Archive for June, 2015

Ian last month

Dear friends and readers,

I want to record a theft that I witnessed and put a stop to last week and, having seen it, I was on the alert for to stop again. I will also connect many people’s love for their pussycats with today’s world via Manglehorn’s Fanny (movie directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay Paul Logan, featuring Al Pacino).

For at least thee years now I’ve been suffering chilblains on the skin of my hands. This is the 18th century word for a condition where your blood doesn’t circulate efficiently and if you experience sudden heat or cold, your skin turns red, burns, feel itchy and no cream seems to be able to soothe it. I first noticed it in supermarkets in the summer where the air-conditioning is fierce. I now take with me when I go out a pair of thin wool gloves because I’ve learned the best way to deal with this condition is to not let it happen. It’s worse when it’s a matter of burning cold, but I’ve suffered from chilblains in sudden heat. I’ve had people look at me strangely, but I explain and tell them they should look at Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s hands. She is never without white cotton gloves. I don’t know where she gets her beautifully thin lacey pairs; I’ve not been able to duplicate it on the Net. The only thin gloves I can find are the sort used in hospitals, throw-away gloves that don’t warm you. And thin wool gloves are not everywhere either.

I’m now on at least my third pair of such gloves. I often lose gloves but in this case what happened was I found now and again when I went into my handbag, there’d be only one thin woollen glove. The other had gone missing. I blamed myself but now I feel that at least some of the time the culprit was my ginger tabby, Ian.

Last week I happened to turn around and witness Ian on the floor of my study patiently pulling at a piece of leather that forms a kind of tie to the zipper of my handbag. He had discovered what I know to be true: the leather stips facilitates pulling the zipper open. He pulled and pulled until he had the handbag about 1/3 of the way open. Then he put his paw in, rummaged about, and managed to lift one of my gloves. Next thing he has it in his mouth and is trotting away with it! I headed him off at the door, and plucked it back. I put the two gloves in a drawer in my bedroom bureau.

But I have to use them, and each time I go out remember to put the gloves there. I usually do because I also have to remember (nowadays) to take my cell phone (unplug it from the wire where it is continually being re-charged). But I’m not so good at remembering to take the gloves and cell phone out again.

Two days ago, there he was at it again. This time he had pulled the handbag opened, secured the glove and all I saw was him trotting away. Again I thwarted him. Tonight I know there were no gloves in the purse, but I saw him nonetheless with the purse one-third open fishing.

What to do? Put the handbag high up somewhere? he can climb high. Reason with him? He doesn’t speak English. About a year and a half ago my lower partial denture went missing from the supper table. I didn’t think I had dropped it. To replace it cost me $1600. Now I know for sure who took it. It’s probably behind one of my 43 bookcases.

He mews at me on and off during the day in an effort to get my attention, to say something to me, to get me to play with him, or hug, and I usually talk back before leaving the room. He knows I’m talking to him and will follow me about. He likes to climb very high on the bookshelves — believing I surmise he is out of sight. (When he was a kitten, he’d hide 2/3s of his body under a stool under the impression he was invisble that way — my little Snuffle-upagus). I have to take a broom to get him to come down and then while leaping he can break something if he hits it — like a glass. Nowadays when he comes into a room, he often murmurs and meows softly to let Yvette and I know he’s there. He will jump up on my lap and press his body stretched out against my chest, and put his head next to head, rubbing. He brushes up against my legs when I’m eating, tries to climb on my lap during breakfast and after supper if Yvette and I sit there talking. He will re-discover, as if it were new, an old spot; and then inhabit it obsessively for a few days — these past few days he re-found his grey cat pad in the front room and has been staying in it for hours.

Caroline remarked that if I didn’t have a video of him persisting at my purse, it was almost as if it didn’t happen. She has her cat on a video slowing opening a cat-proof container and taking out food to eat. Who says cats don’t execute plans? don’t remember the past? they do when it’s repetitive and people are creatures of routine.

Face-book by one of its algorithms sends me photos from years ago I put on face-book. This week it was one of ClaryCat that Jim took five years ago. She is two:


The photo was taken by Jim close-up and brought back memories. Chris Hedges’s is over-the-top and he is blaming technology when the way technology is used is a reflection of a deeper malaise of skewed values and social structures: The Lonely American.

The bowl of varied fruit, the different wines, the treats in tupperware, another world, a previous life over now. For Yvett not such a happy time that year — she had finished graduate school and seemed unable to get a job of any kind. I now love & understand Clarycat and Ian more than I did then. How close she came to me. How in character is that pose I now realize. In the mornings when I wake she is snuggled up to me; most of the day she’s not five feet from, often a lot closer. She never disappears for several hours the way Ian does. She does still hold on fiercely to her favorite toys, and will hiss and growl at him if he tries to take one away she is playing with at the time.

I believe for a long time afterward both were affected by Jim’s death. Upset by the long dying over 4 days and then when he so totally disappeared. When I take them to the Vet, it takes Ian several days to trust us again.

Sometimes I hear one or the other of them crying in another room — or they are making a complaint-like sound. I get very upset when I hear that and rush over to see what’s happening. If it’s nothing or they can’t stand that Yvette has her door closed, I tell them “don’t cry! I can’t bear it!”

When you allow yourself to get into an intimate relationship with your pet, you identify with other like animals. This Sunday the film club was disappointing: for the first time the Cinema Art Theater owner picked the film — it seemed. It is one he means to show in the theater anyway! I thought the idea was to show us films we would otherwise not see chosen by Gary Arnold, a Washington Post film critic-reviewer. On top of that it was awful: Manglehorn, well-acted by Al Pacino (now 75) but a senseless movie where we were to believe he behaved indifferently to everyone because he could not get over the loss of a girlfriend to whom he was writing letters for years; all sent back by the post-office. He is implicitly criticized for telling hard stories of death when he goes to group meetings. What is wrong with him is the feel of the other average people there. What they talk about we are not told. The ending was sudden reform (“redemptive”) because he begins to go out with Holly Hunter who is so dismayed by him. Her view is he needs to work at being a 12 before she will open again.

The reality was a depiction of a depressed man who does not understand himself; who is deeply disappointed by a shallow son who seems to spend his life pressuring others meanly in order to make money off of them; whose wife left him (we are not how that came about). It is another one of these films where we see such lonely people; a distraught man half-mad in a bank; a vile noisy brothel where in fact people are desperate, hideous neon lights, people dressed in the ugliest of ways; everyone alone with memory objects. The film-makers offered no understanding of the deeper human realities and misbegotten society they were visualizing and dramatizing.

The film features a cat called Fanny, a long hair white cat who I worried very anxiously about. This depiction was the best thing in the film. Manglehorn pays for an expensive operation to remove a key she swallows by mistake and seemed to have affection for her and nothing else. But I didn’t trust him; he’d leave the house without checking to see that she was not caught in a closet. We did see her hide in closets the way Ian does. He’d take her out on walks where there was no leash keeping her securely attached to him:


Or he’d put her on a branch near where he was sitting, or sit high on a branch with her in his arms, looking like they were going to tumble down.

I noticed this particular cat was picked because her face was probably seen by the people who made the film as grumpy (a factor in her genes probably). Since the unexamined acceptability of cat pictures and messages have flooded the Internet, it is more acceptable for even men to love cats, and this is the second recent movie where a man’s close relationship to a cat was the only element in the film that was believable or absorbing, the only comfort in sight. The cat’s affectionate nature has not been perverted by the false structures around her. She is oblivious to them because they are absurdly irrelevant to her basic (eat, sleep, play) and emotional needs.

Jim used to say that most social experience in the US nowadays is dysfunctional. The dismaying isolation seen in Manglehorn is depicted from an upper class older woman’s point of view in I’ll Dream of You, from a working class Milan man’s in L’Intrepido.

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

My two cats are my last companions before I go to sleep. In the morning Clarycat is there and soon she is nudging her head at me, licking me. Ian comes to greet me from elsewhere, somewhere else on the bed, in the short cat-tree near my bed (with a green pillow), from one of the cat pads around the house, from where Jim used to sit. He puts his paws out as hands to me. She does too.

50JimClaryASept2013 (2)
Jim and Ian, September 2013

Miss Drake


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Jackson at Ethel Lance’s funeral

… the progress of reformation is gradual and silent as the extension of evening shadows; we know that they were short at noon, are long at sun-set, but our senses were not able to discern their increase … Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization — Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

I know in this small blog (with 99 followers) I reach few people, but I do what I can. I just listened to Jesse Jackson’s response to this heinous murder of nine black people, I am prompted simply to copy and paste the words and link in the podcast, hoping more people will read and/or listen:

Click here for the podcast

Here is the transcript:

Outside the wake for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Amy Goodman interviews civil rights leader and South Carolina native Rev. Jesse Jackson, who says of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, “The question is, is this an embarrassment, or is it transformational?” Jackson argues efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol shouldn’t stop there. “If you still have less access to voting, it’s not a good deal. If the flag comes down and you still have racial profiling … it’s not a good deal,” Jackson says.


AMY GOODMAN: So many people have gathered in this Southern city. I wanted to turn now to Reverend Jesse Jackson. We saw him last night just as he had come out of the church paying last respects to Reverend Pinckney.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I think that the emotions are high. People seem to be rallying to each other in unusual ways. The question is, is this embarrassment, or is it transformational? If this had happened in the next state over, would there be the same amount of fervor? Black men, unarmed, are being shot down. We see in this state, for example, Brother Pinckney was fighting to deal with too much easy access to guns.

In this state, 350,000 people have no health insurance, and one quarter of the state is in poverty, and yet they reject $10 billion in Medicaid, with one again in the Supreme Court just today. Twenty-five percent of the population is African-American, and 75 percent of the prison population is African-American, and 20 percent of those do prison labor for 30 to 80 cents an hour. South Carolina state is on the verge of closing because of lack of state investment.
So it seems to me, if we’re going to deal with the issue of poverty and the issues that matter, it must be a transformational moment, not just a kind of embarrassment so we can keep a false face on good news and tourism.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on the Confederate flag?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: The Confederate flag must come down, or trade must go down. It must be a substantial boycott. And it just can’t apply to South Carolina. You know, the flag represents secession from the United States of America. It represents sedition, an attempt to violently overthrow the government; slavery as a form of economic development; states’ rights over federal rights; and suppression of the rights of women. It’s racist to the extent that it’s white supremacy, male supremacy, anti-black, anti-gender equality, anti-Semitic, because of religious supremacy. So this thing is a little deeper than just racism. It is anti-semitic, anti-women, anti-labor, a symbol of the secession and states’ rights.

And the Confederates won some significant concessions when the war was over. First concession it won was the right to maintain their dignity. None of them were indicted, all were pardoned, though they tried to overthrow the government. The second concession they won was the right to control—the right to get paid for the slaves they had to give up. The third concession was they got the right to control the votes. We got the vote in the 1870s, didn’t get it back ’til 1965. The right to control the rights of women. They got the right to control healthcare, education and labor and voting. So that the concessions that the Confederates won were substantial.

And to this day, there’s not a — just this state is 45 percent African-American, not one black-owned business in downtown Charleston. So I am not impressed with the “Kumbaya” moment unless there is some plan for financial investment and a budget alteration. If the flag comes down, but you still have less access to voting, it’s not a good deal. If the flag comes down and you still have high race profiling and blacks go to jail at a rate three times that of whites, it’s not a good deal. The question is, are the bankers out here—or will they increase bank lending, and a more effective use of pension funds? What will it be to become cretinous beyond this moment of passion?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, but as people came to Columbia to the state House to see Reverend Pinckney, the state senator laying in state, first African-American since Reconstruction to lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, they had to pass the Confederate flag. Do you think Nikki Haley, the governor, could have just taken it down like the governor of Alabama did?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I’m not sure she could do that technically. I think she’s taken a very public position, which I think is a very decent position that Nikki Haley has taken. It’s the right position. Now Senator Graham has taken that position, and Senator Scott has taken that position. Romney has taken that position. But we must not only change the Confederate flag. We must change the Confederate agenda. The agenda is anti-black, with white male supremacy. The agenda is anti-Semitic, with religious supremacy. The agenda is anti-female, will not pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women. We must have an agenda.

The Confederates need to rejoin America. They need to rejoin the Union. They must make a bigger decision than take down the flag. They must rejoin the Union of states. Three hundred and fifty thousand people without health insurance in this state, a quarter of the state in poverty, and they reject $10 billion in Medicaid on a nine-to-one ratio? That’s a low investment for high returns. There is so much [inaudible]. This is the same state where the congressman, Wilson, called the president a liar, and where the congressman went home and raised $2 million that weekend, where Susan Smith killed her two babies in the water up in Union, South Carolina. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Greenville, South Carolina.

She killed those two babies and said that a black man did it who didn’t even exist. So that we cannot settle for cheap rates when the matter is so serious.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re standing on Calhoun Street right in front of Mother Emanuel.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Another slaveholder, and it runs right into Meeting Street, where they sold our people. This place is dripping with a kind of indecency, a kind of barbarism. I mean, slavery, 246 years, was real. And the extension of slavery was even worse, in many ways, because at least slavemasters tried to protect the health of their slaves enough for them to work and reproduce. But after slavery, when slavocracy lost to democracy and kept the political and military power, 4,000 blacks were lynched, 163 lynched in this state without one indictment, often carried out by judges and police. And so the depth of resentment and meanness and toxicity here must not be played down.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on Dylann Roof being in the Charleston jail, as is Officer Michael Slager, who gunned down Walter Scott, the African-American man who was running away from him, and he shot him in the back, in North Charleston?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: One man shot in the back running, another nine more shot in the church across the street, so 10 blacks are dead, two white men in jail. And we do not know what the outcome will be, in a judicial sense. We know the result is in, that these men are dead, and we know who killed them. But the question of what will be done concretely beyond using these two guys as posters to represent the culture. The culture is much deeper and much wider than two men. Much deeper and much wider than two men.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson, standing in front of Mother Emanuel church as thousands pay their last respects to South Carolina state senator and the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Today, the funeral for Reverend Pinckney. Thousands are lining up to attend.


I voted for Jesse Jackson at every opportunity I was given. In 1984 he was running for President and supported by the Rainbow Coalition. In Alexandria City, we had caucuses for the primary and I actually went. (I don’t go to political-social stuff like this often. I was secretary to our tenants’ association on 200th street in the 1970s, but then I had a practical function; I took the notes.) I was enormously pregnant with Isobel (Yvette) and Laura Caroline sat with me.

There were three sections, one for Mondale (which was not clearly the largest, by which I mean to say it did not clearly have the most people), one for Gary Hart (Jim sat in that one) and a middling one which appeared to be larger than that for Hart and maybe as large as that for Mondale (I sat in that). Hart’s was all white, Mondale a mix, and this third one was mostly black people. I remember I was interviewed by someone from the Philadelphia Inquirer. This seems to me wrong but I understood she was interviewing me because I was a rare white person there. I remember feeling intimidated lest I say something the black people around me didn’t like. But when I finished answering her questions, all the people around me were so pleased, they shook my hand, one gave Laura Caroline a sign of some sort.

There was much political maneuvering and somehow Mondale had it. So I remember I went to sit in the back as the formations of people became two caucuses.

Another time there was some state-wide primary and I voted for Jackson and he won. Alexandria City went for him. Whatever that primary was for, there was never another one held.

I remember in 1984 Jackson giving an interview on TV and someone asking him, if he regarded the white people who voted for him as “really white.” What an astonishing question. Jackson replied, “they white! they really white.” I am really white.

What a better world the whole earth would be had in 1972 McGovern won (whom I voted for, sent money to, signed voters up to vote for in NYC) or in 1984 had Jackson won.

Miss Drake

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Dear friends and readers,

Hartnett says a strange thing: in the last part of my life, ghost accumulate. Since 1989, I have lived with one quiescent, and now I live with a second as part of my heart’s blood.

A poem by David Hartnett

In the Winter Valley

At dusk in the winter valley the train went slow;
The carriage felt empty enough for apparitions,
His parents’ perhaps who died a year ago-
    Nothing happened.
On either side of the railway, ranked and stiff,
Espaliered pears paraded, frozen snow
Clotting their tiered branches. Down a far cliff
    Cascades curtained.
In the second half of life there are no ghosts,
The world is vast and tired and someone else’s.
Coldly the pear trees bloomed on their black posts.
    The train quickened.

near Sian

These flowers for the nine African-American families and friends who lost a beloved — and who are not by any means all who have been affected forevermore by social murder this week.

Reddish Table and Window (1999) — (Gloria Munoz, b. 1949)

As I traveled to and fro I listened to Simon Slater’s wonderful reading of Wolf Hall (he goes tenaciously into the mind of anyone listening for real): as with Hilary Mantel’s other novels she presents centrally a character deeply grief-stricken at the death of someone cared for: Thomas Cromwell; he loses wife, daughters, Wolsey. Again and again the experience is presented as a ghost or ghostly presence come to be with Cromwell – in his dreams, as he stands in shadows and cries, passing memories other characters arouse. In her Black Book this is very strong, but it’s equally present in Thomas Cromwell’s mind: sometimes he’s comforted, sometimes the anguish is too sharp.

This is an aspect of her fiction which has been ignored in the talk about her books as well as the film adaptation; in her Black Book, in her memoir she fought to “give up her ghosts,” in her historical fiction she allows such memories to be guiding spirits of the central presence. She shows how the living left — her hero — becomes another person over time and experience as the dead intertwine inside, memories make them behave certain ways and they find solace, other people to connect to, be with all in this continuum.

Cat circa 1904-8 Gwen John 1876-1939 Purchased 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05154
Gwen John (1876-1939), remembering her beloved cat-companion, Edgar Quintet

I am glad for GLBT people who can marry who they love now. See my The US Supreme Court did three good things this week!

Scotus blog: same-sex marriage

On preventing discrimination that is hard to prove: disparate impact;

On Obamacare: keeping the benefits available to millions of health care insurance (such as the system is, it’s the system we must change to a single payer like medicare)


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My father, I thought at first 1944, when he was age 23 (but it may be him at age 17 in 1938). My grandmother named him Vladimir Stanislaus, but the nurses wrote down William John. He spoke only Polish until age 6 when he started to NYC public schools. He was a great reader and some of my happiest memories are of him reading aloud to me — the night he read RLS ‘s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night” remains with me.

There was a time in our middle years (he in his 50s to 60s, me in my 30s to 40s) when he and I would phone one another once a week and talk for an hour. I remember how monthly faithfully for years he’d send WBAI in NYC $200! he must have heard Amy Goodman when she did Pacifica Radio. He would have eagerly followed Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

He read British novels (and re-introduced me to Trollope by giving me a copy of The Vicar of Bullhampton in 1988), but though he read Sayer’s novels (sand liked Nine Tailors and Five Red Herrings), he disliked the snobbery and to him effete quality of her conception of Lord Peter, so might not have been keen on my pseudonym of

Miss Sylvia Drake (from Gaudy Night).

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Eight of the nine people destroyed, their lives taken from them

Dear friends and readers,

I suppose everyone who comes here to read this blog has at least heard of the latest slaughter in the US of a group of people, this time (once again) of African-Americans, 9, again as in so many of these repeated massacres, by a young white male who we are told is mentally ill. Dylan Roof was welcomed into a black church in South Caroline, sat with a group of black people studying the Bible together; at the end of the hour, he pulled out a gun and rounds of ammunition and murdered them all, stopping to reload, gloating, telling them he would let one live so they could tell what happened. He said he would kill himself. He did not.

It’s admitted he is a racist and many US people who come forward to speak in the media are eager to separate themselves from him, put him away, inflict the death penalty on him. Here is a brief description:

Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof was detained Thursday morning during a traffic stop in North Carolina. A friend of Roof’s said he wanted to start a new civil war. In a photo posted on Facebook, Dylann Roof is seen wearing a black jacket that prominently features the flags of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority. Another photo appears to show Roof posing in front of a car with a front plate that reads “Confederate States of America.”

Sylvia Johnson: “I spoke with one of the survivors, and she said that he had reloaded five different times. And her son was trying to talk him out of doing that act of killing people. And he just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’”

He is not an aberration; he is in the American grain, a direct product of the culture; the US aggressive colonialist wars from mid-century on are an extrapolation.

Since the spread of cell phones and ipads which permit people to film what is going on around them, we know that for an indeterminate number of years now on average two black people have been murdered every week each year by police, often beaten severely (remember the then rare video of Rodney King beaten so badly by the LAPD?). The bringing forth of videos with undeniable pictures has brought before us all sorts of realities of life. We learn about the victims and discover just about all the police officers are let off with impunity, and that this is something they expect to happen and is part of the training that leads them to shoot black people on the US streets and disabled people if you call them to your house (do not!) with deadly weapons and not worry about any consequences to themselves.

It was in Charleston that Walter Scott was gunned down by a police officer because in Scott’s terror he ran away.

Last night I learned more African-American history, the sort of knowledge not included in US schools. The continual violence, the hysteria of gun power led to the assassination of Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta Williams King shot down while playing an organ in a church; this time the assassin was a young black man, six years after the murder of her son.

On the church in which this slaughter occurred you can listen to an informative video on DemocracyNow.org, in interview of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1787 and the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. Reverend Tyler recently interviewed Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the Charleston shooting, as part of a documentary on the AME movement in South Carolina.

If you don’t want to spend the time, listening and watching, here are a few items you would learn:

The church attacked in the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre that left nine people dead is home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” the Emanuel AME Church was burned in the 1820s during a slave rebellion and has stood at its present location since 1872 … other Emanuel, like Mother Bethel, like Bethel AME in Baltimore, like Mother Zion, for the AME Zion Church in New York City, all of these congregations began the late 1700s, early 1800s as a result of what became known as segregated pews. The Methodist movement in America initially was very welcoming and open to African-American worshipers. It was not unusual to see enslaved people preaching …

they turned their back on their abolitionist roots and decided, in order to keep and appease slaveholding Methodist members who were very wealthy, that they would allow blacks to become segregated in worship. As a result, these persons, like Richard Allen and Morris Brown, led walkouts. And they began churches, sometimes without even a building to worship in. And so was the story of Mother Emanuel.

By the 1820s, Denmark Vesey, who was a class leader in the AME Church, a member of Morris Brown’s church, decided to lead a slave insurrection in Charleston, and he took advantage of the fact that having your own building prevented whites from coming in and overhearing you. And as a result of him using the buildings in such a way, when the plot was discovered and when he was hanged along with co-conspirators, the churches were destroyed, and the AME Church was banned. But as Reverend Pinckney so well says, the church didn’t disappear, it just went underground. And it re-emerged, for everyone to see, at the end of the Civil War …

When Morris Brown’s church was burned down, he was initially accused of being one of the co-conspirators. When his name was cleared and it was clear he had no involvement, he didn’t want to just stay waiting around, just in case they tried to try him, you know, or bring him up on charges again, so Morris Brown left Charleston, moved to Philadelphia and then began to work with Bishop Richard Allen. But many others took that same trek—William Catto, Octavius Catto’s father; Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, who used to teach enslaved people and free blacks in the 1830s, who 10 years after that event, because of the Nat Turner insurrection and laws that then became repressive throughout the South, also found himself leaving and ending up in Philadelphia. So there was this long-established relationship where the free black community in Charleston and the free black community in Philadelphia had this constant interchange

There is apparently nothing that can stir US people to vote against their representatives when these representatives refuse to enact any gun control legislation. It is not true that the millions of guns out there cannot be stymied. Bullets decay and if today a law was enacted to control the sale of bullets within a few years, these guns couldn’t kill. We can still stop the sale of ammunition. Right now. It would be effective.

See David Remnick in the New Yorker on Charleston and the Age of Obama.  Across the day all flats in the capitol of South Carolina were lowered to half mast, except the confederate one. That remained flying high.

There is such a thing as a national identity, and while I tend to believe Bernard Anderson that these amalgams are imagined constructs, there is too much likeness across people in a culture to dismiss the notion of general encouraged accepted behavior. A group of us on my Women Writers list-serv at Yahoo have been talking about national identities. National identities as projected often are not pleasant things, group identities the psyche out there in large common denominator social life. The US national is racist at its core and increasingly militarist — the word American itself shows hubris as it’s just one country in the western hemisphere; there are two major languages, Spanish and English. Several others are spoken by a large group of people: French, Portuguese, some German; there are still some Indian languages. A review of the Whitney exhibit by Ingrid Rowlandson in the NYRB (which I didn’t get to see as I came on the day of the week the museum is closed) talked of the swagger of the pictures across the 20th century: she was glad to note in this word that the US from the opening of the 20th century knew it was a fully formed and dominating culture (hardly a woman mentioned). We are told individualism is central; is it?

While Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans (mid-19th century travel book) is an angry book, hard satire, often egotistic, snobbish, unfair, she did identify early on that an intense religious emotionalism is central to the culture. I’d add violence near the surface, a strongly violent culture from its outset (we went to war to take Canada as one of our first ventures). On face-book I regularly see people put photos of themselves teaching their children to shoot guns. Face-book is a place where people put up messages about what they are proud of: I’ve heard people call it happy pictures (see how happy I am), as boasting pictures (“see what I did and am doing” — how lucky I am, how privileged, what I have rightly gained), values and norms it is assumed all will be cheered to see.

Think about it. Two years in Boston a central cultural event most Bostonians are so proud of, and two Muslim-Americans come in and blow up bombs with bullets in barrels, destroying many people (killing, maiming) ruining the event, the city is then under a hysterical curfew while a manhunt goes on by police armed as if this were a central war-site; they gun down one of them. Before that a kindergarten where the upper class send their children in Connecticut subject to a massacre. Before that one of these mass outdoor moviehouses in the western US showing a violent action-adventure movie to thousands — a massacre by a weapon no one would use for hunting, bought by mail-order. Now the governor of South Carolina stands in front of an audience, begins to cry, another powerful white figure shakes as he tells what has happened, a church central to what some South Carolinians are proud of, is desecrated, bloody disfigured hideous corpses all over its basement floor.

And nothing done. No pressure on lawmakers (except locally here and there) to put a stop to these events. No law makers stepping up to do the right thing as an effective leader either.

Bernie Sanders whose numbers are going up, posted this to the Net just a couple of hours ago:


Miss Drake

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Abram Louis Buvelot (1814-88), Australian landscape

We’ll meet nae mair at sunset, when the weary day is dune,
Nor wander hame thegither, by the lee licht 0′ the mune!
I’ll hear your step nae longer amang the dewy corn,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my bonniest, either at eve or morn.

The yellow broom is waving, abune the sunny brae,
And the rowan berries dancing, where the sparkling waters play
Tho’ a’ is bright and bonnie, it’s an eerie place to me,
For we’ll meet nae mair, my dearest, either by burn or tree.

Far up into the wild hills, there’s a kirkyard auld and still,
Where the frosts lie ilka morning, and the mists hang low and chill
And there ye sleep in silence, while I wander here my lane,
Till we meet ance mair in Heaven, never to part again.
— Alicia Anne Spottiswoode (Lady John Scott, 1810-1900), from An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, ed. Catherine Kerrigan, where I found Anne Hunter, Anne Grant, Kathleen Raine …

Dear friends and readers,

One way or another immersed in Scotland or Australia since I last wrote — all imagined to be sure.

So it’s been an eventful week here in my house. Last week a series of incidents and this week the aftermath in test diagnoses and symptoms suggests I’m not going to make “old bones” (as my father would have said) after all. I need not be haunted by what’s to come, about being a burden to others or losing my independence, need not be sure to have enough for 25 years from now. I feel a certain relief at this. Less stress.

Among other conditions, I now have a weak right arm, so license to indulge myself. Yesterday there arrived two women from Maid Brigade who (I paid to) spend 5 hours here cleaning my house. It’s cleaner than I ever remember it. I can now conceive of having a guest. I naturalmente wish Jim were here to see it. I’m going to have them come to do their thing twice a month from now on. Our 26 year-old air-conditioning system and machine from 1989 has been pronounced by a man from Michael and Sons to be dying an honorable death. Whether true or no, it certainly makes worrying whirring and wasp-like sounds so on Friday will arrive a couple of men to install a new system.


For two nights I watched episodes of a Starz mini-series called Outlander; women’s romance history-fantasy, Scottish, based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, it’s updated Daphne DuMaurier; a sort of cross between DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill where the narrator-hero crosses several times between southwest England in the 1950s and the 13th century and and the heroine’s thrill-romances of Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and A King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine crippled in a wheelchair, in my judgement her best) and Rebecca, all interwoven.

OutlanderSamHeughanJamie FraserCaitriona BalfeClaire Randall

The Outlander resembles the new (2015) Poldark in its grimness, brutal violence, grimyness, the POV from below, the peasants and outlaws, not the elegant and fringe people of the older (1975) Poldark, Oneddin Line. DuMaurier’s Hungry Hill, one source, an enfeebled book because the narrator is one of these unconvincing males — a sort of neuter figure (rather like the later George Sand when vilification drove her from her Indianas, Valentines and Lelias). By keeping the central consciousness a woman’s, the narrator a heroine, Gabaldon kept all the intense ambiguity about a woman’s helplessness in pre-19th century eras against males, who then in reaction to the heroine manifest unashamed or shall I say unhidden attitudes towards her sexuality (the film is written, directed and produced mostly by men): upon meeting Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) the film’s 18th century men, British soldiers and aristocrats, Irish thugs and clansmen alike promptly think her or ask if she is a whore because she is alone.

As our story begins, Claire Randall (Catrionia Balfe) has been a nurse in WW2 and presided over and helped in horrifying operations, and the war now over, she and her her academic archaeologist husband, Frank (set for a professorship in Oxford), meet again after a near 5 year absence. They visit Scotland for its ruins, look at neolithic sites. Left to herself one day she melts into history. Her first encounter is her husband’s relative (mentioned by him), a snarling redcoat, Jonathan (Black Jack) Randall (Tobias Menzies plays both parts), and finds herself shot at, is taken up, rescued (or herself takes up, saves), the wounded Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and soon she is riding in front of him (anticipating Turner and Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza). The band comes to a stone castle that she and her 20th century husband explored now become fully inhabitated. I thought I was back with Frank Yerby’s The Border Lord, Book-of-the-Month club special,also from the 1950s.

It’s the voice-over that I found especially compelling, Catrionia Balfe’s voice perfect for Rebecca. A sophisticated use of old-fashioned realism smashed together with fantasy gothic and superb cinematography, a richly colored Scotland complete, with the themed music part minor key bagpipes, make for an undercurrent of thrill.


Incomparably superior was Nick Cave and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, filmed on location (a feat in itself), featuring a stellar cast and performances (as they say) by Ray Winstone as the British police officer determined to bring civilization to the Australian outback, which means not only keeping a kind of word with bushrangers (murderously violent whites, some ex-convicts transported, treated horribly themselves), but moderating the savage behaviors of the settlers and getting alone with the aborigines he needs to help him and his (intransigent) wife.

The British flogging one of the Burns brothers

It’s such a worthwhile film, it demands study and a paper rather than a blog. Emily Watson was the English wife, Martha, determined to keep up elegant manners and customs, even Christmas complete with turkey dinner and a transposed Dorsetshire garden in the searing heat of a desert. I bond with her in every movie she’s in, her husband all in all to her, or why is she there?


Settler colonialism (interwoven are old photos of aborigines chained by the necks) is fully dramatized. John Hurt the wandering figure, belonging nowhere anymore. Danny Huston, the Burns brother:

Arthur Burns (Danny Huston)
Danny Huston as one of the Burns brothers

Trollope would have understood it.

I watched because there are no film adaptations for Trollope’s colonialist writing which I’ve been reading for several weeks now. Cave and Hillcoat’s realization and themes, Watson’s acting against Winstone’s will help me (I hope) with my paper. Having finished reading John Caldigate, “Catherine Carmichael, or Three Years Running,” Harry Heathcote, to say nothing of the ginormous Australia and New Zealand (I even found myself companionable with his Twenty Letters from Liverpool, a tireless traveller indeed was Mr Trollope), and gone over some of the stories I read last fall with a class (especially “Aaron Trowe” and “Returning Home”), and some very good recent post-colonialist recent essays on Trollope, I’m on track for a paper for the coming Trollope conference: “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Settler Colonialism.” I should make room for a couple of Mann Booker books in this vein, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, to say nothing of Australian heroine’s texts (by Kate Grenville, 1890s new woman author, Barbara Baynton), and Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost Trollope goes to Sri Lanka too — the man left nothing in his path out. I want to take out the time to read John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier, on Trollope’s Anglo-Irish writing, but an abstract is due by the 30th of this month.


I seem not to be able to fit in returning to studying French and trying to speak it (for the sake of my new French friend, Sophie), much less Italian, which I’m drawn to just now by a book we’re reading and writing about on Trollope19thCStudies: Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian reminds me of how rich this literature is. I’m getting into a new 18th century women writer for me, Anne Grant (Scotswoman), who writes an anthropological (not to say colonialist) Memoirs of an American Lady, and not given up on my Tudor matter either: I’m up to Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn, and listening to a brilliantly read Wolf Hall unabridged (Simon Slater).

Be not mistaken, gentle reader, it’s my second summer without Jim and I am now literally feeling it in my heart, but I feel more at peace. Maybe it will fall to me to sell or somehow or other de-access our whole library to a reputable place where the books will be appreciated and eventually find their way to other readers who value them.

I take courage because the women’s poetry I read shows me that my case is central to a lot of women’s poetry. It was Beatrice Didier’s L’Ecriture-Femme I told Sophie about: a chapter in which Didier cover Raine’s translations of Virginia Woolf. What if people paid attention to what is to be learned from the parallels between Raine and Woolf?

This too is an experience of the soul
The dismembered world that once was the whole god
Whose unbroken fragments now lie dead.
The passing of reality itself is real.

Gathering under my black cloak the remnants of life
That lie dishonoured among people and places
I search the twofold desert of my solitude,
The outward perished world, and the barren mind.

Once he was present, numinous, in the house of the world,
Wearing day like a garment, his beauty manifest
In corn and man as he journeyed down the fertile river.
With love he filled my distances of night …

I trace the contour of his hand fading upon a cloud,
And this his blood flows from a dying soldier’s wound,
In broken fields his body is scattered and his limbs lie
Spreadeagled like wrecked fuselage in the sand …

Oh in the kitchen-midden of my dreams
Turning over the potsherds of past days
Shall I uncover his loved desecrated face?
Are the unfathomed depths of sleep his grave? …
— Kathleen Raine, in An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets

Ian, photo taken by Caroline in the past couple of weeks

This morning (6/18) I can report I slept better last night than I have done since I went to NYC.

Miss Drake

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Me with friends this a week and a half ago — in DC, in a restaurant near Kramerbooks

Yvette two weekends ago

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did a diary entry here, and what I most want to tell about are how two movies I’ll See You in my Dreams and L’Intrepido, became interwoven with my thoughts about lives lived in our contemporary world, their aporias, one of which is mine and others not much different from mine after all that I seem to be observing.


Blythe Danner as the often wry Carol

I’ll See you in My Dreams, written directed and produced by Brett Haley, the writing with March Basch, the producing with Rebecca Green, is a touching slow-paced, for the most part naturalistically done and convincing portrait of Carol (Blythe Danner), a woman in her late 50s to early 60s who lives alone. As the movie opens, we see her living companionably close with a beloved dog, Hazel; we watch her move through her day from getting up, eating breakfast, playing bridge and going out with women friends in a retirement community near-by, shopping; and having lunch or supper or in bed late at night watching TV or reading, with Hazel always by her side. As is so common in movies made for middle class mainstream audiences no one has a serious problem with money in the movie (no one at risk of starvation, homelessness); Carol herself as heroine lives in a splendid house. Her dog, though, is ailing and dies; we watch her watch him “put out” and then grieve by his side.

With her friends at the supermarket

It emerges that she is a widow of 20 years (it may she is older than she seems as the pictures of her with the husband on her mantelpiece show a woman in her later 30s at least, or 40s), with a daughter (later 20s, early 30s) who lives at a considerable distance from Carol. We get to know her friends; they do not seem lonely but they seek companionship continually. Over the course of the movie Carol becomes friends with Lloyd (Martin Starr) a much younger man who comes to her apartment complex to clean her pool; he lives with his mother (perhaps he has a money problem), does not know what to do with his life; there are no good jobs; he wants to be song-writer and sing but when he and she go to a club where amateurs can get up and sing we find he is bad; she is very good. She sang when much younger with a previous husband or partner. One of his songs though is I’ll See you in My Dreams which gradually becomes the non-sourced background music of the film.

She is urged by her friends to go to a “speed date” meeting (awful, just like men on Match.com), a kind of vast room where men and women sit across a table from one another for five mintutes, get 30 seconds to exchange phone numbers and then must move on. Awful: one man insisted on how he was interested in sex; another asked her interests, another was all upbeat. My friend, Vivian, said this was real; she had gone to such a “meet-up.” One night she and her friends smoke medical marijuana and are embarrassed and frightened when stopped by a police officer. The feel of real life is effective.

Bill (Sam Elliot) who never lights that cigar

The central motivating incident of the movie is Carol meets Bill, an older man who she is attracted to and he her. They begin an affair, have a beautiful day on his boat, and within a couple of days — while her daughter is visiting her — a phone call to her, tells her he is in hospital. She rushes there but cannot get entrance (not a close relative), but through a stratagem learns sudden death took him. It’s a moment of intense grief, far stronger than she’s manifested thus far, for him (who was alone he said, not married any longer, no relatives — he had begun to ask her to marry him). She returns to the dock where his boat still is


Some transformation within her goes on; and she talks deeply with her daughter over photos of them much younger; Lloyd returns and they talk of his non-future, clearly though as her friend still. The older self-deprecating woman with a young male friend is a repeated trope from women’s novels.

The ending is her showing up at an animal adoption fair and coming upon a 12 year old dog who looks all forlorn, and adopting him. When the screen closes we see her in her car with the dog at her side, a flashback to her house where we see the dog bowl and toys waiting. She is making the effort again, connecting.

The pace is natural, the dialogue believable, the mood is on the whole one of qualified hope, sturdy going on, sweet at times. What I especially liked was it appeared to go nowhere. The movie action often contradicted or prove wrong typical advice Carol is given (she should immediately “get another dog”).

Of course I utterly bonded with Carol — as did my friend, Vivian, who did not at all nod off or fall asleep (which she sometimes does when she comes to the kind of movie I like best to see).



L’Intrepido did not get as postive reviews apparently because it did not come up to Amelio’s other masterpieces in the estimation of film critics. I saw it as the first of this summer’s once-a-month Sunday morning movies introduced by the Washington Post film critic, Gary Arnold. He told us a great deal about the man’s live and career and afterwards there were quit a number of intelligent comments made by the audience members about the film.

It is also about someone living alone, also older, but a man, and living in 21st century Milan. The translation of “lonely hero” is not literally accurate: the title emphasizes the man’s courage, his intrepidness. The film was said to mirror the job situation in Italy, as desperate as our own and many another society where “austerity” measures have cut into the fabric of social services (to allow the wealthy to pay few taxes) and laws have allowed companies to take their businesses to where they can pay very low wages and enforce poor conditions on the workers. So our hero, Antonio Pane (the second word means bread) survives by hiring himself to a man who provides “filler” occupations to people who come to him; he gets the salary and pays them — when he pleases. Antonio has a son who seems to be doing fine at first: at university, a musician, but as he tells his father, it is one thing to do splendidly in school, it is quite another to succeed outside in the marketplace world. The son seems to be someone making money and being kind to his father; it is a hard relationship as they live apart, the son sees the father as a failure who is in need of basic things like socks, daily money. The family is broken up. Antonio’s wife is said to now dislike him, be estranged from him. It emerges thought that that the son is subject to panic attacks, cannot compromise to produce goddawful loud poor music, and has a hard time finding a place in a orchestra. Antonio’s wife long ago left him for a man who seems to be making a lot of money producing fine goods: when he finds Antonio a job, though, it’s a false business, a pretend shoe-store which is a front for drug or other illicit traffic. Gary Arnold said Amelio’s father had early on deserted him and his mother.

This is a world where people are disconnected much more badly than Carol’s world. Again and again in passing he makes conversation, starts relationships and they are broken off because he does not return to the job the next day or consecutive days. He lives alone in a small flat — as it seems many do in Milan. The film needs a stronger fantasy element to give us the required uplift — it is an art film but is made to reach people. In the second half of the film Antonio takes increasingly harder jobs; when his son collapses, he takes over and plays a saxophone in his son’s place until his son gets the strength to come on stage and we see in the son a forlorn Christ-figure, the next generation:


Instead of silent, downtrodden, desperate, he becomes a man determined to do no harm and help others. His life is meaningful. He will not take a job delivering a boy to a man who is said to be his father and is not. He finds comfort in working in a library among books.

Among those he meets and passes conversation and time with in the later part of the film are two women much younger than himself, one taking a competitive exam where he is taking one. He allows her to see his answers. Of course neither of them gets any response back from the testers – nor the hundreds of other people taking these tests. The other is doing hard menial work of the same filler kind and he takes her out to lunch. There is a parallel of Carol and Lloyd here. The girl seems to confide in him, but she suddenly goes wild and hastily flees him. The next thing we hear she has killed herself. but he has tried. When last seen he is walking on some high bridge looking cheerful; he turns round to smile at us, content with his lot.

The profound inhumanity structured into the way our economic relationships are conducted, family distancing, our autonomous, anonymous cutural worlds, the theme of this movie, is sidelined, and we end up in a kind of Voltaire’s Candide (without the overt violent wars), where survival means hope. One of the audience members mentioned Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times but the movie is meant to be much darker than that.

For me the question at the core of both films is how do people endure it? It being life. The answer is not quite that they find someone to love for real who loves them as these relationships support but do not sustain continually and it’s that that’s needed.


This past week I became a lady who lunched: I went out three times to lunch or coffee with someone and one night to dinner. For example, this past Wednesday I met with two women who were in my Barsetshire class this spring at the Olive Garden. We had unlimited soup and salad and stayed talking for more than an hour and a half. On another day it was Noodles and Company, pasta and wine, and afterwards I helped a friend try to conquer the kind of questions GREs pose for those wanting to be accepted into a graduate program. Sophie took some more photos, one of which captured me in the midst of my library at an angle that caught a sense of the books in my house much more accurately than usual: A Library: A House of Memories.

I found four Wolf Trap shows to go to: with my neighbor across the street we’ll go twice, John Foggerty one June night in 2 weeks and the Piano Guys another August one, and take picnic suppers; with Yvette to the Barns at Wolf Trap for Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and a 20th century opera by John Corigliano, Ghosts of Versailles (characters include Marie Antoinette) on two Sundays; maybe we’ll take picnic lunches. I took my car in to be fixed, a long day where this friendly mechanic (I’ve gone to before) showed me what was going in with the car when it was hoisted up. I went far less to Dance Fusion and water-aerobics than I thought I would: I couldn’t find time and read for my projects too — though I did go twice and the classes were crowded. I’ve given up on core: too hard for me and not any fun.

Yesterday part of our day Yvette and I put our cats through the ordeal of going to the Vet. We had outwitted them by keeping the carriers hidden until the last five minutes and cornering them in my room where there is no place to hide. The minute Ian saw the carriers he emitted cawing crying sounds, which he kept up all the way there, at times while there and all the way home. Clarycat squeezed down in her carrier and was not eager to come out. We had been made to wait a long time — there were some very sad looking animals there as well as one poorly dressed older woman in bad health. So the Vet made up for this by an extra careful visit, looking over them, and for the first time I witnessed nail clipping: well, Clarycat growled fiercely while it was happening. When we got home, she growled warningly at Ian to keep away; he remained hidden for two hours. It has taken over 14 hours for them to behave more tranquilly again.

Does she not look a little grim?

Three times now after going to bed between 12 and 1, I’ve woken after 8 am in the morning. That’s a powerful lot of sleep for me. It means I’ve been super-tired from the effort of living.

So I asked myself, How do people endure this, meaning life? Yesterday it came to me that what I need as a widow is peace of mind, quiet within me to keep at bay the aporias. I no longer have a beloved and cannot replace him. Nor will daily structures and routines (I used to feel I so relied on), and goals (to give meaning) replace a loving companion. Is it for Carol has her dog, Antonio going out every day (he puts it this way)? My cats? Carol is lucky to have those friends, her money, her cherished memories; Antonio his even fraught relationship with his son and a wife who does not forget some obligation. I have some friends, two daughters cats, my memories, books, enough money, but I find it hard to realize his death; it sinks in deeper and deeper. One basis for me could be contentment within the environment Jim and I made together, this world of my house and books, with the car and enough money to take me here and there. How does one achieve peace of mind? Accept what is and don’t yearn for what cannot be.

My books for pleasure and interest are of the type Jim would have appreciated: Jenny Uglow’s In these Times: Living in Britain Through the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815; Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall (a masterpiece of the type of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, only deeply liberal, pro-Risorgimento, set 1790s to 1850s), and I hope to begin soon the suffragette Constance Lytton’s Prisons and Prisoners (a memoir). I’m listening to Simon Slater read aloud all of Mantel’s very great Wolf Hall. All of them I would have talked of to him.

Miss Drake

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