Dear friends and readers,
Yes that’s another photo of me in a museum; this time with my friend, Sophie, at the bottom of the grand stairway at the Metropolitan Museum on Monday afternoon — we stood a long while in front of some Monets and Pissarros; we planned to spend Tuesday morning at the Whitney to see the new building and exhibit of the history of American painting and the museum’s collection (as if it were one), but found the Whitney was closed on Tuesday. (Later that day she did get to the Frick and mused surrounded by Boucher.) So we walked on the Highline park, and after walking about in the low areas (the village itself, shops and streets, and some originally beautiful churches still standing) had breakfast together.
I stayed at the Larchmont on West 11th on the advice of my friend, Diana; it’s relatively inexpensive, quiet, and comfortable enough. To have done with my Village adventures, I had a lovely dinner with another friend in Chapter One on Greenwich Avenue, and yet another long-time friend (on the Net, we met in person finally!) a hearty brunch at the French Roast.
The purpose of my visit was once again to go the Trollope annual dinner. Jim and I had gone the year Trollope on the Net was published, and I wrote and delivered at the Reform Club (Pall Mall, London) my “Partly Told in Letters: Trollope’s Story-Telling Art.” The Knickerbocker in NYC is now in a different place and I almost didn’t make it — taking a subway on the wrong side of the park and then resorting to Uber Cab to make it on time. This year John Wirenius who wrote the first true Trollope sequel, Phineas at Bay, gave a talk on the writing of his book, and since on Trollope19thCStudies we read the book and talked about it week-by-week, I wanted to meet him and to be there for his speech. I also renewed a couple of cherished and remembered friendships in person (since 2001 conducted by phone or email). Douglas Gerlach replaced Randy Williams as the president,and I met Doug’s wife — ate next to her. I can remember talking of Austen. Jim would have appreciated the wines. I liked the yummy vanilla ice cream.
I enjoyed it– people who can afford such an event but liking Trollope in all sorts of ways and talking of the books casually — but think in future I should try for the lectures (less dressing up and more genuine calm talk, especially about Trollope). I could come by Megabus of a morning, stay at the Larchmont, go the lecture in the evening, and if there is no good theater (after having tried to research this) or great movie I won’t see otherwise, or museum exhibit, or friend to see, come straight back the next day.
I had had an ordeal of an exhausting trip to get to NYC from DC since the Amtrak train accident (on the avoidable causes for which see John Nichols), traveling hard 9 hours, but with the help of a cab actually got to and saw Wolf Hall Part 2 on Saturday evening. I regret to have to say it was very poor: it may be that the vast theater will not allow intimate drama (no close-ups), but some imaginative effort could have made some substitute for the subjective filmic techniques of Straughan and Percival’s brilliant mini-series (including the ability of a film to get close to an unflinching view of a someone experiencing beheading); totally unnecessary was the way Anne was blackened and Cromwell simplified into a stiff Machiavel. I quickly saw the audience was older mainstream couples. Their intermission talk was dismaying; how bad a woman was Anne Boleyn seemed to be the moral some drew. This kind of adaptation gives a bad name to historical fiction.
Perhaps the archly performative nature of the production was ironically appropriate to Mantel’s vision? (Bad joke alert.) While in my room or on a train I read straight through Hilary Mantel’s extraordinary Bring Up the Bodies, which I fear will be hard to do justice to in a blog: shall I read first a good biography of Thomas Cromwell, or Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Queen Anne (the stealth central character of the book), or turn to Diana Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000 to grasp its context, or maybe I should add to her memoir Giving up the Ghost and Eight Months on Gaza Street (a revelation of the underlying terror of living in a place like Saudi Arabia for the average citizen not even a woman) — the bleak dark center of apprehension about the nature of human beings’ relationships to one another needs none of these it might be said, nor the occasional moving poetry of Cromwell’s quiet voice turned steely criminal. You should feel fearful when you finish it.
Not that reality is trivial in comparison (it mirrors our world). As my train neared Baltimore on my way back to Alexandria, and I looked out the window to see miles of semi-abandoned streets and houses, I wondered why the choice has been acquiesced to allow a very few to live in super-luxury hidden away behind closed and locks walls of all sorts, with the rest holding onto tiny vantage places equally closed off within such wasteland landscapes. The wanton vile brutal destruction of Freddy Grey (killed as if he were some foldable animal) was distressing to watch, worse the full realization of how this kind of thing has been meted out something like twice a week for years on those black people in the US who don’t end up surviving for decades in appalling prisons.
I wish I could say David Hare’s Skylight (which on the spur of the moment, I fitted in on Sunday afternoon) more than made up for the disappointment of Saturday’s late evening, but it was another stiff performance: I noticed very favorable reviews. But Bill Nighy seemed unable to forget he was Bill Nighy and only became Tom Sergeant towards the every end of the play; one of the best moments was Carey Mulligan as Kira his disillusioned girlfriend mocking his (usual) artifical shrugs and gestures. The play itself moved me: Kira has been his younger mistress, a close friend of the family until his wife Alice discovered they were lovers; Kira felt all she could do was desert the whole family she had been undermining but in the intervening three years of no contact, Tom’s wife had died of cancer: he deserted her too, physically after setting her up in a beautiful room with a vast glass skylight. The confrontations with death in the talk, and the ironic wit towards all sorts of cant conventions (Tom would like gardening to be made illegal) could have been moving had the theater been smaller. I was so aware of how fake the experience felt as a whole, from the jostlings of the audience to the audience laughing at the least excuse for a joke which both sets of actors played to (in both plays this was so).
A rare quiet moment of genuine feeling only intermittently worked up to The city seemed to me sans Jim crowded, dirty, old, noisy, people struggling as best they can to carve out some modicum of quality life here and there in the crevices. I did find some food to eat now and again in not-such-expensive restaurants, two hearty breakfasts, one good dinner (where individual food items were recognizable, as eggs, bread, a piece of honest chicken plainly cooked). But mostly the eateries in NYC present the same hideous concoctions that I have noticed pass for food nowadays in most restaurants so I spent the usual long hours hungry, with styrofoam cups of coffee (sickening after a while) to get me through. I had a hard time getting cabs to stop for me; they kept shooing me away. I wondered if I look poor; was it a woman alone? One cab driver looked worried lest I not pay him. I discovered Uber cab operates in Manhattan by cruising (the hectic pace of life seems to preclude people standing and waiting for a cab to come using a cell phone app map) because they were willing to stop when I found myself (a couple of times) far away from where I needed to be at a certain time. I did use the subway and got quite good at the IRT lines, could tell north from south and east from west after a while. I kept in contact with Net friends through email on my cell phone mostly.
Me at Highline park just before bidding adieu to Sophie and hurrying back to Penn Station to catch a train I remembered Jim again, moments here and there — on highline park the day of my mother’s funeral with Caroline and Yvette.
I was not so desperate as I have been traveling; after all NYC is the place I grew up in, know physically well (the Larchmont resembles the inside of my house in some ways). I still longed intensely to get home again — as if it is a substitute for him. I had left as soon as I could directly before Tuesday noon by taking a cab from the highline park to Penn Station — getting home to my cats by 4:30.
Both cats came to the door as I came in and have stayed close to me ever since. I missed them too, especially at night and in the early morning. Ian did sleep with Yvette, but Clarycat just was at a loss and kept to herself at night. She is sitting close to me now, nudging, putting her paw on me to pay attention and I am.
For tomorrow and on and off for four days I shall try to rest. I just about stumbled into the train home and my ankles now feel very weak. I am badly in need of rest, regular food and quiet.
Retro- and prospective: Last week had been hectic with my two final lectures and a fine (enjoyable) concert by the aging pianist of popular music, John Eaton, the way the OLLI people at AU ended their term (my class on the first 4 Poldark books went very well), and a luncheon for me with the OLLI people at Mason. This will give you an idea of what John Eaton was like — and the taste of people at AU:
Very pleasant, moving, touching, invigorating:
I shall distract and enjoy myself this summer teaching Framley Parsonage at the OLLI at Mason where I sense I will have a number of students who read The Warden, Barchester Towers, and Dr Thorne with me. In the fall I’ll do a partial repetition of my Poldark course this spring at AU: only 2 of the novels to fit the new series of 8 episodes for Ross Poldark and Demelza (and to fit in 7 weeks). At luncheon I was assured if I played a whole episode for a session and left the left over 40 minutes for discussion that would be fine, so while I’ll do some history, I will be comparing the two film adaptations, and perhaps write a proposal to do a paper on the Poldark films at the ASECS next spring in Pittsburg: For Fall 2015:
The Poldark World. In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of the twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark mini-series (1975-76, 2015). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, excellently researched historical novels dramatizing later 18th century politically radical movements, medicine and, mining, prisons, custom and law and smuggling. Written in the aftermath of World War Two, the books mirror issues of concern to that war-torn world, and the 1970 and 2015 adapt them to speak to issues of the 1970s and 2015. We will treat the novels and films as historical fiction, creating usable pasts across 70 years. Suggested editions: Ross Poldark, Demelza. NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/2010, or London & NY: PanMacmillan, 2008. 7 Sessions, beginning the week of Sept 28th and ending Nov 11th.
I should stress how much I continue to enjoy the Poldark books and want to read more of Winston Graham’s mystery fiction. Just now listening in my car to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones as read by Ken Zanziger (for AU in the fall) — I sort of enjoy it. And I’ll try seriously to think about colonialism in Trollope as reflected in his Australian or other travel books (including the fiction set in English new colonies) and write a paper deliverable inside twenty minutes.
Yvette and I will participate as we can in the summer activities of DC (Fringe Festival, this coming Saturday I will drive myself to Wolf Trap to watch and hear Garrison Keillor). I’ve got to go to City Hall as I discovered I may be eligible for tax relief on this house and property — that’ll be Thursday.
This will be my second summer without Jim, the third since he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I keep him with me in my heart.