Archive for August, 2015

Ian and Clarycat around 2 pm this afternoon in my workroom — they were glad I finished

Dear friends and readers,

How’s that for a header? If I take into account all that went into this paper, I began in 2004 shortly after I met an editor of an Australian literary periodical at a session about Victorian literature at an MLA conference. He recognized me (how I can’t say), told me he much admired the sections of my Trollope on the Net about Trollope and Ireland and urged me to try to write about Anthony Trollope and Australia from the same unconventional or at that point rarely done point of view. He would help navigate the paper for me if I could produce it within a year or so.

I even came up with a definition of post-modern and post-colonial and lest anyone ask me (I am very bad on my feet by which I mean miserable at spontaneous talk in such sessions) so I put it in the notes:

Post-modern may be defined as a set of ideas or practices that reject conventional mainstream values as having much effect on what happens in the world or what people do; that also eschew conventional means of presenting stories and films, any kind of art. An important facet is a questioning, sometimes disavowal of Enlightenment assertions about what is progress and the rightness of European ideas of civilization.

Post-colonial nowadays is used in a different sense from its original one: to identify a period where the colonialist powers were said to be divesting themselves of colonial state governments and looking out for the interests of the people in these previous colonies. Now that it is clear colonialism or imperialism are still dominating agendas across the globe, the term refers to an attitude of mind that analyzes and criticizes the way powerful imperialist gov’ts control and exploit countries they dominate through capitalist, militarist and nationalistic mechanisms (apparatuses?).

I mention post-feminist heroines towards paper’s end, but have no definition as yet.

Contemplating Susan LaMonte, Inside Out — if you want to parse this, don’t omit her pink umbrella and blonde ponytail


I worked for well over a year, and found while I loved the reading about travel and travel literature and colonialiast stories (“30 years in the Bush” anyone?) and Australia, I could come up with no thesis. “I hadn’t been to Australia,” I kept telling myself. “I probably ought to go to New Zealand too.” I broached this problem to Jim. Reminded him of a 4 part one hour each program on Australia hosted by Robert Hughes we both enjoyed. “13 hour flight!” said he. “Vast deserts. The price. Do you realize how far away from Australia New Zealand is? And upside down too,” and other cogent objections. I gave it up.

Years later (or “Fast forward to”), reading books in order to review a post-colonialist study I suddenly understood how I could write a paper on this topic without having traveled to the Antipodes: I learned about what post-colonialist studies were, read some and understood at last what was meant by the term. Also how women traveler writers and colonialists fit in.

So, still later (hit the arrow again), when it was suggested to me I come to the coming Trollope conference, I went right back to those folders thick with notes and worked up drafts on all sorts of topics, and postings with the people then on Trollope and his Contemporaries at Yahoo on Trollope’s Australian novels, travel books, John Caldigate, &c&c. I spent much of two months this summer reading again, finding new critical works (some too filled with jargon for me to profit much from) and rereading, watching films, looking at pictures too.

Photographed at the Torpedo Factory: Jacqueline Elwell, watercolor of Serengeti (South Africa — Trollope went there too and wrote an enormous book)

Then wrote and rewrote and rewrote and revised, and cut and now have a 19 minute readable talk. I write to record this.

Also (or as much) to say since Jim died how empty I feel each time I’ve finished a paper. I used to have a sense of accomplishment, as having done something worth while. Because he was here and regarded it so. Now I just feel sad that this is done, and I have to find something else to do.

He knew all about this one as of 2 summers ago. He wanted me to go to Belgium, wanted to come with me somehow. I remember him thinking, How can I do it? before he had that hideous operation which he did not realize would so demolish him. After it was over, before the cancer spread, he did not speak of traveling much any more.


I keep taking on papers (one I’ve promised on two women Scots poets, later 19th century, another proposal on film aaptations), reviews (book on Chardin) and going to conferences, but less and less as time goes on of the papers (as the old life and self wind down), but and conferences get no easier, yet can’t do without this kind of routine (teaching provides an illusion I can seen through but can’t not do), a few friends, writing on the Net, self-invented projects about films, women artists, mini-series and the like.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
paces from day to day,
as time takes us to dusty death
Jim’s candle is out,
he’s heard no more, and so now
for me it’s a tale told by me
signifying not very much

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »


O tempera! o mores! This long-running children’s show originally meant for children without access to all those things the children of parents who can afford HBO have in abundance: books, presences of loving people either there most of the time or enough, and thus security and individual education given naturally; imbibed manners for later on when nursery schools and kindergarten arrive.

We are told that the show will air on PBS nine months later. A long wait, and arriving stigmatized. I’m sure the rationale is the need of money to fund the station. As the original goals of the station (alternatives for commercial broadcast TV) have gone under somewhat, as Masterpiece Theater and other drama shows have been dumbed down, monitored by proxy as the BBC now hires private companies to do their shows, so goes this children’s program. That HBO is funding it will change it further from the original bright model.

My children loved it, especially Caroline (and also Mr Roger’s Neighborhood). We had long playing records of happy kindly music; in later years we turned them into audiotapes; then Yvette turned them into MP3s on her computer. So they are still with us.

I remember this one as delighting my heart too:

Now I wonder why as there is a sting of her showing off. I looked up Madeline Kahn and discovered she is another victim of the cancer epidemic: dead at 57 within a month of diagnosis of ovarian cancer. In these few minutes she and the puppeteer radiated such friendly generosity of spirit. This classic spirit has since
then been over-complicated and had to alter itself to answer to more middle class parents watching.

There have been changes over its nearly 50 years of broadcasting, especially after Jim Hensen died. At the time it first aired, the characters were not categorized in mainstream ways: you could not tell quite what were their relationships except as good people, friends on the show, friends to the children. Each didn’t quite stand for an ethnicity as we didn’t know that much about them, and there was but one white, Bob, the singer-type from other children’s shows. Since then the normative pull of a wider audience imposed defining narrow structures on the characters, making sure each vocal group had a representative, marrying Maria to Luis, finding Bob a girlfriend. No longer would Snufflelupagus be a dream figure no one but Big Bird could see, lest that upset. So truths of children’s inner experience were banished.

Still it kept its original core audience and point of view firm: pro-social community; refusing to respect wealth just for its own sake; refusing to judge the characters on the show by how they are “doing” in the commercial or any marketplace world. And Republicans hated it. They’ve won at last. They’ve starved it out at last. I’ll give the station and people doing the program over this time: they held out for nearly half a century.

Now it will be transformed and only come to those it was intended to cheer as a left-over, hand-me-down and its types will not serve them, rather present as normative things that hurt.

I’ve known about this for a while, but last night a PBS interview by Jeffrey Brown of the now retired Maria (Sonya Manzan0) touched a bell in me. She has written and gotten her book published.

As Maria with Grover, probably near the 1990s …

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Yvette has been working on the music and lyrics of the song, making a different rendition of it; on her synthesizer the choral lines “Are we out of the woods” appeals to me: This is not very close but the online wikipedia article which presents her as having started a successful career (on her own) at age 14 prompts me to share the YouTube

It’s neurotic in the way of Philip Glass

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Like a bridge over troubled water

Dear friends and readers,

This is one of those hard mornings and I first found solace listening to a poem by Anne Finch, read aloud to music beautifully. It did lift my spirits: The Tree

The one which I’ve opened this blog with I heard sung last night at Creative Cauldron by Chris Sizeman. Last night I tried this cabaret show theater with my friend, Phyllis; I was led to think perhaps this time the singer would be much better: he was said to sing for Signature (he had major roles in Les Miserables and Miss Saigon) and when I saw a larger crowd was hopeful. Alas, it was like last time (scroll down) and now I guess probably most of them: for a low price ($13) a local singer gets up for an hour and a half to try to build a fan base for a career. The worst thing about both nights was the talk between songs: this man hyped himself and had a limited vocabulary: all other songs and shows were his “very favorite,” or “amazing” or “fantastic” and he subjected us to his wife getting up and singing with him. He talked of a known singer who was supposed to come and sing with him and didn’t; also of a violinist whose violin broke on the way here so he couldn’t show up either. Both the Creative Cauldron pair of people endlessly told us this or that song he or she was about to sing was on the CD album for sale in the lobby. It was excruciating how they kept putting off singing.

I thought of all the years I would go with Jim regularly to the Austrian Embassy to hear 19th century art songs sung by classically trained singers and musicians — people of high reputation who gave concerts around Europe or the US, sang in operas, also made CDs. All performances for free. I admit I used to fall asleep at these concerts; the music was too distanced and controlled for me most of the time. I liked best the second half when the singer would do art songs often European from the 1930s to 50s (with depth of understanding or feel); or there’d be a pianist playing Liszt or Mozart or Beethoven or some such marvelous music-making composer. I used to wonder why the people never spoke or said so little between songs. Now I realize I should have been grateful for the silence. The very few remarks made were tasteful and had to do genuinely with the song or piece of music he or she was really just about to play. There would perhaps be CDs placed quietly on a corner at the back that you could buy elsewhere (only one copy for show). Yes sometimes he’d take me to the Kennedy Center for huge sums to hear similar music up in the Terrace Theater, either an opera singer-type giving a concert or Barbara Cook hosting.

How lucky I was.

Mr Sizeman managed three good songs, one of them, one of Jean Valjean’s songs, impressed the crowd. I found his voice rasping, he was like some male Ethel Merman belting out songs on the modern half-talk hard manner, without much understanding, and this one was better because it has been so thoroughly rehearsed and nuanced by some director at Signature. The best one was a quiet rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water, which as I listened to Simon and Garfunckel this morning I realized this young man’s tones did not convey the deeper meaning of: a double-turned paradoxical deep comfort from like sleep which imitates death offering a sort of oblivion with companionship. So I offer Bridge Over Troubled Water along with The Tree this morning. Anne Finch was grateful to a silently alive still creature, a tree, for offering beauty and peace and shade and hopes for its sake no one will cut it down before it’s time for it to die.

As to this week’s events, the important ones were on-line and I’m beginning to admit to myself after 20 years that though my loneliness and aloneness has been assuaged by living on the Net a good deal, that I have built a sort of life out of it off the Net (jobs, publication, the ability to go to conferences) and have made a few friends, renewed a couple of old ones (not many), and have many acquaintances and what I have had to say about art and my life’s experience reached other people; nevertheless, I am actually as bad and incapable at this form of social life (called virtual) as I have been over physical face-to-face socializing, and maybe the pain of failure is worse because more intimately and explicitly felt, the effort less dysfunctional (less haphazard), deeper.

I have now to act on my new awareness on listservs.

A Side Canal in Venice by Helen Allingham (see recent blog: painting woman)

and Mrs Eden’s Garden, Venice

Jim never got to see Venice; he would have liked it, soaked it in … Allingham sees lone women surrounded by children or their work everywhere. Don’t neglect the woman to the back under the first arch banging out the wet or dirt from a pink towel or blanket

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Samba and Alice (Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourgh– at one point in an all night cafe he asks her how she comes to be with a guy like him at this cafe at 3 in the morning (Samba, 2015, directors Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledono, from the novel by Delphin Coulin scripted Muriel Coulin)

Dear friends and readers,

It takes awhile for experiences to sink in, at least for me. And awhile to cope. After I had the mortification at the Mason library (this many years ago) of having some bully librarian take away books I had carefully culled and tell me I had no right to take books out (my adjunct card was not good enough in those days because you had to be teaching a course at the time you took books out or have a salary stub, and adjuncts got paid so rarely) I didn’t return for 2 years and then only with a letter from the composition chief.

I saw the film Samba yesterday afternoon and it’s taken until this morning and much thought and revision of this blog for me to see that Samba and Alice are very touching figures telling more truths about human relationships in romance than is usually told. Samba’s uncle who has a rough tongue says to him suddenly, “Why are you going out with that depressive,” and Samba does not reply but we know that precisely because she has this open wound and depths, Samba finds comfort with her. And the story line gradually shows us why she is understandably right to feel the way she does — and we see other stories of other characters similarly emerge.

Julian Barnes in his Levels of Self does omit this deep aspect of bonding, though he comes to the source of the grief of loss of a beloved, a partner, a friend, even a pet. It’s loss of depth, a deep relationship of confiding and giving and taking, that’s what is sought, and not found. Reading Eric Ives’s biography of Anne Boleyn (about which I’ll blog eventually) and re-watching Wolf Hall this week (after finishing the book), I realize that there is a hole at the center of that movie and the book too: we are not told enough about Henry and Anne’s relationship; they are kept from us, especially as the marriage deteriorated and how he came to loathe her so; we extrapolate, but do not see. Samba and Alice may be new icons of romantic relationships …

This blog explores some of these ideas and these two texts: Samba and Levels of Life.



Today I found myself in yet another recent movie where the whole ambiance of the story and setting is that of a vast world where all individuals we see at least are living desperately unattached lives, whose jobs are either to make others go away (with no job, no prospects, and complete indifference as to how these others are to survive) or are themselves taking any employment that comes their way, no matter how menial, dangerous, absurd, imprisoning:

Samba, billed as a French comedy and it did have some comic moments, and at the conclusion, Samba, our hero decides to stay in France illegally (as he cannot get a legal status), cadging what kitchen jobs in super-expensive restaurants he can manage; and Alice, our heroine, a deeply and understandably depressed young woman, looks cheerful as she faces a group of guarded-faced men in an interview across a characterless table. It is understood they are living together now (he having miraculously escaped drowning fleeing from brutal police) in her tiny flat, and he having put his uncle whose drek-laden of living quarters the old man had been generously sharing with his nephew (despite his corrosive berating of his nephew), having put his uncle, I say, on a bus bound for an airplane back to Senegal (not a safe or prosperous place it is understood). The film has the extraordinarily visceral quality recent French films achieve. When our hero and his friend are washing windows from a great height on a scaffold I felt my stomach turn and my legs weaken the way they do when I am at a great height.

L’Intrepido, I’ll Dream of You, Manglehorn; the “other” choice is of biopics where a celebrity of some sort (or his or her estate) is making oodles of money exposing a drug addiction where moralizing voyeurism is the expected common reaction. No wonder Mr Holmes is a relief and remains in movie theaters doing very well.

Gainsbourg wears her hair and holds her face and chooses clothes so reminiscent of Jane Birkin her mother, for a moment I thought it was Birkin again — Jim loved her music and did find her attractive too, so many years ago. As a pair, she and Sy gave me some insight into the 2015 Poldark: Horsfield writes other contemporary mini-series and she has created a couple analogous to this one, he wild, she abject, clinging to one another against the indifference and disconnection.


The Maypole — Phiz’s first illustration for Barnaby Rudge, the ancient mansion-tavern it begins with (click to enlarge and you will see how beautiful this illustration is)

Beyond Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, I’ve embarked on Katharine Shevelow’s For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Proection Industry — her thesis is that it was when animals became companions to people, used and seen that way, the protection organizations became effective; and two more books for sheer pleasure and/or curiosity and because my two beloved companions read and liked them. Both were read by the two men who used to provide understanding, validation, fun, support in my life and have died. Both are by authors these men really liked. I’ve started my father’s copy of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens: I want to know more about the riots of the 1780s in England and how Dickens saw them, how he represented them. It’s a historical fiction too; an interest of mine. The other is Julian Barnes’s Something to Declare: Essays on France, and first up was an essay on Richard Cobb as a person, scholar of French culture and the revolution, writer, also someone Jim liked to read enormously. I have not been able to talk to my father weekly for some 26 years now, but I will read a text he liked so in the copy he owned; and ditto for Essays on France.

D 90582-01  Julian Patrick Barnes and Pat Kavanagh. Obligatory Credit - CAMERA PRESS /  Jillian Edelstein. SPECIAL PRICE APPLIES - CONSULT CAMERA PRESS OR ITS LOCAL AGENT. Writer Julian Patrick Barnes and his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died on 20/10/2008. They are pictured here in 1991.  Use of this image is subject to legal restrictions. Please refer to picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary Picture Library National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE +44 (0)20 7312 2473/4/5/6 MW18180


I’ve come to Barnes through another book, his Levels of Life, whose last third not about the death and dying of Kavanagh, not about cancer, not much about their lives together for 29 years (some of which will doubtless be part of Something to Declare) is one of the finest statements about what is lost to the person whose beloved partner of many years has died, the grating nature of the refusal to comprehend and recognize the validity of such grief remaining, the inexorable reality. The first two thirds are relevant: they prepare for the last third. Ballooning: it’s life seen from the risk of death from the heights and how people behave so oddly over it (making it an upper class picnic as long as they can); and then “On the level,” how people can’t level with on another; and finally “loss of depth.” Yes that’s it. When I lost (that verb drives one wild) my father I lost one part of my depth forever. When I lost Jim, I lost all the rest. When I came across that subheading I knew Barnes had landed on the upheaval’s crack. Deep self.

Julian Barnes knows how to write in simple declarative sentences using the old nouns and verbs.

He begins (much paraphrase and quotation intermingled with my POV): “you put together two people who have not been put together before, and they become and experience something greater than each or the sum of both together.” “The world divides into those who have known love and those who haven’t; those who have endured grief and those who haven’t”. How bad we are at dealing with death; you may think you are prepared, but you are not, and do not know what it is “until the moment” of dying comes. “Only the old words will do: sorrow, sadness, heartbreak …” How a widowed poet friend described “the denial by the living of whose who have died.” The dead do not exist, did not exist, taboos and silences imposed. “Grief sorts out and realigns those around the griefstruck: friends are tested, pass and fail.” “How naive to assume those closest” in age or circumstances to understand. Some of the griefstruck are angry, even with the person who died; it feels like a betrayal, abandonment, with others for letting it happen. Who cares about anything in the world anymore if “the world wouldn’t, couldn’t save him?”

The “bright voice” asking you ‘what have you been up to?’,” proposing the sorts of things you used to do with your husband/wife. “Grief-trudges.” They tell you to get a dog, a cat. You don’t know how you appear to others.

He writes:

I do not believe I shall ever see her again. Never see, hear, touch, embrace, listen to, laugh with, never again wait for her footstep, smile at the sound of an opening door, fit her body into mine, mine into hers. Nor do I believe we shall meet in some de-materialized form … dead is dead … Some of this self-directed: look what I have lost, how my life has been diminished but it is more, much more, and has been from the beginning about her: look what she has lost, how that she has lost life.

Yes for me all STUGs have come when I’ve stood in front of some splendor and realized he cannot know this ever again, or now.

“The question of suicide, I love how he puts it: I will give it x months, or x years (up to a maximum of two) and then if I cannot live without her … ,” then the preferred methods gone over.

I experience all this:

I wanted very strongly and exactly, the opposite: to stay at home, in the spaces she had created and where she still, in my imagination, moved …

You have to prepare yourself for returning home and him not there. “On the scale of loss, this is nothing” doesn’t work. I too remember the first and few times I was away for a few days, or he. I too “read obituaries and check how long the subject was married, how old when died, envy those who had more time.”

“Many things fail to kill us but weaken us forever. Ask anyone who deals with the victims of torture.” “Grief reconfigures time, its length, its texture, its function.” How one day means no more than the next. For me one task completed yields no satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that matters. A new carte de tendre. “Grief is vertical, mourning horizontal.”

New one-off pain to come, unexpected. Braving going to a place. Escaping to your seat. He felt opera’s heartbreak exhilaratingly; Orfeo ed Eurydice — ah yes, for me that line, what shall I do without my beloved?

Then there are the funny things people say without realizing how funny. The use of the verb loss. I’m sorry you lost your husband. Mislaid him, did I?

Remembering sharply the last things he or she did, this and that. The last meal. Jim starved himself to death because life had become unendurable and no one would help him to die but himself. No one would release him. So his last meal was as the liver cancer set in.

Barnes says he knows Pat once existed and so talks to her continually. I cannot — no, that would break me. I cannot look at Jim’s letters because the tone of them used to send such joy to my heart, make me feel it was good to be alive when a voice like his spoke that to me.

The memoir weakens when he brings in the concept of “grief-work” and (oh dear) success in mourning; though mercifully he never uses the word “process”; nonetheless, when he goes to the trouble of denying getting over it, and then says one cannot hurry grief, he has given in.

He does keep questioning this:

Dr Johnson well understood the ‘tormenting and harassing want’ of grief … An attempt to preserve life in a state of neutrality and indifference is unreasonable and vain. If by excluding joy we could shut out grief, the scheme would deserve very serious attention.’ But it doesn’t.’ Work and time mitigate grief: “Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.'”

He goes down in dreams, goes down in memories. I cannot. It does hurt as much as it is worth but somehow this doesn’t come; I cannot bear it. I would crack. “If it didn’t matter it wouldn’t matter.” He dreams of her. I don’t that I know of (dream of him) or rarely, and then I feel so anxious.

He ends on loneliness: there’s not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. He tries for German words, quotes C.S. Lewis for “‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what.'” In grief for a beloved, it’s not loneliness but “the absence of a very specific person.” Now unbidden: “If I cannot hack it without her, I will hack at myself instead.” He says suicide is out because only through him does her existence have reach and feltness. It’s telling that for some of his books he used a pseudonym which included her last name as his.

Crabbe’s great line as Peter Grimes: “I live alone. The habit grows.” But marked for life, after madness, not spectacular solitude, not martyrdom, just loneliness.

I must forgive him for closing with the beat up: “an unexpected breeze has sprung and we are in movement again. But where are we being taken? … Or, if the wind is northerly, then, perhaps, with luck, to France.”

I feel moment of cheerfulness, even buoyancy where I say to myself, now if he were alive, all this we are doing, I am feeling, would be good. Now I’m seeing Barnes understands it takes a while to sink in. It took him a number of years to get to the point of writing this book.

And thus I turn to Barnes’s Something to Declare, which my beloved read. Or so I think. Jim did like some travel books very much. Patrick Leigh-Fermor a great favorite. He talked of Mani, how I should read it.

From Mani

There is a real self apart from social life. Deep self is what is released when I dance. Proust has some very good words on this “private self” (as opposed to the “drawing room self”). From the point of view of Jungian/Freudian. whatever label you want to call innate qualities, passions, ways of reacting and responding universal, below manners, codes what’s allowed, what’s encouraged, discouraged, what developed, what forbidden. People use these to manipulate one another. Deep self is Leigh-Fermor’s traveling self; so too Jenny Diski’s whose agon has been before us since September 2014. This is where the grieving self resides. As I think about grief and how people respond to loss, yes there may be many people who seem not to have depths of thought or feeling and they think, act, even feel cant, who obey conventions unexaminedly but my view is they are out of touch with this deeper self though because they are out of touch they may not be less able to cope with how this deep private self actuates them.


Read Full Post »


Time is killing more of us more swiftly:
since time is become cancer,
cancer moves in to the beat of time itself.

It’s now
Look down and see what cancer is doing
Paulina’s line re-booted

As our air and food, straight chemicals
directly imbibed,
become ever-more polluted,
addictive —

“I am afraid to stop the pills …”
Says one unhappy soul
even if they have such side-effects.

Psychiatrists once soul-healers
deal out body altering chemicals
record-keepers for NSAs, DMVs

It becomes a matter of time
The pollution slowly eats us up —
Bloats us — Corrosive

How many years does this or that cancer
give this or that person. Ninety? 51? Ten?
That is the new question.

Miss Drake

For a 21st century Book of Hours

Read Full Post »

‘It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.’ Cromwell to his son Gregory as they leave the princess Mary in her cold room at Hatfield, Mantel, Wolf Hall

The piano guys at Wolf Trap

Dear friends and readers,

This is evolving into a weekly diary. I have three pleasant experiences to report, which you gentle reader might profit from knowing about, since you could equally go to a concert of the Piano Guys music (or watch any number of their YouTubes online), listen to the extraordinarily beautiful sounds the National Symphony Orchestra produces when they offer a concert (when I heard them it was with the Washington Choral Arts Society), or watch the DVD of what is the best production of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera I’ve ever seen, a 1983 BBC production for TV adapted and directed by Jonathan Miller.

The first two I enjoyed at Wolf Trap: two nights out under the wide sky looking at the stars. My friend, Sybille, who came with me to John Foggerty came again on Thursday night, and I, Izzy and Vivian repeated our venture of last year when at Wolf Trap we heard the National Symphony Orchestra as backdrop (!) to Mary Chapin Carpenter.

My friend, Sophie, who takes so many photos as souvenirs, is returning to France for a month or so, and I invited her over to my house to watch The Beggar’s Opera with me. She has recently been reading some 18th century texts as preparation to take her subject GREs in order to try to gain entrance into a graduate school to do an advanced degree in English literature.


There were a few mishaps. The week may be said to have begun with a crash on Tuesday. I heard it from my workroom and rushed into the front room to find my multi-purpose, multi-regional DVD player on the floor, with its accompany remotes scattered and not far away a cowering guilty-looking cat named Ian.


This winter he discovered that it’s warm on top of said DVD player; what led him to want warmth on that hot Tuesday I know nor, nor what upset his equilibrium. Certain it is however that when Sophie arrived late on Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t get said DVD player to play on my large screen TV. All was not lost as we retired to my workroom and watched the movie on my PC computer which has a fairly large screen. I brought the wine and cheese I had intended for us to have into the room, I have two comfortable desk chairs (one was Jim’s). An advantage was she did not understand what was happening very well so I could press “stop” and “pause” and explain or rewind. I could not have done that with the TV.

This did lead to serious reflection after she had gone. The hook which keeps my workroom safe from both cats while I am gone has worn away its hole and comes out too easily. I determined to replace it to protect said room (with its connection to Comcast for both Yvette and wires set up just right for all equipment.

About this hour-long experience I quipped a little later on face-book:

I just installed a hook in my door. You may think this a trivial matter. You would be wrong. It is an accomplishment requiring much thought, planning ahead, and many steps.

and had fellow recognition. I did not conquer the worry over the DVD player until Friday night when Yvette came home from work. Wednesday she was out to midnight with Caroline (her sister, aka Anibundel) at the US open tennis championships — so she too had a needed long-hour time under the August hot skies of DC.


If you click and read her wonderfully evocative blog, you will see that she and Caroline saw a remarkable number of women players. Thursday was my night out with Sybille listening to the Piano Guys. They are entertaining, both play miraculously well, Mormons from Utah, there was a surprising assertion of religiosity in how they described their making music out in the wilds of nature. But happily Friday the DVD had righted itself apparently, and simply worked, played both American (Region 1) and British (Region 2) DVDs with no hitch.

Technological troubles were not over. Yvette and I are going on a ten day trip to Belgium (3 and 1/2 days) and England (5 and 1/2 days) and we need to have working phones — not that we will use them much, but there were be important connections to friends to make as (probably) one another. Well this was not a trivial matter either.

I phone Sprint on Friday. I couldn’t get them to give me a straight answer: can I use the phone and what do I need to do? I got spoken boilerplate muttered low. It took pulling teeth to get someone to say “you need an upgrade” means you need a new model phone, yours is out of date. Then I was told I would buy a Sym card in ubiquitous stores in Europe to get minutes. Caroline to the rescue. She said the second advice was genuinely nonsense: one cannot put a Sym card into an Apple iphone. I thought I was supposed to go to an Apple store. No, we went to a sprint store and a very nice and polite young man said it was $199 for each new cell phone. (How much more polite people usually are face-to-face and of course he was paid per sale. He got the people in that store to turn down the wall of noise that was coming from various machines as we walked in during the time I was there.) I had been to an Apple Genius once more than a year ago and he set up my Macbook (apple) laptop so it would not be connected to my (apple) ipad or this (apple) iphone. This because no one has ever gone deep enough to discover some password Jim put in the laptop and Ipad systems. So I don’t want a icloud on my laptop and have a different username and password for the laptop. This caused some complication but it was overcome. It was complicated to reproduce some of the basic apps on the new phone but we (the young man, Caroline and I) did it. I signed for a new 2 year contract with Yvette as a family contract. Then we came home and Caroline had to get on a sprint website and do things, and then she phoned again; she had a long conversation over different options to which I sat and listened, but now I am assured I have the best deal available for service in Belgium for the 3 1/2 days and in England for the 5 and 1/2 days. More central: cell phone will work while abroad.

I cannot convey how tired I was after all this.

I looked on the bright side of Sophie and I watching Beggar’s Opera on my computer with my desk as a table. Well Caroline discovered why I was not getting the music on my cell phone I had downloaded to play (favorites from favorite musicals, movies, albums) is they went into that cell phone’s cloud when we had been forced to add more passwords when someone had hacked into the apple system. She downloaded that all back and now I also have an audiobooks app on the phone. I am going to try to learn to listen to audiobooks on my cellphone so I can listen to Demelza read aloud in my car. I do badly with these little visual symbols for doing things: I would do much better with words.

I also for the first time set up a box of 3 x 5 index cards with all my passwords and usernames thus far alphabetized.


It was two hours after this I drove to Vivian’s apartment house and we three went to Wolf Trap. The Garmin then refused to behave, but Vivian remembered the way to the highway and once on 495 (beltway) and then 95 North I did. The Garmin did help us make turn the correct way upon leaving Wolf Trap after an unnecessary 40 minute wait on line because cops had set up barriers for the elite to leave easily before all others.

Emile de Cou was the conductor of the Orchestra and we did stay through the encore. Had we left upon the close we might have avoided the crowd but he had had the bright idea of hiring people to dress up in Stars Wars costume and enact famous archetypal moments in dumb shows. Darth Vader was there (likened to Trump) and won over Luke Skywalker (one of the cellists in the orchestra). I liked best John Williams’s slower music — from Lincoln, and other of his multitudinous scores.

The Wolf Trap experience reminds me a little of Shakespeare in the Park in NYC: everyone behaves in a civilized way. It’s not quite as deeply good because the NY Shakespeare festival still reserves half the seats of the audience for people on line coming in for free. Wolf Trap has “members” with exclusive tents, privileges in the parking lots getting in and out, high prices up front, and like the British Proms, the people not under the shelter of the building sitting on the lawn are clearly paying less, not quite part of it. (I don’t believe that this is an assertion they are as good as it’s said over the Proms and the last night objections from the people standing for hours in the center embarassed me.) But almost, especially while the experience is going on and from the behavior of everyone on the lawn, the cooperation:


I had a strange moment of feeling some fleeting joy or something like happiness over visual art. On Wednesday afternoon before going to my house for the movie, Sophie and I ate out at Il Porto Ristorante and then went to look at the latest art exhibit in the Torpedo Factory, now an art center. Since watching Danger UXB I am more aware the left over iron casements of the bombs made there in the 1940s are remnants of horrifying events. So there is hope in seeing the place transformed into a public art center, where artists exhibit, where classes are taught, dances are held at communal events (Jim and I once went to a Halloween ball there).

It was while I stood in front of some of the art. This watercolor for example:

By the Sea by Sara Sittig

Or this small sculpture of a bunny rabbit cherishing a bird: Taking Shape by Trinka Roeckelein (high fire clay, glazed)


From the front, modeled on

Snoopy and Woodstock

My spirit felt refreshed as it used to when standing in front of such pictures with Jim. We then walked out to the boardwalk and Sophie photographed me for a last time before she leaves:


So there you have the week’s outward good and most demanding moments.


At home where most of my life occurs that matters: I finished my paper on Trollope from a post-colonial perspective finally — it takes 20 minutes to read! — “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism” still the title. It will need revision so is put away to grow cold like a Christmas pudding. I am taking a week off and reading just for pleasure, no projects, not for teaching and find (as I have before that) in our ends are our beginnings.

The first adult books I ever read were thick tome-looking biographies of French Renaissance queens (Jeanne de Navarre, mother of Henry IV who thought Paris worth a mass and Marguerite de Navarre) so I’m treating myself with Eric Ives’ The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. We’ve had good talk on Women Writers at Yahoo about Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which at least three of us have now read this summer, several more her Bring Up the Bodies, an easier book to take in, less intricate and dense with layers of meaning, shorter too.

I have ever loved womens’ books, deeply true and sophisticated ones, subjective. If you have been following Jenny Diski’s “end notes,” you might find this dialogue about Diski’s treatment of her reluctant semi-adopted mother, Doris Lessing as she faces dying heself of interest.

I’m also following an educational Future Learn on the World of Richard III (which I’ll tell of next week when it’s over) the Spitalfields

Given the dignity of a county map as it should …

and Persephone blogs I read and gaze at when they appear.


I admit it does not speak to the spirit the way standing in front of the actual canvas does.

I end on a humane touching article by Jenny Uglow reviewing Mark Laird’s A Natural History of Gardening, Margaret Willes’s The Gardens of the British Working Class, and Lesley Acton’s Growing Space: A history of the allotment movement can round out this diary for now because the TLS editor put the text online. Don’t miss it. Uglow allows me to end on a lovely image garnered from the 18th century:


I don’t say how much I missed Jim this week but I did tell Charlie, my Haven counselor, by email, how demanding the business of staying alive without him. I may not have a future, only be able to make plans for the day, carry on as Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell puts it, but the house provides the reality of our past together, it’s not erased, and my problem is trying to learn to be alone in it more — accept it. Next spring have the kitchen painted, new vinyl, new cabinets Yvette and I can reach, maybe (price will be prohibitive I fear) enclose that screened porch (make another big picture window) so maybe someday the room may be of use to my daughters.

Each day some small salvation takes me on to the next.

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

The Proms (whose importance and reach is not to be underestimated), and Radio 3, a host of programs:



This is what the Tories intend to kill. They may assume only an elite should have it, but if only an elite (of money, rank) join it, it won’t exist. It comes out of a large community. In July say the bosses, 1000 jobs will go; and the equivalent in British money of one billion.

Jim and I went to the Proms several times. When we were young and living in Leeds, we came down by trai; when we were older and visitors in London while it was going on, we went. He loved it. I still remember the last night one summer.

Here in the US we have separate small efforts and outside of NYC where there is a potential for big funding (witness the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center), I’ll mention the Millenium Stage in DC at the Kennedy Center. But except for the Millenium Stage which (like Shakespeare in Central Park) is for free, all of these programs have high price tags for audience members (even HD operas add up). And they don’t have the reach out of a century of activity, resources, that the BBC does.


Read Full Post »

The coda song and dance this morning at the Dance Fusion workshop at the JCC:

I stretch my body into the music and fling myself through the steps and gestures so as to become the music and words. I think of Jim: I’m reaching out to him, and would carry on loving him for a thousand years, but mercifully my span is going to be more like 10-15 at most.


Read Full Post »


Sophie and I at the National Gallery this week

Two years ago today, a Saturday, Jim and I were told that the cancer had metastasized into his liver. That was not the way it was said. In low tones, the doctor said “liver mets.” Jim had been feeling unwell for days; we had been to see the imbecilic Kaiser doctor on the Thursday who had been all cheer and declared he was doing very well. But that morning he got up in extreme pain and looked at me and said “something is dreadfully wrong.” So we went to the Tysons Medical Center which I myself visited about 3 weeks ago now. I did not know what the phrase meant until we got home and I looked it up on wikipedia, and did not realize it was a death sentence and soon until a few days later.

Yvette has finally uploaded her YouTube of herself singing an appropriate song, Snow Patrol’s Run. These are hard to do by oneself. Especially hard the videoing and sound parts. I am moved by her choice of song, its lyrics and music type. That’s our spinet piano you are hearing.

This past Friday night I went with a new friend, a woman I met at the OLLI at Mason (she was in my class, around my age, divorced), let us call her Phyllis, to listen to someone who had the professional accompaniment Yvette lacks: we went to a sort of nightclub, www.CreativeCauldron.org it’s called on-line, a room functioning as place for plays, music and cabaret in Fairfax, Virginia. Sandy Bainum has a throaty-pleasing voice, dresses in conventional sexiness (complete with piled blonde hair, sequins around her neck, tight black outfit, CHFM shoes), but the music chosen was tepid, her talk between songs puerile and tedious, and some of her numbers astonishingly embarrassing: at one point she came out in a apron with home-made cookies, declaring she was imitating a 1950s housewife such as one might see on TV at the time. We paid only $13 each,and there were three touching songs with some sincere emotion towards the end. The audience was mostly seniors; there were tables you could reserve by buying a bottle of (not very appetizing) wine in the lobby. I wondered what they thought. All polite, clapping at the end (as at the Barns theater in Wolf Trap).

Phyllis declared it was the worst thing she’d ever seen there, most of it is nowhere as bad, some even good. Still the last time I went to a cabaret was with Jim more than 25 years ago and it was somewhere in Northern Virginia — Alexandria. I don’t recall much except we never went again. After this, I have to admit to a non-enthusiasm for the next 25 years.

Sophie and I were luckier at the National Gallery on Thursday afternoon. We endured the dreadful heat to meet up. I watched the insanity of sweating tourists going in and out of the fierce air-conditioning in the museum; who would come to DC in August? can they not think of anything better than grinding through the Air and Space museum in the torturous glare? When I was in my thirties I used to marvel at bedraggled women who take their children (their work after all) with them and call this a vacation. Have they no brain, no individual response they are in touch with?

Well, beyond some paintings in their permanent collection I had not seen before, brought up from their capacious basement, and very worth the seeing (early 20th century American), and a few favorites:

Turner, Mort Lake Terrace (1827)

Three rooms of Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) revealed that the Renaissance had its deeply vulgar stupid art too. The man could paint like a virtuoso when it comes to realistic depiction, but there was hardly a picture not directly or not-so-subtly pornographic. Much violence in evidence too. Prurient pin-ups for clerics and princes made respectable by classical stories. I wish I could have Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell’s sardonic reaction. As the curators had written such solemnly blind blurbs next to the pictures, I did wonder if others beyond me saw what was in front of them. As I tried to tell Sophie, I could see I grated upon people around me. But on Friday night one of my friend’s friends who came with us spoke of this exhibition in terms that made me realize she at least (and probably others) understood they were doing to see exercises in hypocrisy — and didn’t mind in the least. Had the pictures been more neutral in their depictions (fluid sexuality) it would have been easier to take, but there was too much anal intercourse of man upon woman, just women offering themselves salaciously to men. One depiction of a kitchen (not mythic) reminded me of a Millais and was the least absurd, but the brochure I picked up does not include the title, and Sophie was almost kicked out of the museum for attempting to use her cell phone to photograph it. I found this version on the Net:

Its busy overabundant disorder is representative — I do like the cat and fish

On the whole, Sophie and I decided we still had had a richer afternoon than most plays locally done, most movies on offer this summer could give us. She did say she went to a Millenium Stage piano concert of good music well done on that same Friday night.

I am enjoying watching a couple of superb BBC serial dramas: Danger UXB, about a unit of men whose dangerous job it is during WW2 to defuse bombs the Germans showered Britain with in WW2; stark, simple, truthful, it’s a powerful statement about war. The use of footage from the period reinforces the effectiveness. I’m re-watching the recent Upstairs Downstairs, also on WW2, but from the angle of an upper class family with Nazi infiltration and connections. Listening to a fine reading aloud of Graham’s Ross Poldark by Oliver Hembrough, and Yvette had downloaded for me another of Demelza read by Claire Corbet. I can no longer get myself to drive to the JCC (25 minutes by highway) to do water-aerobics as the exercise is non-existent; I swim every other day, 4-7 laps depending on when my chest gives out (I get breathless and have pain), every other afternoon. 6 minutes there and 6 back. Takes half an hour to swim as much as I manage. Water refreshing. I still go to Dance Fusion at the JCC for two early mornings. My favorite thing for exhilaration.

I am almost finished with my paper on Trollope’s colonialist writings, fiction and non-fiction and know that this one shows I have nothing new to say. What I write is accurate, but what Trollope scholars will want to hear that I feel that the way Trollope’s repugnant views are got round by themselves, doesn’t stand scrutiny?

Small things Charlie, my Haven counselor, would have told me to remember in comparison to the catastrophe Jim and I experienced in August 2013 and the hideous often cruelly administered treatment he was subjected to (the punning meanings of medicine come to mind) for the last two months of his life. As soon as I’ve finished this paper, I’m going to take off from all job-connected reading and writing. The first book on my pile is Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life. Jim read Barnes’s books as they came out and this morning I read his latest essay in the LRB (“Selfie with Sunflowers”) where he wrote poignantly and funnily on all that surrounds Van Gogh’s works, all that gets in the way of reaching them.

An early Van Gogh, Restaurant de la Sirene at Snieres, Summer 1887

The results of his death for me are inexorable. I’ve tried to build a new life but it’s hollow all that I do without him and I don’t enjoy much of it — what I enjoy are reading at home, writing, watching movies because these absorb my mind most fully. For me the teaching is a help because it gets me doing thoroughly books I love more; my old-time Florida friend is teaching again too, economics at a nearby university in Tampa. As she said to me (also a widow now) last week there is no replacing the companionship we had, no bringing back or recreating in any form a long life’s meaning each of us had with this man we loved and who each loved each. When widows stay sad, it’s the result of the present they have to endure. I understand that the way society is organized is natural and people who last as a couple remain in the pair and know happiness and all that do is arranged around that. All a widow like myself can do is find resources within herself and try for peace there, turn to old friends and to pass time sometimes find stray people like themselves sufficiently.

Paradoxically though I’ve said how I love my home I have to get used to being in it alone — with my cats as living-alongside companions.

Yesterday evening I cooked a meal for myself for the second time since Jim died. Yvette was out. Again it was pasta (farfalle) and I microwaved some sauce from Trader Joe’s and had left-over cold chicken on the side. Again, washed it down with Paisano wine. Watched PBS news while eating both times too.

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »