Frank Weston Benson, Currituck Winter Marsh (American waterscapes painter)
For the past two weeks or so we’ve known some deeply chill mornings and nights.. It’s not been sustained and some days the temperature has reached the 50s fahrenheit, but in the last few days at long last (so to speak) brutal cold. The temperature never gets above freezing (high 28 say) and When the wind is high and my skin burns through my gloves, it makes me wonder why I was missing winter. Yesterday morning, this morning and now tonight it’s been 17 to 18 fahrenheit outside and (I am told by the weather channel on my computer) feels like 1. The sky different shades of blue over the day, from light with pink, to brighter and whiter blues, to twilight and so on to through my window pitch black night.
I know when it’s winter because my cats seek the sun. My beloved Ian pussycat (aka Gingerbread Cookie) sat smiling in a puddle of sun he had to stretch his head to share a small part of the experience. I petted and his smile got stronger. I wish I could have captured it in a photo but words (to me) are still good. He presses his body hard against mine, nudges me with his head, softly pushes back and forth. I’ve used this photo earlier this month but here it can show him putting his face to the light: here it’s a lamp, reflected computer light and a bit of sun all together. Also he’s smiling
ClaryCat on my lap and near the radiator this morning. She was smiling half-dozing but when I put my cell phone camera near her she stopped smiling and looked serious, turning her head to see the device. She is a picture-adverse cat, a private creature.
Cat friends I can lavish physical affection on, who respond; she will lick me thoroughly occasionally but I’m fondest of moments when it’s sort of perfunctory lick. Then she’s my comfort, he my loving companion in these long days for me, quiet –and at night sad — apud libros (among books).
On one of my listservs a friend put this poem: it’s a translation by Eavan Boland from old Irish.
“This Old Irish poem was written by a monk about his cat, in around the 9th century, and found in a monastery in Austria. (Pangur Bán is the name of the monk’s cat.) Describing the life of the monk in Cat manuscripthis study with his cat as his happy companion, ‘Pangur Bán’ has everything for the cat-lover and book-lover. Just as the scholar goes in search of knowledge, so his faithful companion goes in search of mice. ”
Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.
Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur’s choice
Is child’s play.
Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill
Moving after hours alone
To the kill
When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse; mine traps
On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,
And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.
So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade
He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night
Hunts mice; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.
Eavan Boland (see two more this time rhyming translations and an abridgement by W. H. Auden and creative translation by Seamus Heaney)
I found Spitalfields’ (the gentle author) blog on Shoreditch the Church Cat a little disquieting. It’s a half-truth that cats adopt people, because the implication is they don’t need us. They do, they have been bred to. The cat shown has clearly sometimes been starving; what’s called his “mysterious” behavior, his vanishings, are an ingrained instinct to protect himself. He has almost no weapons against most creatures who can kill him so easily: only run and hide. Why oh why can people, even the gentlest, not enter empathetically into the worlds of others.
At night as I’ve done every year of my life since I was an adult when we have this cold, I remember the homeless and hope they are being taken in somewhere, treated decently, helped to keep warm.
This Friday we are promised a big snow storm. People are over-reacting and worrying about it. It’s just a prediction, might not happen. But we’ve had so little that they are determined all will shut down as if to make up for the lack of snow days.
I did manage this past Sunday with my friend, Sybille, to see the AvantBard Washington Shakespeare Company’s latest production: an Indonesian-shaped Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Randy Baker: we braved the cold.
The company used Indonesian puppets behind screens for Titania and Oberon and the fairies and once in a while Puck turned into a puppet behind the screen, and during the time he was as “ass,” Bottom did. The play opened with Indonesian music and it accompanied some of the sequences. Shakespeare’s core play proceeds as usual; nothing is cut or re-arranged and it is performed effectively by the actors in front of the sceens effectively: the stark punishments threatened Hermia by her mother (the father is made into a mother), Hippolita’s resentment of Theseus, his bending; the hilarious comedy to the dark traumatic moments in the forest of the lovers and also mechanicals. There is real meanness projected when Bottom is so humiliated. And the poetry of high uplift spoken by Theseus and Puck at the clsoe. The use of the puppets, the soft colored lights, conveys the idea of a strange “other” realm, dangerous and at times cruel, indifferent, mischievous, which in modern productions is hard to get across as connected to the realm of faeries. I wondered who the Indian child Oberon so wanted from Titania was. Modern popular music and a humble peddlar’s cart accompanied the mechanicals; their play within a play was funny to me — the audience did not seem to laugh at that as much as usual. It was too sparsely attended so I hope this small blog will reach someone. A few cavils (to maintain truth is to keep belief): the actor playing Theseus was not up the verse (so some of the poetry was lost). But a strong young actress does Puck (wonderful movement and she speaks the verse beautifully) and marvelous versatility in the actor doing Bottom. If you live in the DC or Virginia area, don’t miss it.
As I walked out, as when I went to hear the Folger Shakespeare Christmas concert, I feel something of the joy I used to when I would go to such theatrical productions with Jim. I saw a little embarrassed Sybille. She had praised the production strongly during the intermission when I had been dubious about the use of the puppets and wishing actors had been on stage for Oberon and Titania. She persuaded me this production went outside Europe and was inclusive.She was with me for the concert (bought the tickets, drove us home). Now in the moments just after the play ended, I said nothing, but she saw it in my eyes, and quickly tried to say how amusing this had been, to bring down the mood. But she herself gave money to the actor at the door and signed a list to get notifications of more plays.
I am registered to go to a day-long series of lectures (2 in the morning, one after lunch) on Vermeer at the Ripley Center of the Smithsonian museum this Saturday.
A 17th-century master of light and color, Vermeer creates a timeless world where the smallest actions take on a beauty beyond their commonplace settings. His artistry rests in his ability to transform a simple daily activity — such as pouring a jug of milk or reading a letter — into a sensitive exploration of the human experience. Though few in number, his masterpieces, including The Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Milkmaid, The Music Lesson and a few dozen more, are considered some of the finest art ever created. Independent art historian Aneta Georgievska – Shine discusses Vermeer’s place within the artistic culture of Holland, takes close looks at some of his favorite subjects and the meanings they possibly reveal, and explores Vermeer’s legacy as reflected in the work of artists and writers from the end of the 19th century to the present.
I’ll probably rewatch the wonderful film adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring (a young Scarlet Johanssen and Colin Firth as the principals)
Cross your fingers for me we do not have a huge snowstorm in DC and I get to go.
That day I shall be hard put to be alone and today try to hope I will be able to console myself by remembering one of the songs I heard and so enjoyed the last happy New Year’s Eve Jim, I and Izzy had
I shore these fragments in the ruins. And it will always be like this for me. I have my books, my writing, my pussycats, daughter at home with me, what I do in the world to reach art, culture, be with people somehow, but it’s not enough to give me meaning. I do not choose to stay so long behind him. The heart needs felt heart loving back — as I said about Shoreditch, the Church cat.