I’ve just got back from doing something that without a car would have presented me with enough obstacles to prevent me: a walk in the evening in Old Town with my friend, Vivian. Once I could drive us there, we wandered about. We came upon an art and crafts fair and spent an hour or more going through the booths, listening to music, snacking. I bought an elegant pair of black earrings. We heard street performers, lots of people in the streets passing the time, eating ice-cream, tables from restaurants on the sidewalks. It was a lovely evening — cool, balmy, a breeze and we got as far as the Potomac before my feet (bunions among other things) and leg (arthritis) gave out and she tired too (she is 59 and not in the best of health) so we took the free shuttle (a gayly decorated Trolley car-bus that goes up and down King Street from Metro to Potomac most of the day and until about 11) back near to where I had left my car.
The needed letter arrived Wednesday around 11; it took me literally hours to calm down and take stock, make some appts (with the vet for the cats, with financial advisors), write some emails. The past three days have been so much easier than they would have been, from shopping for food, to taking Yvette to the doctors and then a pharmacy; tomorrow I look forward to going to a movie at an semi-art house and joining a film club which meets once a month (Sundays) to watch a fine new movie, hear a discussion and have coffee and snacks. I did pay for a Uber cab to take me to the Haven last Monday (there and back) and had a good session with a new person (Charlie she calls herself), but now I will get there on time easily and afterwards visit the Jewish Community Center nearby to see if they have yoga classes or anything like that I could join for the summer. I’ll look into joining their gym; I know they have a swimming pool. I mean to get myself to the GMU library on another day — I’ve not been for over 5 months now.
It’s not all liberation: I spent four and a half hours at a garage the day after the freeing letter arrived from the DMV and Tuesday I’ve got to go back for another 3 and 1/2 hours. Toyota has declared two recalls on the Prius and the work takes time, plus it’s not good for a car to sit and go nowhere for four month and 3 days (the time of my invisible detention) even if you go into it regularly to start it up, run it a bit, and put it in gear.
Funnily (why funny I don’t know but there is a kind of good-natured irony here) just about all my neighbors who have pretended not to notice, in the last three days have given me victory signs with their arms or hands as I drove by. What a world they tolerate.
And I’m not home free. This astonishingly unquestioned and powerful institution has ignored the doctor’s explicit advice that I didn’t need any monitoring or tests and the new tests which confirmed there is no medical condition whatsoever, and ask that I actually do the set of tests I did last December and January. They are expensive but I do have Kaiser and my co-pay while high for a co-pay (over $100) is not near the couple of thousand these tests cost. And I know I would not have managed this without the lawyer I hired. It was she who wrote the letters which got the doctor to fill out the form exquisitely perfectly and sent everything off, and phone someone to remind this person my forms were on the way and could she send an email saying they had arrived. I have my early October appointment with her set up so that she can help me again when the time comes. How many times I shall have to repeat this I don’t know – surely not every six months for years on end.
Reading Hannah Arendt on the totalitarian state and also a powerful book (horrifying in what it has to tell) about the Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Seige, compiled, edited, translated by Adlan Adelson and Robert Lapides, I’ve become aware of how central to liberty is communication (the first thing the Nazis did when they turned Jewish people into slaves was deprive them of all radios, all information outside their prison-city) and mobility (the Nazis would not allow even animals to pull carts inside the city, only people could do this), I’ve become aware of why the DMV is allowed to ride roughshod over powerless individuals. The other day I read where Republicans call public transportation socialism, in Tennessee have made further creation of more public transportation illegal; I know how in the south especially but many places in the US cities are set up as spokes on wheel, with poorer and lower middle communities out on an edge wheel with the center reachable only through infrequent public transportation or a car.
So I was not surprised last week when the Virginia DMV ordered Uber Cab (a reliable and quick service outside the inadequate public transportation) to cease and desist operations. What the Va DMV wants is $500 per driver: each driver is to be required to buy a taxi license although all have passed cab tests and the company has paid largely for a license. From using the service I know most drivers are originally foreign nationals, many women (! — to use a Uber cab, you have to own a cell or i-phone, be able to use an app, set up an account with a credit card so you are automatically vetted and accountable); they don’t have the odd $500 laying around. DC’s DMV has come to a compromise solution, not Virginia. Apparently the DMV has no way of identifying the individual license plates of the Uber drivers (who own their own cars separately which do not at all look like cabs) so they cannot use computer technology to have the police enforce such an order. Thus Uber cabs keep going. It’s also an anti-immigrant move as well as one that makes Red Top, Yellow and other cab services happy since they find Uber cabs tough competition. I will still use Uber to go to the Shirlington movie-house where parking is barely available and what is there parlous (too crowded tiny spaces with too many cars seeking parking spaces).
Who would not shudder? When I went to vote on Tuesday (alas Patrick Hope lost, he came in second but a trailing second to a businessman type, there to make money and contacts) and asked to present some identification, I pulled out said drivers’ license (not taken away literally) and the woman leapt on it with her hands. She said oh yes, that’s best and somehow swiped it into the computer and a load of information went with it. I was told as of next month all Virginia residents will have to present 1 of 5 different kinds of photo identification to vote. If you don’t have these, there’s an address to go to (one) in Alexandria to get yourself a substitute. It sounds easy but it’s not and there ought to be nothing but the simplest identification asked of you. Is voting no longer a right? teh ability to vote is at any rate threatened in Virginia (and many other states).
But life is short and people frail: rejoice for Yvette too, who was much relieved. Beyond doctors, jobs, the Metro (tomorrow she has a date and it will be hot and Sunday the buses come once an hour), she can now get to her monthly social club. This month they go to an Italian restaurant. Last month they went to a play in DC so she was able to join in but she has missed several good times now.
I have not written about what’s up with me since May 7th — Sunday poetry, memories of my Admiral, a time at the Washington Area Print Group, a set of verses now and again. (I discover that Frances Burney D’Arblay often has month-long hiatuses too.) It’s difficult to tell the truth that it gets harder not easier, that time brings home reality more strongly and inexorably, and all the ways this happens. Last night I began watching one of the greatest mini-series ever made for TV, Brideshead Revisited, one Jim liked so very much and watched twice through with me: at one point Sebastian gives Charles Ryder bunches of yellow flowers: for my 23rd birthday Jim bought me 23 yellow flowers, spending nearly his last money to give me a present when I said I had not celebrated my birthday in years, certainly not received any presents since I was about 15. Their love — Sebastian’s and Charles’s — reminded me of mine and Jim’s in its earliest years and I worried to myself how we had lost that thread in our last years; it was as poignant as Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawkes in Before Sunrise (which was a parallel experience to Jim and mine that first night).
Just a moment late at night, alone in my workroom, one cat on my lap and the other sprawled nearby.
Another night I went back further in time to when I discovered A.O.E. Coppard and H.E. Bates and read Love for Lydia, found it mediocre sub-Lawrentian, sub-gothic, — except for the ice-skating sequences — but rightly loved the mini-series. I listened again to that flute that did Rachmanikov’s piano concerto 2 so hauntingly, warmed to Beatrice Lehman as Lydia’s aunt, watched Mel Martin in her one great role, Lydia herself, a heroine. At the time I could not identify with her as she behaved so meanly and coldly, but whose anger and frustration I now recognize if I still can’t like her for hurting others who hadn’t hurt her:
And I remembered how Jim and I had found those books in the many used bookstores then in Alexandria and DC (huge cavernous places in broken down areas, not yet gentrified at all), read some of the stories together, one visit, those early years here in Virginia all alone for me but for my one daughter, aged 2-5 and the first big growth of our book collection.
You don’t want to know about my successful struggle to bypass Kaiser’s insurance drug limitation to get enough sleeping pills so as no longer to be sleep deprived. Suffice to say with the help of a website, a fax machine that miracle-performing pharmacist did her ouida with at a CVS I managed it.
Readers tire of this — so here are some cheering things — I assure you equally felt even if on another a plane.
I now have set up, confirmed for the fall teaching “The Gothic” at GMU’s OLLI program on Tuesday afternoons (and can get there!), and Beyond Barsetshire: Trollope, Irish, European & Political Novelist (its latest title) on at AU’s OLLI program on Wednesday afternoons. Both venues right next to the main campus. Yvette and I managed to make the sharp-scissors cut into the Montreal JASNA, so we’ll be going even if I won’t be giving any papers. We do look forward to seeing friends, participating in the various workshops (especially for me the dance), I’ll like the sessions and papers, Juliet McMaster’s “Afternoon Tea,” and I’ll go a little to the Burney sessions. I’ve yet to decide on a tour: Yvette prefers to go on her own into the city one afternoon. We have our dresses for the ball too.
My panel for EC/ASECS at Delaware, The Anomaly (the single unmarried adult woman living alone, spinsters, divorced and widowed women) has attracted four papers! Now I have too many because I want to write on Widows in Austen, but better too many than too few.
I work away at my projects, far more slowly than I once did, since my mind gets distracted with memories and I have more to do of a practical nature, some of which puzzles me, some of which I have to take immediate chances on — like hiring a man with workers to paint and fix much that needs to be fixed on the outside of the house (rotting faciaboards started this), others long-range and to me inexplicable (investment). I have yet to put a paper onto my website which was published in the Burney Letter on Frances Burney D’Arblay’s life-writing, am behind on blogs, I cannot get myself to give up my daily one hour and a half (and more) posting to listservs and writing to friends — true lifelines for me.
I’ve looked into Road Scholar as a possibility for the future for summer times away for myself. I ordered a North American catalogue which I was able to read and understand (the website is too much for me when it comes to reading about the experiences), and I do think I would enjoy some of them very much but as yet don’t think I’m strong or steady enough to endure the anxiety of getting to the place and back alone, not quite sure what I would like (though maybe the Dickens week will have a novel by him more to my liking and I’ll try that), not being athletic and having such bad feet, but I am looking at it. Yvette appeared interested and said let’s look at a European catalogue (the idea of England again, and she mentioned Paris specifically): more expensive but I’ve sent away for it. Next year is a 40th anniversary and they have what’s called specials (super-expensive, well beyond us) — month long trips to Australia and New Zealand, extraordinary learning as well as luxurious enjoyment. The world is an oyster for some.
So a few realities, some dreams I’m not sure about, ceaseless regret for his not being here (asking myself why I permitted the mutilation of him by that doctor when in my gut I knew it was wrong) edging near consciousness. You see I am weak and do this language softening too. It’s not that he’s not here, it’s that he does not exist any more. I can’t reach what is no more. My way is still to try to shut my grasp of this out by activities and absorption of my mind into books, art, movies, writing (also rocking in my chair with my hand on my face). I find great solace in watching and rewatching Downton Abbey, probably reading far more into it than is there. I found myself bonding the other night with Samantha Bond as Lady Rosemary Painswick (I had not tried to think why she had the “pain” in her name) as she tried to help her niece, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley, now pregnant by the vanished Michael Grigson (into a Germany going Nazi) and vacillating between an abortion and a hidden childbirth where she gives up the baby for adoption). It seemed to me it was hinted that Lady Rosemary had had an illegitimate child many years ago and given it up for adoption, and managed to live an apparently fulfilled, at least self-respecting if lonely life afterwards and a promotional photo appealed deeply. You see it at the head of this blog, gentle reader.
I’ve tried to keep my spirits up by listening to the T’ai chi song at the close of Juliette Towhidi’s Calendar Girls. I regret that I can’t produce the moving shots that in the film accompany the music and must reproduce the unfortunate cover to the DVD but I can at least provide a few stills as you listen:
Do listen to the music, taken the time out to breathe
Calendar Girls by Patrick Doyle — T’ai chi