Dear friends and readers,
Back from subtropical middle western Florida where most of the time I was there the degrees were 60 to 70 (and above) Fahrenheit, with a building humidity, and the skies blue and sunny, the land flat, and the Gulf of Mexico and other waters soft green in color. I left in the freezing rain, and about two hours after I was home, the cold rain, sleet and ice pellets began again. Yet on the whole I was relieved to be home, and not just because I’m happiest and nearest some peace at home. I’d rather live here, cold seasons, autumn hurricanes, summer squalls and all. I love a snowy landscape — albeit from my window. But I do not prefer where I am just for the varied weather and hills.
What did I most enjoy? Most unexpectedly my friend’s sister-in-law phoned a friend or co-worker, Penelope Bodry-Sanders, she had not seen in twenty years and wrangled an appointment to get a sort of private tour of the lemur sanctuary that has been set up near Myakka City. A building housing a library, with a place for students to learn, people to study and talk about lemurs stands next to a 9 acre woodland in which three types of lemur families and groups live. They are pre-siminian, not quite primates, and live in groups headed by a mother, with a father hanging around not far off — and to us walking there they seemed sweetly playful. We watched a ring-tailed group interact,
and stood near “red rough lemurs” climbing trees. In another cage, more sadly, we saw a group of lemurs who are dangerous, aggressive: it seems these are lemurs mistakenly made pets of by human beings and when the lemurs grow older and seek sexual partners with their humans and are rejected, they become upset, unruly, and socially impossible (to the people). So they are rescued, and kept in as good health as possible while they live their single thwarted lives out (prevented from having any further lemurs).
I learnt a lot about lemurs in the conversation afterwards with Penelope Bodry-Sanders (Herself!), a thin youthful (grey-haired pageboy hairstyle) woman in jeans and T-shirt, writing an essay on the center and good people who helped get it accreditation, funding, and students. She said as how it was “very good of us” to take time out from our vacation to see the sanctuary. I replied, on the contrary, that afternoon was a high point for this holiday for me. She then spoke my name (remembered it). I now want to see a documentary film called Lemurs of Madagascar and (on her advice) have bought a book by Alison Jolly on the world of the lemurs.
My friend and I also took a long walk in Myakka State Park. We saw alligators and Amish men fishing, birds of all sorts, herons, seagulls, pink spoonbills:
climbed up a wooden structure to where we could see over the wood, across a swaying bridge
where we could look down the many Palmetta trees, whose trunks resemble pineapples and leaves are stalk-like fans
My friend meant to show me a good time at a famous beach (said to be #1?), Siesta is it’s name: white lovely sand, stretched out blue waters, but I found myself shocked by a an experience of STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) as I suddenly realized that I had not been on a beach for a at least a couple of years and the last time was with Jim. I remembered how in summers when we were in our twenties and had our dog, Llyr, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings we’d buy croissants, take a tall thermos of coffee and drive to far Rockaway to a beach where dogs were allowed, and spend time there. How one summer when we stayed in a Duke’s hunting lodge (Landmark Trust rental), near Chichester, he drove me and Yvette twice to a beautiful rocky beach near a pier and the two afternoons there playing by the water. I felt for him he was missing out, I who had grown tired of beaches I thought. I felt so bad that we had stopped going.
I suggested we try again a second time at some other famous place (I had ruined the good time, my grief not been understood), this time a beach by a pier and restaurant called Shaky where there is much fishing — schools of dolphins are seen.
I hoped the initial strong had worn off some, and wanted to sit on the beach and stare out in silence as a kind of commemoration to what was. My friend and I have known each other since I was 16 and she 17; we’ve not seen each other for years at a time, but never quite lost touch nor lost our New York accents; we got our first jobs as secretaries together; we went back to college around the same time, both went on to do Ph.Ds (but she in economics and made a lot of money, her husband a bank examiner); I was a bridesmaid at her wedding, Jim and I and she and her husband went out together some while we all lived in Manhattan; she had one son around the time I had Yvette (she when she was 36, I when I was 37, so her son born two years before my Yvette); well she too has been widowed, this past August. We walked onto a dog beach and along the wet sand. She first and then I took shoes off and stood at the edge of the water wetting ourselves up the calves.
We also went out to dinner to a restaurant that was cowboy-like; it’s old and by a river, and has an extraordinary fish menu, with a tall-tale about an alligator as its founding myth. It too said to be famous or at least celebrated; too bad I am bad at remembering well-known names (and showed my propensity to mispronounce and keep mispronouncing once I got the word wrong). At night we watched on her wide-screen flat TV (I have one just like it), the first season of The Bletchley Circle (all 3 episodes over a couple of nights); she had a version of one of the episodes of Elementary, very good, with Jonny Lee Miller as the Sherlock, a kind of Dragnet-intellectual witty melancholy man wandering amid desperate poverty and beautifully-appointed apartments,
which I had not been able to watch because so over-larded with commercials, we shoverdosed by watching back-to-back the first episode of the first season of Cumberbatch-Freeman’s Sherlock.
Those were the high points. I also saw a Florida I don’t belong in at all.
Gated-communities of houses built in harmony with one another, many overlooking bodies of water from a linai (huge screened porch filled with flowers, if you like a hot tub) all looking so clean and prestigious (in good taste), inside which blocks and blocks are golf areas, pools, tennis courts — not a black or minority person in sight. The supermarkets did have black and minority people working and shopping in them, and I saw many of the same chain stores in the malls as we have here in the Virginia, DC and Maryland area (including the expensive Whole Food chain). No surprise that the vote in these places is conservative Republican; all for Romney, they saw him as an admirable businessman (successful in making money, tons of it), and his infamous speech about 47% of the country as simply true. I couldn’t make conversation without giving myself away somehow and finding myself up against suspicious tones. The Internet much scoffed at — all the while clearly centrally part of these people’s lives. My friends, it will go hard with us if Jebb Bush wins. He will not regard the Internet as a utility, nor a place for liberty of communication, access for information for all.
As I wrote Caroline when this afternoon from my home computer, I was slightly astonished to discover the HOAs at such places are just as neurotically class-conscious, ridiculous over perceived symbols as those where Caroline lives (which I had snobbishly attributed to lower middle class anxieties). Among other things, in the Florida community of rich houses and gardens, you are not allowed to park your vehicle outside your garage if it looks too much like a truck. Neighbors spy on one another and tell the HOA committee heads. Could it be they think property values are threatened? that it brings down the neighborhood. No. “So unsightly.” To my credit I listened silently to defenses of these rules. I took heart — I don’t know quite why — when I got home and looked up the estimated price and taxes of the houses there and those where I live and found the ones where I live are priced higher. I admit I meant to be mischievous when I admitted (openly) that I have a clothesline in my backyard where I hang laundry. I was told laundry is “especially prohibited” in your linai. (You can never tell what people will get up to.) It made me remember Mr Woodhouse hearing Frank Churchill say he knew of people who threw open windows in autumn nights, “well, he never, but then he has lived such an out-of-the-way life.”
For the first time I identified with Miss Bunting in Downton Abbey and began to imagine the distress she probably felt when she returned home from having been berated by Lord Grantham, loudly singled out by him as not wanted there, not to omit her real sense (I am willing to credit her with sincerity) of the injustice of the social and economic arrangements all around her (admittedly not felt as hard in this reactionary costume drama). How do you talk to someone whose outlook is so fundamentally totally at odds with your own unless you erase yourself. And why should you not speak out against harmful prejudiced and just plain wrong assertions at you. Not that Miss Sarah Bunting would not (also) have lectured me, questioned me, made suggestions about how to stop the pain of this ravaged ripping away from me half my self in him, his being gone, I find scarcely endurable.
My friend told me the character in Downton Abbey she identified with is Tom Branson, for she is originally working class.
It’s not that I did not see from the car another Florida — we drove far and wide to reach different places. I saw fields of people living in trailer camps; old and poorer small houses (home-built some of them), a high school I was told was “all-black” (I have to admit my immediate association was Birmingham it’s 100% Muslim — a new Fogle’s Bookshop opened there other day) and maybe it was. Sarasota is a varied city, with an opera house, a theater, movie-houses (a vast cineplex playing trash and junk mostly, but it has HD ballets from London), a large library, plenty of fast-food places, tall apartment houses. I saw people some call red-necks too, tatooed, country folk. Victor Nunez people.
My friend has a sweet cat, Sophie, grey and white, rescued from a life of abuse, wary and unable to play much, hiding away, but at night coming out, to crawl into my friend’s lap, very sweet and cuddling for love and affection. At night we did have long enough reading times, beginning around 9 a couple of times. Copies of The Economist were about, and I found it easy reading, intelligent, filled with information, many reports and reporters from around the earth. I was able to use my ipad and relieved to watch Amy Goodman and Democracynow.org, and read novels. I finished and think superior Winston Graham’s first historical novel, set in Cornwall, 1898, The Forgotten Story, about which I hope to blog separately.
I was very nervous about traveling back, overwrought again over the boarding pass (which again did not appear in my email), over getting there (as no cabs could easily come into this gated community, buses unheard of), absurd of me. My friend drove me back easily on time, and told me to phone her if I had any trouble and she’d come and help. I needed no help; everyone all courtesy, my bag x-rayed but otherwise I was hardly looked at. But it is ever hard to do, hard to breathe through, to be from home and my sleeping pills did not work as well as they usually do, and I had to resort to two one night to find some peace.
While there in the dawn I’d write sets of verses I put on this blog and have deleted; I have now made a selection from these, toned-down:
For me the hard hours
are between four and five
late afternoon, awake
after many hours
I’ve done what work I could.
I feel his absence in
the silence. I long
to turn to him for
strengthening talk, comfort,
relief, his fun. Stillness
all around me. I can’t
figure out why having
gone out alleviates
this. One cat puts his paw
on my knee and jumps up.
I’m forced to realize
he’s nowhere on this earth.
I let people burn his corpse
and put the ashes in a urn
he chose. What was to be
gained by a corpse
rotting in the ground,
I asked myself. Stony
cold in these freezing rains
For me the hard hours
are when I’m far from home,
marking time until I
can get back. Safe from
dependence where there’s no
barrier to keep stings
What can I sing?
Memory what’s meaningful.
What is there for me to embrace?
On the beach two days ago
for the first time since he died
and I was overcome with sadness
for him missing the water, the sky,
how long it had been since we had
gone to a beach; the last time in
England, near Chichester.
How many years since we took
Llyr, our poor dog to far Rockaway
on summer mornings.
It is so terrible that I should
be alive somewhere on this earth
and he not with me, looking out.
I was at a lemur sanctuary
today. Friendly families
of lemurs with their unfair
living on 9 acres.
Taken good care of.
How vulnerable they seemed.
For now together.
I find peace in my workroom
when the computer works,
I reach net-friends, in writing,
from somber undeluded
intelligence in books
movies, music with
strong ordered harmonies
to flow through my pulses.
Now that he’s gone who was
the blood that flowed through
for twice he gave blood
Type 0, to replace the Type A
the hospital staff transfused
throughout my body.
My hope to die before him was
not hopeless. I had
some statistics on my side.
I long for deep true endless
sleep. My pain’s source, can be
my buffer against cant
offering wrong advice
I must stop listening to.
Being with others
scene changes as what’s
tranformative, not so
I do not think Miss Bunting will marry at all.