watched movies at night, blogged too. My friend, Sophie, is back from France for a while, and, taking Metro and bus to reach one another, she and I met at the National Gallery: there was a small exhibit of Vermeer paintings: I had forgotten how faded the colors and how out of seven known pictures, three have enormously pregnant women in the center. There was a new Pissarro on display too, a loan from the Louvre:

Rainy Weather (if you click it becomes very large and the picture compensates for the frame, for which apologies)

On the whole I prefer the peace of Pissarro to the reveries of Vermeer. Face-book objected to the Pissarro (“there are no faces to tag”): imbecilic.

I had planted bulbs first with my neighbor across the street, well this week on my own, in my garden I added daffodils, crocuses, narcissus, tulips. I had my gardening man set out and mulch two small plots in my garden right underneath side windows and remulch the circle around my small maple tree. It was not easy for me to do because my right arm is so weak, but I managed and then I watered them. I remember Jim said how important it was to water them, so I dragged that hose about to reach all three spots.

For the first time in a long time I went out to a review, a concert of Kander and Ebb songs, went back to my friend, Phyllis’s house and sat and talked and drank wine, and found myself driving him at night after midnight.

And I got ever closer to my cats — I have thought of a solution this week to the eternal problem of catness: as all know who had had much contact with cats at all, cats hate shut doors. But suppose like Yvette you want quiet to write, to sing, for privacy, after a long day at work. The problem is they don’t want to stay in the room with her. If she puts them out and they see my open door, they may come in for a while, but periodically they return to hers and cry. Now sometimes I would like to shut my door too — for quiet (not to hear Izzy’s TV program or music), to feel I won’t be interrupted — by said cats I suppose.

What we need to do is buy new doors for our rooms. Our present doors are more than 60 years old and not in good shape. We could replace them with doors with flaps on the bottom. I could push Ian in and out of each and then push Clarycat in and out of each. What I suspect is that if we resolutely left the doors shut, they would not be happy. They would spend time on one or the other side of these doors making complaining sounds and waiting.

Nothing characterizes catness more than this reluctance of theirs to tolerate a shut door and their way of sitting or standing expectantly waiting — or seeming to wait. Also going into tight drawers: both my cats will do this, though Ian more often. Sometimes I wonder how he got in, as some of my drawers are small and don’t open all the way and it becomes hard to pull him out. He has himself to cooperate and turn his body into a line and then push his head up and then he leaps out to the ground. One of my Internet British friends has rescued a new cat to join their family, Ella or Elly:


She looks nervous and sad in the way cats can — it is not easy to adjust to what will become her home. She waits looking about her.

Before Sunday is over I wanted to share another poem. On Victoria, a listserv, people were talking of whether women used the underground trains in 19th century England; I reminded them of William Egley’s (1826-1916) Omnibus Life in London (1859) where we see an intermingling of classes and genders:

Omnibus Life in London 1859 William Maw Egley 1826-1916 Bequeathed by Miss J.L.R. Blaker 1947 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05779 (click to make very large)

at which someone contributed this good poem by Amy Levy, the later 19th century English Jewish poet: she had rather travel on an omnibus, wander about amidst everyone in ordinary life than live the privileged but restricted life or princess-women:

“To see my love suffices me.”
–Ballades in Blue China.

Some men to carriages aspire;
On some the costly hansoms wait;
Some seek a fly, on job or hire;
Some mount the trotting steed, elate.
I envy not the rich and great,
A wandering minstrel, poor and free,
I am contented with my fate —
An omnibus suffices me.

In winter days of rain and mire
I find within a corner strait;
The ‘busmen know me and my lyre
From Brompton to the Bull-and-Gate.
When summer comes, I mount in state
The topmost summit, whence I see
Crœsus look up, compassionate —
An omnibus suffices me.

I mark, untroubled by desire,
Lucullus’ phaeton and its freight.
The scene whereof I cannot tire,
The human tale of love and hate,
The city pageant, early and late
Unfolds itself, rolls by, to be
A pleasure deep and delicate.
An omnibus suffices me.

Princess, your splendour you require,
I, my simplicity; agree
Neither to rate lower nor higher.
An omnibus suffices me.
— Amy Levy

Sophie and I have promised to meet someone beyond the museum next time, perhaps the Penn quarter, find ourselves a cafe for less money, and then (like Amy) walk about the city — for later November when I hope the variegated leaves and balmy weather will not have gone altogether.

Poem and picture also remind me that Phyllis paints: and what does she paint? her oeuvre includes photo-like pictures of people on the Washington Metro, which has its own anonymous spirit, its feel. Which she captures. It’s not an especially kindly one, not abrasive, but you are given a sort of privacy in public a liberty to be, while in transit. The ambiance is quite different from the NYC subways:

The art of Phyllis Furdell: a collage of several paintings

In comparison do not Egley’s Victorians above look all crowded in and uncomfortable? See how the woman on the left looks so kindly at the rich family across from her, the daughter has already learned to keep a disdainful guard on her face and body. Amy Levy will have none of that. Our 21st century people have learned to live in their own space are and take advantage of the time and space to read …

Miss Drake


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